[This story is from Dec. 31, 2016. For a guide to events marking the arrival of 2018, check this Explore section story.]
Thousands of Victorians braved the Pacific chill Saturday to celebrate 2017, the start of Canada’s 150th birthday year, and of course – to see fireworks.
With traffic blocked off, a stage was erected at the corner of Government and Belleville streets to host performers and speakers for Spirit of 150, a Heritage Canada-sponsored event arranged to accommodate as many as 20,000 people in Victoria.
The evening officially opened with a First Nations prayer and blessing from Songhees Elder Elmer George and Suzie Thomas, daughter of Esquimalt Chief Andy Thomas, before a performance by the Lekwungen Dancers.
Saanich resident Zakos Zsula was down early in the evening, about 6 p.m., with his two children, Kelet, 4, and Eneshe, 6, determined to stick around until the fireworks, which started about 9:05 p.m. and lasted about 10 minutes.
Even the cold winds off the Inner Harbour wouldn’t stop them, said Zsula. “Although we are still thinking about getting the snow-pants on.”
The crowds, shoulder to shoulder in many places, were restricted to the pavement, with the lawns of the Empress and the Parliament Buildings surrounded by barricades draped with colourful banners featuring 150th birthday themes.
Surrounding streets were packed with people as well. Restaurants were full, and at a few, people were lined up outside. Food trucks were also doing a brisk business, with people eating at picnic tables lining the streets.
The evening was planned to coincide and link up with events in 19 other cities across Canada to begin the celebrations of the country’s 150th year. Victoria’s fireworks were meant to go off at the same time as Ottawa’s midnight display.
On the still water of the Inner Harbour, five of the little boats belonging to Victoria Harbour Ferry, lit up with red and blue lights, swirled about to classical music, performing what was billed as the World Famous Water Ballet.
Meanwhile, giant puppets of jellyfish and octopus danced in front of the stage.
Throughout, a spectacle in lights and shadow was played out on the front of the Fairmont Empress Hotel. Images of swaying trees, maple leaves and schools of fish made their way across the front of the classic building.
For Central Saanich’s Angela and Salvo Diegliangioli and their two children Gloria and Leon, the whole event was something extra special, a New Year’s Eve party, a special national birthday, music and lights to be enjoyed by their whole family.
“Just coming down here to enjoy my city and the weather and to have them (Gloria and Leon) here with us is everything,” said Angela. “We can bring them down here with us and be part of all the celebrations,” she said.
Angela then turned to Gloria and Leon to ask their opinion about the whole night. Both kids simultaneously reminded her, and everyone else, of the real attraction: “Fireworks!”
After the fireworks ended, the thousands slowly disappeared into the night, sending their cars into traffic jams, squishing onto not quite enough buses, and further filling already busy restaurants.
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For more background on the Spirit of 150, click here.
Celebrations are going on across the country.
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New Year's Eve schedule at Inner Harbour
5:00 p.m. – Welcome blessing by Elder Elmer George and Suzie Thomas
5:04 p.m. – Greetings from Chief Ron Sam of the Songhees Nation and Chief Edward Thomas of the Esquimalt Nation
5:10 p.m. – Lekwungen Dancers
5:25 p.m. – Esquimalt Singers and Dancers
5:38 p.m. – Prime minister’s address
5:43 p.m. – O Canada (École Campus View Elementary School)
5:45 p.m. – Harbour Ferry Ballet
6:00 p.m. – Jérémie & The Delicious Hounds
6:10 p.m. – Trial bike performance at Ship Point
6:40 p.m. – Harbour Ferry Ballet
6:55 p.m. – Alex Cuba
7:10 p.m. – Trial bike performance at Ship Point
7:45 p.m. – Mayor Lisa Helps reads address from Canadian Heritage
7:48 p.m. – Canadian Heritage video in English and French
7:57 p.m. – Queen’s address
8:00 p.m. – Dear Rouge
8:15 p.m. – Trial bikes performance at Ship Point
9:00 p.m. – Fireworks
9:13 p.m. – Outro video in English and French