The Canadian International Air Show (CIAS) is Canada's largest and longest-running aviation display. It originated in 1946 when the National Aeronautical Association of Canada attracted overflow crowds to a show at De Havilland Airport in Downsview. The full-scale show featured paratroopers from the Canadian Army and aircraft from the RCAF and the United States Air Force (USAF). Before 1946, less formal predecessors to the CIAS existed. The first public exhibition of formation flying in Canada was over the Exhibition Place waterfront in 1919, featuring Fokker D VII fighters. The first recorded and formally organized show, by today’s standards, was in August 1939, consisting mainly of Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) military aircraft. The 1948 air show, held at Malton (now Lester B. Pearson International Airport), was sponsored by the Toronto Flying Club.
In 1949, the CIAS offices moved permanently to Exhibition Place, where the air show has been held since. The 1949 show showcased a variety of military and civilian aircraft including a Lancaster, a Harvard formation, North Star Transport and Canada’s own experimental Tailless Glider. In 1956, the CIAS officially became a feature event of the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), organizing aerial displays during two days of the CNE. In 1969, the CIAS became a four day event, taking place during the last Friday to Monday of the CNE. The air show scaled back to its current three day format in 1989.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the CIAS primarily featured RCAF aircraft, including the RCAF Golden Hawks, Canada’s first national military aerobatic team. By 1969, the Canadian International Air Show had adopted a larger format with military aircraft from the United States and Britain as well as a number of civilian performers in modified aerobatic aircraft. The 1970s shows featured top military aircraft, such as the McDonnell Douglas CF-18 Hornet, the F15 Eagle, and the F-14 Tomcat. At the same time, the CIAS organized retrospective features such as the “History Segment” of 1972, which showcased such aircraft as a replica Sopwith Camel from the First World War and the Corsair and Spitfire from the Second World War. By the mid-1980s, the international reputation of the CIAS was firmly established. Participants included the Royal Australian Air Force F111s and the Italian Air Force Frecce Tricolori Aerobatic Team.
During the 1990s, the CIAS developed several new programs to accompany the air show. In 1993, the CIAS presented its first-ever Photo Walking Tour at Lester B. Pearson International Airport. Aircraft were strategically placed to allow the public to view and photograph such aircraft as the B1-B Bomber, U-2 Dragon Lady and the British Airways Concorde. In 1996, the CIAS launched its first full static display at Pearson International Airport, called FLIGHTLINE '96, where over two dozen aircraft were on display. Despite an expansion to include over 30 aircraft in 1996, 1998 saw the cancellation of FLIGHTLINE due to preparations for CIAS’s 50th anniversary in 1999.
In 1999, the Canadian International Air Show celebrated 50 years of flying at the CNE. The Ontario Heritage Foundation presented the Air Show with a historic plaque, permanently situated north of the Bailey Bridge at Exhibition Place, and Canada Post issued a set of stamps commemorating both the 50th anniversary of the Air Show and the 75th anniversary of the Royal Air Force. Crowds at the air display were treated to a retrospect of aircraft through the past five decades, ranging from WWII Harvards to modern day jets. Today, the CIAS continues its mission to put on an entertaining and informative aerial display to maintain its position as the premier air show of its kind in the world.
The CIAS is organized and conducted by Canadian Exhibition Air Shows, Inc. (CEAS), a non-profit corporation dedicated to the promotion and display of aviation that is run almost exclusively by volunteers, most of whom are active in aviation.
Before 1985, the CEAS was governed by a Board of Directors consisting of the current CIAS Chairman, the immediate past Chairman, and several other elected representatives. In 1985, the position of Chairman of the Board was divided into two positions to avoid conflict: Chairman of the Board and President of the CIAS. In 1992, the number of members of the Board of Directors increased to nine, including the Chairman of the Board, the CIAS President, the Canadian National Exhibition Association (CNEA) representative, the City representative, and five other elected members. In 2010, the Board of Directors chose not to exercise of the option of electing a President going forward and currently operates under the direction of the Chair and the Executive Director.
The CIAS Chairman/President, appointed by the Board of Directors, typically served for a term of three years. The Chairman/President was responsible for the operational functions of the CIAS. He or she served as the head of the Executive Committee, made up of the directors and other members of various CIAS departments, such as Air Operations, Ground Operations, and Marketing. The Chairman/President was also responsible for coordinating with the Chief General Manager of Exhibition Place. The records generated before 1985 were primarily handled by the Executive Secretary of the CIAS, responsible for the administrative functions related to the Chairman.
In 1982, the position of CIAS Coordinator was created, which replaced the position of Executive Secretary. Although the Chairman/President was still responsible for liaising with the Executive Committee and with the Chief General Manager of Exhibition Place, the CIAS Coordinator took on a more active role in coordinating the air show and coordinating with Exhibition Place staff, primarily the Director of Marketing for the CNE. Deborah Day, the CIAS Coordinator from 1982-1993, is primarily responsible for the records generated during this period.
By 1992, the various departments of the CIAS were streamlined into three departments headed by general managers: Airshow Production, which included medical response, air operations, and airports and security, Administrative Services, including finance, hospitality, and communications and transport, and Marketing and Promotion, which oversaw community relations, media relations, and promotions and merchandising.
In 1996, CEAS entered into a new relationship with the CNEA for the presentation of the air show. According to an agreement approved by the Board of Directors at its meeting on February 8, 1996, the CNE became a “sponsor” of the CIAS, on the understanding that the CEAS desired a more autonomous relationship with the CNEA, directly targeting financial self-sufficiency.
Chairmen/Presidents of the Canadian International Airshow have included: F. I. Young (1950-1967), Alex D. Maclean (1968-1971), W. P. Draper (1972-1973), Ken Allen (1974-1976), Gary W. McMahon (1977-1979), R. G. Church (1980-1982), Bill McVean (1983-1986), Raymond B. Lank (1987), Gerry R. Spracklin (1988-1990), Gordon C. Stapleton (1991-1992) and Donald J. Chapman (1993).