A Firecracker of a Day

Victoria Day Used to Have More of a Bang

When I was growing up in the late 60s and early 70s, we had a particular name for the holiday Monday in May.  We did not call it Victoria Day (although that was its official name), nor did we call it May Two-Four, like we often do now.

We called it Firecracker Day.

At that time, the only day of the year it was permissible to set off fireworks was Victoria Day (give or take a day due to weather.)  It later became common to celebrate Dominion Day (now known as Canada Day) with fireworks, and nowadays fireworks are used to mark just about any occasion.

Back in the day, fireworks could only be purchased in the week leading up to Firecracker Day (aka Victoria Day) and only licensed outlets could sell them.  Since they were expensive, some neighbourhoods would pool their resources and buy enough for a decent backyard display, which everyone in the vicinity could enjoy.

Along with the pyrotechnic sorts of fireworks for sale ahead of Victoria Day were finger-sized explosive devices called firecrackers.  Their primary function was to produce a large bang and an impressive flash followed by smoke.

Naturally we children were permitted to play with firecrackers because kids were tougher back then.  We had access to all sorts of now-banned items like lawn darts, cap guns, clackers, and metal playground equipment.  And, once a year, firecrackers.

Firecrackers came in packages of two or so dozen, and all their wicks were braided together.  You could unwind each firecracker to light separately, or light the whole string of wicks for an impressive series of explosions.

When lighting a single firecracker, we’d use a match cord, which is a length of cord that, when lit with a match, burns slowly and can be used for a series of firecracker lightings.  Match cords were included in packs of firecrackers.  I suppose this was a nod to safety—you wouldn’t want the young tykes using matches to light their explosives.

This is the action sequence:  A kid is holding the firecracker in one hand, and they use a match cord held in their other hand to light the firecracker.  Once lit, the kid hurls the firecracker away from them much like you’d hurl a hand grenade from which the pin has been yanked.  The firecracker then explodes, with flash/bang/smoke.

Because we had adult supervision, we were admonished not to throw the firecrackers at other kids, which of course we would have done if not for those pesky adults.

If a kid didn’t throw the firecracker before it exploded—say, on a dare—injuries would result.  We all knew kids who were missing bits of fingers due to a slow firecracker toss mishap.

The whole firecrackers-in-the-hands-of-juveniles thing came to a halt in Canada in 1972.  On September 27 of that year, Canada banned firecrackers after two children were killed and three others severely burned when some older children lobbed a bunch of firecrackers into their tent.

Nowadays, the Explosives Act in Canada prohibits the importation, possession, transportation, storage, or manufacturing of firecrackers in Canada.  (Fireworks are still legal to buy for anyone 18 years or older.)

Victoria Day (aka May Two-Four) is celebrated on May 22 this year.  Play safely, folks.