Above photo by James Lissimore Photography, a beautiful shot of North Star Fireworks’ show at the 2021 Walton TransCan Grand National Championship.
So, you want to know what it takes to create a great fireworks show in Canada, eh? Well you certainly came to the right place! Here, we talk about the difference between consumer and professional grade fireworks, additionally we also outline legal requirements and best practices.
Even if you’re located outside of Canada, this blog still contains information to help you learn how to set up a safe and fantastic fireworks display but you will want to review your home country’s rules and regulations for lighting off consumer and professional grade fireworks.
At the bottom of this page is a list of terms that we will be referencing throughout this blog, you might want to quickly review these terms before continuing.
Consumer and Professional Grade Fireworks: What’s the Difference?
Consumer fireworks are legal for the general public to use and can be bought at many convenience stores and gas stations, even department stores and flea markets often carry these types of fireworks.
The Explosives Regulatory Division of Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) is the government body that oversees and regulates explosives (including fireworks) in Canada. NRCan describes recreational fireworks as ‘Canadian class 7.2.1 / F.1’ and this classification includes small fountains, volcanoes, pinwheels, cakes, preloaded articles, sparklers and Roman candles. These items are classified as “low hazard” and can be purchased by anyone over 18.
If you have an interest in the detailed legal aspects of using display fireworks in Canada, the Explosives Regulatory Division provides a ‘Display Fireworks Manual’ in partnership with the Canadian Pyrotechnic Council and the Canadian Fireworks Association.
Below are a few examples of the fireworks that consumers can find readily available for purchase:
A spinning fireworks article that is fixed by an axle and attached to a post or simply laid on the flat ground.
A paper or plastic tube that houses a series of projectiles such as stars, shells, reports or firecrackers. The projectiles rise one at a time, either emitting a coloured shower of stars or producing a report.
A cone-shaped or cylindrical device that produces a controlled spray of sparks. Fountains are normally set off on the ground.
Professional grade fireworks are restricted to be handled and fired only by individuals that have been licensed to do so by the Explosives Regulatory Division of Natural Resources Canada.
There are three levels of licensing:
- Display Assistant. A Display Assistant can help at fireworks displays under the supervision of a certified Display Supervisor.
- Display Supervisor. A Display Supervisor has certification of basic proficiency in the field.
- Display Supervisor with Endorsements. A Display Supervisor with Endorsements has certified expertise that qualifies him or her to perform tasks not permitted at less experienced levels. For example, they can produce displays at unconventional sites, such as floating platforms and rooftops, or use more powerful fireworks, such as large shells or nautical effects
To become licensed, those that are interested must take a Display Fireworks Safety and Legal Awareness Training Course by a provider that is authorized by the Explosives Regulatory Division of Natural Resources Canada. North Star Entertainment is a certified authority and provides these courses online at least once a year.
Applicants must initially become licensed as a “Display Assistant’ and assist with the setup and firing of at least three displays within a five year period before applying to become a ‘Display Supervisor’. If you have an interest in becoming a ‘Display Assistant’, we urge you to consider our upcoming Training Course being held virtually on Saturday, October 16, 2021.
The fireworks that licensed entities can use are often much larger and could cause considerably more damage to people and property, hence the need for government control and regulations. Many of these fireworks are imported into the country primarily from Asia, and are routinely inspected by government officials upon arrival into Canada to ensure quality and safety.
Cakes and Aerial Shells are two of the most common types of fireworks that Professional Firework Show companies use to create awesome experiences for their clients’ events. A cake firework, also known as a multiple tube device, is a firework comprising a series of mines, small aerial shells, or a combination of both, connected together by a high-speed fuse. An Aerial Shell is generally a cylindrical or spherical shell casing (projectile) containing stars or other effects, with a quick match shell leader, a time fuse and a lifting charge.
First off, if you’re going to have any sort of significant fireworks show near or in a neighborhood or place where there may be a large number of people present, you will want to reach out to the local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AJH). This is the agency responsible in any area for granting approvals for fireworks displays.
