Monday, July 11, 2016

Whatever Happened to the Canadian Air & Space Museum?

          By Chuck Black

It's been almost five years since the Downsview, Ontario based Canadian Air and Space Museum (CASM), was handed an eviction notice by its landlord, Downsview Park in September 2011.

Two photos of the full sized scale replica of the CF-105 Avro Arrow (minus the wings) built by volunteers with the assistance of local aerospace firms. The completed model was presented to the CASM for public display in October 2006 to commemorate the original roll-out of the Arrow in 1957. It eventually went into storage after the museum was evicted from its Downsview location in 2012. The top photo was taken June 19th, 2016 from a Pearson Airport parking lot adjacent to the artifact by the author. The bottom photo is a Google Earth satellite photo taken April 16th, 2016 showing the replica as viewed from space with the parking lot on the left. Photos c/o author & Google Earth.

Since then, the museum has been unable to relocate from what was once the head office and primary manufacturing facility for de Havilland Aircraft of Canada at 65 Carl Hall Road in Downsview, Ontario. After a few short term public exhibitions (such as the one outlined in the September 23rd, 2013 CTV post "Convoy escorts Avro Arrow replica to Mississauga for public display"), most of the museum artifacts have ended up in storage.

But in 2015, a $250K CDN "non-receipted" contribution from an unnamed donor essentially cleared off all debts associated with storing the artifacts (most of which ended up in several dozen 40 foot freight containers stored in warehouses at Pearson International Airport in Toronto).

This new funding has helped to renew the hope that the museum might one day find a home.

It's worth noting that "non-receipted" charitable donations are typically made by donors who aren't in a position to benefit from the tax credit conferred by an official donation receipt. These might include corporate donors (who can count the gift as an allowable business write-off) or foreign donors (who may not be filing Canadian tax returns). And, anonymous gifts are common currency in the charity world. A major donor might simply want to keep their generosity private so as not to be bugged by people seeking further funding.

There is also the possibility that the donor intends to leverage the museum name and its artifacts in the furtherance of other, as yet unknown activities, and doesn't want any advanced warning of intentions to slip out.

Under Section 149 of the Income Tax Act, registered Canadian charities are exempt from paying income tax but are required to file a T3010 charities return, which includes financial statements, a list of directors, and information on programming, methods of generating donations, and staff compensation. The T3010 is considered public and is available online. As outlined on the quick view of the CASM T3010 returns, as recently as 2014, the organization listed under $50k CDN in revenues, no staff compensation expenses, but over $90k CDN in other expenses (possibly relating to artifact storage) and a total debt of about $50k CDN.  But by 2015, while there was still no staff listed, there was over $250k CDN of almost entirely non-receipted donations listed as income, which was offset by close to $140k in costs (of which about $126k was specifically identified as occupancy costs). Screenshot c/o CRA.

The genesis of the CASM eviction from its Downsview facility has always seemed ever so slightly clouded in confusion.

As outlined in the September 11th, 2011 post, "Canadian Aerospace Heritage or Hockey Rink?," the current situation goes back to 2011, when Downsview Park decided that the CASM facilities at Downsview were "falling apart" and "badly in need of maintenance." According to David Soknacki, who was then the chairman of the board at Downsview Park, the only real option was to evict the seven existing tenants and turn the building into a "four rink ice hockey facility."

Which seems kinda odd by any reasonable assessment. Surely it would be cheaper to fix what was broken instead of re-purposing the entire building.

Brian Keaveney. Photo c/o
By 2015, those initial plans had fallen by the wayside and the building had been integrated into Centennial College's plans to create an aerospace campus at Downsview Park.

As outlined in the November 14th, 2014 OMX post "The Upcoming Downsview Aerospace Hub," the aerospace campus began to take form around 2010, around the same time as the plans for the ice hockey rink were floated.

By 2015, as outlined in the July 24th, 2015 post, "'Up to $18.4Mln' More for the Downsview Aerospace Hub," money for the aerospace campus had begun flowing from the Federal governments Infrastructure Canada New Building Canada Plan.

However, while the original building was saved and re-purposed, the museum itself dropped out of public view.

But according to volunteer museum curator Brian Keaveney, its artifacts are currently well cared for and being stored in the most effective way possible.

"Not everything has been stored in those freight containers. The Canadair CT-114 Tutor and the de Havilland Canada CS2F Tracker are in storage at Bombardier Aerospace facilities. The Avro Lancaster FM104 Restoration Project is stored at Magellan Aerospace. WestJet and Air Canada have also assisted with facilities," he said during a recent interview.

"Everything is secure and we're still accepting artifacts." That signals an active and growing collection.

According to Keaveney, the museum has also changed its public name "in an effort to keep Ottawa happy" and is now operating as the Toronto International Aerospace (Canadian Air & Space Museum), although the legal name remains the same. 

The new name is intended to differentiate the museum from the Ottawa based Canada Aviation and Space Museum.

Keaveney also insisted that the museum maintains a continued presence at facilities in Bowmanville, Malton and Pearson, where small selections of artifacts have recently been set up for short term, public displays.

But as for the future of the museum, Keaveney is unsure. He admits that he had no knowledge of the $250K non-receipted donation the museum received until just a day or so before his interview and is still unable to comment on who contributed the money.

As outlined on the Aligned Aviation website, the company is building a state of the art "aerospace centre" on Convair Drive at the southern portion of Toronto's Pearson Airport. The facility is expected to be completed in 2017.  Will this new facility end up housing the CASM, under whatever name it ends up using? Photo c/o Aligned Aviation.

But, as outlined in this November 7th, 2012 press release from the museum, it pretty much always expected to eventually be relocated to "to the the south end of Lester B. Pearson International Airport" in a new building.

And, as outlined by the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) in its online "Master Plan - Taking Flight - A bold vision for Toronto Pearson," there's also a lot of new buildings going up at Pearson over the next few decades. Any one of them could end up being the museum's new home.

Chuck Black.
Or not.

Museum representatives have promised a new physical location for the museum almost since the day they closed shop at Downsview.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.


  1. Ottawa-based "CANADA", not "Canadian" Aviation and Space Museum. (Hence, the continued confusion)

  2. I stand corrected and the post has been updated.

    Thanks for the heads up.


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