HALIFAX -- Canada’s iconic Snowbirds kicked off their cross-country tour on May 3 in Atlantic Canada.

The military aerobatic team is performing fly-bys across the country as part of Operation Inspiration -- a show of support for Canadians amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Snowbirds felt it was important to begin their tour in Atlantic Canada, flying directly over Portapique, N.S., where a two-day mass shooting began the night of April 18.

For Snowbird 2A Cpl. Matt MacKenzie, the flyover had special significance.

A native of Truro, N.S., MacKenzie has friends and family who were affected by the rampage, which claimed the lives of 22 Nova Scotians in several communities.

“Coming in, you really felt every eye on the ground watching you and you can tell that we’re making a difference,” says MacKenzie.

“It is a small gesture, but to them that is one thing they can look forward to and to feel good about, to help them heal and kind of turn the page and move on. Looking down and knowing I had friends and family members down there, it was one of the most emotional experiences I have ever felt in my life.”

MacKenzie had his parents watch from the RCMP barracks in Bible Hill, N.S., so they would have a clear view of their son as he flew over the area.

“As we were flying over I knew they were down there, so I snapped a picture and I sent it to them once we landed,” says MacKenzie.

“My mother was so excited. She tried to shoot a video, she got a picture of half of the formation and a lot of it was her finger. My father told me she was crying quite a bit, so it was pretty powerful for both them and myself.”

The Snowbirds also paid tribute to the six Canadian military members killed in a helicopter crash off the coast of Greece, by flying in the missing man formation over 12 Wing Shearwater – a Canadian Forces base in Shearwater, N.S.

“That formation is to help represent, typically, a military member being lost, or losing their lives. So that is kind of our salute to them and everything they do for us,” says MacKenzie.

“Not just the Royal Canadian Air Force, but the Canadian Forces as a whole isn’t overly large, so we’re kind of a family and we all look after each other. If we lose somebody, whether we know them or not, we all mourn together.”

MacKenzie, an aircraft structural technician, says his primary focus when deployed with the Snowbirds is to look after the life-support equipment.

“So that includes the ejection seats, oxygen systems, the air crew’s helmets and masks, as well as our parachutes, to make sure that they get their inspections and that they are all ready to go for all of our air crew members who are flying,” says MacKenzie.

“There are two of us in each plane; a lot of people actually don’t know that. The CT-114 is a two-seater plane. It works out awesome for us technicians because we get to travel in it as well. So we have a pilot and a technician in each aircraft.”

As the Snowbirds make their way across Canada, MacKenzie is sharing images from the cockpit.

“We have some of the most talented pilots in the entire world and I really want to showcase what they do day in and day out,” he says.

“It also makes a connection to be able to relate that they (the public) were at, say, Citadel Hill one day looking up at us, and next thing you know I have a video looking down at them. So they can kind of feel that connection towards the Canadian Forces Snowbirds.”

Depending on weather and plane maintenance, the Snowbirds plan to continue with Operation Inspiration until May 19. MacKenzie says he hope the operation gives Canadians a feeling of togetherness.

“I want the country to bond together and know that, with COVID and everything else going on, that we’re in this together,” he says.

“I just want people to know that we’re thanking them for the part they are playing, staying home and what not, and it also just gives them something to look forward to as well, which is more difficult in these trying times.”