National Pride, on the Wing
Canada has a rich history with aviation that dates back to before the the turn of the 20th century. This should come as no surprise when one considers that Canada is the world’s second largest country and even up to the present day it contains vast unpopulated areas that are best traversed by aircraft as well as many isolated communities that are only accessible by aircraft.
With such great distances to be covered and a wide variety of often extreme geographical and climatic conditions to offer, Canada took to the technology of aviation early and has been a unique proving ground for exactly what can be done with aircraft and how capable aircraft can be in even some of the harshest and most demanding of conditions.
Spread across two buildings at Ottawa’s Rockliffe airport, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum is Canada’s nationial aviation museum and a great showcase of the people and machines that have made the nation’s history of aviation and space travel the fascinating and unique story that it is.
The location itself carries great history as there has been an airport at the Rockliffe location since 1918. In 1924, the newly formed Royal Canadian Air Force took the airport at Rockliffe as one of their first bases. The Canadian military stayed at Rockliffe until 1994, when post Cold War cutbacks led to the reduction and reoganization of Canada’s military and bases. In the years that followed, much of the former Rockliffe property was sold off and redeveloped for private use and little if any evidence of the former military presence remains today.
The museum itself was established at Rockliffe in 1964 under the name of the National Aeronautical Collection and was created through the amalgamation of the collections of three separate aviation museums. The museum has been through many organizational and name changes over the years. Its current form dates to an expansion and modernization that took place around 2010. The museum is presently part of Ingenium, a network of three technological museums in the Ottawa area.
The Main Hall – A Timeline of Flight
The main hall of the museum is an expansive and cavernous place with aircraft organized in a quite logical fashion by both age and category. You can work your way from the pioneer era to the space age and see a wide variety of military and civil aircraft between. The main hall also contains a small café, the museum library, temporary exhibits and museum’s sizeable and well stocked gift shop. The museum has a number of friendly and helpful guides staffing it and it is possible to tour the main hall on your own or as part of a guided tour in either English or French.
You’re in touch with aviation as soon as you walk through the front door, and before you can pay your entrance fee, as a Canadair CT-114 Tutor jet in the colours of the Canadian military’s Snowbirds air demonstration team is suspended in an appropriately aerobatic position in the entry hall.
Pioneer Era and World War I
Immediately after you pay your entry fee and start your journey through the exhibits, you’re met with the sight of a replica of the Silver Dart, the aircraft which in 1909 made the first powered flight in Canada. Nearby are a small munber of other aircraft from the same era, including a Blériot XI that dates to 1911 and the McDowall Monoplane of 1915 which holds the distinction of being the oldest surviving Canadian built aircraft.
In the First World War collection, sitting alongside fighter aircraft from legendary producers of the period such as Fokker and Sopwith, you’ll find a truly one of a kind exhibit in the form of a German AEG G.IV bomber. The aircraft was brought to Canada shortly after the conflict as a war prize and has been in the museum’s collection since 1970. A total of 320 of the type were built and the museum’s example is the only one of them left.
Between the Wars and in the Bush
Following on from the First World War exhibits, you can take in a collection of civilian aircraft that represent the interwar boom in the emergence of flying clubs and schools as well as the birth of the airline industry and corporate aviation.
From a Canadian perspective, it was also the heyday of bush flying. Numerous enterprising aviators, many of them First World War veterans, used aviation to open Canada’s more remote and inaccessible regions. The bush planes on display here show the progression from improvisation with aircraft never meant to fly in such harsh conditions to more refined aircraft tailored to the rigors of the bush flying business.
In this grouping, you find early recreational aircraft types such as Travel Air 2000 from the 1920s as well as an example of the DeHavilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver; considered by many to be the ultimate bush plane. There are also examples of early airliners such as the Lockheed 10 Electra and the legendary Douglas DC-3 Dakota.
In the vicinity of the civilian aircraft collection, you’ll find a display of aircraft engines dating from the pioneer era onward.
World War II and the BCATP
The museum’s Second World War exhibit has two aspects to it; aircraft that were directly in the conflict and aircraft that were based in Canada as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP).
In the combat aircraft section you’ll find examples of Allied and German fighter aircraft as well as a Westland Lysander utility aircraft and a Fairy Swordfish torpedo bomber grouped together in the imposing presence of an Avro Lancaster Bomber.
