Why the Canadian Air and Space Museum Should be Saved

Building another hockey rink or preserving a unique aviation heritage site – which matters more to the Harper Government? In the federal government’s Downsview Park, the answer appears to be the additional hockey rink. Last September 20, Downsview Park gave a notice of eviction in six months to the Canadian Air and Space Museum. The historic 1929 de Havilland Aircraft of Canada building housing the museum is to be torn down to accommodate hockey rinks.

This decision flies in the face of the Harper Government’s ongoing initiative to build pride in our military heritage. While the government decided to restore the title “royal” to the navy and air force, it does not yet recognize that military heritage goes beyond titles to encompass the production of armaments. The Canadian Air and Space Museum is unique because it occupies the site of Canada’s most historically significant military (and civilian) aircraft production plant.

The public no longer remembers that during World War II Toronto was a veritable arsenal of democracy. Its major military production facilities included army materiel at the John Inglis factory near the Canadian National Exhibition, radar and optics at the top-secret Research Enterprises Ltd. facility in Leaside, and aircraft manufacturing in Downsview and Malton. Military production during World War II led to a major transformation of the Canadian economy to emphasize manufacturing. Unfortunately, there is no trace of the history of military production near the CNE or in Leaside, so the Downsview location alone remains – but, it appears, not for long.

The museum’s exhibits include the only full-size replica of the Avro Arrow (all the originals were destroyed by order of the Diefenbaker Government), a Silver Star jet trainer, a de Havilland Tiger Moth trainer, and a Lancaster bomber. The Lancaster was mounted on an outdoor plinth for several decades, and an army of volunteers is now painstakingly restoring its rusted body.

The Toronto museum’s collection is not as extensive as that of the federal government’s Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa, but it has a focus on production that the federal facility lacks. It is unfortunate that the Toronto museum’s title – Canadian Air and Space Museum – is confusingly close to the federal museum’s title. The Toronto museum could also emphasize the history of production, so as to differentiate its mission and perspective from that of the federal museum. Finally, the Toronto museum did not take advantage of the Economic Action Plan for additional funding. It should have an application ready in the event there is an EAP II.

In addition to its collections, the museum is the focal point of a community of aviation enthusiasts. This community includes the volunteers who staff the museum itself, the technically adept volunteers who are restoring the Lancaster bomber, two Russian pilots who run two modern flight simulators at the museum, and an 89-year old World War II Lancaster pilot who is at the museum most weekends selling copies of his memoirs.

The museum also has a strong focus on children’s activities, and is the site of many birthday parties at which the Russian pilots provide hands-on tutorials on the simulator as well as an introductory aviation course during March break and Air Cadets training. (Personal disclosure: one of our kids had a birthday party at the museum and took the aviation course, and greatly enjoyed both.) If the museum closes its doors, this community of interest will lose its focal point and likely disappear. Our city will have lost an aspect of the cultural – in the broadest sense – diversity that makes it such an exciting place.

Finally, this eviction is entirely unnecessary. Downsview Park has a great deal of unused land and hockey rinks could be built elsewhere without destroying the heritage building and the Air and Space Museum.

I urge my readers to visit the Museum’s website, www.casmuseum.org, sign its petition, and write their elected representatives. I hope we can educate them about the historical and cultural significance of the museum and reverse this short-sighted decision.

7 comments

  1. With the utmost respect I must remind the author and readers of this blog post that the Canadian Air & Space Museum was ardently supported by Downsview Park–a self-financing Crown corporation (does not receive any tax-payer subsidies or otherwise)–for over a decade, to a tune of over $1 million. The Museum could not prove themselves to be sustainable now or in the future, and the Park could not continue to absorb their operating costs. As with all other tenants of the Park, non-profit or otherwise, they are expected to pay their rent. The Park does not possess the capital funds necessary to repair the historic building the Museum inhabited, so the Board of Downsview Park considered a proposal from a third-party organization that would result in the investment necessary to repurpose the facility. http://www.downsviewpark.ca for add’l information.

  2. “so the Board of Downsview Park considered a proposal from a third-party organization that would result in the investment necessary to repurpose the facility.”

    I do wish Downsview Park officials would be more honest in their describing of the situation. The deal with the third-party organization is not to “repurpose” the building – it will see the building torn down! Please start telling the truth.

    Let’s also be honest with respect to the rent and how it was increased from $0 to over $15,000 a month. Now that the museum has firmed up revenue streams and is able to meet this inflated amount, Downsview Park has cut the legs out from under the museum by closing the doors to school tours and other efforts to raise revenue.

  3. Parc Downsview Park would not exist, without the generosity of Canadian taxpayers. Downsview Park can borrow $100 million dollars from Infrastructure Canada, and in 2005-2006, the feds forgave a $15 million dollar PDP debt. The Crown corporation is entitled to keep the money from leasing and selling property—to retailers, the South Carolina aerospace company, and housing developers.
    Downsview Park has more than enough money to repair the de Havilland Building; borrow the money from Infrastructure Canada if you have to.
    Downsview Park promised that Canada’s military and aviation heritage would always have a presence at the park (the official PDP logo features airplane propellers).
    Obviously, the Crown corporation broke that promise.

  4. The desision to demolish this historic building and sentence the Museum to death is a travesty unbecoming of Canadian values. The Museum had managed to meet monthy rent inspite ofd its rediculous amount and was in a postion to catch up on its arrears. Theallegation of non-payment is only a diversion since PDP also evicted several other tennants. PDP has not addressed questions of importance. Big money is involved and recently it has been revealed there could be a conflict of interest situation.
    The decision goes directly against the stated objectives of the Ministry of Heritage. Many more questions involving amongst other things such as very unusual procedures, justification of decisions and confirmation of compatibility of hertiage values have been reviewed. I believe the rogue actions by PDP must be an embarrasment to the Government but no one has the intestinal fotritude to speak up and do something to ensure the right thing is being done. An inquiry is in order to ensure the desision is beyond suspicion and decisions meets the scruity of a responsible group of stewards. If you agree write your MP.

  5. How did a perfectly good airport become a Federal Park? I watched airshows, and flew model airplanes there in 1949. Waste of Federal monies at present. Next I suppose it will be turned over to DEVELOPERS to fill up the space with houses because it does not show a profit. A tragedy. How far does one NOW have to drive to show ones son or daughter planes other than the giant ones. Its the only way to aviation. Start small think Big.!

  6. dec 18 2013
    park downsview states that 65 karl road building is in bad shape as far as the
    structure is concerned-But remember the building that the park offices are built
    in approximately the same years and materials and its not so great eather just
    a few inside modifaction for their offices and a so called front desk to meet
    customers- I have been all through this structure and its no great cheeze just
    basic fuctional as were all armed forces base structures at that time-So dont
    believe the B S the park administration give about the bad structual defects
    It was sure great for our museum to be housed in and thousands of hours
    of hard work to be done before the general public was allowed into this building
    both electrical-structual-plumbing-ECT-The airforce left this building a disaaster
    electrician for the musuim–Joseph Ingram over 10 years

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