A last minute bid to keep a Second World War-era aircraft in Toronto might be a case of too little, too late, according to the North Saanich museum that bid for it to come to British Columbia.
The B.C. Aviation Museum (BCAM) at the Victoria International Airport in North Saanich is one of two organizations in the province hoping to bring an Avro Lancaster bomber to the west coast. BCAM President John Lewis left for Toronto Thursday, hoping to convince the City of Toronto — which owns the aircraft — that their ample hangar space and restoration expertise is where the plane — call sign FM104 — should end up. A meeting planned for Friday, April 13 could shed light on that.
“We’re hearing we’re in the running,” says Doug Rollins, librarian with BCAM, adding the Museum feels it has a strong bid.
The aircraft, Rollins noted, is in rough shape, having sat on a concrete plinth for years. It was later dismantled and is in need to extensive restoration. Rollins said among the conditions of donating the Lancaster to another organization, the City wanted it to be properly stored, restored and displayed to the public.
“We think we fit that bill,” Rollins said.
Rollins said there are currently seven restored Lancasters in Canada — five in Ontario and two in Alberta — and there are only two in the world that fly, including one in Hamilton.
BCAM is facing stiff competition from Langley’s Canadian Museum of Flight, which has also bid for the Lancaster. Rollins said he heard there had been five bids, but it seems Langley and North Saanich appear to be in the lead.
Rollins said should Langley get it, he would not be upset, because the aircraft would still be coming to B.C. and be in the hands of an organization that would restore it. However, he clearly favours the BCAM bid.
However, a group wascreated about six months ago to try to convince the City of Toronto to keep the Lancaster in the city. A group called #SaveLancasterFM104 started a Facebook page calling on the municipality to keep it, restore it, and create a permanent indoor display. They’re hoping to pressure their city council at the Friday, April 13 meeting.
Rollins said he felt that case comes too late in the process. Not only had restoration efforts there languished over the years, he continued, but organizers couldn’t raise enough money or find enough people to help in restoration efforts.
The aircraft itself, said Rollins, was never flown in active combat and was used in coastal reconnaissance — very much like the Lancaster bombers that were flown out of CFB Comox with the RCAF, making a Vancouver Island connection to the aircraft type.
“We have a long history with the Lancaster,” he said. “It was operated out of 407 Maritime Reconnaissance Squadron in Comox through its operational life. It would be fitting for it to come here.”
Getting it to the Island would be costly, as it would have to be trucked over after a long trip from Toronto — either by truck or by rail. Rollins said it could be flown out as well, but noted that there are many options on the table. The Lancaster would be donated to the winning bidder, so there’s no cost for the aircraft itself and its related parts.
BCAM has an active team of volunteer restoration experts, Rollins said, and they’re overseen by Victoria Air Maintenance. That company has expertise in aircraft restoration, and in 2014 rebuilt and flew a Second World War-era Mosquito fighter-bomber.
He estimated getting the Lancaster restored to a point where, if the Museum wanted to, they could certify it for flight, it will cost up to $7 million and take five to 10 years to complete. Rollins noted BCAM’s plans are to restore it to a point where it can be put on display (and display the work as it goes) and resemble the original as closely as possible. Whether it actually flies again, is a decision for another time.
Rollins said they expect to hear more about their bid by Friday.
This is the BCAM’s second attempt to get an Avro Lancaster. Rollins said one became available from Edmunston, New Brunswick a year ago. He said an original deal for it to go to an Edmonton, Alberta museum fell through, so BCAM made a try for it. However, it eventually went to Trenton, Ontario — and Canada’s main RCAF base.
“We really can’t complain about it going there.”