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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Watching the Blitz from the beach

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That plane above is called The Globemaster and it will be attacking Toronto this weekend, along with planes with names like Mustang, Viper, Raptor, and Hornet and the more benign sounding Snowbirds. They’re here for the CNE Airshow which brings its NASCAR-of-the-skies spectacle to Toronto. It’s currently Friday at 1:00pm and I can already hear them practicing, as those of you anywhere south of Major Mackenzie probably can too.

It’s sort of like the Molson Indy, a big anachronistic (or horrific, depending on your disposition) event that blows into town, finding a home at the CNE grounds, and attracting a massive crowd. Google any of these warplane names and you will find all sorts of fanboy sites waxing ecstatic about these machines.

It does have one pleasant side-effect: there are no boats allowed in the entire area around the “air box” (check the Airshow website above — there is an “air boss” in charge of the “air box” who sits at “boss control” and sort of directs the whole thing). Included — at least in previous years — in the boat-free area is Hanlan’s Beach. It’s the one weekend of the year the beach is not plagued by boaters pulling into the swimming area (though at 4pm when the show stops, the boats will move back in and oil up the clear water).

In the current “Water” issue of Spacing, Jessica Wolfe writes about the inherent spectacle of the waterfront, and how the beach has always been an attraction for this reason. Watching the holy terror of the airshow from the beach is one of the strangest experiences I’ve had in Toronto, and adds to the usual urban beach spectacle Hanlan’s always provides. The planes fly right out and over the island trees as they head for the “air box,” and if you’re in the water when one of the jet after-burners make that sky-ripping war sound, it feels like the entire lake is vibrating. Sitting on beach towels watching it reminds me of the scene in the movie Hope and Glory, when residents of a typical London suburb stand in the calm and watch a vicious dog fight during the Blitz take place.

If you haven’t been to the beach yet this summer
, this is the weekend to do it. Internet weather says it will be perfect, the sacred and profane spectacle-level has been cranked up to 11, and for those who can’t swim, there are some very shallow sandbars (knee deep) along Hanlan’s beach that lets everybody get that far-from-shore feeling at the best place in Toronto to get that far-from-the-city feeling.

Top two photos from Canadian International Air Show, Snowbird photo by Leonardo Silva, bottom photo by Bouke Salverda.



  1. Sorry Mark, it’s a little hard to read the propaganda when my desk is shaking. Maybe when the airshow’s done I’ll take a look.

  2. Isn’t flying a relief mission to a post-hurricane area a good thing? How is it propaganda, Smitty? It’s a news release from the DOD, sure, but propaganda?

  3. OK, I was being a bit of a jerk, sorry. But honestly, I’d say that all news releases are propaganda – and I’m just especially eager to point it out when it’s a military press release brought up during discussion of an aerial war parade.

    A noisy aerial war parade. A really tacky noisy aerial war parade.

    In fact, yeah, that’s what this comes down to for me. Ultimately, the war show’s just plain embarrassing. It’s like walking by Hooters, or seeing a guy in acid wash jeans – but all day, and really close up.

  4. Oh, and, yes, relief missions are wonderful. But it’s not as though they can only be done by departments of people who are also trained to kill, and in fact it’s somewhat ironic when they (so often) are.

  5. Being trained to kill and trained to rescue/keep people alive seem to be skill sets that are very close together, perhaps the same. I suspect folks in the military might disagree with the idea that they are primarily trained to kill

    We’re in agreement on the tacky unnecessary war parade — the Hooters analogy is apt, even if those, uh, Hooter Girls aren’t your type/thing, it is hard not to look in though it is embarrassing.

  6. I’ve got an increasing love/hate relationship with the air show. I’m a plane guy. I can tell you most anything you (don’t) want to know about your average Mustang, Viper, Raptor, and Hornet. Every time I hear a roar in the sky I pop my head out the window to see. As long as you don’t think too hard about their intended purpose, they’re beautiful machines.

    But if you haven’t had the experience of going down to the airshow proper, along the waterfront, where the loudspeakers are set up and they broadcast the colour commentary, 80s metal, and wild redneck snippets from the cockpit, it’s a disheartening ride. Most of them are American touring companies, unused to Canadian crowds. So their well-rehearsed banter is just bizarre. One year, I heard one pilot do a fly-by and yell “GOD BLESS (NORTH) AMERICA!!”

    The only upside was that the crowd definitely wasn’t into it.