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After seven years circling the skies in search of a safe haven, the former Toronto Aerospace Museum has finally touched down with its historic aircraft collection at Edenvale Aerodrome (airport code CNV8), some 100 kilometres (63 miles) northwest of Toronto.
The first truckloads of aircraft and artifacts started to arrive at Edenvale in early November and the museum’s full-scale Avro Arrow replica will move from Toronto Pearson International Airport to Edenvale at a later date.
This is good news in Canada’s air and space heritage community since it confirms that the non-profit museum has overcome major existential threats and can now focus on the future.
Edenvale was first opened by the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) as an emergency relief airfield in 1940 to support pilot training on Harvards at No. 1 Service Flying School at RCAF Camp Borden, 20 km (12 miles) to the south.
In 2004, the airport was reactivated under the leadership of businessman Milan Kroupa Sr., and it has received growing recognition as a heritage friendly airport.
In the beginning
For the past 60 years, showcasing the civil and military aviation heritage of Canada has been the primary mission of the 28 museums that are members of the Canadian Aeronautical Preservation Association (CAPA), smaller RCAF and community museums, and collections founded by philanthropists such as Vintage Wings of Canada.
The first aircraft flew in Toronto in September 1909 and over the city in July 1910, but it wasn’t until 1998 that the first aviation museum opened in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
The Toronto Aerospace Museum was not just a showcase of aviation history, but a part of history since it was located in the original de Havilland Aircraft of Canada Limited (DHC) factory first opened at Downsview in 1929. Between the museum’s four walls, DHC employees once built DH 82C Tiger Moths during the war and the prototype DHC-1 Chipmunk trainer and DHC-2 Beaver bush plane. And this was where DHC’s guided missile division was formed and helped build and test Canada’s first spacecraft–the Alouette I satellite–after the unit was renamed SPAR.
Developing a new cultural heritage institution is always a challenge, but the museum had several early successes.
In 1998, retired engineers who once worked at Avro Canada decided to build a full-scale replica of the Avro Arrow. Then in 1999, another team received the blessing of the City of Toronto to conserve and restore its Victory Aircraft Ltd. made Avro Lancaster Mk. X that was displayed outdoors as a war memorial in Toronto for 34 years.
The new museum soon attracted dozens of volunteers and an educational program was developed and promoted to the 2,000 schools in the GTA that focused on air and space related STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) activities and 20th century Canadian history, including the World Wars.
Between 1998 and 2011, the museum also hosted a series of special events that celebrated Canadian air and space pioneers, the Avro Arrow, DHC-1 Chipmunk and DHC-2 Beaver, and provided a rare opportunity for the Toronto public to meet RCAF aircrew and see Q Series Dash 8s and Global aircraft built at Bombardier’s adjacent 1.3-million-square-foot aircraft factory.
Unfortunately, the museum’s charitable activities were disrupted on Sept. 20, 2011, when a dozen tenants in the heritage building had their leases cancelled so the factory could be vacated and the building could be torn down and built into a private hockey rink.
The museum finally left Downsview in 2013 after packing its aircraft collection onto flatbed trucks and almost 50 40-foot shipping containers. (Centennial College subsequently raised $72 million to selectively renovate the building as its new Downsview Campus).
Seeking a new home
Most of the more than 300 aviation museums and historic aircraft collections in North America are located at benevolent airports that recognize the importance of celebrating aerospace innovation, local pioneers and inspiring the next generation to pursue post-secondary aerospace education and flight training.
In late 2011, the museum received an invitation to store the collection at Lester B. Pearson International Airport from Lloyd McCoomb, the retiring president and CEO of the Greater Toronto Airport Authority.
The prospect of a standalone museum establishing a home at the airport proved a financial challenge, but an offer to display some of the collection in a new corporate FBO was pursued for several years until the project changed hands.
Pearson airport generously provided an outdoor storage site for several years and later a large air cargo warehouse and office to store the collection indoors. Other significant costs associated with moving the collection four times in seven years have been resolved with generous corporate donors.
Many politicians and community leaders in Ottawa and the Toronto area offered to help the museum find a new home, but big metropolitan cities have hundreds of worthwhile projects competing for limited government funds, observes Ian McDougall, the chairman of the museum.
“The circumstances demanded that we focused on asset conservancy as the core mission of the museum, knowing the unlikelihood of securing viable and stable display space in the short term,” said McDougall
As the museum collection moves to Edenvale, the museum has been rebranded as the “Canadian Air & Space Conservancy.”
The collection includes a wartime RCAF de Havilland DH 82C Tiger Moth trainer, and postwar Canadair CT-133, Canadair CT-114 Tutor and Beechcraft CT-134 Musketeer trainers, de Havilland CS-2F Tracker, and Bell CH-136 Kiowa helicopter. Civilian aircraft include a Fleet 80 Canuck, a Zenair CH 200 homebuilt and the UFM Easy Riser ultralight flown by “Father Goose” Bill Lishman. It also includes historic archival material and exhibits reflecting major developments in Canada’s aviation history, most of which took place in the Ontario region.
Many other historic civilian and military aircraft and related historic material have been offered to the museum since 2011, and now, with new facilities will be actively considered.
Edenvale is an ideal site to display the museum collection and host special events again. The airport has three runways (up to 4,000 feet in length) and is already home to two aviation heritage groups.
The museum recognizes that its future success will depend on partnering with similar community and national organizations such as museums in Ottawa and Trenton. In future, it will make artefacts from the collection available to other like-minded organizations and other venues on a loan or exchange basis, expand its aircraft, artefact and archive collection, and resume aircraft restoration activities once facilities become available.