The Alberta Aviation Museum
New look, new stories, new adventure!
By Robert Michon
With the recent closure of Edmonton’s City Centre Airport, you might have wondered if the airfield’s historic aviation museum would be shutting down, too. Well, wonder no more. Not only is the museum staying open, the staff and volunteers have been hard at work (for over a year) reinventing the hangar to attract a new generation of museum-goers. The results are nothing short of impressive. In fact, if a visit wasn’t on your summer to-do list, squeeze it in. You’ll discover new exhibits, new stories and maybe even a passion for all things aviation.
A New Vision
If you remember visiting the Aviation Museum when you were younger, you’ll notice some big changes when you walk in the front doors. In the past, the hangar of the museum housed dozens of aircraft, each paired with a plaque. Today, the planes are still there, but instead of dusty plaques, they are now surrounded by life-sized dioramas, each telling an engaging and interactive story.
“We’re really trying to focus on the storytelling element,” says Zena Conlin, the museum’s marketing manager. “Instead of just plopping down an aircraft with a description next to it, we’re trying to put it into context through the visual design of the exhibit. One look, and you’ll be able to understand the plane’s role and imagine it in action.”
In the past, all the museum needed to do to attract crowds was land an interesting plane on the adjacent runway and invite aviation enthusiasts to come look at it. With the new residential zoning, however, this is no longer a possibility. Problematic? A bit, but Conlin says that this loss has actually breathed new life into the museum. “Initially, we thought that the rezoning would have a negative effect on the museum. But as time went on, we found that this really wasn’t the case. It’s given us the motivation to really dig into the history and present it in new and interesting ways.” Fortunately for us, that means hearing stories that have never been told.
An Evolving Story
Planes and mechanical histories aren’t the only exhibits you’ll discover are part of the museum’s new design. A focus has also been placed on the exploration of forgotten or ignored histories from Blatchford Airfield’s past.
“A lot of the smaller stories of the airfield have been overlooked for a very long time, and we’re trying to bring them to light,” explains Conlin. “There were quite a few female pilots in the early days of aviation that haven’t really been glorified in the same way as their male counterparts. The same can be said of women who worked in the hangars or in radio control.”
As you’ll discover on your visit, the museum’s researchers have uncovered dozens of these forgotten histories, through a mix of archival research and studying the donated documents they’ve received from the community. “The more stories we can tell, and the bigger variety we can offer, the better we’ll be able to engage the public with our exhibits and events.” Even if planes don’t catch your interest, you’re bound to find a human story in Blatchford’s past that you can relate to.
As impressive as the exhibits are, they take up only half of the double-wide hangar that acts as the museum’s home. On the other side, you’ll find the museum’s workshop space, where retired pilots, mechanics and hobbyists volunteer their time to restore old aircraft and talk to the public about their work.
The museum’s oldest exhibit is the humble plough that first broke the ground when the Blatchford Airfield was first being constructed. While this artifact is integral to the story of aviation in Edmonton, it is still firmly rooted in the past and can be difficult for the average visitor to relate to. In the restoration space, you can see history come alive in the words and the demonstrations of the museum’s volunteers.
“We wouldn’t be able to do any of this without our volunteer team,” Conlin says. “As aviation technology
changes, the knowledge and skills that older generations carry is in danger of being lost.” With the restoration space, this expertise and the living connection to history can be put on display for all museum-goers to see.
Did You Know?
During the Second World War, Blatchford was the busiest airfield in the world. Over 800 allied planes would fly through on a daily basis, using Edmonton as a final stop before heading off to their wartime destinations.
Join the Celebration
The Aviation Museum is only 25 years old, but the Blatchford Hangar is celebrating its 90th anniversary this summer.
To mark the occasion, the museum has a number of special events planned this summer to celebrate this legacy:
Drop-in Programs—Every Wednesday morning, kids ages 2 to 6 can enjoy crafts, songs, games and learn about aviation history. Free with regular admission.
90th Anniversary of Blatchford Field—Saturday, June 24, 10 am to 4 pm.
Open Cockpit Day—Sunday, September 23, 10 am to 4 pm.
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