Maestra Tania Miller leads the Victoria Symphony before a crowd of thousands at the 2012 Symphony Splash in the Inner Harbour. The hugely popular annual B.C. Day long weekend event is the culmination of months of preparation.

Gearing up to make a community Splash in Victoria

A volunteer cast of hundreds keeps Symphony Splash a well-orchestrated event

It may sound like the obvious punchline to a bad joke, but when it comes to how many people it takes to put on the Victoria Symphony Splash, the answer is: a lot.

To be more precise, it takes about 370 volunteers, dozens of hired hands and a few star project managers to stage a world-class musical event for roughly 40,000 participants in Victoria’s Inner Harbour every year.

“The thing that amazes me is how much people put into this,” said volunteer co-ordinator Ian Piears, who is working to fill about 430 shifts for this Sunday’s event, many of them 12 hours long.

“We do have the diehard symphony fans that come along, but a lot more people are interested in volunteering than in the event,” he said, noting that even feeding his army of volunteers is a task that requires careful planning. “There’s a pride of being involved in the community of Victoria that I really like.”

The logistical process begins Saturday, when an industrial barge pulled by tugboats is slotted into the Inner Harbour, where it will house the symphony, directed by Maestra Tania Miller. About a dozen private vessels are temporarily relocated to other marinas by the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority for the remainder of the weekend.

Across the harbour, pyrotechnic experts begin wiring up the visual finale of Splash, a fireworks display that is the culmination of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

After months of preparation, said production manager Janette Galan – she oversees everything from crowd control to food carts to street closures – the day of the show actually runs quite smoothly.

She begins at 6 a.m. and shortly afterward, the first delivery of the day arrives: 44 portable toilets.

“Nobody’s around at that time. It’s quite easy actually, before mayhem ensues,” she said.

Speakers are erected and large electrical cables snake from the legislature’s giant sequoia tree to soundboards across the street, as well as under the water to the dozens of microphone inputs and lighting atop the barge.

“It’s one of those interesting logistical challenges,” Galan said.

More road closures are put in place as hardcore fans begin to set up lawn chairs on the harbour causeways and legislature lawn. But be warned: organizers will keep careful watch to ensure no one sets up their chairs before 8 a.m. Sunday.

At 2 p.m., full road closures come into effect and a ragtag army of food vendors set up shop on Government Street between the legislature and the Royal B.C. Museum. The vendors must be self-contained, meaning they supply their own electricity and running water. Generators won’t be permitted onsite as the classical music doesn’t do quite as effective a job at drowning out peripheral sounds as a rock concert, Galan said.

At the end of the day, everything that has gone up must come down for the city to return to business as usual on the B.C. Day holiday Monday.

But the payoff is worth it, Galan said.

“When you can see 40,000 people down there … enjoying each other, enjoying the music and being safe and respectful – and then after, they leave it like they weren’t even there because the place is so clean – it’s very rewarding,” she said.

Aside from the tireless work of volunteers, staff, vendors and hydro crews, Galan tips her hat to one more critical group who make the event a success: the attendees.

“Victorians have a real sense of ownership, in the nicest possible way. They love it,” she said. “They’re polite, they respect the areas we lay out for them. We tend not to have any problems at all.”

– with files from Daniel Palmer

Splash day

The schedule for the Victoria Symphony Splash starts very early on Sunday (Aug. 4).

5 a.m. – North lane of Belleville Street between Government and Menzies streets closed

8 a.m. – Lawn chairs may be set up on the upper and lower causeways

2 p.m. – Full road closure begins, including Government from Superior to Humboldt streets, Wharf Street from Government to Broughton Street, and Belleville Street from Government to Douglas Street

7:30 p.m. – Concert begins, including performances by young soloists Carter Johnson and Eric Manning

8:30 p.m. – Intermission

9:30 p.m. – Finale with 1812 Overture and fireworks

11 p.m. – Street reopens to traffic

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