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Picnickers Protest the Canadian International Air Show

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Signs posted beside the site of the first-annual “Fighting Stupid Traditions Picnic.” Photo by Steve Kupferman/Torontoist.


Backlash against the Canadian International Air Show is difficult to measure precisely, but this year there was some. One well-known newspaper columnist called the noise of jet fighter engines “the sound of death.” There was also an online petition to end the Air Show that had attracted 354 signatures at the time of this writing—but online signatures are hardly proof of commitment to a cause. True commitment would have meant slogging out into the streets through the rain to carry one’s anti–Air Show message directly to Labour Day passers-by—and, in fact, one group did just that. They did it by holding a picnic.


Roy Mitchell, one of the organizers of the first-ever “Fighting Stupid Traditions Picnic,” which was held yesterday in the southeast corner of Trinity Bellwoods Park, doesn’t buy the argument that the Air Show must continue indefinitely, just because it happens to have been going on for more than half a century (its first occurrence was in 1946).
“That’s not justification to me,” he told us in a phone interview.
Mitchell, who in his daily life is executive director of an artist-run video production centre, can’t trace his dislike for the Air Show to any precise origin, but does recall one watershed moment:
“I went to the Island during the Air Show, to Gibraltar Point—there’s an artist retreat there—to, you know, get my shit together?” he said. “And then I realized that the Air Show was on. So there I was, like, walking through Hanlan’s or whatever, and these fucking stealth bombers—it seemed like it was right over my head, right? I was like, this is totally ridiculous.”
On Sunday, the picnickers were huddled under a tarp to protect themselves from the rain. Only about a dozen had turned out. To the left of the encampment, facing Queen Street, where the passing Labour Day parade could see them, were two enormous signs that said: “BECAUSE it’s TRADITION!” and “TRADITIONAL PICNIC TO CELEBRATE THE WAR SHOW.”
All the normal accoutrements were there—watermelon and everything—but the droning of plane engines overhead made it surprisingly easy to imagine that maybe the picnic was happening in a nice grassy field someplace near Fallujah. Every time a particularly loud craft would soar over the park, all the attendees would try to drown out the engine roar by screaming at the top of their lungs, like Trinity Bellwoods was Pee Wee’s Playhouse, and someone had just said the secret word.
Amy Gottlieb and Maureen FitzGerald arrived and handed out peaches to the other picnic-goers. Gottlieb announced that this was her and FitzGerald’s anniversary.
“It was the first time I ever saw her riled up,” said FitzGerald. “On this day, because of the stupid Air Show.” That was twenty-nine years ago, and the two have been together ever since.
Everyone seems to have an Air Show story. “I’ve lived in Toronto for almost two decades,” said Farzana Doctor, another of the picnic’s organizers. “But, you know, it was only last year that I got really fed up and thought, ‘We have to do something about this.’” Doctor, like many who were in attendance, objects not only to the noise created by the Air Show, but to its glorification of military craft and its unnecessary use of fossil fuels. She hopes to make the picnic an annual event.
“I don’t get it,” she said. “Their biggest argument is that this is tradition and we can’t change it. And so that’s kind of why we wanted to have a tongue-in-cheek traditional picnic, because want to poke a bit of fun at this idea that because it’s traditional it can’t be changed.”
The strategy, in other words, was to match tradition with tradition—to fight one kind of fun with another. There was some headway made yesterday, in that regard.
After conducting an egg toss, Mitchell picked up a spangled sphere of papier mâché that resembled a space helmet. He placed it over his entire head.
“You put this on your head and you can read the decibels from the airplanes,” he explained. “It’s fiber optic.”

Comments

  • http://undefined Andrew

    This Mitchell guy certainly doesn’t seem to need the airshow to get high.
    Also, I find the one-short-sentence-per-paragraph writing style (like Fiorito’s) to be annoying to the point of unreadability.

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    “Gottlieb announced that this was her and FitzGerald’s anniversary.”
    STOP ANNIVERSARIES BECAUSE THEY ARE A TRADITION!!!!!!!! Furthermore, they waste uncessecary money on dinners and gifts!!!!!!!
    “CELEBRATE THE WAR SHOW”
    Less than half of the aircraft are used for “WAR”. The ones that are, demonstrate a huge advancements in technology that benefit the aerospace industry by keeping it decades ahead.
    What would this guy do if he lived on a flight path?
    These ppl are f’n crazy.

  • http://undefined mb

    No, they are not crazy. They just have a different perspective.

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    Correction: They have an almost invisible perspective. I hate to use the word minority here as I feel that is an unjustice to the word.

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    “No, they are not crazy. They just have a different perspective.”

