Canada Day fireworks, parade are a ‘virtual’ reality this year

The surface of Sarnia Bay glows cherry red during the grand finale of the Canada Day fireworks display in 2018. Public fireworks this year in Sarnia will be online only. Photo courtesy of inskyphoto.com

Troy Shantz & George Mathewson

Wednesday will be unlike any previous Canada Day, but many Sarnians are planning to mark the nation’s birthday on July 1 regardless.

The annual parade and fireworks that draw tens of thousands to very public events at Sarnia’s two big waterfront parks have been scrubbed.

But officials say the Canada Day spirit will continue to shine in smaller ways, with friends and families gathering to celebrate in small groups, with “virtual fireworks” and even a “virtual parade” in the works.

In Sarnia, fireworks cannot be set off on public property without a permit. And they are only allowed on private property when organized by an adult and done a safe distance from roads, highways and buildings.

“Long story short — you’re never allowed to do it on public property, and if you do it on private property you’re responsible for anything that happens because of that,” said Mike Otis, of Sarnia Fire Rescue.

“So you take on all liability.”

Tourism Sarnia-Lambton, in partnership with Lambton’s 11 municipalities, has planned a “virtual fireworks.”

The experience will provide residents with unique local content and something to commemorate from the comfort of their own backyards, balconies and living rooms, said executive director Mark Perrin.

To participate, you must download the snapd HUBB app, select Canada Day events, and follow the prompts.

“This platform … will allow everyone in our community to celebrate Canada Day even if we have to be apart,” Perrin said.

The Sarnia Canada Day Committee says this year’s events are smaller and largely online because of COVID-19. Organizing a large, safe public event just wasn’t possible, even if restrictions on crowd sizes had been lifted in time, said event coordinator Rachel Veilleux.

“Even in the best case scenario … we knew that we would still be faced with the task of enforcing, at minimum, some social distancing measures and implementing new PPE standards,” she said.

So the committee has been working with local talk show host David Burrows to provide online content.

This month, local residents have been sending in pre-recorded video message of three-to seven seconds for broadcast on July 1.

The Show with David Burrows will live stream the showcase of patriotic pride starting at 2 pm.

As part of the broadcast, Burrows is planning a ‘virtual parade.’

Local businesses, organizations and community stakeholders have been invited to participate in the unique event by doing a ‘shout out’ or decorating a float, he said.

The broadcast will be live on The Show with David Burrows Facebook page at www.fb.com/theshowsarnia and on YouTube at www.youtube.com/davburrows and on Sarnia’s Facebook page.

Even with the Sarnia Bay fireworks cancelled this year city police expect to be busy and will be out patrolling the streets, said Inspector Jeff Hodgson.

“It’s going to be different than every other Canada Day in terms of locations and nature of events, but we do recognize it’s going to be a very busy day from a policing perspective, and we’re very much going to be prepared for that.”

Local residents planning a quiet Canada Day this year

Many local families are taking a low-key approach to Canada Day now that the usual organized have moved online.

“We usually go to the parade, and we go to the fireworks at night,” said Sarnian Jennifer Moore, who was sitting under the Blue Water Bridge with granddaughter Remmington recently. “Now we don’t know.”

“What are our plans for Canada Day? We don’t have any right now,” said Jerome Lebert, a grandfather of seven also taking in the sun beside the river.

He and his family traditionally gather for the fireworks display over Sarnia Bay.

“This year it’s going to be quiet,” he said.

With the Canada-U.S. border closed, Sarnia educator Cal McKinnon and his husband are planning a virtual Canada Day party with his dual-citizen daughter, who is living stateside.

“I’m sending some Canada supplies across for them to celebrate,” said McKinnon, who packed Canadian-themed beach towels, T-shirts, candy, and a bottle of maple syrup.

Another impact of the pandemic will be the loss of the ethnic food stands in Canatara Park flocked to by people after the annual parade, he said.

“They are saddest not to be getting those diverse foods.”