Abbotsford’s first airshows were held in the late 1920s on a landing strip in the Matsqui Prairie community of Gifford.
Two brothers, Joseph and Bob Lundstrom, became determined to build a plane of their own. With the use of an engine from a disused Oakland car and the help of some mail order plans, the brothers slowly began construction. Their father, Daniel Lundstrom, built a large shop, still standing, to accommodate his sons’ project and a landing strip on the family farm. During the show, 14 planes came from Chilliwack and Vancouver and passengers were able to fly in a Piper Cub for the reasonable fee of a penny a pound.
July 1, 2 and 3, 1948 saw the first airshow held at the Abbotsford airport, built during the Second World War as a flight training school. At the time of the first show, the airport was still home to about 600 people displaced by the disastrous flood that had inundated most of Matsqui in May of that year.
Sponsored by the Abbotsford Lions and the Chilliwack Flying Club, the three-day event attracted 18,000 spectators. Thrill followed thrill as plane after plane took to the air. Highlights of each day were demonstrations by R.W. “Swede” Ralston, 29-year-old flying marvel, who went up in a D-26 Harvard, and 60-year-old “Pop” Whittier from Seattle who performed a thrilling 5,000 -foot parachute jump, free falling 2500 feet before pulling the ripcord and finally drifting to safety. Dances were held each evening and one third of the proceeds went to the B.C. Flood Relief Fund.
The concept of the airshow as we know it today occurred in 1961, when the Abbotsford Flying Club formed. The founding 40 members felt the Abbotsford Airport was too valuable a resource to waste.Through the initial support of $700 from the Abbotsford Rotary Club, the first show went ahead with over 14,000 spectators.
In 1963, the crowd of spectators doubled that of the first year and Toby Trowbridge joined the airshow as announcer. His colourful commentaries would make Toby “the voice of the Abbotsford Airshow” for years to come. 1967 saw the first visit of the Golden Centennaires aerobatic flying team. In 1968 they returned, recreated as the Snowbirds.
Their popularity at Abbotsford played a large role in the Snowbirds becoming a permanent squadron. Attendance also reached an all-time peak of 340,000. Canada’s Prime Minister, Pierre Elliot Trudeau opened the 1969 Abbotsford Airshow and proclaimed it Canada’s National Airshow. The Boeing 747 made its first appearance in Canada at Abbotsford in 1969.
The Airshow continued on into the 1970s, growing in popularity.
The Goodyear Blimp made its first visit in 1971. In 1974, King Hussein of Jordan, a reported aviation buff, opened the show.
The same year, Toby Trowbridge passed away and Bob Singleton, trained by Toby, took over.
In 1976, the Blue Angels celebrated their 30th anniversary and appeared in their new McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawks.
In 1978, Premier Bill Bennett opened the show. A highlight of 1979 was a flyover by the SR 71 Blackbird, unable to land due to secret material on board.
In 1980, the British built Harrier made its first appearance at Abbotsford. Frecce Tricolori from Italy, British Airways Concorde, Patrouille de France, Ray Ban Golds, and Russian Antonov 74 – the largest aircraft in the world made first-time performances in 1986. In 1987, wingwalkers passed a baton mid – air, called the “Abbotsford Pass” in honour of the show and new box seating installed was completely sold out. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney opened the show in 1989.
Due to the escalating hostilities in the Persian Gulf, the U.S. aircraft demos were cancelled in 1990 and the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce initiated its first “Flight Begins” festivities.
An extraordinary number of forest fires kept Conair out of the show for the first time in two decades.
In 1995, the Snowbirds flew a new routine that included a formation during which the wingtips of the aircraft were separated by only one metre.
The early goal of promoting the use of the Abbotsford Airport through an airshow has been enormously successful.
As a result of the airshow’s success, commercial use of the airport has expanded but with wide-ranging public support as strong as ever, both Airport and Airshow authorities are committed to compromises that will allow the Airshow to continue for years to come.