The Victoria Day long weekend was once the only time in Canada for fireworks displays. The celebration of the Queen’s birthday -- Queen Victoria, of course -- was reserved for a spring-like celebration of hand-tossed firecrackers, Burning Schoolhouses and backyard displays. And while many other royal traditions live on – check out some of the ways monarchists celebrate Victoria Day here – fireworks have become a sky-high staple of the annual May event.

Over the years, we’ve had fireworks festivities extended to Canada Day in most major cities. As well, there’s a “Celebration of Light” in Vancouver’s English bay at the end of July, and Montreal’s International Fireworks Competition running Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout July. Calgary also has a GlobalFest from Aug. 20-29, and a lot of other cities put on big displays on New Year’s Eve. These are all professionally run festivals that are spectator-only events.

So the real thrill of Victoria Day is that it’s one of the only times of year when individuals can set off fireworks, firecrackers, Cherry Bombs, and maybe a Burning Schoolhouse or two.

In most municipalities, you need a permit, proof of age and proof of insurance, so check your local bylaws to see what you need to gather in advance.

The easiest thing to do is find a community event where all the administrative hassles are taken care of, and gather your gang to enjoy that organized event. But if you’re really determined to do it yourself – buying online or scrambling together a collection of explosives at a local roadside shack seller -- then here are some tips for doing it safely:

Start Small

Firework safety

For beginners, little cylinders called “cakes” are probably the best way to burst into the world of pyrotechnics. They automatically shoot off a handful of colourful flares over the course of 30 seconds or so, and can be purchased for as cheap as a few dollars. Check out the different varieties -- with video examples -- here.

Single-shot mortars are also a popular choice -- these are the classic fireworks that fly up into the air before exploding into a colourful display that might crackle wildly or quietly linger in the air, depending on what variety you choose.

Other good beginner choices are ground effect fireworks, says Sarah Ashira, the head of shipping and sales at These displays hang close to the ground, creating fountains of colours and pops to supplement the aerial aspect of your show.

When setting up your outdoor display, the key is to secure your fireworks in a way that ensures they shoot upwards without tipping over.

For cakes, the best method is to place the cylinder on a flat surface and secure it with rocks or bricks, Ashira says. Other types of fireworks, like Roman candles or barrages, need to be dug into the ground or buried in a bucket of sand to make sure they don’t fall over.

You’ll need at least a 30-metre by 30-metre clear space in order to insure you won’t hit any nearby buildings, trees or vehicles. Dry brush and grass should also be avoided.

Another thing to keep in mind is wind speed and direction -- spectators should have their backs to the wind to ensure fireworks aren’t blown toward the audience. And if winds are strong enough, lighting off fireworks should be avoided altogether.

And even after setting up safely and following the instructions on each individual incendiary, you should always keep a hose or bucket of water handy in case something goes wrong.

Light them off safely

Safely light fireworks

Like most things that catch fire and explode, fireworks shouldn’t be lit near your body. The safest and most effective method for lighting fireworks is to use a remote-controlled firing system, Ashira says.

Though a remote system lets you operate your show from 150 metres away, the price might be a bit restrictive for the average backyard display. Punk ignitors -- long sticks that burn like incense -- are the next best option, Ashira says, and can be purchased for less than a dollar each.

“Anything, basically, that gives you a bit of distance between you and the firework,” she says. “Even a barbecue lighter.”

Transport and storage

Safely storing fireworks

If you’re bringing fireworks home from a store, be sure to place them in the trunk of your vehicle, rather than the passenger compartment. If you’re driving a van or pickup truck without a trunk, use a non-sparking container with a lid to transport them -- and, of course, don’t smoke while handling fireworks unless you want to surprise your neighbours with an early celebration.

Once home, fireworks should be stored in a cool, dry place, and kept away from children. Also keep in mind that you can only store a maximum of 10 kilograms of fireworks in a single dwelling -- anything beyond that needs to be stored in a separate, locked building.

And if you don’t end up setting off your whole stash this year, don’t worry -- there’s always next year. If kept free of excessive humidity, most fireworks should last at least two to three years in storage.