Two Dozen Things We Love About This Place: British Columbia Aviation Museum earns its wings (22)

The British Columbia Aviation Museum celebrates 25 years of preserving local and regional aviation history with the display of a plane that made Canadian history and the restoration of another used by one of the province’s more colourful politicians.

The mandate of the museum, next to Victoria International Airport in Sidney, is to collect, restore, house, display and demonstrate artifacts relating to aviation — with particular emphasis on the development of aviation in Canada, and especially British Columbia.

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It displays about 25 fully restored aircraft in two hangars encompassing 2,700 square metres. A smaller, 465-square-metre hangar is used for ongoing restorations.

Perhaps the most significant aircraft in the collection is a replica of the Gibson Twin-Plane. Its designer, Victoria resident William Wallace Gibson, was the first Canadian to pilot a wholly Canadian- built plane, in 1910.

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The first flight took off from what was later became known as Lansdowne field, at the base of Mt. Tolmie. Constructed of silk stretched over a spruce frame, bicycle wheels on all four corners and a horse saddle for a seat, the pioneer aircraft flew a record 60 metres in September of that year.

The plane under restoration is a PacAero Trade-wind, a Beech 18 modified for the province after it was acquired in 1964. It was used to ferry former B.C. minister of highways (flying) Phil Garardi around the province. Planes in the provincial feet were regularly used for surveying at the time.

Restoration of the gleaming silver plane, acquired by the museum in the 1990s, started 18 months ago and is expected to take another two years.

The aviation museum is one of three in B.C. The Canadian Museum of Flight in Langley has 25 civilian and military aircraft. The Comox Air Force Museum showcases military aircraft. What sets the B.C. Aviation Museum apart is that its whole collection is housed out of the elements, which helps preserve the exhibits.

The museum also honours the region’s contribution to training aviators in the Second World War. Thousands of young airmen passed through the local hangars on their way to fight over Europe and Asia.

There were both RCAF and RAF bases at the airport. The Canadians were based on the west side and the British on the east.

Apart from the aircraft, the museum has thousands of pieces of military equipment, memorabilia, documents and parts of aircraft.

Volunteer tour guides help visitors navigate the hangars, which are crammed with exhibits. There are between two to four tours a day, throughout the year. The only days off are Christmas and New Year’s Day.

A core group of 50 volunteers keeps the museum running, from sweeping the floors to the president of the board of directors.

Admission is $10 adults, $8 seniors and youth (13 to 18), $4 children (7 to 12) and free for six and under. Visitors can browse on their own or have a tour guide. The museum, at 1910 Norseman Rd., is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. until April 30. For more information, go to bcam.net or telephone 250-655-3300.

parrais@timescolonist.com

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