Meet Whistler's fireworks guy 

Keith Mellor will light the sky for Canada Day

click to enlarge The firestarter
  • The firestarter

On Sunday night, Canada Day revellers will notice a fireworks display. It'll be hard not to. It'll light up the sky, booming and crackling with shimmering reds, whites and purples. With any luck, it will invoke spirited ooooos and aaaaaahs from everyone in the crowd and, most likely, bring more than a few smiles to the all those faces.

For all the pleasure these fireworks are bound to bring for those bombastic 10 minutes, few people consider the brains behind the spectacle. Who designs this show in the sky?

Well, his name is Keith Mellor. He's a firefighter by day and a pyrotechnician by night. His company, Whistler Fireworks, has done well over 100 shows, including all pyrotechnics for Whistler Blackcomb's Fire and Ice, for New Year's Eve and, for the past few years, Canada Day and Fourth of July Celebrations. He's overseen pyrotechnics for massive indoor productions, including Roger Waters and Coldplay.

Last year the Resort Municipality of Whistler spent $28,000 with Whistler Fireworks.

And if you asked him 20 years ago what his goals in life were, you can be certain that "lighting fireworks" would have been absent from his answer.

"There's no way that I foresaw any of it," he says.

Each Halloween, the Whistler Fire Department produces a fireworks display, with each member of the department helping out. When Mellor was hired on in 1986, he acquired the necessary certifications to help out with these productions and, as time passed, he was the most senior member of the department with these credentials. He was, ultimately, left holding the bag — of fireworks.

Yet, he realized from the outset that he had a natural aptitude for creating firework displays that were more than just a series of explosions. They had depth and dynamics. Each production was a show unto itself, with a beginning, middle and an end.

And, he soon realized, he'd developed a passion for it.

"It's completely creative," says Mellor.

"It's an outlet that I don't otherwise have. It satisfies my creativity and it's always different," he says, "especially when you get into things that are beyond just fireworks."

He started his own business in 1992, taking every job that came his way. His resume was built slowly through word-of-mouth (you won't find Whistler Fireworks in the phone book) and he eventually found his way into producing pyrotechnics for concerts, often acting as a consultant for international pyrotechnic companies who are legally required to hire Canadians with the necessary permits to oversee their productions (pyrotechnics in Canada is controlled through rigid guidelines — permits take years to acquire).

But his Canada Day show, he says, is his biggest event of the year. He designs every show himself, visualizing the displays in his head and laying out the actual shells in the necessary formation.

"We try not to become complacent. Every show is different but I guess there are some similarities and we have developed our way of doing things, and we try not to do it the same every time. When you try something new, you want to reach the same end result, which is to make everybody happy," he says.

To keep costs down, all Whistler shows, including the Canada Day show (and his Fourth of July show on Wednesday), are done without the help of computers — his team (made up mostly of members of the Whistler fire hall) is literally lighting fuses with blowtorches.

"People find it funny that you're a fire fighter on one hand but you kind of light fires on the other hand," he says. "But there are a lot of people, like myself, who think it's a natural marriage of careers. I know how to light them and I know how to put them out."


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