July 15th the provincial sky was lit up with fireworks for the Manitoba Metis Federation’s province-wide celebration of Manitoba’s 150th birthday and the next day social media was lit up with posts from people who loved it.
Will Goodon, who watched the display in The Pas, tweeted “Thanks so much to @MBMetis_MMF VP Judy Mayer for inviting me out to watch as everyone celebrated this (important) day in Manitoba's history, when 150 years ago, we were officially proclaimed as Canada's fifth province.”
Brittney Leost watched near Winnipeg with the province’s unofficial mascot, the mosquito and tweeted this gem: “Thanks to the @MBMetis_MMF for the fireworks tonight. I’ve never seen three fireworks displays simultaneously! (if you listen carefully you can hear the mosquitos of the floodway slowly draining my blood)”
For Manitoba Metis Federation President David Chartrand, the first-of-its-kind celebration was a much-needed break during a spring and summer that has seen everything from the Jets and Bombers to Canada Day shelved due to the coronavirus.
Chartrand and the MMF planned the province-wide events to recognize the historical day – the day Manitoba officially became the fifth province to join Confederation and the only province to do so under the governance of an Indigenous Nation.
“We wanted to do something during this COVID era to bring people a sense of relief,” Chartrand said.
“COVID is not over, it’s still here and I believe it’s going to change us all for years to come, but we still need to celebrate our province and the milestone of 150 years. July 15th was the perfect day to set aside all of our problems and differences and just be proud of who we are, proud of our families, our communities and our province and have the chance to watch fireworks as a family.”
The firework celebrations took place at 10:45pm everywhere from Winnipeg to Churchill and countless communities in between, including West St. Paul, Churchill, The Pas, Cranberry Portage, Dauphin, Duck Bay, St. Laurent, Grand Marais, Portage la Prairie and Wawboden. With COVID in mind, people were encouraged to watch from their vehicles or their homes, or watch as the fireworks were streamed live online and rerun throughout the next day.
The goal, Chartrand said, was simply to give people a moment to feel good and to celebrate a date that changed the course of history for Western Canada.
Cheryl Christian, Mayor of the RM of West St. Paul, said they were more than happy to be a host site for the historic event. The municipality recently raised the MMF flag at its Municipal office and intends to fly it for the entire summer in recognition of recent partnerships with MMF.
West St. Paul has partnered with the MMF on the ‘It’s My Community Too’ program, which provides classroom training, safety certification and hands-on work experience to trainees who earn a wage from MMF. In West St. Paul, the trainees are beautifying green spaces by trimming trees and removing dead ones from public reserves and parks.
“West St. Paul is so excited about our new partnership with MMF and we were proud to be a host community for their special Manitoba 150 fireworks celebration,” Christian said, noting vehicles lined Kapelus Drive in front of the Sunova Centre to watch the show.
“Having the opportunity to take part in the MMF fireworks celebration that took place in so many communities at the same time highlights how connected we all are as communities and people across Manitoba. We celebrate Manitoba’s 150 and our positive partnership with MMF.”
Tiffany Fell, Mayor of the RM of Springfield, was still pumped the following day.
“The Manitoba Metis Federation did a wonderful job, it was beautiful,” Fell said.
“Everybody is just beside themselves over how amazing it was. It was a fantastic break for everyone, it was short notice but it was something people got to look forward to and tons of people showed up and everybody loved it.”
Social distancing was the order of the day Fell said, noting Highway 206 was lined with cars parked to get a good view of the show and parking lots were packed too.
In The Pas, Mayor Herb Jaques said the fireworks were a welcome reprieve.
“I think it’s good, anything that celebrates Manitoba…and its history is good by me,” Jaques said.
“I haven’t heard of anything like this happening before in our province, and I think it’s great, especially everything going on with COVID, the fear and people’s attitudes, I think this helps cheer people up and helps them feel a little better about things, so why not? We have a big hill in front of us and this will help us get up it a little sooner.”
Kelly Guille, President of Archangel Fireworks Inc., welcomed the challenge of coordinating a show that took place from one end of the province to the other.
“I was extremely excited when we received the call to work with MMF to produce these shows,” Guille said.
“The tight timeline was challenging and I knew it would be but we have a great team, we have worked in many of the places before and we know how to get results fast.”
He said at a time when many have been impacted by Covid-19, the work was much appreciated.
"The income could not come at a better time for us. Getting through until groups can officially gather will be the biggest challenge I have ever faced in our 30 some years,” he said.
“Archangel’s revenues are 75% during summer months and COVID hit at the very worst time for our industry. Being able to hire our casual crew members for a few days feels awesome too.
“Secondly, it’s the joy that is spread when communities can share in something like this after such prolonged time apart, even from their next door neighbours. To know that someone in Churchill was smiling at the same time as someone in Dauphin and The Pas and Portage La Prairie and Marquette and Winnipeg, and and and…… This type of event is a gift to all Manitobans and I hope it was felt by all who could enjoy even a little spark from their backyard while knowing the scope of what was going on.”
Though it would have been nice to be able to physically bring people together for the event, Chartrand said it was important to proceed even with social distancing protocols in place.
“Obviously you can celebrate things at anytime, but as a culture we emphasize milestones like 25 years, 50 years, and so in this case, 150 years is a big deal and we didn’t want to miss this opportunity,” he said.
“There are many of us who won’t be around 50 years from now and it was necessary to celebrate, and during this time maybe even more important, to remind everyone of the pride we should have as Manitobans, as a province that has embraced all society.”