When Freedom Rang: Fireworks at the Fort

Vancouver's celebration of American history has a fascinating, mysterious history of its own

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

Published:

 

2013 Fort Vancouver fireworks, by the numbers

• 20 Length in minutes of the 2013 fireworks show, same as 2012.

• 11,751 Individual fireworks shots in the 2013 show, compared with 10,274 in 2012.

• 6,125 Pounds of fireworks to be launched in the 2013 show, compared with 5,651 in 2012.

• 1,654 Pounds of explosives used to launch those fireworks, compared with 1,529 in 2012.

• 450 Height in feet of tallest fireworks.

• 30,000-35,000 People expected to attend (the same as in 2012, 2011 and 2010.)

• 1855 Year of Vancouver’s first Fourth of July Celebration.

• 1962 Year the Fort Vancouver fireworks display likely began. There was no show in 2009.

photoFred Munhoven, a historical preservation specialist for the Fort Vancouver National Trust, sets up a tape barrier along Officers Row Tuesday as part of preparations for Independence Day at Fort Vancouver. Munhoven says he typically works 16 to 18 hours on the Fourth of July staring at 6 a.m. "I love the comaraderie," Munhoven said.

(/The Columbian)

Buy this photo

It's hard to find details about the first Fort Vancouver Fourth of July Celebration in 1962.

There aren't any stories about the event -- celebrating its golden 50th this year -- from 1962 in The Columbian.

Organizers say they're "almost" absolutely positive Thursday's festivities will include the 50th fireworks launch since 1962, taking into account that the event skipped a year for financial reasons in 2009.

But proving it is difficult.

Jim Larson, head of the old Fourth of July committee, died in 2009.

When the Fort Vancouver National Trust took over the event about 10 years ago, Larson told trust members that it started in 1962.

"Unfortunately, Jim's not around to ask, and he was the last person involved from those very early years," said Elson Strahan, executive director of the trust.

Beyond that, the trust has no records of the first show.

"My understanding was that the first year, there was a group of guys that came out of the (Vancouver Junior Chamber of Commerce) and decided to do a fireworks show," Strahan said. "I suspect it was very informal."

Heather Gobet, marketing director at Western Display, doesn't have receipts from 1962. The company, which was founded by her great-grandparents, has done the display through the show's entire history.

"I wasn't alive then, but I'm almost absolutely certain it was 1962," Gobet said. "I got a hold of my mom and she got her hands on some notes and things from my grandparents that go back to that date (July 4, 1962)."

The first mention of the event in The Columbian is in 1963. A July 3 staff report from that year mentions that it will be the "liveliest Fourth of July in many years" and that the festivities are part of "an effort to re-establish the Fourth of July as a unique holiday."

The story also notes that it was the first time "in many years" that residents were allowed to shoot off their own fireworks after the city removed a fireworks ban. Four tents around town sold fireworks to pay for the big Fort Vancouver Fourth of July show that year.

And in a tradition that didn't survive, the story also says that "bells in churches and buildings throughout the city will chime out at noon in a salute to the Fourth."

The online "Administrative History of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site" from the National Park Service says the event started in 1963.

"The city of Vancouver first sponsored the event using park service and city land in 1963 when William R. Sampson was acting superintendent after Frank Hjort transferred. That first year, around 17,500 people enjoyed helicopter demonstrations, sky diving exhibitions, water fights between the fire departments, a presentation of highlights from the Music Man, tours of the fort site and a spectacular fireworks display on the airport," the site notes.

Whether it's the 50th year of the event or the 50th year since its founding, though, visitors to the 2013 Independence Day at Fort Vancouver will be treated to a special anniversary show with more shots, more pounds of explosives and more fireworks than they've seen since it relaunched in 2010.

"They added money to the show for the 50th display, and we designed and contributed a special opening sequence in honor of our long relationship with the celebration," Gobet said. "The opening sequence features gold and gold filigree -- a big U pattern of comets, and there's a great instrumental piece of music that goes with it."

The gold color is part of the theme for the 50th golden anniversary, said Cara Cantonwine, director of programs for the trust.

"It's a fantastic show," she said.

