Bomber Command Museum of Canada
"We want to make sure we don't get carried away with planes and artifacts," says Dave Birrell, treasurer of the Bomber Command Museum of Canada. It seems like a surprising thing to hear until he clarifies: "We're here to tell the story of the people involved, the young Canadians who served in the Bomber Command. Almost one quarter of all Canadian casualties in World War II were Bomber Command."
The Bomber Command Museum of Canada is the new, recently adopted name of the Nanton Lancaster Society Air Museum. The name change was part of the celebration of the 65th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, May 8, 2010.
The museum had its beginnings in 1985, when a group was formed to take care of the Lancaster bomber that been displayed in Nanton since 1960. Having been delivered to Europe too late to take part in World War II, the bomber nevertheless had a fulfilling career with the Royal Canadian Air Force, travelling widely from bases on both coasts to play a valuable role during the Cold War. Once it became obsolete, the bomber escaped the scrap yard to become a distinctive landmark for this southern Alberta town.
Doing battle with the weather eventually left the bomber in poor condition. Caring for the aircraft properly meant moving it indoors and in 1991 the bomber found a home in the new Nanton Lancaster Society Air Museum. The museum has grown, had its successes, and faced challenges since then.
As is true for many museums, the biggest challenge for the Bomber Command Museum is operating costs. "We badly need a sprinkler system in our extension," says Dave. "Until we get it, we can't let the public visit that part of the building. It's not a fun thing to raise money for."
Dave is thankful that Community Spirit Program funding can be used to cover operating costs. "It's a huge help. The benefit is that funds we receive through donations and gift shop sales can be directed towards the further development of the museum, our aircraft restoration projects and public programming."
Those restoration projects include a Havilland DH 82 Tiger Moth, a plane that was vital to basic pilot training during the war. The museum hopes to have its own Tiger Moth, #1405, restored to flying condition, a goal that means it will take more than the efforts of museum volunteers, however valuable. "To get it to flying condition requires professional work, says Dave, "In the building of the wings, for example."
The other major project is the restoration of the museum's Lancaster bomber, FM-159, to taxiable status, meaning it will not be flown, but will have all four engines in running order. At present, two of those engines have been painstakingly restored by museum volunteers. The bomber is dedicated to Ian Bazalgette, the only Albertan awarded the Victoria Cross during World War II.
For his proudest achievement Dave echoes the feelings of the whole team at the museum: "The memorial to the 10,659 Canadians who died serving with Bomber Command."
The memorial, a national monument, stands outside the museum. It's a solemn and tasteful tribute in black granite to too many young Canadians who never made it back. At night, soft lighting casts a reassuring glow on the names of those who flew so many dangerous missions in the dark. "It took a lot of work to get all the names. Fortunately the basic work of assembling the names was already started for us by another museum."
When it comes to big dreams, Dave is practical. He wants to see the bomber's four engines all restored, then he'll decide what next to dream about.
"That will be a great day alright, when those engines all fire up." No doubt it will be before a healthy crowd of visitors from southern Alberta, across Canada and from points around the world. In that moment, each of them, from those old enough to remember to those too young to understand, will glimpse the full, terrible yet beautiful power of a machine. One bomber will come to life to represent all of them that demanded so many young lives. Its growling engines will speak loudly of those who, as the memorial wall puts it, "helped give humanity the victory."
The Bomber Command Museum is located in Nanton. Visit them online at http://www.bombercommandmuseum.ca
View Larger Map