Coming this summer: An air show over every northern Canadian community

To celebrate Canada's 150th birthday this summer, the Canadian Arctic Aviation Tour is bringing its best to a region that often gets left out.

Canadian Arctic Aviation Tour aims to reach all 97 communities in Canada's North, setting a world record

Brent Handy will be among the aerobatic performers touring the Canadian Arctic this summer. The former CF-18 pilot now owns this Pitts S-2. (Andrew Matthews/Aerospace Imaging)

Canada's Arctic is the most remote area on the continent, where flying of any kind comes with hazards. But to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday this summer, the Canadian Arctic Aviation Tour is bringing its best to a region that often gets left out.

Starting in June, up to 15 different aerial acts will take to the skies above every Canadian community north of the 60th parallel — from Kuujjuarapik on the northern shores of Hudson Bay to the military outpost at Alert, the northernmost permanently inhabited place in the world.

These Harvards, which were training aircraft during the Second World War, will be on the Canadian Arctic Airshow tour this summer to help to mark the country's 150th anniversary. (Canadian Arctic Airshow)

Lead performer Ken Fowler says he's looking forward to "seeing the smiling faces when we land and exchanging stories with everyone we meet."

In some communities, it's not possible or practical to land. So pilots will do what they call a "wheels up" show, where they fly in, perform above the community, then move on.

In most places, however, people in the isolated communities will be able to walk right up to planes at airstrips and chat with the pilots.

The idea for the northern air show began in what may seem to be an unlikely place: the recommendations of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

A key theme was education of and about the Indigenous community, so "the air show is a conduit," says Nancy McClure, executive director of the aviation tour.

"We want to start a conversation about how they want to be honoured and how we can honour them."

The only jet aircraft taking part is this Canadian Armed Forces CF-18 fighter painted in Canada 150 colours. It will be at five of the northern shows. (Canadian Armed Forces)

Tour organizers will also use their platform to help non-Indigenous Canadians hear stories from the North.

"This project should be important to all Canadians," adds McClure.

Some Indigenous Canadians have criticized the Canada 150 celebrations, noting their culture and people existed long before Confederation, and then faced attacks on that culture in the years that followed.

As a result, the air show is focused on hope for next 150 years, while acknowledging the mistakes of the past 150. For instance, says McClure, when asking permission of the communities to perform, at least one woman "shared her residential school experience, and she wants us to share it with others."

If everything goes to plan, the tour will perform in all 97 communities in Canada's North and set the world record for the longest series of air shows anywhere in the Arctic. But it involves a huge amount of flying: 30,000 kilometres. That's nearly three-quarters the distance around the equator.

If everything goes to plan, the Canadian Arctic Aviation Tour 2017 will perform in all 97 communities in Canada’s North, setting a record. (Canadian Arctic Aviation Tour)

On July 1, Canada Day, they'll meet people in the Nunavut mining community of Baker Lake, the town closest to the geographic centre of Canada.

It's a rare opportunity for many of the communities, which typically only see the cargo and passenger aircraft that visit periodically during the week.

The air show, says Fowler, is "an opportunity bring an entertaining form of aviation to people that would otherwise never have the chance to see these shows."

The only jet taking part is a Canadian Armed Forces CF-18 fighter painted in Canada 150 colours. It will be at five of the northern shows.

Other aircraft include:

  • An F1 Rocket, piloted by Eric Hansen, a full-time dentist who dabbles as an aerobatic flight instructor. Hansen built the F1 Rocket over a 13-month period in 2002. He has also built a Ravin 500.
  • An American Champion Super Decathlon, piloted by Anna Serbinenko. She has a PhD in financial mathematics and speaks seven languages. She also happens to be the sole female non-military air show aerobatic performer in Canada.

First stop will be Fort Liard in the Northwest Territories, with a population of 536, on June 2. Shows continue through the end of August.

Canadian Arctic Aviation Tour organizers are being careful to honour and involve Indigenous people who live in the communities they'll visit. (Canadian Arctic Airshow)


David Common covers a wide range of stories for CBC News, from war to disrupting scams. He is a host with the investigative consumer affairs program Marketplace, and a correspondent with The National. David has travelled to more than 85 countries for his work, has lived in cities across Canada, and been based as a foreign correspondent in the U.S. and Europe. He has won a number of awards, but a big career highlight remains an interview with Elmo. You can reach David at, Twitter: @davidcommon.