The most common AHJ is the fire department, but other agencies in provinces, territories, cities or municipalities also serve as AHJs, for example, an airport under the jurisdiction of Transport Canada, the Coast Guard or a police explosives-technician unit. The Supervisor in Charge is responsible for knowing the AHJs for the location of the display.
Importantly, all fireworks shows must have a ‘fallout zone’, which is the area into which dud shells or unsafe fireworks debris may reasonably be expected to fall. This area must be kept clear of people, vehicles and combustible materials. Whenever there are winds over 40 kilometers an hour, the show must NOT go on as there is serious risk the fireworks can get blown towards crowds and/or cause fires.
For the show itself, you want to fill the sky as much as possible by using a combination of cakes and shells that rise with varying heights. For the aerial shells, mortars and mortar racks are used to launch the shells to the appropriate heights for detonation. A mortar is a tube in which shells are launched. Mortars are made of various materials, and a mortar rack is a sturdy wooden or steel structure used to support mortars upright.
When utilizing a combination of cakes and shells, you can also have different types of cakes and shells to provide different effects. For instance, nautical effects are designed for use on bodies of water, falling into a body of water to produce an effect on the water’s surface. A ‘report shell’ is an aerial shell that contains effects that produce a loud noise and a bright visual flash. At the end of a show, it is most common to unleash a ‘barrage’ or finale, which is a group of shells fired in rapid sequence from a mortar loaded in advance.
For storing fireworks before and after shows, it is recommended and often legally required to use an isolated, secure, locked storage unit or structure that is lined with non-sparking material and is marked “FIREWORKS.” This special type of storage unit is called a ‘magazine’.
Ultimately, what is mentioned here is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to preparing and firing a professional fireworks show. The preparation required and numerous factors for consideration when conducting a fireworks show take time to learn and understand, which is one of the reasons North Star Entertainment proudly offers the course that is required by NRCan for people in Canada to become licensed to handle professional fireworks.
If you have an interest in learning how to take the professional fireworks course, please visit our ‘Training’ webpage.
aerial shell (display shell)
Generally a cylindrical or spherical shell casing (projectile) containing stars or
other effects, with a quick match shell leader, a time fuse and a lifting charge.
Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ)
The agency responsible in any area for granting approvals for fireworks
displays. The most common AHJ is the fire department, but other agencies in
provinces, territories, cities or municipalities also serve as AHJs, for example, an
airport under the jurisdiction of Transport Canada, the Coast Guard or a police
explosives-technician unit. The Supervisor in Charge is responsible for knowing
the AHJs for the location of the display.
authorized (explosives, fireworks)
The explosives or fireworks (cited in the List of Authorized Explosives) that
the Chief Inspector of Explosives has declared to be capable of being safely
manufactured, handled, stored, transported and used.
A group of shells fired in rapid sequence from a mortar loaded in advance. Also
called a finale.
A protective structure, such as a roll-on-roll-off garbage container, positioned so
that it protects the public from potential fragments and debris caused by the
malfunction of a shell in a mortar. Can deflect the trajectory of the shells fired
from a displaced mortar. To be effective, a barricade must be at least two metres
high, and the row of mortar racks must be within two metres of the base of the
A collection of fireworks fused together for quick firing. For example, a group of
mortars (finale battery) or a bundle of Roman candles (candle batteries). Also
see chain fusing.
A string fuse containing black powder and used in display fireworks. Also see
black powder (gunpowder)
One of the main ingredients in fireworks. Black powder is an intimate ground
mixture of finely powdered potassium nitrate (75 percent), charcoal (15 percent)
and sulphur (10 percent). It may be granular or finely ground and have
unconfined velocities to confined velocities of 170 to 600 metres per second,
depending on particle size and confinement. Black powder is used for the
bursting charge in shells and serves as a propellant in many fireworks devices.
An aerial shell explosion that produces a visual or sound effect. A single-break
shell presents only one burst effect; a multibreak shell presents two or more
burst effects in succession.
A fine wire in an electric match that either heats up or ignites when an electric
current is applied.
