Header photo via rcaf-arc.forces.gc.ca
Open year round and offering free admission, the National Air Force Museum of Canada promises visitors something completely unique to the Bay of Quinte Region: a Handley Page Halifax Bomber, the only one in the entire world fully restored to technically correct status. Unbelievably, over 6,000 of these great planes once filled the skies over Europe during World War Two, but now only three remain. And only NAFM’s version stands completely rebuilt, appearing just as it did in the 1940’s, poised as though ready for one last flight.
Ask any museum volunteer and they’ll acknowledge the Halifax as gem of the museum’s vast collection. Visitors can climb stairs to a second storey viewing gallery for a bird’s eye view of the great plane’s 30 metre plus wing span and contemplate the aircraft’s colourful history. This particular model crash landed in Lake Mjøsa after a successful supply drop to the Norwegian Resistance. Encountering enemy fire on the trip home, the pilot aimed the plane for the only flat surface in sight. And though all six crew members lived through the landing, five soon perished trying to escape the lake’s frigid waters. While the sole survivor eventually made it home to England, the five fallen remained in Norway.
For fifty years, the great Halifax stayed with them, rusting away under 250 metres of water until the mission to raise the aircraft and bring it to Trenton began.
Read the names on the monument dedicated to the local volunteers responsible for the airplane’s overhaul and note their diverse backgrounds. Some spent years in the military; others were civilians. Many boasted education and experience as aircraft experts while some brought only enthusiasm and a desire to get the job done. Despite their differences, a single cause united them: their mutual interest in returning the Halifax to its former glory.
Although several members have since passed away, their dedication serves as inspiration to subsequent restoration teams hard at work preparing the NAFM’s latest projects. Time your visit to the museum just right and you might spy the latest volunteers toiling away in the back workshop, putting the finishing touches on both a Mark VI Lockheed Hudson and an Avro Anson Mark II. And tucked away nearby, awaiting its turn in the restoration line-up, stands the NAFM’s latest acquisition: a Northrop A-17 Nomad, drying out after nearly 70 years spent deep beneath the waters of Lake Muskoka.
But don’t let your tour stop there. NAFM restoration projects make up just a fraction of the museum’s fabulous collection of awesome artifacts. The museum boasts a myriad of superb displays, ranging from a full-scale replica of a Burgess-Dunne floatplane to a hockey sweater and medal dating back to the 1948 Olympics, when a team composed entirely of RCAF members won gold for Canada.
Fans of the Hollywood movie “The Great Escape” should check out the exhibit detailing the film’s real-life inspirational heroes. Put Steve McQueen and James Garner completely out of your head. Would it surprise you to know Canadians played key roles in the planning and secret construction of the famous underground tunnel featured in this epic World Two Drama?
In warm weather, visitors can ramble freely about the adjacent outdoor airpark, enjoying close up views of more than twenty aircraft on display just beyond the museum’s walls. Now’s your chance to ogle a Twin Huey helicopter or peek in the windows of a mobile Air Traffic Control Tower.
But before you leave the NAFM, try to remember to take a little time pondering all of those Canadian men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice. Consider the multi-volume Book of Remembrance, listing names of service members killed during World War Two. Spend a few quiet moments at the Camp Mirage Monument, a memorial dedicated to those who lost their lives during the Afghanistan mission. Once located on a Canadian base in Dubai, this impressive granite and brass structure now stands in solemn tribute within the walls of the NAFM at Trenton, the very airbase where these brave Canadians touched down on their last journey back home.