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The Abbotsford Airshow isn’t always fun and games

Growing up in Abbotsford, the sound of roaring jets overhead was an unforgettable staple of summer break, but while the noise signals the intended excitement and awe in me, for others roaring jets can make the memories of exploding bombs and lost loved ones all too real.

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By Joel Smart (The Cascade) – Email

Date Posted: August 30, 2011
Print Edition: August 25, 2011

Growing up in Abbotsford, the sound of roaring jets overhead was an unforgettable staple of summer break. With a grandfather who repaired airplanes in World War II, an appreciation for the power and finesse of the great machines was instilled in me from a young age. It’s likely a relatively common introduction to the Abbotsford International Airshow for many residents of the city, but a recent Facebook encounter made me realize that the scream of a rocket-powered aircraft ripping through the air with reckless abandon makes some citizens relive their worst nightmares.

While the noise signals the intended excitement and awe in me, for someone who grew up in Iraq (or in case of an elderly person with traumatic memories of the war) roaring jets can make the memories of exploding bombs and lost loved ones all too real. It can elicit tears and even shrieks of terror. For many people who have experienced war and felt its destructive power firsthand, the great party at our airport is not something to be celebrated.

The displays at the show are often quite closely linked to warfare as well, with actual explosives occasionally detonated, and military exhibits feature vehicles and attire used in combat. Some of the planes mimic dogfights and other warlike activities during their routines. While it has always seemed like an impressive and eye-opening experience to me, it didn’t take too much prodding for me to understand how that could exacerbate the dilemma.

Perhaps I’m willing to see this side of the story so readily because I am so convinced that regardless of the critique, the Airshow isn’t going anywhere. It’s a huge seller in Abbotsford and a few disgruntled voices won’t shut the whole thing down. I’ll admit, I’d hate to see it go. I look forward to the one weekend a year when at any moment a monstrous plane could thunder over my head, or a finely-tuned squad of Snowbirds in formation could soar into view at top speed.

If things aren’t going to change, it seems difficult to find a solution. Those who find it too much to bear aren’t going to just change their minds about the situation. Perhaps all that can be done is for them to invest in a pair of earplugs, or plan a family vacation to another city for the weekend. It isn’t a resolution I find satisfying, but unless the price of rocket fuel exceeds the revenue the event is able to bring in, it could be the best way to avoid the stress and heartache.

I think that this year, unlike in the past, the Airshow made me think about how differently we can perceive the world. I thought of how an airplane must feel to someone who knows it as a war machine that steals away family members and girlfriends. I pictured the jets I had come to adore and long to fly in as not just a flying amusement park ride. Sure, I’ve seen movies about war and I always knew that is how they were used, but it never felt that way to me here. As a multicultural city, it is important for us to be aware of what others are going through, and to show compassion whenever we can. Maybe that’s the lesson the Snowbirds have been trying to teach us all along when they draw a big heart out of smoke at the end of each performance.

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