Story Ideas

Summer ‘theatrical performance of fire’ at BC’s Butchart Gardens.

‘Unlike anything I’ve seen before,’ show pays tribute to artistic legacy dating back to 1978.

13 April 2011

There’s a buzz in the crowd—and it’s not just the bees among the begonias and heliotrope—as we make our way along the fragrant paths at The Butchart Gardens on a hot July night en route to see the fireworks. Every summer since 1978, world-famous Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC, has included open-air concerts and Saturday night fireworks in its general admission ticket. It’s a tradition that generates long snaking line-ups into the admissions gate, so we’ve arrived early.

We lay our quilts on the grassy viewing area overlooking a single-jet fountain and pond. Adjacent to us at the Concert Lawn stage, the band is playing Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman.” We’re quickly surrounded by a growing blanket city, chatter in a mix of languages and the smell of hot chocolate. Giggling kids are rolling down the lawn while the sky darkens in anticipation.
Just after sunset, a gold fountain explodes in multi-coloured sparks and a Broadway show tune lights up the crowd. This is a fireworks display unlike anything I’ve seen before. Some of the show’s artistry is dedicated to playful ground effects using lance work: metal set pieces shaped into patterns and lit up with small burning flares.

The lance work, for example, allows moving milk bottles to tip and spew white lights in time to a 1944 classic, “Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet.” A graceful on-the-ground pyrotechnical ballet is performed to the “Waltz Suite.” And in the night sky there are not one, but two, spectacular aerial shows with the requisite heart-thudding booms, bangs and dazzling showers of fire. It ends with “Good Night, Christy” written in lance work, a tribute to the show’s creator Christopher Ross, the former owner and the great-grandson of The Butchart Gardens’ original owners, Jennie and Robert Pim Butchart; he passed away in 2000. 

Graham Bell, the garden’s PR rep, says Ross is remembered as a “wonderfully gifted dancer with a great interest in Broadway musicals.” He created, choreographed and fired spectacular shows “designed traditionally with set pieces and tableaux synchronized with music to present a theatrical performance of fire.”

Ross had as many as 22 original shows in his repertoire, and each year The Butchart Gardens recreates a different one. All are “emotional and literary, carefully crafted to reflect Ross’s love of music,” says Warren Carrie, director of Arts & Entertainment, who is charged with bringing Ross’s artistic themes to life. Each year, he and his crew produce the show and build the creative lance work designed to last through the summer’s 10 shows.

Check this year’s outdoor entertainment calendar at Butchart, bring your blankets or book reserved seating in the VIP fireworks viewing area. On Fireworks Saturdays, you can order gourmet picnics, too, complete with a checkered tablecloth and white linen napkins.

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