Canada Day in Drumheller is the celebration of the year. While many are putting the final touches on their parade float or turning up the grill for a family barbecue, Bill Wulff surrounds himself with explosives.
“It is fun turning the sky into a living painting,” said Wulff.
He began by helping with set up. At the time, Darwin Durnie was the supervisor. Eventually he did get his licence, then his ability to supervise, and has been at the helm ever since. The licensing is through the federal government.
His preparations start long before Canada Day, and it begins with the design and then ordering the necessary supplies to make that happen. The fireworks range from two inches to six inches and are shot from steel racks with poly cannons machined to the right specifications.
Over the years, the show has grown, and Wulff has made the best of the budget he is given to put together the show.
“We have gone from a $3,000 to a $7,100 show,” said Wulff. “People wanted a bigger and better fireworks show.”
While the ordering takes place well in advance, to make sure the right supplies are in to match the show, the real work beings on the day of the show. Wulff and his crew spend the day in the hills across the river from the World’s Largest Dinosaur setting up the show. Safety is of the utmost importance. None of his crewmembers drinks on the day of the show, and the Drumheller Fire Department is on hand to make sure there are no major fires. In his history of shooting, the show has had no major injuries.
While the technology has changed over the years, the crew still lights the show manually. The main advantage for lighting the show electronically is if it is timed to music, and because the audience at the Drumheller show is so spread out, it would be impossible for the show to come out synchronized. There are also risks inherent with using electric matches and it is much more labour intensive to wire the show.
“And the guys want to manually shoot,” said Wulff, adding manually shooting is also more dependable and can work in all kinds of weather.
On the performance night, while he is integral to the show, he shoots very few fireworks himself.
“The only time I shoot is during part of the finale because there are so many ignitions,” said Wulff. “My job is to see if the shell exploded, see where it exploded, and if it didn’t explode, where did it land. We have never had that happen, not with the high level shells…with the bigger bombs, a six inch shell has pretty close to a stick and half of dynamite in it.”
He has had a number of volunteers help him with the show over the last 30 years, some who have hardly missed a show.
This year the show was another success, and one of the small figures on the hills taking a bow has seen every show, and each year sees the black sky as a blank canvas to be painted with light.