Toronto groups lobby to keep Lancaster bomber

A few months after it was assembled at the Victory Aircraft manufacturing facility at Malton Airport, near Toronto, Lancaster Mk. X bomber FM104 made its way to Europe, intended as part of Canada’s contribution to the Second World War.

Avro Lancaster bombers are among the best-known Allied aircraft from the Second World War. Toronto International Aerospace Photo
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It never saw active service in the war, and spent most of its working life as a maritime patrol and search and rescue aircraft with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), based initially in Nova Scotia and later in Newfoundland.

But it is one of only 17 complete Lancasters left in the world, an important artifact from a pivotal time in Canadian aviation history.

“FM104 is a rare and significant object,” noted Mike Williams, general manager of economic development for the City of Toronto, in a report to the city’s economic development committee.

“FM104 is also a large and unusual object … these considerations should inform any decision made about FM104.”

Toronto is weighing the possibility of permanently removing the aircraft from its historical collection, noting an inability to store the Lancaster on city property and no budget to restore it.

Williams has recommended transferring FM104 to the British Columbia Aviation Museum (BCAM) in Sidney, B.C., for continued restoration and public display.

If negotiations with the BCAM fail, he recommends transferring the aircraft to the Edenvale Aviation Heritage Foundation near Stayner, Ont., for the same purposes.

Victory Aircraft in Malton, Ont., manufactured hundreds of Lancasters, a crucial part of Canada’s contribution to the Second World War. Toronto International Aerospace Photo

The move would save the city about $25,000 a year in storage costs, but has raised considerable concern from Toronto-area groups that want to see the aircraft remain in the city where it was manufactured and later placed on public display.

“People who lived in Toronto built it, maintained it and flew it,” said Dan Grant, a retired airline captain and co-founder of #SaveLancasterFM104, a group lobbying to keep the aircraft close to its original home.

“I grew up with that airplane down on the waterfront … and when I was a teenage air cadet, in the summer we used to go and clean it up and touch up the paint.”

Grant noted another personal connection to the Lancaster program: His cousin, Francis Archibald Randall, was a captain in the Royal Australian Air Force who died at age 21 in a Lancaster on Dec. 16, 1943, he said.

After it was retired from the RCAF, FM104 was mounted on a plinth and placed on outdoor display at Coronation Park, on the Toronto waterfront, in 1965.

But the plinth mounting technique undermined the aircraft’s structural integrity and caused corrosion, according to a city staff report.

Exposure to lakefront weather, bird infestations, and ongoing vandalism also threatened the aircraft’s long-term survival. City council approved the transfer of FM104, along with other military objects, from Coronation Park in 1998.

FM104 was loaned to the newly established Toronto Aerospace Museum, later known as the Canadian Air & Space Museum (CASM) and now known as Toronto International Aerospace.

The aircraft moved to the museum’s facility in Downsview Park, and volunteers began restoring it to its 1945 configuration, supported by a $100,000 grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, according to the report.

CASM left Downsview Park in 2012 and placed the Lancaster in storage at two locations at and near Toronto Pearson International Airport, the report said.

Lancaster Mk. X bomber FM104 is seen here in service in 1961. Toronto International Aerospace Photo

The aircraft remained in CASM’s care until a private operator asked the museum to vacate the storage location holding FM104’s main assemblies in 2017. It was subsequently moved to a private aerodrome near Stayner.

“No facility could be identified within the Greater Toronto Area with sufficient headroom and storage space clearances to hold the Lancaster,” noted the city staff report.

Once the Lancaster’s wings, tail unit, landing gear, and power plant have been reattached to its fuselage, it will have at footprint of 102 x 70 feet, requiring 7,400  square feet of indoor space, with headroom of at least 21 feet, according to the report.

The city received five proposals from organizations willing to acquire the Lancaster, and staff identified the British Columbia Aviation Museum as having the strongest. Its aim is to interpret the aircraft as a post-war maritime patrol and rescue aircraft, according to the report .

Toronto’s economic development committee is scheduled to consider the matter at a meeting on April 13, 2018. If it approves city staff’s recommendation, the decision would not sit well with some in the local community.

“I would be devastated if it went out there [to B.C.],” said Lynn Berry, a Brampton, Ont., resident whose uncle, Pilot Officer Robert John Westgate, was a tail gunner in a Lancaster shot down over Poland during the Second World War. Westgate and his crew all perished in the incident.

“My mom lives in Toronto and it’s sort of a tangible piece that keeps her close to him,” said Berry. “This is my whole reason for doing this. I’m my mom’s voice … it was a tangible way for me to try and preserve my uncle’s memory.”

Museum members are also pushing back against the proposal to move the Lancaster away from Toronto.

