The New Year’s Eve fireworks display in Hay River will be going ahead on Dec. 31, but not as usual.
There have been several significant changes, partly because of Covid-19 and partly because of unusual ice conditions on the Hay River from where the fireworks are normally launched.
The fireworks display has been moved to near the fire hall from its usual location on the river ice at the Forks, where the Hay River divides into the West Channel and the East Channel.
Ross Potter, director of protective services with the Town of Hay River and the community’s fire chief, explained the goal is to have people stay in their vehicles to watch the show so they won’t be standing shoulder to shoulder outside.
“We need to have separation because of Covid reasons,” he said, noting people would be typically gathered close together around a bonfire at the Forks.
This year, the fireworks will be launched from a laneway between the fire hall and Highway 2.
The move to the new location was also prompted by the fact that the Hay River is not yet completely frozen over.
Potter said the unusual ice conditions are caused by a mixture of high water in the river and high temperatures.
“It’s pretty warm outside,” he said. “And the current will be a lot quicker with the high water.”
Plus, Potter noted that there are piles of gravel on an open area at the Forks where many people would normally gather to watch the fireworks on the river.
The material is the result of this year’s infrastructure work on Caribou Crescent, and it has been left because the work will continue this coming summer on Riverview Drive and Beaver Crescent.
Potter said the fireworks will be safe in the middle of the community.
“We have guys that are certified to do this kind of work and, if you look at Calgary or Edmonton, I think you’ll find that they do some fireworks right in the middle of the city,” he said.
“It’s a high aerial show,” he added. “It’s not the Mickey Mouse home-type fireworks. This is all professional fireworks we’re setting off. So it’s going to be high up there.”
Potter said that means people should be able to get a good view of the fireworks from anywhere in the downtown corridor and the industrial area.
“I’d suggest that people living on most of Woodland Drive would be able to see what’s going on from their back doors,” he said.
As with last year, there will be only one show at 8 p.m. on Dec. 31, instead of two shows with the other being at midnight.
“It worked way better last year,” said Potter. “It sounds kind of self serving, but in my opinion the firefighters deserve to enjoy New Year’s Eve just as much as anybody else does a little bit earlier.”
In all, about 15 members of the fire department work on the show. It is overseen by Potter and two other members of the department who are certified fireworks supervisors.
Nicole Mitchell, the recreation programmer with the Town of Hay River, said there was never really any consideration given to not holding the fireworks display on New Year’s Eve.
“Fireworks can be seen from a very long distance away,” she said. “We didn’t really think there’d be an issue to put that on because you can definitely be safe and enjoy fireworks.”
Mitchell added the display can be safely accessible to everyone.
“If you don’t live in an area that’s close enough to see them, you can definitely drive and park somewhere where you can see it,” she said. “But we’re saying not to gather with people from outside your household.”