One of Vancouver’s premier annual events is the Honda Celebration of Light fireworks competition in English Bay in the middle of the summer each year.
Due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the spring of 2020, this year’s Celebration of Light event has been cancelled! There may still be some kind of limited event happening, but nothing big or similar to past years.
For details about the decision to cancel the fireworks competition in 2020, or for updates on what might be happening instead, see the official Celebration of Light website.
For a list of other Lower Mainland events and attractions impacted by the pandemic, see our article about Vancouver and COVID-19 Cancellations and Closures.
Celebration of Light Fireworks Information
Click on any of the following links to jump to specific information, or continue reading to learn everything there is to know!
Celebration of Light | Event Entertainment | Second Beach Family Zone | English Bay Airshows | Fireworks Concerts | Second Beach Concerts | English Bay Concerts | Where to Watch | Celebration of Light Video | About the Competition | Fireworks Judging | Other Information
Celebration of Light Fireworks
The Celebration of Light festival features live music and a world-class fireworks competition with pyrotechnic displays by a different country each night.
In 2020 the events were going to take place on July 25th, July 29th and August 1st. The year before, participating countries were India, Canada and Croatia. 2020 competitors weren’t announced before the festival got cancelled and 2021 details are to be determined.
In years when the competition does occur, the fireworks blast off at 10:00 pm each night, but there is also live music and other fun stuff starting in the early afternoon on all three days.
TOP PLACES TO WATCH THE FIREWORKS
For a list of best places to watch the Celebration of Light fireworks from, click Top English Bay Fireworks Venues. Our list is one of Vancouver’s most comprehensive!
Honda Celebration of Light
The Honda Celebration of Light event is amazing every year, attracting hundreds of thousands of spectators on each of the three days. Music accompanies the pyrotechnics, and people can tune in from anywhere by listening to LG 104.3 FM on their radios.
In 2019 the Honda Celebration of Light fireworks were on Saturday, July 27th, Wednesday, July 31st, and Saturday, August 3rd. That year’s competitors were the following:
- July 27th (2019) – Amir Morani Fireworks (India)
- July 31st (2019) – Firemaster Productions Inc. (Canada)
- August 3rd (2019) – Mironvec Fireworks (Croatia)
The year before the competitors were from South Africa, Sweden and South Korea. In 2018 the winning fireworks company was Dadhan Firework Co. from South Korea.
In 2020 there were again going to be competitors from three different countries. Who they were going to be, however, we might never know. The list of participating nations and pyrotechnic companies next year won’t be announced until closer to the summer of 2021.
Celebration of Light Entertainment
In the lead up to the 10 o’clock fireworks, the Celebration of Light event includes lots of great entertainment. There is a Family Zone at Second Beach, evening airshows at English Bay, and outdoor concerts at various times at both venues.
Depending on where you go, there are also food trucks, exhibits and the occasional street performer or caricature artist. Around English Bay Beach especially, there are also gazillions of people on land and boats in the water.
Second Beach Family Zone
Each day of the fireworks festival there are usually family-friendly things to do at Second Beach starting at 2 o’clock each afternoon and running until around 9 pm. Activities include face painting, games, jumping in the bouncy castle and listening to live music.
At the Second Beach venue there are adult-friendly things too. The live music is good for all ages – they aren’t just little kid tunes – it’s real music with some great local bands!
For concert details near the Family Zone area click Second Beach Concerts.
English Bay Airshows
A tradition at the Celebration of Light event, prior to the fireworks, is the Pete McLeod Airshow which features aerial acrobatics above the waters of English Bay.
It’s usually just a single plane, but fun to watch and visible from Sunset Beach to Second Beach and beyond. The best place to watch from though is English Bay Beach as that’s at the centre of the show.
The airshow usually starts shortly before sunset, which itself can be a spectacular event to see. On the Saturday evenings the airplane entertains for about 15 minutes starting at around 7:45 pm. 2021 details are to be confirmed.
On the Wednesday evening in 2018 the airshow ran from 6:45 until 7:40 pm and included multiple aircraft. Special for 2018, on that day, was a performance by the world-famous Canadian Forces Snowbirds. That indeed was a spectacular show to see! Hopefully there will be something similar next year.