Next to the combat aircraft is a group of distinctive yellow painted aircraft representing Canada’s major contribution to the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Owing to its close proximity to the actual conflict and very real threat of enemy attack, Great Britain was seen as an inappropriate location to carry out the basic training of the air and ground crews that would eventually enter the fight.
Due to its clear weather and wide open flying spaces, Canada was selected as the main location for most of the BCATP program.
Over 230 BCATP flying bases were established in Canada and yellow aircraft that flew from them became a familiar and memorable sight to people who lived nearby.
This part of the museum’s collection contains legendary trainers such as the DeHavilland Tiger Moth and North American Harvard as well as a Fairchild Cornell, Avro Anson, Cessna Crane and the domestically designed and built Fleet Finch.
This section is a fitting tribute to the immensity of the BCATP and Canada’s contribution to it.
Helicopters and Vertical Flight
A smaller, but no less significant, part of the main hall display is the section dedicated to helicopters and vertical flight.
In this section, you’ll find an example of the Boeing CH-113 Labrador which played a vital role in the Canadian military’s search and rescue force for many years until the last of them were retired in 2004.
There is also a Canadair CL-84 Dynavert, an unseccessful attempt from the late 1960s and early 1970s to merge the qualities of a helicopter and conventional aircraft in one machine. The Dynavert here is one of only two remaining of the four built.
The Jet Age
Even before the Second World War was over, the clouds of the Cold War were forming. The jet age was dawning and Canada’s aviation industry was a key player in developing jet technologies and building jet aircraft either of domestic design or license building designs of other nations.
In the jet age exhibit, you can see a variety of aircraft that have defended Canadian skies up to the present and that Canada has deployed internationally to fulfil their commitments to NATO over the years.
Notable in this section is the domestically designed and built Avro Canada CF-100 Canuck interceptor. The CF-100 first flew in 1950 and served the Canadian military until the early 1980s. The aircraft was operated by the Royal Canadian Air Force from bases in Canada, France and the former West Germany. It was also used by the Belgian air force.
The jet age section also contains a forward fuselage and engine from the ill fated Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow interceptor. The Arrow was a highly ambitious, some might say over ambitious, attempt by Canada to make a supersonic interceptor to replace the CF-100. The cancellation of the Arrow project in 1959 still stirs strong emotions among Canadian aviation enthusiasts and historians to the present.
Canada in Space
The last section of permanent exhibits in the museum’s main hall is dedicated to Canada’s contributions to space exploration.
This exhibit is split between some display cases on the main floor and other displays on a mezzanine that gives one a good general overview of the exhibits in the main hall.
Among the items on view here is a replica of the Alouette 1 satellite which was launched in 1962 and holds the distinction of being the first artificial satellite to be designed and built outside of the USA or former Soviet Union.
An example of the Canadarm, easily Canada’s best known contribution to space exploration, is also on view. The one on display in the museum was used in the Endeavour space shuttle.
There is also a gallery of Canadians who have gone into space and an exhibit about health in space.
The Reserve Hangar
Opened in 2005, the museum’s reserve hangar presents an opportunity to see more of the museum’s collection than would fit at one time in the main hall.
Unlike the main hall, the reserve hangar does not have particular organizational themes to the aircraft that are on display there and it can only be visited as part of a guided tour and at additional cost. Don’t let the additional cost put you off of visiting the reserve hangar, there are some rarities in there that make it well worth the extra cost to see it.
You can see more of the Avro Arrow in the reserve hangar in the form of some wing sections. You can also see a section of space shuttle payload bay.
A rare example of a Bristol Beaufighter was on view at the time of my visit in October of 2019 as was a Bristol Bolingbroke, the Canadian built version of the Bristol Blenheim bomber.
If you wish to take a tour of the reserve hangar, keep in mind that tours only happen twice per day and not on Tuesdays. The maximum group size is 15 and it’s first come first serve when getting onto a tour.
Visiting and Learning More
The museum is open year round, though the hours vary depending on the time of year.
It is accessible by car, bicycle, public transport or even by light aircraft.
I travelled by public transport using the number 7 route from the city centre to the stop at the junction of St. Laurent Boulevand and Hemlock Street. From the stop, it’s about a 20 minute walk further along Hemlock Street and Aviation Parkway to get to the museum.
According to the museum website, there is a number 129 route that gets you directly to the museum. While I did see a bus stop near the museum’s main entrance, the information I found on the Ottawa public transportation website stated that there was no number 129 route in their system.
You can find out more about the museum, events happening there and the other two museums in the Ingenium network through their official website: