Ron Price, visionary founding chairman of Airshow Canada and long-time director of the Abbotsford International Airshow, is acutely aware of how Tradex was built in 100 days.
Within one hour of leaving a final meeting with Transport Canada and then BC Pavilion Corporation (PavCo) and getting final approval to build the 120,000 square foot facility, renowned Abbotsford contractor, former fellow Abbotsford Airshow board member and family friend Les Knight called his crew waiting on-site in their bulldozers and excavators that day, and said GO!
The 1991 Airshow Canada had already signed up hundreds of exhibitors and forecasted thousands of visitors from around the world for the event, but had precious little time . . . only the 100 days left until the first day of the show “when the paint was still wet,” said Price.
“Man, he [Knight] built it. Fifty countries were at that show. It was a lot of work, a lot of fun. A lot of good people put it together with incredible cooperation from the federal, provincial and municipal governments and the world’s aviation community,” he said. “Les made it happen . . . he was a great leader in construction.”
Price said Tradex is a huge asset, hosting big shows. “It’s a gem of a facility. We’re lucky to have it.”
The genesis of Tradex, writes Kelly Knight (Les’ daughter) in an MSA Museum-inspired book entitled Abbotsford – From Village to City; a Commitment to Excellence and Innovation, is directly linked with the “development and success of the international aviation and aerospace tradeshow.” The article, on page 35 of the book by Robert Martens and Anneleen van Dyck, is a compelling read.
It shows how the support from people like Expo 86 Commissioner General Patrick Reid and others who believed in inviting the world’s aviation and aerospace community (among them Airshow board members Price, Knight, Al Hurtubise, Les Kerr and Darcy Rezac) to Abbotsford, plus a $100,000 initial infusion from the Abbotsford International Airshow, finally resulted in the need for a permanent exhibition structure in 1991. The first time Airshow Canada was held in Abbotsford in 1989, it was accommodated within two temporary 80,000 square foot white tents on the site.
Airshow Canada was a spectacle indeed. “It legitimized the show in terms of business and aerospace when we in Abbotsford were known more for being Top Gun,” said Kelly.
“Airshow Canada 1991 was successfully opened in Tradex with a Canadian Forces CF18 dual flyby. It featured 500 exhibitors and welcomed 12,000 visitors with professional interests from more than 50 countries. Continuing with the international aviation presence, there were SU27s, IL76 Candids, a Mig31 Foxhound, KA32 Helix helicopter (all Russian), and a Romanian Yak55 aerobatic plane at Airshow Canada,” said Kelly.
The final Airshow Canada was held at Tradex in 1997, but other shows focusing on aviation and defence have evolved at Tradex. (Be sure to read our next Tales from Tradex blog post featuring ADSE (Aerospace, Defence and Security Expo).
Mark Rushton, former Abbotsford International Airshow director from 1982 to 1998 and long-time editor of The Abbotsford News, recalls the special efforts of Ron Price in the glory years of Airshow Canada and Tradex. “He was a great personality, a family man dedicated to Airshow Canada. He and Les Knight certainly contributed significantly to tourism, aviation, and the community.”
Former Tradex director of operations Vali Marling, now manager of Anvil Centre in New Westminster, recalled some of the funnier stories related to Tradex and the Airshow.
“When the jets flew over the building it would shake. When the big U.S. planes would fly over us as we sat in our offices, dog hair [resulting from the dog and pet shows] would sometimes fall from the ceiling vents.”
And then there was the time Marling organized the mud-spattered sod-turning for Tradex, when it was pouring rain and the guests were dressed formally.
A sense of humour went a long way in those early days of Tradex.