Fireworks lit up the sky in Talbot Park

Fireworks at Leaside High May 2019. Staff photo.
Fireworks at Leaside High May 2019. Staff photo.

I often still hear the distant sound of fireworks on Victoria Day, but there was a time long ago when the annual aerial light show of sparkling starbursts was right in our own backyard. Because our family home was on the corner of Parkhurst and Donegall, we always considered Talbot Park, just down the street from us, to be our own backyard. For years back in the ’60s and ’70s, Talbot Park was the site of a breathtaking annual fireworks show to celebrate the Victoria Day long weekend. My twin brother and I looked forward to it every year.

Our whole family would head down to the park as the sun was setting, spread out a blanket, and sit at the top of the hill at the foot of Donegall Drive. Mom would bring snacks and drinks and we’d fidget in anticipation of the explosive show to come as we watched more Leasiders stream into the park. While we waited, our parents would supervise the lighting of sparklers and we’d write our names in the air around us. In the interests of safety, the large fireworks launching area – as I recall it was on the smaller baseball diamond near Leaside High School – was completely fenced off with several police officers and security guards patrolling to keep everyone a safe distance away. Our parents ruled that we could not leave the blanket from the time the show started until the payload of the final skyrocket had burst brightly high in the sky and faded to black.

Even in the near darkness, the lights of the traffic running along Eglinton allowed us to see the dim outlines of the fireworks masters as they choreographed the launch of what I seem to remember was about a half-hour display. If you watched closely, you could see them light the fuses on the rockets and then hasten away to safety. Then you’d hear the sound of the rocket igniting and watch as it shot skyward at tremendous speed trailing sparks in its wake. High in the darkening sky we’d often lose sight of the firework until it “popped” and brightly coloured sparks would blossom into gigantic starbursts or what looked like perfectly formed brightly lit, polka-dotted circles in the air. The burning lights would then fall and fade until the next firework burst into the sky.

The scary part of the show – and my personal favourite – was when they’d send off a series of rockets that showered no sparks of any kind but simply “boomed” in a puff of smoke. And when I say “boomed,” it was incredibly loud and percussive. You could feel the sound in your chest. There would probably be a couple dozen booms in quick succession. It quite literally sounded like a war zone for a few minutes as we imagined the cannon balls that never landed. It gave new meaning to the phrase “the sound and the fury.”

Some years, they would ignite large pinwheels mounted on wooden poles. They held our attention briefly but were a little too pedestrian for my 10-year-old tastes. I much preferred the skyrockets and the big booms. When it seemed clear that the show was over, applause would roll through the park as we folded our blankets, exchanged reviews of the evening with our neighbours, and walked back up Donegall to our home.

I can’t really remember how many years the Victoria Day fireworks were set off in Talbot Park, but eventually they stopped. I assume they were deemed too dangerous, or at least the liability implications became too daunting, so the skyrockets were packed away. Now, as a parent, I understand the decision, and I imagine Queen Victoria would, too. But I still miss the anticipation and the excitement of heading down to the park once a year in May for the annual Victoria Day fireworks display. I can still hear those “booms” in my mind’s ear and feel them reverberating in my chest. And it happened in Leaside.

A two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, Terry Fallis grew up in Leaside and is the award-winning writer of nine national bestsellers, all published by McClelland & Stewart. His most recent, A New Season, is now in bookstores. www.terryfallis.com.

About Terry Fallis 86 Articles
A two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, Terry Fallis grew up in Leaside and is the award-winning writer of nine national bestsellers, all published by McClelland & Stewart. His most recent, A New Season, is now in bookstores. www.terryfallis.com.