July 23, 2011 saw the completion of 15 years of flying youngsters in conjunction with Mattawa Voyageur Days. This is really impressive because the 700-plus kids we have flown over the years represent about 25% of the town’s population.
Mattawa is a small picturesque town, located 40 miles east of North Bay, Ontario on Hwy 17 on the Quebec border, and nestled between the Mattawa and Ottawa Rivers. In 1997, the town of Mattawa decided they were going to have a summer festival. A local pilot approached Flight 23 saying it would be an opportune time to fly Young Eagles. The Flight members agreed – and one of the attractions the first year of the Festival was flights for youngsters.
Back in those days, any youngster who wanted to participate in Young Eagle flights with Flight 23 pilots had to write a letter stating why they wanted to go for an airplane ride.
Flights were conducted off the water at Valois docks and nine aircraft on floats participated the first year. It was a great hit and Young Eagles – later being replaced with COPA For Kids has been one of the attractions during the Summer Festival every year since.
Only one year in the 15-year history have the flights been cancelled due to weather. A couple years later a few aircraft on wheels flew kids from the newly developed Mattawa airport in conjunction with the water flights.
About eight years ago the venue was changed so all flights originate from the Mattawa airport (CMA2), usually 4–6 aircraft on wheels and three or four float aircraft fly from adjacent Earls Lake. There are four resident Flight 23 pilots from Mattawa who participate, with the remainder of pilots coming from North Bay (this year we had an aircraft from Keswick join the group).
The Voyageur Days organizing group always provide a lunch for the pilots, which it is a great opportunity for the pilots to socialize after the flying, and usually tshirts or hats are provided for volunteers involved – courtesy of Voyageur Days organizers.
The staff at Mattawa Information Centre helps out by pre-registering the youngsters, printing certificates and contacting the kids with the times of their flights. This is a great help as all Flight 23 members have to do is ensure we have enough aircraft and volunteers for the morning and oversee the registration process.
Voyageur days have become wildly successful over the years, attracting first class bands and the weekend wristbands are sold out weeks ahead (this year they were sold out early May). Lots of visitors and relatives of locals take this opportunity to return to this small town for this event and it’s not unusual to have kids registered from hundreds of miles away. Weekend wristband sales topped 7,000 this year.
Flight 23 pilots made the decision years ago to fly youngsters one on one as muchas possible, consequently most years even though we might have nine or 10 aircraft participating, we only take 50 or 60 kids at registration. We hope that local pilots will continue to keep the last weekend in July available on their calendars so Flight 23 can continue to participate in Mattawa Voyageur Days COPA For Kids for the foreseeable future.