Picnickers Protest the Canadian International Air Show




Picnickers Protest the Canadian International Air Show

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.”