Five entertainment areas will offer live music, kids games, historic displays and the finals of the Sing Fourth Teen Vocal Competition, in which local high school kids compete for prizes that top out at $1,000.

Musical acts include Five Guys Named Moe, Beat Frequency and Hit Machine.

Other highlights of the fireworks show, which starts at 10:05 p.m., include a boom of gold star shells with purple "go-getters" that look like buzzing bees and a "really intense rainbow of colors with a waterfall cascading pattern" that will fill the entire sky, Gobet said.

The technology of the actual fireworks has changed very little since the first Fort Vancouver show, whether it was 1962 or 1963. But the design and launch technology is very different today, she said.

"They used to be almost random shots set off with highway flares," Gobet said. "Now everything is done with computers with accuracy down to a fraction of a second."

The company uses computer simulations to plan the show so it works perfectly with the music, programmed for Fort Vancouver for the past several years by Blake Sakamoto.

"The program we have actually simulates the whole show," Gobet said. "It's amazingly spot-on."

Whether created through modern technology or by older means, though, fireworks displays always seem to guarantee a happy crowd.

That was true in 1963, when a July 5 Columbian story by Larry Brown describes the show as "big, bold and brassy" with "'oh's' and 'ah's' from thousands of spectators who watched the sky explode with color."

And the same will likely be true this year, Cantonwine said.

"It's a really exciting day," she said.


Sue Vorenberg: 360-735-4457; http://twitter.com/col_SueVo; sue.vorenberg@columbian.com.


July 4th EVENTS


Independence Day at Fort Vancouver

Hours: 8 a.m. gates open at, close after the fireworks display.

Events: noon, five entertainment zones with musical acts, games and demonstrations; noon, vendors open; 4 p.m. Fred Meyer Patriotic Parade; 10:05 p.m. fireworks launch from Pearson Field.

Admission: 12 and younger, free; adults, $5 in advance (at http://fortvan.org), $7 day of show.

Transportation: C-Tran will run shuttles to the event every 15 minutes from the north side of the Westfield Vancouver Mall, 8700 N.E. Vancouver Mall Drive, from 6 to 8:30 p.m., with return service available after the fireworks show. Round-trip tickets cost $3. Paid parking will be available on Fifth Street between East Reserve Street and Grand Boulevard and at The Academy for $10. Downtown metered parking is free. Bicycles can be stored at monitored bike parking at the event.

Information:http://fortvan.org/fourth or 360-992-1804.


Felida Children’s Parade

Hours: 10:45 a.m. parade line-up; 11 a.m. streets close; 11:15 a.m. parade starts, followed by free picnic lunch, exhibits and games until 2:30 p.m.

Where: Parade line-up will be at Felida Park at the Northwest 127th Avenue gate.

Admission: Free.

Information:http://1.usa.gov/14XW5q6 or 360-573-4030.


Ridgefield 4th of July Celebration

Hours: 7 a.m. events begin, closing after the 10:15 p.m. fireworks display.

Events: 7-10 a.m. Pancake breakfast at Ridgefield Community Center, 210 N. Main Ave.; 8 a.m. fun runs at Pioneer Street and Main Avenue; 10:15 a.m. pet and kid pre-parade begins at the corner of Pioneer Street and Main Avenue; 11 a.m. Fourth of July Parade, starting at Main Avenue and Division Street and going to Eighth Avenue and Pioneer Street; noon-3:30 p.m. salmon and chicken barbecue at Abrams Park; noon-3:30 p.m. Kids Day at Skatepark and Simon Street; noon to 6 p.m. Downtown Festival at Fifth Avenue and Simon Street (all activities included with $5 wristband); 6-10 p.m. street dance at Skatepark; 10:15 p.m. fireworks.

Admission: Most events are free, except for the Downtown Festival, which requires a $5 wristband, and the fun runs, which are $30-$40 for the 10k, $20-$30 for the 5k.

Information:http://ridgefield4th.com or 360-887-0329.


Camas-Washougal Riverside Concert Series

Hours: 6-10:30 p.m.

Where: Port of Camas-Washougal Marina Park.

Events: 6 to 7:30 p.m. concert by Shwing Daddies; 8:30 to 10 p.m. Big Night Out; 10 p.m. fireworks display from a barge on the Columbia River.

