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Toronto city council has voted to transfer one of the last surviving Toronto-built Lancaster bombers to the British Columbia Aviation Museum (BCAM), rejecting multiple proposals that would have kept the iconic aircraft close to home.
The decision came July 24, 2018, and is not considered final until an ongoing council meeting has ended and the city clerk has confirmed it.
The meeting has stretched over several says, and was still in process as of noon on July 27. But a spokesperson said city staff do not expect the matter will be revisited.
The vote indicates strong support for BCAM’s proposal, which would move Lancaster bomber FM104 from the Edenvale Aerodrome in Stayner, Ont., to the BCAM facility next to Victoria International Airport.
“We’re very happy–in fact, delighted,” said John Lewis, president of BCAM, in an interview with Skies. “It’s quite an honour for us to have a Lancaster to restore.”
BCAM intends to paint FM104 with the livery it had when it served as a search and rescue aircraft on Canada’s East Coast after the Second World War.
The museum hopes to ultimately restore the aircraft to flying condition, but Lewis noted that is a long-term goal.
“We’re talking many years for that,” he said.
BCAM plans to work with Victoria Air Maintenance to restore the aircraft, an internationally-known company that has also restored a de Havilland Mosquito to flying condition, said Lewis.
“All of the restoration work will be carried out to aviation standards, so as not to compromise that ultimate goal,” he said.
If negotiations with BCAM fall through, council’s second preference is to transfer it to Edenvale Aviation Heritage Foundation for restoration and display.
A proposal by the group #SaveLancasterFM104 that would have kept the aircraft in Toronto as part of a new, yet-to-be-constructed museum, was not mentioned in council’s preliminary decision.
The same is true of a proposal from Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum (CWHM) in nearby Hamilton, Ont., that also included the possibility of restoring FM104 to flying condition.
CWHM previously restored another Lancaster bomber, C-GVRA, to flying condition. It is one of only two airworthy Lancasters in the world.
“Obviously as owners of the aircraft they [city council] can decide whatever they want to do with it and I certainly respect that,” said Dave Rohrer, president and CEO of the Hamilton museum.
“I don’t think they made a choice that really serves their constituents very well.”
In the fall of 2017, the Hamilton museum proposed acquiring Lancaster bomber FM104 and partially restoring it, making the forward cabin and cockpit a fully interactive display using augmented reality.
The proposal also included a similar treatment and presentation for the mid-upper gun turret and tail turret, said Rohrer in an email.
When a subsequent bid came forward from a Toronto-based group called #SaveLancasterFM104, CWHM backed away from that proposal and supported #SaveLancasterFM104’s bid.
CWHM submitted a revised proposal in in mid-July, when the #SaveLancasterFM104 bid was discarded and it appeared FM104 was heading to B.C.
Rohrer said he submitted an amended plan to Mayor John Tory and Coun. Michael Thompson, chair of the city’s economic development committee (EDC), after the EDC indicated a preference to transfer the aircraft to BCAM.
The intent was to, “give them a viable option to keep the airplane in the region if that is what they were hoping to do,” said Rohrer. The Hamilton museum planned to restore FM104 to static condition under a 10-year program, using about $2 million of museum funds.
“During that restoration process we would fully examine the feasibility and possibility of restoring the airplane to flying condition,” said Rohrer.
“But that determination couldn’t be made until we were well into the project and had an intimate knowledge of the aircraft.”
Rohrer said Thompson told him during a phone call on July 16 the EDC was not entertaining the Hamilton museum’s submission and “had made their mind up.”
“It seems that based on their report to council that our revised submission was never made known or discussed,” said Rohrer.
“I feel bad for the constituents of Toronto who were trying to keep that artifact in Toronto, and obviously council wasn’t concerned with that. As for the CWHM we will continue our work on several vintage aircraft restorations to flying condition currently in progress, including a Grumman TBM Avenger, and a Grumman S-2 Tracker aircraft.”
FM104 was one of more than 400 Lancasters built in Malton (now Mississauga) during the Second World War. It never served in the conflict and was on display in Toronto for more than 30 years, mounted on a plinth in Coronation Park.
#SaveLancasterFM104 hoped to keep the aircraft within city limits, in part to preserve part of Toronto’s aviation history.
“It’s fully understandable that they would be emotional about it, would try everything to keep it,” said John Lewis, president of BCAM.
“I’m not frustrated at all, really. I’d say I fully understand the reaction. It was just a question of being patient … and I have to say that the SaveFM104 group responded very graciously to the final decision of the economic development committee.”
The question of how to transport FM104 from Ontario to B.C. is under active discussion, thought Lewis acknowledged it would likely be by truck or by rail.
“Ultimately, we would be building another hangar for the Lancaster and various other aircraft,” said Lewis.
“But while this is happening, our intent would be to display pieces of the aircraft, either in our main hangar or our restoration hangar.”
FM104 would become a centerpiece of BCAM’s collection of about 25 aircraft, including a Bristol Bolingbroke Mk. IV bomber, an Avro Anson Mk. II bomber, and a North American Harvard trainer.
“It’s historically significant to all of Canada,” said Lewis.
“It’s important for all Canadians, certainly in its wartime role–and in its peacetime role, very important, particularly on the coasts, where people saw these planes flying for many years.”