In addition to music broadcast on radio to accompany the fireworks, live bands perform in the afternoons and evenings (at least in years when there isn’t COVID-19).
The concerts used to take place at Sunset Beach and English Bay Beach, but since a few years ago much of the fun is now in Stanley Park near Second Beach. Each day there is a variety of bands, with a special feature performance leading up to the fireworks each evening.
See below for the lineup of concerts at both Second Beach and English Bay Beach.
Concerts at Second Beach
Below is the lineup for the 2019 Second Beach concerts. The 2021 schedule will be comparable.
Saturday, July 27, 2019
- 2:50 pm – Alexandria Maillot: an up-and-coming coming Canadian artist.
- 4:00 pm – Quarterback: the band plays with Quinn Bates.
- 5:10 pm – Tonye Aganaba: a multitalented and charismatic singer.
- 6:40 pm – En Karma: a Canadian Bhangra band.
- 8:00 pm – Virginia to Vegas: with Derik Baker who is a 2018 JUNO-nominated Breakthrough Artist of the Year.
Wednesday, July 31, 2019
- 2:35 pm – Bitterly Divine: a Rock band that is Vancouver-based.
- 3:50 pm – Old Soul Rebel: a female Rock and Roll duo inspired by their respective African American and First Nations upbringings.
- 5:00 pm – Adrian Chalifour: a Canadian rock artist
- 5:40 pm – Biawanna: a multi-instrumental artist who is releasing a debut EP.
- 6:45 pm – Small Town Artillery: a Rock band from British Columbia.
- 8:00 pm – The Boom Booms: a Funk and Soulful Vancouver-based band.
Saturday, August 3, 2019
- 2:35 pm – Fintan: an English pop singer/songwriter with a new EP.
- 3:45 pm – Kimmortal: a queer Canadian artist.
- 5:05 pm – Big Easy Funk Ensemble: a band that mixes Jazz and Funk.
- 6:30 pm – Shine with Pride (Curated by the Vancouver Pride Society): a mix of pride anthems by DJ Krista.
- 8:00 pm – The Funk Hunters: a Canadian DJ duo that has reached Billboard Dance Club Chart #1.
Concerts at English Bay
Each year free evening concerts also take place at English Bay Beach.
Below is who was scheduled to perform on the Boathouse Roof at English Bay in 2019. The 2021 lineup will be different, but comparable.
Saturday, July 27, 2019
- 7:00 pm – Khanvict: a Surrey-based DJ who plays Bass, Bollywood, Moombahton, Punjabi, Sufi and Trap.
- 8:00 pm – Delhi to Dublin: a Canadian World Fusion band.
- 8:50 pm – Vidya Vox: an India-American singer based out of LA.
Wednesday, July 31, 2019
- 7:00 pm – Famba: a Halifax-based DJ.
- 8:10 pm – Tyler Shaw: a JUNO nominated Canadian singer.
- 9:00 pm – Scott Helman: a Toronto-based singer and songwriter.
Saturday, August 3, 2019
- 7:00 pm – Speech (Arrested Development): an American singer and rapper.
- 8:00 pm – Maestro Fresh Wes: a Rap artist from Toronto.
- 8:45 pm – Kardinal Offishali: a Toronto-based Hip-Hop musician.
Celebration of Light Venues and Where to Watch
The Honda Celebration of Light daytime festivities used to take place along the water at English Bay, from English Bay Beach at one end to Sunset Beach at the other. As of a couple of years ago, though, the main festival venue has moved to Stanley Park.
The fireworks are still set off from a barge just offshore from English Bay Beach, but they can be seen from miles around.
For a comprehensive list of best places to watch the fireworks from, click Top Fireworks Venues. For a brief list, see below.
English Bay Beach Views
One of the absolute top places to watch the pyrotechnics is from English Bay Beach. That’s where the sandy shoreline and nearby lawns are covered with a couple of hundred thousand spectators on sunny evenings.