“Tens of thousands of people in the Toronto area contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars and tens of thousands of hours of labour to the restoration of Lancaster FM104 during the 12 years it was on display at the Toronto Aerospace Museum at Downsview Park at no cost to the city,” said aviation writer Kenneth Swartz, who became a museum board member in 2002.

“They deserve to have their voices heard and the time to organize a new aircraft restoration team to ensure the future display of this historic aircraft in the Greater Toronto Area.”

“Ultimately, a home for Lancaster FM104 should be found within the Downsview Aerospace Innovation and Research hub, which is bringing together all aspects of the local aviation and aerospace industry,” he added.

“Or in the historically significant Bombardier Aerospace factory at Downsview, if this should ultimately close.”

An experienced restoration crew is also located in the Greater Toronto Area, which has been cited as another reason to keep the Lancaster nearby.

“They acquired a lot of equipment, and some with their own personal finances,” said Vince Malfara, a long-time volunteer with the Toronto museum.

“A lot of equipment, spare parts, etc., so everything is here and ready to go. All you need is a location to do it.”

Berry said #SaveLancasterFM104 has found a location in the GTA to store the Lancaster temporarily, with plans to build a museum large enough to house the Lancaster.

The group intends to speak at Friday’s economic development committee meeting, hoping to keep the Lancaster close to home.

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“We’re not giving up,” she said. “The deal’s not done.”

UPDATE (April 13, 2018):

Toronto’s economic development committee has deferred a decision about the fate of Lancaster Mk. X bomber FM104 to give city staff the chance to consider other funding opportunities for the project.

The decision came on April 13, 2018, after presentations from groups interested in acquiring the Lancaster, including #SaveLancasterFM104, the Edenvale Aviation Heritage Foundation, and the British Columbia Aviation Museum

#SaveLancaster104 told the committee it is eligible to receive funding for up to 40 per cent of the cost of a museum building that could house the Lancaster in Toronto.

“We have a plan, we have a team, and we can deliver,” said Lynn Berry, who co-founded the group with Dan Grant.

“It is a Toronto treasure, and it would be a travesty to let it go.”

Richard Banigan, a former RCAF pilot who said he flew FM104 with 107 Rescue Unit in Torbay, N.L., also spoke in favour of keeping the Lancaster in Toronto.

“This is Toronto’s airplane, it’s my airplane, and we’d be crazy to give it up,” he said.

Murray Conley, general manager of the Edenvale Aviation Heritage Foundation, noted the Lancaster is already being stored at Edenvale, and he lobbied to keep it there.

“It cannot be emphasized enough that we are fully funded to carry out this restoration–to the end of the restoration, and beyond,” said Connolly.

“This advantage means that we can devote all of our efforts and finances to the restoration process.”

John Lewis, president of the British Columbia Aviation Museum, also spoke, saying the museum is in a solid financial position, with cash reserves close to $200,000.

The museum has a quote to move the Lancaster to B.C. that is well within that range, he said. Its goal is to restore the Lancaster to flying condition.

“It would be an honour to welcome this iconic aircraft to our collection,” said Lewis.

“I find it, personally, extremely offensive that only the citizens of Toronto are worthy of knowing about Lancasters and the sacrifices of Lancaster aircrew during the war.”

Toronto Coun. Michael Thompson, chair of the city’s economic development committee, suggested a deferral to allow city staff to work through the new funding opportunities cited in the April 13 meeting.

“What I’m actually buoyed about is that there are two groups of Canadians who are wishing to save Canadian history,” said Thompson.

“Whether or not it’s located in Toronto or Vancouver, for me it really doesn’t matter,” he added.

“If a group from Toronto is not able to realize the opportunity to enhance it and do what needs to be done, then I think another group from elsewhere in [the] country should have that opportunity.”

The committee is scheduled to revisit the issue on July 9, 2018.

7 thoughts on “Toronto groups lobby to keep Lancaster bomber

    1. The Economic Development Dept of the City of Toronto has recommended the transfer of the aircraft to the British Columbia Aviation Museum . It looked as if this airframe was to finally have a safe and stable future.
      However, a small grass roots group of 4-5 individuals has come forward and is attempting to block the transfer and keep the aircraft in Toronto.
      They are a small group that has no money , no facility or location to build a facility , no experience in aircraft restoration. They have contacted a couple of people that have Lanc Resto experience but nothing more than that. While I too would love to see the aircraft stay, its history in Toronto has been horrible its whole life . From sitting on a pedestal for years being vandalized and having homeless people live in it , to being scavenged for parts for other Lanc projects , to being loaned to the Toronto Aerospace Museum which could not keep themselves afloat , to sitting stored for several years at various locations.
      The City of Toronto did the right thing and accepted proposals from reputable Aviation Organizations that wished to take over ownership of the aircraft. It looked at all the proposals and identified a suitable group that are supported by Victoria Air Maint, ( they just restored a Mosquito ). The City also placed a parachute clause that would transfer ownership to another group if the BC Museum became unable to complete the task or closed it doors. They did their due diligence
      This new small inexperienced group has now come on the scene and is trying to block the entire proposal. While their intentions may be in some way understandable, giving ownership to such a group at this point in the negotiations would be adverse to the airframes future.
      Toronto really does not have the market for another Lancaster Exhibit considering there is one flying example and 2 under restoration and one in the National Museum all within 5 hrs of each other. Each of these aircraft were built in Toronto , so Victory Aircraft Ltd is well represented.
      The main concern should be for the airframe itself , NOT where is does or does not stay .
      I really hope that the City sticks to the recommendation and finally does right by this aircraft. It deserves to go to a stable home and be restored professionally after all its been thru

