Bernice Stirton, 97, holds a photo of her husband Alan, a former military pilot. Photo by Erin Haluschak

Snowbirds a connection to the past for 97-year-old Comox Valley resident

Watching their patterns, loops and turns in the sky at Air Force Beach was a familiar sight for Bernice Stirton as she applauded the Snowbirds during their Comox practice session earlier this month.

Stirton has been watching them for years – decades to be exact – but the joy of seeing her beloved Snowbirds take to the skies has never diminished.

“They are amazing – it’s just wonderful,” says the 97-year-old Comox Valley resident who spent most of her life on a farm just six miles southeast of Moose Jaw, SK, home of the military aerobatics team.

“She feels as though she grew up with them,” adds Stirton’s daughter Dianne Eby.

Bernice Stirton holds a photo of her four daughters from their farm near Moose Jaw, SK. Photo by Erin Haluschak

Stirton and her husband Alan, along with their four daughters, spent years on their farm near Moose Jaw – the home of the Snowbirds – watching the team practice overhead year after year.

RELATED: Snowbirds arrive in Comox for annual spring training

“It was a wonderful thrill and a thrill for (the city),” explains Stirton, who has a special connection to the Canadian Forces, particularly the air force.

Her husband, who passed away almost 10 years ago, grew up on a farm but developed a love of flying after he saw planes fly over his farm as a child. Alan received his private pilot’s licence just prior to the Second World War.

Shortly after receiving his licence, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and received a telegram asking if he could train pilots in Trenton, ON as a flight instructor.

“He knew how to get the best out (the young pilots),” notes Stirton.

Eby recalls her father’s patience and passion for flying and teaching. She says on more than one occasion, her dad took some of his students for training after hours, just so that they could become more familiar with aviation and their respective planes.

“Otherwise, I don’t think they would have (passed their flying test). But he was such a good teacher because he could always see the potential was there.”

Alan served for six years and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross during the war. Once he returned to Saskatchewan, he and Bernice farmed and raised their daughters.

When he was 60 years old, he once again returned to his passion.

“He didn’t fly for years, but my sister gave dad some flying time to get him back in the air. In his 70s, he was up in the air training air cadets,” says Eby.

Stilton adds that her husband was “born to be a pilot. He knew how to handle men.”

Following retirement, Alan and Bernice moved to the West Coast, and eventually to Comox.

Following her husband’s passing, Stirton continued to keep her eye on the Snowbirds – a connection to her home.

A few years ago, she had the opportunity to meet the team at an autograph session at the Comox Air Force Museum. She told them about the location of her farm and they told her they fly over it regularly during practice.

“I was so thrilled they know where it is and fly over it,” she adds with a smile.

While Eby says her mother sometimes has trouble moving around, her sister Dorenda was determined to have her see the team in action during their training session this month.

Last weekend, Dorenda drove to Air Force Beach to take in their afternoon training session, but the parking lot was already full.

“The military police were monitoring the parking lot, but I told them my mom is 97-years-old and loves the Snowbirds, so they let us through,” says Eby. “She was just so happy.”

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