An Avro Lancaster painted in its coastal recce colours while in service with the RCAF. (warbirdregistry.org)

UPDATE: North Saanich museum’s bomber bid on hold

B.C. Aviation Museum will know by July if Lancaster will be theirs

A bid to keep a Second World War-era aircraft in Toronto has been given until July to make their case as to why the plane should stay there, instead of being sent to North Saanich in B.C.

On Fri, April 13, a City of Toronto committee gave a community group three months to come up with a proposal that would keep an Avro Lancaster bomber there, instead of the British Columbia Aviation Museum at the Victoria International Airport.

The B.C. Aviation Museum (BCAM) in North Saanich was one of five organizations hoping to bring the Lancaster bomber to their community. BCAM President John Lewis left for Toronto last 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. On the Friday, Lewis said he learned city staff recommended that the BCAM get the plane.

On Monday, Lewis said the committee delayed the donation of the aircraft to the Museum, to allow the Toronto group a chance to refine a proposal. Lewis said he’s not sure how realistic that proposal might be, as the people involved are suggesting finding land on Toronto’s waterfront, building a museum and then starting restoration work on the bomber. Lewis said that’s a big task, but a lot could happen before July 9 — when the committee is set to meet again on the issue.

The aircraft, noted Doug Rollins, BCAM librarian, 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, Toronto 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 faced competition from Langley’s Canadian Museum of Flight, which has also bid for the Lancaster. Lewis said the Langley proposal was not considered at the April 13 meeting in Toronto. A second bid by Stayner, Ontario (north of Toronto and where the Lancaster is currently being stored) was also considered.

RELATED: Flight museum wants to bring a Lancaster to Langley.

The #SaveLancasterFM104 group was created about six months ago to try to convince the City of Toronto to keep the Lancaster in the city. They started a Facebook page calling on the municipality to keep it, restore it, and create a permanent indoor display. Rollins said he felt that case came 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. The Lancaster would be donated to the winning bidder, so there’s no cost for the aircraft itself and its related parts. Lewis said BCAM has a quite “in the high five-figures” to transport the aircraft by land.

“It’s well within our ability to pay,” he noted, adding the Museum has cash reserves of nearly $200,000.

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.

Rollins 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.

Lewis added that, should BCAM get the Lancaster, they would look at eventually adding a third hangar to accommodate the aircraft — with would be 70 feet long and have a 102-foot wingspan once restored.

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.”



editor@peninsulanewsreview.com

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Two pilots exit a restored deHavilland Mosquito aircraft following a test flight in June 2014 at the Victoria International Airport. North Saanich’s Victoria Air Maintenance restored the plane for a private owner. (Steven Heywood/News Staff File)

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