An internal charge designed to burst an aerial shell at or near the top of its flight
to disperse the visual and sound effects.
A series of two or more aerial shells fused together to fire in sequence from a
single ignition. Finales and barrages are typically chain fused.
A process in which one substance is changed into others. In a chemical reaction,
existing chemical bonds are broken and new ones are formed. An input of
energy is required to break chemical bonds; energy is released when new bonds
A qualitative measure of a material’s chemical stability and tendency to undergo
undesirable reactions when subjected to a defined stimulus, most notably high
temperature or moisture.
Chief Inspector of Explosives
A federal official appointed pursuant to the Explosives Act (the Act) who is
responsible to authorize explosives under the Act.
A plug (often clay) with a centre hole is found in the end of a gerb or fountain.
The plug restricts the release of the gases produced by the burning of the
composition, causing the effect to be thrust to higher heights.
A mortar-fired effect that has a pellet composed of fireworks composition that
typically produces a rising trail of sparks.
Refers to a safe combination of explosives. Two or more types of explosives (or
related hazardous materials) are considered “compatible” when they can be
stored or transported together without substantially increasing the probability
of a dangerous incident or hindering emergency response action.
A company or individual considered to be an expert in carrying out assessments
of safety-related or technical issues.
Recreational fireworks (Canadian class 7.2.1 / F.1) such as small fountains,
volcanoes, pinwheels, cakes, preloaded articles, sparklers and Roman candles.
These items are classified as “low hazard” and can be purchased by anyone
A box or other receptacle suitable for storing explosives. According to the
Explosives Regulations, suitable containers allow explosives to be kept safely in
buildings that have not been adapted for the storage of hazardous materials.
Containers must be kept clean, closed, ventilated, locked and away from
flammable substances. They must be used only for the storage of explosives
and must conspicuously display the word FIREW0RKS or the applicable orange
placard from the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations.
An unbroken or low-resistance flow of electrical current.
conventional display site
A site that meets the dimension requirements detailed in Table 3-1 of Chapter 3
and from where the fireworks are fired from ground-level ramps.
The flow or rate of flow of electric charge in a circuit, expressed in amperes.
The area in which display fireworks expose people to a significant risk. This
designation applies from the time the fireworks are brought onto the firing site
until the time the Supervisor in Charge declares the zone clear and safe. Also see
dangerous occurrence (unusual)
An accident or near miss caused by the use of fireworks or explosives. Also
means an unexpected result or problem concerning fireworks or explosive
An exothermic reaction in which the reaction front advances more quickly than
supersonic speed (>350 m/s) in the unreacted material. Typically, the reaction
front in high explosives travels at more than 5000 m/s.
A person who has successfully completed the Display Fireworks Safety and
Legal Awareness course and who works under the direction of the Supervisor in
Charge to put on outdoor fireworks displays.
High-hazard recreational fireworks (Canadian class 7.22), such as aerial shells,
mines and larger Roman candles, designed for use at public gatherings. Only
Supervisors in Charge are permitted to fire display fireworks.
A protected perimeter closed to the public during the fireworks display. This site
includes the separation distance from the ramps to spectator viewing areas and
the fallout zone.
A person who has certification of basic proficiency in the field. The main body of
this manual pertains to Display Supervisors.
Display Supervisor with Endorsements
A person who has certified expertise that qualifies him or her to perform tasks
not permitted at less experienced levels. For example, they can produce displays
at unconventional sites such as floating platforms and rooftops or use more
powerful fireworks such as large shells or nautical effects.
A distance required between a ramp where fireworks are positioned for firing
and the public, structures and vehicles, etc.
A shell that rises from the mortar but fails to function.
duty of care
A person who has an explosive substance in his or her possession or under his
or her care and control has a legal duty to use reasonable care to prevent bodily
harm and death to people or damage to property by that explosive substance.
