National aviation treasure threatened, historian says

A Canadian defence historian worries that eviction of Toronto’s Air and Space Museum from its Downsview location threatens the country’s aviation heritage.

On Sept. 20, Downsview Park, the museum’s landlord, delivered an eviction letter to museum volunteers, saying the museum has six months to pack up and leave.

Dr. Carl Christie, a former senior research officer at the Department of National Defence’s Directorate of History, fears that the country is about to lose one of its greatest institutions of this kind.

“Man’s conquest of the air has had a tremendous impact on Canada in a myriad of ways,” Christie said. “We are too ignorant of our aviation history, both civil and military. Canadians take for granted the contributions of aircraft and the men and women who maintain and fly them.”

The location, formerly comprised of several aircraft hangars, was home to DeHavilland’s headquarters, and served as an assembly plant for the Mosquito fighter aircraft during the Second World War. According to CEO Robert Cohen, the museum is set to shut down in March of 2012, rendering homeless its artifacts and staff from the location. He outlined some of the perennial problems the museum has faced.

“The hours of operation are limited and the park isn’t flexible enough in allowing us to keep our doors open,” he said. “Our credibility is being tarnished because of all this.”

Equally in question are the artifacts themselves. Some of the artifacts include a Lancaster bomber, built by Avro Canada, one of four in existence; a rare DeHavilland Beaver once owned by the Eaton family; and a scale-model replica of the CF-105 Avro Arrow, a state-of-the-art fighter jet, whose production was cancelled by the Diefenbaker government in 1959.

According to the museum’s space curator, Robert Godwin, another suitable location has not yet been provided by Downsview Park.

“If they were to put something in writing saying they will provide us another building on this property, which building is more appropriate. This is an aircraft hangar with aircraft in it,” Godwin said. “This isn’t stuff you just shove into the family attic.”

The museum’s volunteer members and historian Christie fear what would happen to the artifacts if they end up in the hands of private owners.

“Storing the collection, away from the public eye, would constitute a big loss. Breaking it up would mean a much bigger loss, especially if items disappeared, perhaps forever, from public view through a dispersal to private collectors,” Christie said.