    “After conducting an egg toss, Mitchell picked up a spangled sphere of papier mâché that resembled a space helmet. He placed it over his entire head.
    “You put this on your head and you can read the decibels from the airplanes,” he explained. “It’s fiber optic.”
    – I rest my case Your Honour.

  • http://stevekupferman.typepad.com Steve Kupferman

    In case it wasn’t obvious (and my apologies if it wasn’t), the whole helmet thing was done in jest.

  • http://undefined TOgal

    I applaud these protesters for actually getting out there and doing something… instead of just grumbling about it all weekend (like I do). I think the airshow is a ridiculous waste of fuel and a hideous amount of noise pollution, in an already noisy city. What purpose does it serve? And please don’t tell me that celebrating advancements in technology is a real purpose. We can have advancements without jets screaming overhead all weekend.

  • http://undefined TOgal

    IT was obvious, Steve. Just not to some…

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    Helmet? I’m talking about the egg toss!!!!! What a waste of food resources!!!! Killing innocent baby chickens? OMFG!!!!!

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    Celebrating advancements in technology isn’t a real purpose? BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA wow!!!!!!!!!
    “We can have advancements without jets screaming overhead all weekend.”
    But… We’re celebrating advancements in air development. What else would be fitting?
    We’re also celebrating a bit of FUN. Sorry you missed the memo.
    That helmet may be a bit TOO tight for you…

  • http://undefined numbersix

    “hideous amount of noise pollution, in an already noisy city”
    Toronto is the quietest city I have ever lived in. What noise pollution?
    What’s the deal with Torontonians always complaining?
    It’s nice to see people getting out and protesting even if I don’t particularly agree. Too many armchair whingers in this city.

  • http://undefined roadgame

    While they are certainly entitled to their opinion, their principle objection that it glorifies war is simply incorrect. Some of the aircraft are military, certainly, but the focus of the show is by celebrating excellence in aviation by means of demonstration. The precision flying of the snowbirds, for example, or of the pilots of our own and allied armed forces who have a long history of defending our interests at home and abroad. If you don’t like Western foreign policy that’s one thing, but the reality of the world is that countries who lack the means to defend themselves mortgage their sovereignty to others, and personally I like my Canada strong, free and independent.
    As for all the NIMBYs, the ~30 minutes of F-16 & CF-18 noise (the rest was no worse than the output of commercial aviation) each of as many as three days once a year is a trifling amount considering the many thousands of people who come out and enjoy the show. We all live in a big city and compromise doesn’t mean satisfying the lowest common denominator. Then again this is Toronto, where perhaps we don’t deserve to have nice things.

  • http://undefined swellidea

    Dingbats.

  • http://undefined rek

    How many — if any — of the planes flown in the show are made in Canada, by Canadian companies?

  • http://undefined roadgame

    All but the F-16, and possibly the two aerobatics planes, were flown by Canadians. Bombardier makes the Q-400s that took off from the island during the show. Too bad that in our history Canada made decisions that decimated our aerospace industry. On the other hand, the money that would have gone into funding R&D has surely helped put food on otherwise destitute tables… maybe those picnickers should celebrate that, instead.

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    We used to have an illustrious aerospace industry in Canada, between Boeing and Bristol AFAIK.

  • http://undefined Andrew

    The CT-114 “Tutor” flown by the Snowbirds was made and built in Canada by Canadair (now a division of Bombardier, which is still a Canadian company).
    Military procurement is a highly nationalistic process, because politicians love to drop big-ticket contracts in their ridings. For example, almost all of the Navy’s warships are designed and built by Canadian shipyards, even though it would probably be more cost-effective to buy from the Americans.

  • http://undefined dowlingm

    In fairness, it would be kind of boring to insist on CanCon for the Air Show given that you can see Toronto built Q400s landing every day at Toronto Island. However, the CT-114 was built by Canadair.

  • http://undefined roadgame

    Avro was big, too. A lot of Lancasters were built here on license during WWII.
    Downsview used to have a sizeable manufacturing operation, they built a lot of Beavers, Otters, etc. A group in Calgary has recovered some of the machinery to start building more of certain types, because of how well-suited to our climate and flying conditions they are, particularly up north and along the west coast.

  • http://undefined dowlingm

    We still have Pratt & Whitney Canada up in Longueuil, too. 6,000 PW100 series engines built since 1984 alone.

  • http://undefined rek

    I wasn’t trying to make a point, I was just curious. I’m always disheartened to hear when Canada buys used third-rate subs from some foreign gov’t, or drops heaps of Canadian taxpayer money into the laps of foreign military contractors.

  • http://undefined swellidea

    Same here…

  • http://undefined Solex

    Canada should have built it’s own nuclear subs a long, long time ago…