Airshow London’s Flying ‘Katie’s Bears’ Show that Anything is Possible

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This year, Airshow London instituted an innovative and inspiring program, code named ‘Katie’s Bears,’ to support the local Children’s Health Foundation in London, Ontario. The project, which is part of an ongoing partnership between Airshow London and the Children’s Health Foundation, gave 30 stuffed bears to air show performers during the 2018 London Airshow to take as they traveled to and from the air show.

Named in memory of Kaitlin Vanderhoek, daughter of Airshow London’s Director of Flight Operations Gerry Vanderhoek, the bears seek to give hope to young kids undergoing treatment at the Children’s Health Foundation.

While a total of 350 bears were distributed to children at the London Airshow’s ‘Katie’s Corner,’ 30 more bears hitched rides and left with attending air crews from around North America. The performers then took to social media to share photos of flying with their ‘Katie’s Bears.’

“Our goal is to have photos taken to provide some positive reinforcement to the kids,” Airshow London Executive Director Dave De Kelver said. “They get to follow along with the bears’ adventures as they travel around the world with the pilots, which will take their mind off of treatments they are undergoing and allow them to just be kids.”

The Canadian SkyHawks parachuting team completing a jump with one of their stuffed bears.

The crew members documented their travels in photos posted to social media and shared on the website: katiesbear.com. Their escapades will be seen worldwide, clearly illustrating that: ‘if bears can fly, anything is possible.’

The purchase of the bears was made possible by London Airshow sponsor Siskinds Law Firm. De Kelver said the cost was $5,000.

Members of the Canadian Forces Snowbirds and CF-18 Demonstration Team pose for pictures with their ‘Katie’s Bears.’

“We hope to start a tradition, so we had a lot of bears made with plans to raise money by selling some and donating others,” Board Chair for Airshow London Jim Graham said. “It was important to create that legacy for Kaitlin.”

The ‘Katie’s Bears’ initiative helped the Children’s Health Foundation fund several important pieces of equipment that will save young lives. The program also raised money for quality of life programs to make the hospital experience easier and more positive for children, incorporating more therapeutic services as well as important research to prevent and treat childhood diseases.

A ‘Katie’s Bear’ sits on the wing of a Spitfire at the London Airshow in London, Ontario.

“We made a few calls to get it started,” Siskinds lawyer Chris Collins explained. “The idea came up at an air show board meeting. Elana Johnson and I are very involved at the Children’s Foundation. She’s on their board and their mascot is a bear. We had already established a program at the hospital that involved handing out bears to the kids during their stay.”

“We are amazed at the connection and how the crews have embraced the idea. Units are now competing with whose bear gets the most exciting experiences. It’s very exciting and very gratifying,” Collins said.

F-16 demo pilot Major John “Rain” Waters with a ‘Katie’s Bear.’

“I’m really excited about where it’s going to go. We will continue the program, expand it and the crews coming to Airshow London 2019 will leave with an extra passenger,” Collins said.

The new initiative was so successful that London Mayor Matt Brown also commended the program.

“I believe the project is a perfect example of how a community can come together to do the most amazing things – for the right reasons,” Mayor Brown said.

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Ric Peterson
Ric Peterson is an an air show announcer and award-winning broadcast journalist based in Odessa, Ontario.