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Yellowknife NYE fireworks lit in memory of pyrotechnics master, Kate Dooley

Kate Dooley did fireworks displays around Yellowknife for 15 years. After her passing this December, her crewmates and friends memorialized her at Yellowknife's New Year's Eve fireworks show.

‘She was everywhere there was something blowing up,’ says long-time friend

Kate Dooley passed away in December. For the last 15 years, she has led many fireworks shows around Yellowknife. On Jan. 1, 2020, friends honoured her with a few shells at the start of the New Year's Eve light show. (Submitted by Kimberley Smale. )

Last year, Kate Dooley set off a 10-inch firework, perhaps her biggest yet, said Kim Smale, a close friend of Yellowknife's fireworks maestro.

"The anticipation for that one was just huge. You could just watch Kate vibrate as she was ready to flick the switch on that one," said Smale.

Dooley loved to watch things explode in the sky. If you've watched fireworks on New Year's Eve, the opening of the Deh Cho bridge, the Tłı̨chǫ self-government signing, or the Long John Jamboree, you've likely seen her work.

It's the first New Year's Eve in 15 years that she won't be behind the fuse. Dooley passed away from an illness in early December. 

This year, the folks running the New Year's fireworks show will set off a few explosives just for her. And, she had favourites.

"The big shells and the big chrysanthemums that burst over the sky — I mean, they were always good. But you know the ones that just kinda keep firing from the bottom? She liked those too because they were a rapid fire kind of show," said Smale.

Dooley was a house painter and a dog lover. She worked at mining camps. She liked metal music and Etta James. She was a private person who spent time at her camper and in the outdoors with Smale's dogs.

When she passed sooner than expected this winter, one of her fireworks crew mates, Terrel Hobbs, stepped up to carry on the show as a fireworks supervisor.

Terrel Hobbs is the fireworks supervisor for the New Year's Eve show on Frame Lake. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

"Every New Year's show for the last 15 years we've done together," said Hobbs.

At the start of the show, Hobbs and his crew planned to set off some patriot missiles in her memory. 

"We'll take a brief moment in memory and reflection of Kate and the amount of work she put into the shows," he said.

Hobbs would see her for just a few days out of the year, but when she would call him up to say the fireworks were on their way, her excitement was unmistakable, said Hobbes. 

"Any time that someone's going to pay you to blow up stuff, it's always very exciting, and I think it was definitely a time of year that she really enjoyed," he said. 

Dooley got endorsements to shoot up to a 10 or 12 inch firework. The team works in all conditions and lights the fireworks manually. 

The crew on the ground is close enough to feel the boom, said Hobbs.

"I think for Katie it was probably the bigger the better," he said. 

Dooley would start preparing around November, making sure people could see the show from wherever they were, said Smale. 

"You know just listening to the people afterwards talking about whether they enjoyed it or what they saw out of it, that was that was really huge for Kate," she said.

This year, the New Year's Eve Fireworks are "bittersweet," said Smale. 

"The end kind of happened quite quickly. You kind of wish she was here doing it, as she normally did every year. But I know that she's going to be watching."

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