Unique event in North America -
About thirty small aircraft, half flying in from Canada and the other half from the United States, converged on Lake Memphremagog’s Providence Island, last Sunday, for the 4th Annual Memphremagog International Ski Fly Meet, organized by George Weller of Stanstead East. To be more accurate, the planes actually landed on the thick ice near the shore of the island, then pilots and passengers met each other on the shore of the island for a picnic lunch and get together. “We had two trikes which are three-wheeled planes, lots of home-built planes, and even a turboprop from the Richelieu River area. That plane can back up to fit into a parking space,” said the organizer and plane enthusiast who flew there in his own plane, an Aeronca, which he rebuilt.
The planes flew in from Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec City, Sherbrooke, Bromont, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and as far away as the Philadelphia area. “It was a special year because we don’t have much snow on the lake so planes with wheels could land. The whole lake is like an airport,” commented Mr. Weller. “The event was set up to take place between noon and 1:00 pm, but when I got there at 11:30 there were already ten planes there!” he added.
The planes landed on their respective sides of the border which was easy to spot from above because of the cut tree line.
“This event is unique in North America. Nowhere else can people freely cross the border, to eat or look at each other’s planes, and go back,” explained Mr. Weller. At the first International Fly Meet, participants had to remain on their side of the border but were allowed to shake hands across the line. Since then the International Border Enforcement Team (IBET) has allowed participants to move freely back and forth across the border to mingle, see each other’s planes and have lunch together, as long as no goods are exchanged and no one stays on the other side without reporting.
Two members of the RCMP along with two US Border Patrol officers, all members of IBET, were on hand to watch over the event, which was fortunate for some of the visitors. Two of the visiting planes landed in the wrong area of the lake, where the ice wasn’t thick enough, and
ended up in the water where the lake was, thankfully, quite shallow. “With a couple of ATV’S and winches a very cooperative effort was launched between the RCMP and the US Border Patrol to free the planes from the water and pull them up onto the ice. They were both able to fly out again,” mentioned Mr. Weller.
One reason that Mr. Weller organizes the fly meet, besides to give small aircraft pilots who are often not allowed to cross the border the chance to meet and see each other’s aircraft, is his interest in a more open border. “I’m very interested in international relations between the United States and Canada and I’ve been working on the to open the border up to legal travelers such as in the Schengen area of Europe. Now there are twenty-five European countries in that area with a perimeter around them and people pass freely from one country to another. It’s about time that Canada and the United States wake up to what they’re doing in Europe. We’re supposed to be the two friendliest countries on the planet with the most commerce between them,” commented Mr. Weller who has dual citizenship.
US Border Patrol officers and RCMP officers hooked their all-terrain vehicles together to rescue this airplane from the water.
Organizer George Weller (far right) welcomes vice-president of Operations for COPA (Canadian Owners and Pilots Association) Patrick Gilligan (2nd from r.). Also seen in the photo are a couple who just flew in and John Weller (middle).