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  Home » About CWHM » History »

History


A collection of over forty aircraft has grown through the friendship of Dennis Bradley and Alan Ness. Their love of aviation and their desire to maintain and preserve Canada's aviation history saw restoration projects that were not only great pieces of workmanship but airworthy examples.


Alan Ness in the Firefly
Alan Ness in the Firefly
Dennis Bradley in the Firefly
Dennis Bradley in the Firefly

Dennis Bradley and Alan Ness approached friends Peter Matthews and John Weir to become partners with them to acquire the first aircraft, a Fairey Firefly. This aircraft was to become the masthead of the Museum's advertising and stationery and continues to this day to be incorporated into logos, crests and memorabilia. A tribute to the four flying founders is located in the Museum's main entrance.

Test flight of the first aircraft, the Fairey Firefly, on June 4, 1972
Test flight of the first aircraft, the Fairey Firefly,
on June 4, 1972

In 1972, the group moved into part of a hangar at Hamilton Airport and started to seriously seek out other restoration projects or flying aircraft. A de Havilland Canada Chipmunk was to be the second acquisition, followed shortly by the Supermarine Seafire, Corsair, Harvard and Tiger Moth.

Hangar #4, followed years later by Hangar #3 for restoration, was purchased and the aircraft collection and the volunteers finally had a home. The group applied for foundation status, to be governed by its own volunteers, operating as the Canadian Warplane Heritage. Meanwhile, sufficient interest was being shown by those watching the aircraft being restored. More enthusiasts wanted to become part of the growing activities and the membership program began.

1975 saw the collection move into another area in Hangar #4 and the acquisition and restoration began on the B-25 Mitchell. The story of the arrival of this aircraft suggests a strafing of the airfield and the bombing of the runway with watermelons. In the same year, the Westland Lysander and Cessna Crane joined the collection.

B-25 Mitchell arrived in 1975
B-25 Mitchell arrived in 1975

It is impossible to compress over 40 years of history into one short story. Many aircraft have joined the collection, or have been traded or sold. Tragedy struck in 1977 at the Canadian International Air Show. Alan Ness lost his life when the Fairey Firefly he was piloting crashed into Lake Ontario. The aircraft would be replaced by another and Ness' memory is carried on through the awarding of the "Alan Ness Memorial Trophy" given annually to a deserving member of the Museum.

Lancaster to Hamilton via a Chinook helicopter
Lancaster to Hamilton via a Chinook helicopter

The most ambitious restoration undertaking to date has been the Avro Lancaster. This aircraft stood guard over the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 109 in Goderich, Ontario for many years. With the support of the Sulley Foundation, the Lancaster was acquired by Canadian Warplane Heritage in 1977.

There was a tremendous amount of work required to remove the Lancaster from its concrete pedestal and prepare it for transport to Hamilton. The Canadian Forces accepted the transportation challenge, as a training mission to be performed by 450 Squadron. By moving the Lancaster to Hamilton via a Chinook helicopter airlift, valuable information was obtained by the military on the logistics of transporting large aircraft by helicopter. The aircraft arrived at the museum in 1979 and restoration began. It was not until 1988, that the Lancaster, dedicated to Andrew Mynarski, VC, would fly before 20,000 visitors.

In 1978 the first employee was hired. Although, it is through the worldwide membership of dedicated volunteers, the increasing responsibilities of a year round Museum open daily, require full time staff. The staff members work alongside volunteers in every aspect of the Museum's day-to-day operations.

Fully restored Lancaster in flight
Fully restored Lancaster in flight

Membership in the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum is open to all who share an interest in aircraft preservation. Funding for Museum projects comes mainly from membership fees, private donations and sponsorships. The Ontario Government through the Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation, supports the museum through an operating grant. The Canadian Federal Government has recognized the importance of preserving certain aircraft of outstanding historical significance by certifying Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum as a Cultural Property Institution.

The hangar fire in 1993 destroyed 5 aircraft
The hangar fire in 1993 destroyed 5 aircraft

On February 15th, 1993, a large part of Hangar #3 was destroyed in a devastating fire. Included in the destruction of the hangar were five museum aircraft, the administrative offices, engineering records and all ground and maintenance equipment. The aircraft lost were the Hawker Hurricane, Grumman Avenger, Auster, Stinson 105 and Supermarine Spitfire. The fire spread quickly, reaching temperatures as high as 3,000 degrees, through the north side of the building requiring the assistance of four fire departments and fifty-five firefighters. Volunteers who arrived to lend assistance could only watch helplessly as the fire was fought only a few feet away from the Avro Lancaster. At the time, the Lancaster was sitting on aircraft jacks. With fear that the roof might collapse, it was hours before the decision was made to allow the wheels to be installed and the aircraft removed. Also saved that day were two restoration projects, the Fleet Finch and Bristol Bolingbroke.

The Museum battled back to design and build a 108,000 square foot delta-wing shaped building. With the support of the Canada-Ontario Infrastructure Works Program, all three levels of government supported a new site that would house all operations of the Museum under one roof. It was officially opened by the Museum's Patron, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles on April 26, 1996.

The new facility under construction
The new facility under construction
The CF-104 Starfighter pointed to the sky outside the new building
The CF-104 Starfighter pointed to the sky
outside the new building

The Museum now houses over forty aircraft, and also an extensive aviation gift shop and exhibit gallery. The Museum is open daily except Christmas Day and New Years' Day. Special events take place throughout the year and facilities including the main aircraft exhibit area can be rented for private events.

Group Tours of the facility, with the services of an experienced Tour Guide, are available to groups of twenty persons or more with arrangements made in advance. Many of the groups that visit are school children learning the theory of flight, aircraft design or military history. A visit to the Museum is a worthwhile field trip to enhance many areas in the provincial curriculum.


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Canadian Warplane Heritage is a registered Canadian charity (No. 10686 8599 RR0001)
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