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Painting the sky with a bang

If you saw some great fireworks this past weekend — the kind that lightup the sky with a rainbow of colours, and do so in synch with the music— maybe it’s because someone like David Whysall is at the control panel.

If you saw some great fireworks this past weekend — the kind that light up the sky with a rainbow of colours, and do so in synch with the music — maybe it’s because someone like David Whysall is at the control panel.

Whysall, now 65, has been tinkering with explosives since he was a young man growing up near Nottingham, U.K.

There was a fireworks factory in town, one of the few employers around. Whysall was a whiz at chemistry and got a job there after he finished school.

“It was just a job. But when the manufacturing and the creativity got together, then it started to be exciting.”

In 1982, he got a job with a fireworks company in Ontario, so he emigrated. That job actually fell through, so he created his own company to design, make and sell fireworks (wholesale, not directly to consumers) and to mount fireworks shows. He briefly manufactured his own fireworks, but eventually moved that side of his business to China.

Back when he did a lot of lab work — at his first employer and in the earlier days of his company — Whysall spent a lot of time testing the powdered chemicals he worked with to make sure they were up to grade and had the right amount of moisture content.

He also experimented with different combinations of chemicals to get the right blend of colour, effect and bang. Once he’d created the mix, he’d go outside and set it off.

Now, the Chinese factory uses the recipes Whysall created long ago for his products. Today, he spends his time dealing with paperwork and legalities (fireworks are very heavily regulated in Canada), visiting the factory in China, choreographing displays and booking fireworks shows.

For those big events, he does the choreography on a computer. “We sit at a computer for an hour for every minute of display,” he says. Using special software, his design then helps trigger the fireworks themselves at events.

He uses trained staff to help set up the fireworks at shows. That also takes a lot of time: about three days using a dozen staff members for a big display at Ontario Place, for instance.

It’s worth the effort: Whysall loves the applause and his shows have won awards. “There is something that makes my shows better than a lot of people’s, but I don’t know what it is.”

 
 
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