(Criminal Code, S.79)
electric firing junction
A box or slat connected by wire or cable to the firing unit that contains electrical
connectors intended to be attached to electric matches.
electric firing unit
A switching device that distributes and controls the electric current used
to ignite fireworks. Wires or cables attach a firing unit to a junction that is
connected to the electric matches, which in turn are attached to fireworks
devices. Manual firing units have thrown switches. Automatic firing units are
usually operated by computer.
A firing device comprised of an electrical element and a small charge of
fireworks composition. When current is applied, the resistance of the element
generates enough heat to cause the composition to burst into flame, igniting
the fireworks. Electric matches are sensitive to impact, friction and heat, and
must be handled with care.
The discharge of fireworks by applying electric current to an electric match (as
opposed to applying flame to a fuse by hand). The presetting made possible by
electrical firing allows for precision timing and presentation of displays.
A chemical reaction that is self-sustaining.
Any chemical compound or mixture that, when subjected to heat, friction,
detonation or other initiation, undergoes a very rapid chemical change
that creates large volumes of highly heated gases that exert pressure in the
Anything that is made, manufactured or used to produce an explosion or a
detonation or a fireworks effect and includes anything prescribed to be an
explosive by the Explosives Regulations.
fallout area (zone)
The area into which dud shells or unsafe fireworks debris may reasonably
be expected to fall. This area must be kept clear of people, vehicles and
A show-closing sequence of rapidly fired aerial shells. The shells are loaded into
mortars before the display and are usually chain fused.
Chemicals applied to a material to increase resistance to ignition or burning.
A small fused cylinder filled with explosive fireworks composition and designed
to produce a sound effect. They range in size from a baby’s finger (ladyfinger) to
a man’s thumb (M-80).
Devices that explode or burn to produce visual or sound effects.
The current, expressed in amperes, used to ignite an electric match.
A thin paper tube filled with coloured fire compositions. When flares are
grouped together to outline a subject such as a building or to reflect off trees,
the effect produced is called “illuminations.”
The accidental ignition of a large quantity of fireworks materials within the
A flat trailer without sides that is towed by a truck for road transport of materials
such as vehicles, heavy equipment or containers. The trailer is supported at the
front by the rear axle of the truck or by retractable leg supports when the trailer
is not connected to a truck.
The malfunction of an aerial shell in which the shell explodes inside the mortar,
at or near the mouth of the mortar. The erupting stars and burning material give
the mortar a flowerpot appearance.
flying saucer (Tourbillion/Girandola)
(1) A series of gerbs attached to a plastic or wooden ring that is propelled into
the air by the reaction of drivers fixed to the ring or (2) a cardboard tube with
jets on the ends propelled by wings attached to the tube. Flying saucers are also
known as Tourbillons or Girandolas.
A cone-shaped or cylindrical device that produces a controlled spray of sparks.
Fountains are normally set off on the ground.
Anything that can burn or act as a chemical reducing agent.
A kind of fountain that, when ignited, emits a spray of fire and sparks. Gerbs are
commonly used on set pieces and as a pyrotechnic special effect.
ground display piece
A firework device that functions on the ground. Typical ground display pieces
include fountains, gerbs and set pieces.
A fuse or firework composition that suddenly starts burning more slowly
than it is supposed to; it may suddenly resume burning at its normal rate. This
unpredictability can be dangerous. If the hangfire goes out completely, it is
called a misfire.
Any potentially injurious material produced by the firing of an explosive or
Abbreviation for high-density polyethylene. A material from which mortars,
among other things, are made. Do not confuse with PVC and ABS.
Anything used to fire fireworks.
The charge in an aerial shell that propels it into the air.
magazine (storage unit)
An isolated, secure, locked storage unit or structure that is lined with nonsparking material and is marked “FIREWORKS.”
Firing by hand; usually done with a portfire.
A sturdy metal structure used to support a mortar in an upright position.
A mortar-fired device that projects numerous effects (stars, whistles and salutes)
into the air at the same time.
A shell that remains live and in the mortar after being lit.
A tube in which aerial shells are launched. Mortars are made of various materials.
Also see Table 2-1, Chapter 2.