As of last year the event’s main daytime festival venue has moved from Sunset Beach to Stanley Park’s Second Beach, but English Bay Beach is still the prime viewing location for the fireworks.
Premium Venues: If you don’t mind spending between around $60 and over $260, you can also reserve a spot and get special VIP treatment at a few different venues at English Bay Beach. These premium seats are expensive, but a great way to treat yourself, avoid the main crowds and have comfortable views of the fireworks displays. Most of the venues also don’t usually sell out, so you can often decide at the last minute if you want to use them.
From the Water: If you have a boat, you can be like hundreds of other Vancouverites and park your vessel in English Bay and see the fireworks from the water. This is even better than watching from the shore, plus you get to avoid the crowds and post-event traffic on the road. Not everyone though has access to a boat.
Other Pyrotechnic Viewing Areas
In addition to the main English Bay Beach venue, the Honda Celebration of Light fireworks can be seen from all around the various shores of English Bay.
Impressive views of both the fireworks and the city are at Second Beach, Vanier Park, Kitsilano Beach and Sunset Beach. Jericho Beach is a bit far away, but also a nice place to watch from a distance and admire the Vancouver skyline at night.
For a more complete and detailed list of venues to watch the fireworks from, click Celebration of Lights Fireworks Venues.
Honda Celebration of Light Video
Want to see what the Honda Celebration of Light is all about, including its daytime festival activities? Then check out the following 2-minute video.
About the Fireworks Competition
The Celebration of Light event has been running for close to 30 years. To be exact, in 2020 it was going to celebrate its 30th anniversary. Now it will have to wait until 2021 to do that.
Every summer, over the course of the three nights of fireworks, as many as 1.3 million or more Vancouverites and folk from out-of-town enjoy the festivities and pyrotechnic displays.
In an average year around 500,000 people turn out to watch the fireworks on each of the two Saturdays, with usually slightly more on the last Saturday of the event because it’s on the BC Day Long Weekend. Close to 400,000 people typically watch on the Wednesday.
With the fireworks competition, three international teams are selected and given a budget by the Celebration of Light’s organizing committee. The competitors then work with that budget, but have the option to spend more of their own money.
The fireworks companies are based in their various respective countries, although most of the actual pyrotechnic devices are manufactured in China.
In a typical night around 6000 fireworks are used, although sometimes, like with the Korean team a couple of years ago, the displays can involve as many as 8000 individual fireworks or more.
The barge used for the fireworks is owned by Seaspan and is used solely for fireworks events, we understand, although not only for just the three Celebration of Light evenings. The barge is also used for Canada Day, plus likely other times when needed in Vancouver.
Setting up for the fireworks usually involves a Canadian team of ten or so pyrotechnic experts, from both Vancouver and other parts of the country, plus around four members of each competitor’s team.
During the actual fireworks event, just four people remain on the barge – two of the Canadians and two members of the international team – behind their computers inside a small building with bullet-proof glass.
On board and behind the scenes during the actual fireworks displays, it’s not uncommon for some minor things not to go as expected, or for the very occasional small fire to break out in places. For the most part, though, things run pretty smoothly, as evident by the visual success of the shows!
Fireworks Competition Judging
The main purpose of the Celebration of Light event is to “spark togetherness”. It’s also a competition though, where the winning fireworks company gets valuable bragging rights to being the best.
Each year three different pyrotechnic companies compete, and each evening the respective fireworks competitor is rated by a panel of judges. The criteria for judging are the following:
- General Design and Artistry – 30 Points
- Synchronization of the Fireworks to their Music – 20 Points
- Originality of the Show – 15 Points
- Soundtrack Quality – 15 Points
- Overall Fireworks Quality – 10 Points
- Size of the Pyrotechnic Displays – 10 Points
For more information about this spectacular three-day event, check out the official Celebration of Light website.
For a detailed list of top places to watch the fireworks from, click Best Celebration of Light Venues.
For a list of other Lower Mainland fireworks displays at other times of the year, click Metro Vancouver Fireworks Events.
For a list of other major events of all different kinds, check out Vancouver’s Festivals & Events Calendar.