Unexpected fireworks displays have some Tofino locals fired up.
The district’s fireworks bylaw, which was last updated in 2010, states “the exploding of firecrackers or other fireworks is prohibited within the district except by Special Permit.”
Tofino’s council has directed staff to look into the possibility of banning fireworks entirely during certain times of the year to allow for specific holiday celebrations while cutting down on surprise disruptions.
This direction was spurred by two letters council received from locals expressing frustration over being startled awake by other people’s celebrations.
Chesterman Beach area residents Sandi Rideout and Margaret Eady wrote that they have experienced disruptive fireworks displays from vacationers at the beach “at least once a week for the past several months.”
They suggested people setting off fireworks are doing so without consideration of the environment or those around them.
“Not only are these people contravening bylaws for the possession and explosion of fireworks, but they are oblivious to the fact that they are disturbing families, pets and other vacationers,” they wrote.
“It’s dangerous for fire safety and this summer’s drought conditions made it even more so. The detritus that is often left on the beach is there for others to clean up. This area is valued as a ‘pristine wilderness’ and to us, this type of behaviour is absolutely contradictory to our region’s reputation.”
They asked council to kill Tofino’s permit process and ban fireworks altogether.
“We are recommending that Council consider a motion to ban fireworks completely from our town and area,” they wrote. “That way, people will be left in no doubt as to how our town will respond to those who set them off.”
Sulo Hovi and Louise Poirier penned a similar letter and also suggested banning remote controlled planes and drones from local beaches.
“The high pitched noise and dangers involved as these planes do acrobats over the heads of locals and tourists does not make for a pleasant experience,” they wrote.
Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne told the Westerly News that the current permit process is seldom used and has locals unsure of whether the fireworks they’re seeing are permitted or not.
“Right now you can have a fireworks display if you get a permit from the district of Tofino but what we’re finding is that, in practice, people aren’t coming and getting permits,” she said.
“No matter whether there’s a ban or not, it’s difficult to enforce, and right now what’s challenging, I think, for residents is if you hear fireworks going off, you don’t know if the person has a permit or not.”
She said “bylaw enforcement staff can’t be everywhere all of the time,” and that banning fireworks during certain times would help the community police itself.
She added any bans must come with proactive education and outreach to ensure locals and tourists know what they can and can't do.
“It’s part of the respectful and courteous behaviour that we’re hoping all of our visitors and residents will have towards each other and trying to find a balance so that we’re not killing all the fun,” she said.
“It’s stressful for pets and it’s difficult for children and families sometimes and, as much as everybody appreciates a beautiful show of fireworks, to have them going off a lot near the beach, near where you live, and sometimes the mess that’s left behind is just untenable for some people.”
Coun. Cathy Thicke suggested the issue raises questions over the kind of town Tofino wants to be and the kind of tourists it wants to attract.
“What kind of a place are we trying to promote and what kind of etiquette do we want people to follow in our places and our beaches,” she asked.
“It’s brought back that question of not being so apologetic about the people that we are and the kind of community that we want…People do want to come here to refresh their spirit and to be rejuvenated by the nature and the quietness here.”
She added fireworks aren’t just disrupting people and pets but also local wildlife.
“It is pretty frightening for animals,” she said. “What are we doing to all the other creatures that share our home and our space?”
Thicke noted the two letters council received reflect the views of just four locals and she hopes to hear from others before making a final fireworks decision.
“It goes back to that whole party town atmosphere; is that what we want? I don’t know. For some people who have their weddings here maybe that’s what they want but I think it really is about what do the people who live here want,” she said.
“I’m interested to know what other people think… Whether they’ve noticed an increase and whether they’re in agreement with the letter writers or whether it’s something that feels acceptable to them.”
Osborne said that while late-night fireworks often bring explosions of social media fury, few locals take the time to officially raise their concerns.
“In the case of fireworks, I don’t think people post on social media as a way of expecting bylaw enforcement or the RCMP to go out, I think they do it more as a kind of venting of frustration,” she said.
“If you want to see changes in laws or policies though, a formal letter to council is a proper way to introduce the idea…It doesn't mean that council necessarily will agree with the letter writer or choose to follow through on any action but it is a way of ensuring the raising of an issue is done in a transparent manner.”