The staff and large body of volunteers at the Canadian Air & Space Museum were crushed by a slapshot from their landlords at Downsview Park in Toronto last week. On Tuesday, September 20, they arrived to an eviction notice, a team of locksmiths and the news that four ice rinks were to be built in their space. Now confusion remains as to the future of the museum and its prized collection, including a full scale model of the Avro CF-105 Arrow, a supersonic, twin-engine delta wing that was designed as part of Canada’s Ultimate Interceptor program in the 1950s.
Rob Goodwin, the museum’s space curator, said in an interview with Canada’s CBC Radio this week that the museum had some issues with its finances in the past — it receives no federal or provincial funds. However, in 2009 it kicked off a very public campaign to get back on track (even Harrison Ford sent in his support) and the new museum board was working hard to pay back the approximately $100,000 rent owed to Downsview Park, and were successfully raising visitor traffic. On Monday, September 19, the board sent a check for $20,000, which the park accepted along with assurances the rest would be paid off within a year. “Then suddenly at 11am they said they were sending somebody over to change the locks,” Goodwin told CBC, “It seems like we were ambushed a little bit by the people at Downsview Park.” The check was returned.
David Soknacki, Chair of the Downsview Park Company, pled his case to CBC Radio on Wednesday. He says the company had been in discussion with the museum for quite some time about the need to restore the historical building they were occupying. “Parts of the building are not to code, not usable,” said Soknacki, and that it was “absolutely critical” for them to be able to restore and retrofit the building. Soknacki wouldn’t divulge his version of the conversation that happened Monday when Downsview accepted the $20,000 check from the museum, only to return it the next day.
He did state, however, that the park had been in discussions to build ice rinks (“I don’t know if it will be for hockey or pleasure skating.”) in the museum’s location for a few years, with more firm plans in place for the past six months; Goodwin maintains no one at the museum was aware of this, and instead thought there was an understanding with Downsview that they would continue being allowed to catch up on their rent.
Soknacki suggested the museum, which currently occupies the de Havilland of Canada aircraft manufacturing building and a former Canadian Forces hangar, could move to one of the other buildings in the park.
Goodwin doesn’t understand why they don’t build the ice rinks in one of those other buildings. The rich aerospace history of the hangar they occupy is part of the museum itself; the Alouette satellite was tested there and the de Havilland Beaver was built there, among many others.
Downsview Park has said the museum could continue to occupy the building temporarily while they figure out their next move. However, quite a few donors, upon hearing the news, have swung by the museum to reclaim their artifacts. According to the museum website, a special meeting will take place at the museum this Saturday at 9 a.m. So, we shall soon see how much Canadians prefer Zamboni over Zenair.