Skip to content

Former Snowbirds commander Carmichael delivers keynote address at Rotary conference

Moose Jaw city manager speaks toward time with 431 Air Demonstration Squadron and pioneering role with team
Former Snowbirds commanding officer Maryse Carmichael delivers the keynote address at the Rotary International District 5550 Conference on Saturday afternoon.

MOOSEJAWTODAY.COM -- If you’re from Moose Jaw, odds are pretty good you’re more than familiar with what the Canadian Forces Snowbirds air demonstration team is all about.

With the Snowbirds based out of 15 Wing Moose Jaw, there’s a close connection between the squadron and the community, with folks often able to simply look to the skies many days to see the team in training.

But for folks from outside of the community, having a chance to learn about the 431 Air Demonstration Squadron can be new and exciting -- especially when hearing about it from one of the team’s legendary members.

Participants in the Rotary International District 5550 Conference on Saturday afternoon at the Moose Jaw Exhibition Ground convention centre had a chance to do just that when former Snowbirds commanding officer Maryse Carmichael delivered the event’s keynote address.

Carmichael -- the first female pilot with the Snowbirds and first female commanding officer -- touched on a range of topics surrounding her time with the team, including her beginnings as a young pilot to becoming an instructor at 15 Wing and eventually joining the Squadron in 2000 as Snowbird 3. Ten years later after stops in a variety of capacities out east, she was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and became the Snowbirds commanding officer, a position she would hold for three years.

“I think it’s important to share these stories,” Carmichael said shortly after her presentation. “When there’s a group like this, a lot of people know about the Snowbirds but they don’t know about the behind-the-scenes and what it takes. The lessons that I learned in my time with the Snowbirds are very shareable and it’s part of life.”

In addition to her tale of becoming a leader with the Snowbirds, Carmichael played a video showing a cockpit-view account of a flight by the team, showing just how much precision and teamwork is involved to pull things off.

That was a part of her early experience with the squadron, learning the dedication and trust one needs to have in order to perform at such a high level of expectation.

Then came her time as the commanding officer, and a different look -- learning how to put everything together, making decisions and managing risk while keeping everything moving forward.

Part of her experiences with the Snowbirds were extremely difficult, including acting as one of the investigators into the crash that lead to the death of Shawn McCaughey, who was killed May 18, 2007 when a seatbelt came undone during a maneuver at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana.

Carmichael talked about how the accident affected the team and how they were able to move on, part of the theme of hope and mental wellness at the conference.

“That’s why I shared my experience with the accident, so we all can talk together,” she said.

Carmichael had a lighter note when talking about one of the proudest moments of her career: meeting a young girl on crutches after a show back home in Quebec, and that girl telling Maryse that she too would become a Snowbird.

Years later, Carmichael was there when that little girl, now Capt. Sarah Dallaire, became Snowbird 2 in 2019.

“It’s special because I was able to see her way back then and all the way to now with what she’s doing as a Snowbird,” Carmichael said. “ I’m sure I’ve inspired some other people but that’s really special.”

Carmichael has since transferred to civilian life and became the City of Moose Jaw city manager in May of 2023. 

“It’s very similar,” Carmichael said when asked about her skills as a leader of the Snowbirds translating over to managing a city. When you’re talking teamwork, leadership and excellence, it’s all the same. Yes the team is different in the sense that our mission is different, but at the end of the day it’s influencing people to do a certain task.”

Having Carmichael give the keynote address was a natural fit for the Rotary clubs, especially given this year’s theme, said conference chair Glenn Hagel.

“Being a Snowbird is comparable to a lot of other things where you have great dreams and great hopes and you go about doing the hard work and all those things,” he said. “Working together and collaborating is how you build a better world, and that’s what this weekend is all about.”