Having been raised in Abbotsford, home of the world famous Abbotsford International Airshow, the summers of my youth were spent with the Snowbirds.
The Canadian Forces aerial team was always a highlight of the three-day air show in early August, most often a headliner or co-headliner, along with the majestic U.S. Blue Angels or foreboding Vulcan bomber of Britain, taking to the skies like an angry bat.
Our townhouse was precisely 6.5 kilometres from Abbotsford Airport. In the years we did not join tens of thousands of others in braving the searing heat of the airport tarmac, we would gather on townhouse roofs, in backyards, up in trees or on the then-undeveloped hill above Bevan Gardens to watch myriad planes roar by.
In the 1970s and early 1980s — before safety considerations changed and severely limited the paths on which planes would fly — the aircraft in the air show would fly directly over parts of Abbotsford.
The windows on homes in our neighbourhood were constantly being rattled as jets screamed by overhead and, in my memory, I swear we could actually see the whites of the eyes of the pilots as we sat on our roofs in the scorching sun and watched, fascinated and frightened, as the shadows of these machines swallowed us.
The Abbotsford Airshow became world renown due to its ability to bring in the best in aviation, along with remarkable coups.
In 1974, King Hussein bin Talal of Jordan attended the airshow and was so impressed that he ordered the formation of a national aerobatic team in his Middle Eastern country. The Royal Jordanian Falcons were formed in 1976 and performed the following year in Abbotsford.
The 1980 show featured the first appearance in Canada of the new F/A-18 Hornet, then Canada’s newest fighter jet.
Shows in the 1980s boasted being the first in the world to feature the U.S. SR-71 Blackbird and the Soviet Union’s MiG-29 Fulcrum.
But amid all the returning squadrons and newcomers, there was always the Snowbirds, a team as Canadian to a kid in the 1970s as hockey, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (but for a nine-month break in 1979, the only PM from my birth to age 15) and Anne Murray.
We sunburnt Abby kids would be thrilled when the Blue Angels or Voodoo jets took to the skies, but the Snowbirds, with the striking red and white against the brilliant blue Fraser Valley skies, they were the stars of the airshow, year after year.
The Snowbirds were the constant amid change. They were the comfort and connection to a sun-splashed childhood as we grew older and the airshow was elbowed aside by other August pursuits.
They were also a teaching resource when a family from a war-torn country moved into the townhouse complex and we learned the sounds of the airshow we associated with excitement were the exact sounds that elicited terror and panic in their home countries.
But the lure of the Snowbirds has not diminished, decades after they were formed.
We have seen that Canadian connection all month as the squadron flew west as part of Operation Inspiration, with so many people anxious to see the famous jets fly by.
Even before the tragedy of the weekend, the simple appearance of the Snowbirds was enough to spill many tears, as has been documented on social media.
The squadron’s path from Nova Scotia to B.C. amid the pandemic has indeed served as therapy of sorts for many, for reasons not entirely explainable.
The fatal crash, of course, has been heartbreaking and reflects the motto of the squadron — the Hatiten Ronteriios (Warriors of the Air), a reminder of the personnel’s bravery and courage in flight.
But the 1970s Abbotsford kid in me knows the Snowbirds will again soar against a blue backdrop and continue to serve as that unspoken connection among Canadians from coast to coast to coast.