Letter to mom-October 13,1999

1957-Marpole was it’s own village and had different celebrations every year. You might recognize one of the scouts on this truck.

Halloween is coming. As kids in Marpole we sure looked forward to it. The smell of gunpowder; the drifting clouds of smoke from fireworks put a surreal edge on the evening. We could and would buy any kind of fire cracker manufactured from our local corner store. Indeed, the corner mom and pop stores and the Chinese grocers would vie with each other to supply the most varied types of  destructive devices available. Their windows were crammed full of a veritable cornucopia of the most exotic and colourful rockets, bombs, and firecrackers. It warmed a little boys heart. The big ones were too expensive for the ordinary kid on the street but occasionally someone’s parents would spring for the purchase of one of these blockbusters. It would go off in the most satisfying display of colours and smoke. Although, if, at the end of it’s launch, it didn’t explode with the sound and power of a small grenade it was deemed a failure.


The Chinese were in control of the manufacture and distribution of fireworks and it probably has something to do with their tradition that they are covered with the most beautiful, obscure and fascinating decorations imaginable. Before I was old enough to light my own personal arsenal I would search for the spent cases the next day  they would form a collection that I would stare at for weeks. Even the smallest of the firecrackers were packaged exotically with fine red tissue paper and curiously anglicized labels such as ‘Red Hot’ or ‘Much Boom’.


These labels were important as they did identify the best of the bunch and since the retailers started selling at least two weeks early the experimental phase enabled us to collect the best and have them in our pockets ready for the big night. The most popular joke was to sneak up behind some poor sap and put a match to the string of firecrackers dangling from his back pocket. Very colourful and interesting language would accompany the resulting spectacle. The medium size firecrackers and hand bombs would be lit by little smoldering sticks we called punks. (Nowadays they’re called incense)The fuses of the red firecrackers and the smallest Ladyfingers were woven together and if you wanted to make a real spectacle you would light the whole bunch and stand back for a most satisfying display. Most of us were forced to be frugal as you wanted them to last all night and they were expensive.


This was the transition period. There were enough kids getting hurt that movement was afoot to tone down the celebration. The Marpole Community Association sponsored a huge bonfire and firework events that no single family or person could afford. Eventually Halloween celebrants would end up at the community centre where they wanted us. The sale of heavy duty firecrackers and bombs to the public was banned and the grocers were now only able to sell something called ‘fireworks’; a pale imitation of the real thing. No longer did the streets echo with the sounds of World War One. Little children could carry on Trick or Treating without the fear that the neighbourhood bully or their big brother(sometimes one and the same thing) would ambush them with a string of lady fingers.


There are two Halloweens on Hornby. The first is for the kids and is usually held on the 31st. Although some of the subdivisions are able to support Trick or Treating the distances are usually to far in the rural parts for this tradition. So the community puts on the children’s party at the Community Hall. It’s very controlled and safe; the kids get to experience a scary Ghost Show, play games and get a bag full of treats before they go outside to watch the great fireworks display put on by the fire department.

The second is for the adults and this is a dance held on the nearest Saturday night. This is the social event of the year as just about everybody gets into costume and lets loose. Usually we have a little pre-party and people now show up in the most hilarious of outfits just to be photographed. After a few drinks and laughs we head for the hall. Every year I take my camera and record some of the most innovative disguises. As a little memory jog, one of our friends collects a supply of the good old noisy firecrackers and bombs from the native sellers in Washington State, brings them to the pre-party and we are reminded of the ‘good old days’ with lots of smoke and noise.


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