Reviews / Comptes rendus - Kenneth M. Molson, Canada's National Aviation Museum: Its History and Collections

Reviews / Comptes rendus

Kenneth M. Molson, Canada's National Aviation Museum: Its History and Collections

Jim Donnelly
Canadian Museum of Civilization
Kenneth M. Molson. Canada's National Aviation Museum: Its History and Collections. Ottawa: National Aviation Museum, National Museum of Science and Technology, 1988. 292 pp., 254 ill. (54 colour). Cloth $39.95, ISBN 0-660-12001-1. Available in French, Le Musée national de l'aviation du Canada : son histoire et ses collections, ISBN 0-660-91651-7.

1 Kenneth M. Molson, founding curator of the National Aviation Museum, has written an interesting book, published for the opening of the museum's new facilities at Rockcliffe (Ottawa).

2 This book covers the development of the collection and the museum, the use of Rockcliffe as an airfield and the building of the museum's new facility. The aircraft and powerplants in the museum's collection are described and the appendices include lists of First World War German war trophies in Canada and of the aircraft specimens and powerplants in the collection.

3 The author begins his story by giving the historical context of the museum's development. It makes interesting reading for anyone working in museums. The museum developed out of the interests, or otherwise, of the air force, the National Research Council, the Canadian government and the Air Industries and Transport Association (AITA). The Canadian government's first involvement in collecting aircraft came with the end of the First World War. Aircraft, both Allied and enemy war trophies, were brought over from Europe in 1919. Some were put on display at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto or used for flying demonstrations. The next year, many machines were dispersed across the country as war trophies, and a number of German machines were destroyed by the air force as being too dangerous to fly—a very fragile beginning for a collection.

4 As Molson unfolds the story of the museum and its collection, he gives the narrative life by presenting the many individuals whose efforts saved these artifacts and promoted the idea of a museum. For example, he mentions the work of John H. Parker of the National Research Council (NRC) to preserve various aeronautical specimens for display in the future when a "National Science Museum may be established at Ottawa." In 1937 the Aeronautical Museum was created at the NRC, only to be closed during the Second World War. In 1945 someone suggested that "'the old engines and stuff in storage be disposed of.'" Parker stopped it in the nick of time. Molson comments, "This illustrates the danger of leaving artifacts in the custody of an organization whose principal purpose is not their preservation. Sooner or later they will be in the way and may be destroyed," a noteworthy point for any collection builder. In 1953 renewed interest in an aeronautical museum was raised by George Drew at the AITA annual meeting and the idea was commended by Prime Minister St. Laurent. This resulted in a joint committee with the NRC and eventually the opening of the National Aviation Museum in 1960 at Uplands (Ottawa) Terminal; it drew on the great energies of Malcolm S. Kuhring of the NRC Small Engine lab for the opening exhibits. In 1964, the RCAF turned over the hangars at Rockcliffe to the museum, which was operated with the assistance of the Canadian War Museum. At the same time, many RCAF historic aircraft were moved there for display. In 1966, the museum became part of the National Museum of Science and Technology. In 1982, funding was announced for the first part of new facilities.

5 Molson's description of the acquisition and restoration processes, such as a recovery from the bottom of Foss Lake near Kapuskasing Ontario, shows that acquiring aircraft can be a complex task. In this particular example a Curtiss HS-2L — Laurentide Air Service Ltd's first aircraft and Canada's first bush airplane — was brought up with the assistance of an air cadet squadron, the Ontario Ministry of Lands and Forests and a volunteer diving organization. To restore this aircraft, the museum acquired a set of drawings from a U.S. Navy captain and wings from the Los Angeles County Museum, and in a joint venture with the Western Canada Aviation Museum, recovered additional parts from a river in Ontario.

6 The collection catalogue gives basic information for each aircraft, its specifications, and its place in the development of aircraft. There are interesting details on how each specimen was collected, something of its specific history and reasons for the colour scheme or markings used on the aircraft. The catalogue is not meant to be a technical reference but rather it is written for the general reader. Each aircraft is illustrated with a photograph; many are in colour.

7 An added treat to round out the reader's feel for the collection are the reports by test pilots who have flown the museum's aircraft. These reports, by pilots familiar with more modern aircraft, gives armchair flyers a chance to see how individual aircraft perform.

8 Kenneth M. Molson writes a story that will be of special interest to museum specialists and aircraft enthusiasts alike. The book can also be enjoyed by the general reader. It is a good introduction to the National Aviation Museum and its collection. It can be read before or after a visit to Rockcliffe and makes an excellent guide during such a visit. For people interested in aircraft modelling, the photographs in the book are excellent reference for detailing models.