A mortar rack is a general term that includes metal racks and wooden racks.
mortar trough (mortar box)
A portable wooden or metal structure, normally filled with sand, used for the
aboveground placement of mortars. Also known as a mortar box.
An aerial shell malfunction in which the shell bursts just as it leaves the mortar,
scattering stars and burning material in all directions near ground level.
Effects (usually shells) designed for use on bodies of water. Nautical effects fall
into a body of water and produce an effect on the water’s surface.
net explosive quantity (NEQ)
The weight of the fireworks or explosive itself, excluding the packaging, wiring
The maximum electrical current that can be applied when testing the continuity
of a circuit or article without causing an ignition or degradation of the device.
A tool constructed from materials (brass, copper, aluminium, wood, stainless
steel, etc.) that will not spark when scraped or struck.
An electrical circuit that has a break preventing current from flowing through.
An electrical circuit in which the current is split through several individual devices, in contrast to a series circuit.
A sign placed on a vehicle to indicate the type of cargo. Required by Transport
Canada’s Transportation of Dangerous Goods (TDG) Directorate.
A long tube containing slow-burning fireworks composition, which is often used
to ignite fireworks at manually fired displays.
probe firing panel (nail board)
A device made of a series of terminals and a probe on a wire. The act of touching
the probe to one of the terminals completes the electric circuit.
A fast-burning fuse made of black match encased in a loose-fitting paper.
A specific and well-defined area on a display site where a group of fireworks is
positioned for firing.
A wooden box for holding manually fired shells at the display site.
A very loud “crack” or sharp sound.
report shell (also known as salute or sound shell)
An aerial shell that contains effects that produce a loud noise and a bright visual
A paper or plastic tube that houses a series of projectiles such as stars, shells,
reports or firecrackers. The projectiles rise one at a time, either emitting a
coloured shower of stars or producing a report.
A thimble-shaped paper casing that is placed over the end of a fuse to protect it
from accidental ignition.
See report shell.
A fireworks mixture that produces a large flash and a loud report. Salute
powder (also called flash powder) consists of potassium chlorate or potassium
perchlorate, sulphur and aluminium powder.
The minimum required distance or the actual distance (if greater than the
minimum required distance) between fireworks or fireworks in mortars and the
A lattice fixed to the ground and arrayed with lances, gerbs or flares that form an
image, word or design. Set pieces are classified as ground-level displays.
shell detonation “in mortar”
A particularly dangerous malfunction of an aerial shell in which the shell
explodes violently inside the mortar, often shattering it.
A rocket-shaped shell with a flight-stabilizing stick attached to its base. On
ignition, the rocket rises into the air and produces a burst of colour and/or a
report at the height of its climb.
Small masses of fireworks compounds that are projected from aerial effects and
mortars, and produce colour or streamer effects.
The passing of a previously stationary electrical charge from one point to
another. All conductive objects (clouds, clothes, mechanical equipment, human
bodies) are capable of storing static electricity. Under certain conditions, static
electricity can be transferred to powders, electric circuits or firing devices, which
causes premature explosions.
Electrical currents from conductive or semiconductive material that have
“leaked” from typical transmission sources. Stray currents can be strong enough
to fire explosives charges.
Supervisor in Charge
A person certified to conduct a public or private fireworks display. The
Supervisor in Charge is responsible for ensuring that all fireworks are properly
installed and that all appropriate safety measures have been taken.
People who are neither part of the audience nor part of the actual display,
- security guards
- emergency response teams
The movement of sparks, heat or sudden force from one effect to another, which
causes ignition and premature functioning.
A course recognized by the Minister of Natural Resources Canada as a means of
becoming qualified to use display fireworks.
trunk line (electrical)
A wire or cable of wires running from a firing panel to the area of the effects.
Fireworks are unattended if they have been removed from a magazine or are in
transport and are not under the care and control of someone capable of taking
immediate corrective action in response to a real or potential hazard.
A spinning fireworks article that is fixed by an axle and attached to a post.
A small fireworks article that produces a whistling sound by the burning of a
A sturdy wooden structure used to support mortars in upright