Plane museum told to vacate

[attach]4997[/attach]The Canadian Air and Space Museum has occupied a hangar at Downsview Park since 1997 but is now being told to take off.

The hangar is home to aviation artifacts such as a scale-model of the Avro Arrow. However, some of these have already been relocated now that Parc Downsview Park, the federal crown corporation that manages the former airbase, has asked the non-profit museum to vacate the premises due to issues with back rent.

“They’re in default of their lease so what we’ve done is we’ve had to say to them that the tenancy is over, come and get your stuff,” said David Soknacki, chair of the park’s board of directors.

According to Ian McDougall, volunteer chair of the museum’s board, the museum’s tenancy at the park began as a partnership, with the park subsidizing the museum’s rent. He said the previous chief executive, Tony Genco, increased the monthly rent to $15,500.

“He introduced a lease and the idea of partnership disappeared when the lease appeared,” McDougall said, “The lease had fearsome rent and within the lease there was a provision for an increase and the rent structure was such that the museum simply hadn’t a chance.”

But representatives of the park said they didn’t have a choice. According to Soknacki, rent collected under the previous agreement was not enough to the cover operating costs of the building.

“For the past decade or so we’ve been one of the largest supporters of the museum,” he said. “We’ve subsidized them in rent to over a million dollars.”

[attach]4996[/attach]McDougall, who owns a collection of aviation-related companies, worked alongside other volunteer staff to make the museum profitable. He said the museum gave three cheques to the park in September but they were mailed back to the museum exactly one week before the doors were locked.

Although the museum is officially closed it has remained open for select events.

“What we’ve said to the museum is that if there are events that were booked prior to the termination of lease come and talk to us about access and we’ll do our best to make sure those events happen,” Soknacki said.

Gerard Doyle and Nat McHaffie were able to gain access to the museum after the lease was terminated on Sept. 20. The pair were filming a Youtube video to try and help keep the Air and Space museum open.

In the video, McHaffie, a pilot and aviation historian, shows off aspects of Canada’s space program that were developed onsite such as the Alouette 1 satellite and the Canadarm. She also introduces viewers to planes such as the Tiger Moth, the Chipmunk and the Mosquito, that were built in the museum hangar that was once the main production facility for de Havilland Aircraft of Canada.

“The most important artifact in the building is the building itself,” she said.

Both members of the museum and the park estimate the 82-year-old building could use about $3 million in repairs. However, the park already has plans to redevelop the site into a four-pad ice rink. Soknacki said steps would be taken to preserve the historically significant aspects of the building.

“We got the operator to work with us to certainly keep the two most important sides of the building that have the architecture that goes back to 1929,” he said.

Located directly north of the museum is a sports complex catering to soccer and basketball. McDougall said the park has plenty of open space to build another one.

“There’s no doubt that skating rinks are important in Canada but there’s no need to put hockey up against a museum or up against a heritage building,” he said.

While he admitted the museum might not be a cash cow he said he thinks it is still an important part of the neighbourhood.

“On the one hand it’s a sleepy museum with volunteers,” he said. “The other way of viewing it is a potentially vibrant source of information and inspiration for an entire community.”