Snowbirds delight Brockville Sabre jet dedication

The Snowbirds fly over the St. Lawrence River in Brockville, Ont. on Friday, Sept. 14, 2018 during the re-dedication ceremony for the CF-86 Sabre jet memorial on Blockhouse Island. The Snowbirds made three low-altitude passes. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

BROCKVILLE – Hundreds of spectators packed the west end of Blockhouse Island for a re-dedication ceremony of the CF-86 Sabre jet fighter.

“It is my honour today to rededicate this memorial by the citizens of Brockville and the members of 450 Sabre Wing, Brockville and District of the Royal Canadian Air Force Association, to the memory of all our friends, brothers and sisters, airmen and airwomen who gave their lives to the cause of freedom,” 450 Wing President Mike Bowen said.

The jet was part of the aerobatic team, known as the Golden Hawks, and bought by RCAFA 426 Wing as a war memorial in 1968. In 1980, 426 Wing was retired and the assets, including the jet, was transferred to 450 Wing, known today as 450 Sabre Wing.

A ceremony is held on Blockhouse Island in Brockville, Ont. on Friday, Sept. 14, 2018 for the re-dedication of the CF-86 Sabre jet. This is the 50th anniversary of the war memorial which has undergone the first phase of a restoration. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

A colour party started the 50th anniversary ceremony with members from Royal Canadian Air Cadets 870 Vampire Squadron.

The event also had a couple of poetry readings, the playing of Taps and AJ Benoit sung Oh Canada and God Save the Queen.

The ceremony ended up being shorter than expected leading to some impromptu speakers at the podium to stretch for time before the Snowbirds made their flyby.

The flyover of the Snowbirds late Friday morning, successors of the Golden Hawks, had been a year in the making as the aerobatic team was going to be in the area for a ceremony in Ottawa marking the anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

They were supposed to make two passes along the St. Lawrence River but ended up adding an extra flyby before heading to the nation’s capital.

Hundreds gather on the west end of Blockhouse Island in Brockville, Ont. on Friday, Sept. 14, 2018 for the re-dedication of the CF-86 Sabre jet. This is the 50th anniversary of the war memorial which has undergone the first phase of a restoration. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

Brockville Sabre Memorial Restoration Committee chairman Matt Wren said phase one of the restoration happened after city council “hit the pause button” and turned down the restoration in order to be cautious with taxpayer dollars. That brought interested citizens together to work on the restoration.

Wren said phase two of the restoration will include benches, lighting and the names of the 89 casualties of World War Two engraved around the jet’s pedestal – plans that were from the original plans in 1968 to be done “at a later date” but never completed.

“Well, the later date is here. Clearly this never occurred and our committee decided to make it its purpose to see that the work would be done and this original vision would be brought to completion,” Wren said.

The memorial will include stones from the Trinity Anglican Church, which was recently torn down.

The Snowbirds appear above the trees on Blockhouse Island in Brockville, Ont. on Friday, Sept. 14, 2018 during a re-dedication ceremony for the CF-86 Sabre jet. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

Phase two has a fundraising budget of $50,000 and a fundraising concert next weekend has already sold out. Any surplus funds will be given to the Poppy Fund and the Royal Canadian Legion, Wren said.

Mayor David Henderson said he grew up in Brockville always thinking of “the jet down on the island,” but never as a memorial. “It’s more than a jet. People flew it, people fought in it, people died in the airplanes and this will be something special and better. I will be a full memorial. We’ll have a chance to remember and understand those names of those who passed on from the Air Force in this area.”

The committee hopes to have it ready for Canada Day 2019 – the same time the Royal Canadian Air Force Association celebrates its 95th anniversary.

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