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Snowbirds thrill sold-out crowd

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Seventeen years after they last visited here, Canada’s renowned “Snowbirds” returned to entertain an eager crowd last Wednesday evening.

Well over 1,000 people flocked to the Fort Frances Airport, where they were treated to an impressive hour-long routine of aerial tricks and turns.

Tom Kilgour said he’s attended several Snowbirds’ shows before but this one was an all-time highlight.

“I’ve seen the Snowbirds five times and I thought this show was one of the best,” he remarked.

“The weather was perfect, too.

“I came with my nine-year-old daughter,” Kilgour added. “She’s never seen them before and she was thrilled.

“So that was the best part because she was so excited about it.

“I’ve taken her to things before that she wasn’t too excited about but this was different,” he noted.

Lt. Patricia Brunelle, public affairs officer for the Snowbirds, said they change the show every year.

“We keep most of the ‘crowd-pleasers’ but we tend to change a lot,” she explained.

Noteworthy manoeuvres last Wednesday included “the palm downward” (a new move for the team this year), “the double take” (resurrected from eight years ago), and “the maple split” (which commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Canadian flag).

Although the weather seemed perfect on the ground, Snowbird soloist Capt. Shamus Allen said it’s often different navigating up in the air.

“Tonight was a bit challenging,” he admitted.

“It was a bit gusty and that means that it’s more difficult for us to maintain positions.”

“What the audience sees is generally very little movement,” Capt. Allen added. “But what we see when we’re very close is quite a lot of movement.

“Today it was right in the middle in terms of challenge.”

Lt. Brunelle said the pilots put in more than 130 hours of practice flying before shows start in the summer, adding they are trained to fly anywhere from 300-950 km/h depending on the manoeuvre.

“It’s been a week since we were up in the air doing a show,” she noted.

“So it’s nice to get back into it.

“I think they flew a good show and we’re really happy we made it in today,” Lt. Brunelle added.

Organizer Bruce Caldwell said he was impressed with how everything went.

“These guys put on a great show tonight but the crowd was easily my favourite part about tonight,” he remarked.

“We had a beautiful crowd [and] the weather co-operated.

“It really couldn’t have gone any better,” he enthused.

Caldwell, who had been at the airport planning since 8 a.m. that day, also said he was grateful for the help he got from volunteers to make the show a success.

“Geoff Gillon did a really good job,” he noted. “His staff, they made tickets, they made posters.

“They did a lot of work.

“If it hadn’t been for him [Gillon], it would have been really rough,” Caldwell admitted.

“He gave me a lot of help.”

After the show, eager fans lined up for 45 minutes to get autographs from the Snowbirds.

Team lead Maj. Patrick Gobeil said it was one of the longest autograph lines he’s seen.

“We’ve had shows of 380,000 people and we didn’t have that many people lining up for autographs, so thank you so much for having us,” he remarked.

With the help of Caldwell, the team also presented Fort Frances Mayor Roy Avis with an autographed poster as a “thank you” gift.

“It’s fantastic to see a group like this come to our community,” Mayor Avis said after receiving the poster.

“It was just a fantastic show,” he added. “Living on the border, we are very much influenced by the U.S., but it makes me pretty proud when we have people of this calibre come to our community and represent the Government of Canada.

“It’s just fantastic.”

Those on hand also were able to purchase Snowbirds’ apparel, learn about Canadian military services, and purchase food from a barbecue held by the 908 Rainy Lake Air Cadets.

Squadron CO Lt. Dawn Gray said the cadets were able to raise about $3,000 for various program initiatives.

“The barbecue went well,” she noted. “The community support was definitely there.”

Eleven cadets also were promoted by the Snowbirds themselves after the show.

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