About Northern Lights

The show

Northern Lights is a free bilingual show presented nightly from July 9 to September 10, 2016. Show times: in July at 10:00 p.m., in August at 9:30 p.m., and in September at 9:00 p.m.

This experience of sound and light is a thrilling thematic journey through Canada’s history. Combining bold digital technology with the architectural splendour of the Parliament Buildings, the show illuminates Canadian stories of nation-building, partnership, discovery, valour, pride and vision at the heart of our country.

Audiences have been captivated by sound and light shows on Parliament Hill for more than 30 years.

Key figures, events and achievements from Canadian history are brought to life using five distinct artistic styles. All are presented in spectacular detail, with stirring narration and an original score, against the backdrop of the Centre Block and Peace Tower.

The narrative unfolds through five thematic “books”:

Book One: Foundations of the Nation.
A fluid ink-in-water style is used to paint stories of how people from all over the world have expanded our foundations. From traditional indigenous ways of life and early European settlements to modern citizenship ceremonies, these stories are linked by our desire to call Canada “home”.
Book Two: Strength in Partnership.
Partnership and determination have made Canada strong. Using an illustration style inspired by classical paintings, this book explores alliances that have shaped our country.
Book Three: Discovery and Adventure.
A lithographic style takes us on a voyage showcasing the achievements of explorers, scientists and innovators whose quests into the unknown continue to inspire us to follow our dreams.
Book Four: Valour.
This powerful book combines dramatic performances with archival materials and charcoal drawings to honour the men and women who have served their country, both at home and abroad, in military conflicts since the First World War.
Book Five: Pride and Vision.
Inspired by the stained glass windows of the Memorial Chamber in the Peace Tower, this intensely colourful book celebrates the natural grandeur of our country and the diversity of her people.

Northern Lights is the 6th edition of the Sound and Light Show on Parliament Hill since 1984, and runs for the next five consecutive summers (2015-2019).

The technology

What kind of technology is required to turn the Centre Block on Parliament Hill into a screen more than 143 metres (470 feet) long and 30 storeys high?

Projectors

Seventeen different projectors work together to form a seamless image on the front façade of Centre Block, creating a fully immersive high definition visual experience.

Lighting Effects

During Northern Lights, the Centre Block façade is flooded with light by more than 150 moving and static lighting fixtures. These include 50 automated lights, some of which can produce more than 16.5 million different hues, and 38 low-energy LED lights which produce more than 4.2 billion different hues. This complex lighting system is controlled by two computers and more than 15 km (49,213 feet) of wiring. High-impact lighting and environmentally-friendly smoke effects enhance the experience. For the first time, the sound and light show on Parliament Hill will use a color laser to punctuate transitions and add depth, making this a truly multimedia show.

Audio

Northern Lights features an original score, stirring narration and captivating sound effects. These sounds are brought to life on the front lawn of Parliament Hill using an audio system custom built for the show. The rich soundtrack is mixed using a 7.1 surround sound system, with 18 speakers set up in 8 different locations around the site. This all-new system was redesigned to improve the clarity of the narration and soundtrack, and to create a more immersive experience. The audio system has a total of 38,000 watts of power, 15,000 of which comes from the subwoofers. The audio signal is fully digital.

Video

Video programming for a large-scale multimedia show like Northern Lights requires very specialized software and a powerful control system. The show uses 10 different servers, almost 200 gigabytes of processing power, and 80 gigabytes of video RAM. The image projected on the Centre Block is comprised of up to 35 million pixels (to put this in perspective, a high definition television screen can display just over 2 million pixels at a time).

Signal Management

With a show as complex as Northern Lights, many different types of equipment have to communicate with each other flawlessly, and this is accomplished through an intricate show control system that links lighting, video, audio, time code, network and control signals. This amazing system, designed by the show’s technical director and his team, uses 150 km of cable, including just over 7.5 km of fibre optic cable, and almost a kilometre of speaker line. There are four different networks, one of which is entirely dedicated to the safety systems related to the show’s laser. The show’s system includes more than 2,500 individual signal connections, all of which must work together seamlessly to bring the show to life.

The Cube

The projection trailer in the Centre Aisle is covered with LED screens on three sides. This “CUBE” of video screens counts down to show time and hosts interactive games before the show. During Northern Lights, the LED screens help tell the story, and a colour laser housed in the CUBE, beams out onto Parliament.

The interactive CUBE activities begin about one hour prior to the start of Northern Lights and run approximately 55 minutes.

Acknowledgements

Exclusive sponsor

Manulife exclusive sponsor of Sound and Light show

Artistic team

Canadian Heritage worked with Idées au cube (id3) of Montréal for the creation of Northern Lights. One of the largest audio-visual production and corporate events firms in Quebec, id3 is a specialist in graphic and multimedia production. With more than 30 years of active experience in the field of communications, id3 has produced an impressive array of videos and multimedia communication tools, many of which have garnered industry awards.

General acknowledgements

Canadian Heritage would like to thank the following individuals for their contributions to Northern Lights:

  • Dr. Jonathan Vance
  • Jean-Pierre Morin
  • Warrant Officer (Retired) Philip Palmer, CD
  • Colonel Jennie Carignan
  • The families of Private Frank Lind, Private William Henry Bell, Nursing Sister Alice Isaacson, Private Charlie Ross Francis, Lance Corporal Hermel Pelletier, Able Seaman Earl Gray, and Private Jacques Raymond.
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