Are air shows a commemoration of Canada’s past, or unnecessary showcases of military might?

For the 63rd consecutive year, the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, Ontario, concluded with the Canadian International Air Show (CIAS) this past Monday. A popular event with both locals and aviation enthusiasts alike, this year’s CIAS was meant not only to reflect Canada’s more recent military endeavours in the 20th century and beyond, but also to commemorate the War of 1812. Among the planes that participated were Canada’s iconic Snowbirds, CF-18 Hornets, the T-33 Mako Shark, and a U.S. F-16 Fighting Falcon.

The first video, by Global News Toronto, previews the excitement and dedication that are central aspects of the show. The second clip, shot in 1965, shows the Canadian Army, the Royal Canadian Navy, and Rescue helicopters landing at the CNE grounds and partaking in the air show.

Yet the show does not exist without controversy. Some claim that it is an aggressive and excessively patriotic display of military might, a negative use of our nation’s defence resources. To examine this line of thought in greater detail, look at an article and the heated discussion that followed in last week’s Toronto Star, titled “Why the CNE air show should not fly.”

But is there anything fundamentally wrong with commemorating our military past in this way? Rather than serving to glorify war, air shows and similar displays serve higher purposes: to educate, fascinate, and make accessible an important aspect of Canadian history.