Admission: Free.

Information:http://portcw.com or 360-835-2196.


Yacolt Rendezvous July 4th

Hours: 10 a.m. to dusk.

Events: 10 a.m. parade starts at Parcel Avenue and Yacolt Road; noon opening ceremonies; noon to 7 p.m. vendors, lawnmower races and kids village from at the Little League field and music lineup headlined by Amber Sweeney; dusk fireworks.

Admission: Free.

Information:http://bit.ly/17CMRUi or YacoltEvents@gmail.com.

Fourth of July festivities to affect traffic near fort

Some streets around Vancouver's historic area will be closed Thursday because of the Fort Vancouver Fourth of July fireworks show, while some streets will be under traffic control all day.

Officials with the Fort Vancouver National Trust, which organizes Independence Day at Fort Vancouver, are encouraging people to take public transportation. For more information, call the Trust at 360-992-1808 or visit http://www.fortvan.org/fourth.

Some of the street advisories will take effect today: Fort Vancouver Way from Mill Plain Boulevard to Fourth Plain, including the median strip, is a no-parking/tow-away zone through Thursday. After the fireworks, all traffic leaving the area will travel north on Fort Vancouver Way until midnight.

On Thursday, state Highway 14 will offer access to the Columbia River waterfront trails, parks and restaurants until 9 p.m., an hour before the fireworks. Access will reopen immediately following the fireworks show.

All-day closures

• Evergreen Boulevard closed from U Street west to Interstate 5.

• Evergreen Boulevard at West Reserve.

• East Reserve south from Mill Plain.

• Ninth Street at East Reserve.

• Eighth Street at T Street.

• Fifth and Sixth streets at U Street.

• Mill Plain at Fort Vancouver Way (Fort Vancouver Way from Mill Plain south will be closed all day).

Closures at 6 p.m.

• Mill Plain exit from I-5 northbound.

• Mill Plain exit from I-5 southbound will be west only (right turn).

• Mill Plain between East Reserve and Fort Vancouver Way will be closed to all civilian traffic from 6 p.m. to midnight.

• Fort Vancouver Way south of McLoughlin Boulevard.

Closures at 9 p.m.

• Highway 14 at Grove Street-Columbia House Drive exit.

• Highway 14 at Columbia House Drive/Columbia Way exit.

Parking information

• Motor homes, campers and trailers: There is no general provision for parking these vehicles at the historic site or downtown Vancouver.

• Sports fields: No parking at the sports fields south of Mill Plain between East Reserve and Fort Vancouver Way.

• ADA parking will be available at the event site for a limited number of vehicles. Enter the site via the gate at Evergreen and West Reserve (west of I-5 near The Academy). Proceed to Fifth Street as directed. Current state-issued ADA parking placard must be displayed. Admission fee to the event applies.

• Clark College: Public parking at Fort Vancouver Way for $10. Must arrive before streets close at 9 p.m.

• Paid parking near the event: Parking is available at a lot at Fifth and S streets for $10. No fireworks, barbecues or RVs will be permitted. There is no re-entry privilege.

• Parking downtown: All parking meters, street spaces and city lots are free for the holiday.

• Prohibited parking: No parking on many streets and highways near the event including Highway 14, I-5 and Fort Vancouver Way.

• Bicycle parking: Available at the site at Fort Vancouver Way and Evergreen Boulevard; cyclists must provide their own locks.

C-Tran mall shuttle

C-Tran will provide shuttle service for $3 to the fireworks only from C-Tran's transit center at Westfield Vancouver Mall. Parking is courtesy of Westfield Vancouver Mall.

Buses depart from the mall's north lot to the Fort Vancouver National Site approximately every 15 minutes between 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

Return service to the mall begins immediately following the fireworks display.

No additional shuttle service to or from the Fort Vancouver National Site is provided.

Cash, pre-purchased C-Tran event shuttle tickets (available at Clark County Fred Meyer or Safeway stores), C-Tran day passes and C-Tran monthly passes will be accepted.

Because of the holiday, all C-Tran bus service operates on Sunday/holiday schedules. Information is at http://www.c-tran.com; 360-695-0123; and TDD for hearing impaired, 360-695-2760.