  1. I was at that meeting being part of the safe fm104 group and my question is for the Toronto councillors is why the city of Toronto has pretty much eliminated everything military that used to be done at coronation Park and that includes the Destroyer hmcs Haida which now resides in Hamilton Ontario. Is the city of Toronto ashamed of Toronto’s military past? Having served in the reserves with one of the Toronto regiments I’m appalled that Toronto would not embrace everything that the veterans did during the war. If it wasn’t for their sacrifices we would not have the freedoms that we enjoy today. Shame on City Council for not keeping remembrance of our brave veterans past and present

  2. The one and only time I flew in a Lancaster was from Goose Bay to Montreal in January 1958.
    Myself, Doc Demerah, John Linden with one passenger were flying from Hopedale to RCAF Station Knob Lake on the Mid-Canada Doppler Detection Line. As we were flying merrily along after having stopped at site 203,after about fifteen minutes out the Piasecki H-21 dropped its tail section, went vertical, then over on its side and headed for the ground in an arc, thank God we hit a knoll rolled down the hill, split in two, caught fire. The cockpit was totally demolished, Doc was in a snowbank sitting in his seat, still strapped in, I was still in the cockpit upside down with large hole in my helmet from the uppercase forward transmission and hole in my leg from the fuel mixture control. John Linden was pulled out through the entrance to the cockpit, meanwhile Doc had stood me up in a snowbank was pulling John out told me to get away from the machine, as it was burning. I fell over because of my bum leg. The pax who was sitting in the center of the machine was thrown out, no injuries except losing his false teeth.
    We stayed out overnight (-40F) and were picked up the next day and flown to Goose Bay American Hospital.
    After three days they figured I had a severe concussion and flew me to Montreal in a Lancaster, so I am assuming its the same one.

  3. I think the Lancastor should come to British Columbia. Ontario has several. Let’s share the history of Canadian aviation. For the younger generation to appreciate. And you know if VAM if the lead in this project it will be done proper.

  4. The Economic Development Dept of the City of Toronto has recommended the transfer of the aircraft to the British Columbia Aviation Museum . It looked as if this airframe was to finally have a safe and stable future.
    However, a small grass roots group of 4-5 individuals has come forward and is attempting to block the transfer and keep the aircraft in Toronto.
    They are a small group that has no money , no facility or location to build a facility , no experience in aircraft restoration. They have contacted a couple of people that have Lanc Resto experience but nothing more than that. While I too would love to see the aircraft stay, its history in Toronto has been horrible its whole life . From sitting on a pedestal for years being vandalized and having homeless people live in it , to being scavenged for parts for other Lanc projects , to being loaned to the Toronto Aerospace Museum which could not keep themselves afloat , to sitting stored for several years at various locations.
    The City of Toronto did the right thing and accepted proposals from reputable Aviation Organizations that wished to take over ownership of the aircraft. It looked at all the proposals and identified a suitable group that are supported by Victoria Air Maint, ( they just restored a Mosquito ). The City also placed a parachute clause that would transfer ownership to another group if the BC Museum became unable to complete the task or closed it doors. They did their due diligence
    This new small inexperienced group has now come on the scene and is trying to block the entire proposal. While their intentions may be in some way understandable, giving ownership to such a group at this point in the negotiations would be adverse to the airframes future.
    Toronto really does not have the market for another Lancaster Exhibit considering there is one flying example and 2 under restoration and one in the National Museum all within 5 hrs of each other. Each of these aircraft were built in Toronto , so Victory Aircraft Ltd is well represented.
    The main concern should be for the airframe itself , NOT where is does or does not stay .
    I really hope that the City sticks to the recommendation and finally does right by this aircraft. It deserves to go to a stable home and be restored professionally after all its been thru.

  5. My father was a special radio operator from 1943-1945 on board a Lanc in 101 Squadron…he passed away last September. Having this plane in Toronto would mean so much to me and my family! Hope it works out!

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