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Historic Avro Lancaster bomber heading to North Saanich museum

A historic Avro Lancaster bomber will soon be heading to its new home at the B.C. Aviation Museum in North Saanich. Toronto City Council voted Tuesday to transfer the vintage plane to the museum, where restoration will start immediately.
John Lewis, president of the B.C. Aviation Museum in North Saanich, holds a photo of an Avro Lancaster bomber. The museum will take one of the historic bombers under its wing for display as it's being restored.

A historic Avro Lancaster bomber will soon be heading to its new home at the B.C. Aviation Museum in North Saanich.

Toronto City Council voted Tuesday to transfer the vintage plane to the museum, where restoration will start immediately.

“It’s absolutely exciting,” said museum president John Lewis.

“The Avro Lancaster is an iconic aircraft with a distinguished record in war and in peace. It was a major contributor to the strategic bombing offensive in World War II. After the war, it served for many years on both coasts in reconnaissance and search-and-rescue missions.”

This Lancaster, FM104, was built in Toronto in 1944 and stationed on the East Coast for 20 years. It was retired in 1965 and displayed on a plinth in Coronation Park on the Toronto lakeshore until 1999. The aircraft was removed, disassembled and partially restored, then placed in storage away from public view for several years.

The aviation museum’s long-term goal is to see the Avro Lancaster bomber take flight, a project Lewis acknowledges could take 10 to 15 years.

“It will be only one of three Lancasters in the world that are still flying,” Lewis said. “But we believe ultimately it can be restored to flying condition. We’re under no illusion this is a major project, larger than any we’ve undertaken before, particularly because every piece of the restoration has to be done to airworthy standards.”

Victoria Air Maintenance, an internationally known firm of vintage aircraft restorers, will have overall supervision of the project. A number of local aircraft manufacturing specialists and vintage aircraft enthusiasts have pledged their time and knowledge to volunteer on this project.

“We’ve had a real upsurge of interest and pledges of support from a lot of other people around the airport,” Lewis said.

The museum became interested in acquiring the plane last year when the City of Toronto sent out a request for interest to a number of Canadian museums.

“The criteria was they had to be Canadian, without a Lancaster in their collection and they had to have a plan for its restoration and display,” Lewis said.

“We responded to that and then we filled out a questionnaire and responded to supplementary information. Back in March, Toronto city staff examined all the proposals and decided we had the best. And, since then, it’s been a question of just being patient.”

The museum waited while Toronto’s economic development committee deferred its decision three months to give a local group a second chance to work with city staff and develop a revised proposal to save the plane.

The group, called FM104EVER and comprised of pilots, relatives of veterans, historians and restorers, wanted to restore the plane and display it near Toronto the waterfront.

“In the end, city staff concluded that, notwithstanding the evident goodwill and emotion of the group, they really didn’t have a plan that didn’t involve a lot of uncertainty and risk and possible financial outlay to the city,” Lewis said.

At that point, the Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton, which has a flying Lancaster, got into the picture and offered to take FM104 to restore it to taxiable conditions over the next few years.

Lewis said the museum had previously made a proposal to take the Lancaster and use it for parts for its Lancaster. “There was a suspicion that could still happen,” he said.

This week, Toronto city council voted to give the Avro Lancaster to the B.C. Aviation Museum.

The museum will have to pay to transport the plane, which is in pieces, across the country. “The fuselage is in three sections. The wings are separate and there are a large number of parts.”

The museum will display sections as they are restored, Lewis said.

“A lot of people will be very interested in coming out to see this. The nose section has already had a fair bit of work on it, and we think it’s a good candidate for early restoration and display,” he said.

“It depends what we see when we finally get it here. But our view is that fairly early on, some will be on display. Other parts will be on display in our restoration hangar, which is open to the public on a guided basis.”

• The B.C. Aviation Museum is having its annual open house today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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