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Alberta Aviation Museum wants to take over Hangar 14 ownership from City of Edmonton

Click to play video: 'Hangar 11 fire renews push to preserve aviation history in Edmonton'
Hangar 11 fire renews push to preserve aviation history in Edmonton
The fire that destroyed Hangar 11 has left a hole in Edmonton’s flying community and the Alberta Aviation Museum is doubling down on its plans to preserve the history that’s left. Erik Bay explains – Apr 26, 2024

After Edmonton lost a piece of aviation history this week, those working to preserve that aspect of the city’s history say their efforts are now more important than ever.

“Aviation played a hugely significant role in the development of Edmonton,” said Ryan Lee, the curator of the Alberta Aviation Museum.

The museum along Kingsway is inside Hangar 14, located on the west side of what was once Edmonton’s municipal airport in the city’s core.

On the east side of the lands now being developed into the Blatchford neighbourhood lays the rubble of Hangar 11. The 7,400-square-metre wood-framed hangar built during the Second World War burned to the ground during a fire on Monday.

King said in the wake of that loss, there need to be more emphasis on preserving the museum.

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“We’re the only hangar left in Edmonton. We were built the same year as Hangar 11, we’re both municipally and provincially designated. And of course, we’re in use — we have 25,000 people coming here (each year.)

“We have a museum, we have education programs, air cadets, veterans club. So it’s a very active space that really, I think should be preserved for the future.”

Hangar 11 was a municipal historic resource that was constructed in 1942 by the U.S. Air Force to support the war effort.

Once the United States entered the war, the city said the country built a series of airfields. Edmonton’s airfield at Blatchford Field became the headquarters of the Alaskan Wing and Air Transport Command.

“Hangar 11 is a pretty important structure for the history of aviation in Edmonton,” Lee said. “That part of the airport was an American Air Force/Army base during the war — our side was the Royal Canadian Air Force base. So there was a real sense of cooperation in the war.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta Aviation Museum to celebrate women in aviation'
Alberta Aviation Museum to celebrate women in aviation

The city said Hangar 11 played a significant role in the Lend-Lease program that had the U.S. provide military equipment to the allies before and after it joined the war.

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According to city officials, the field was, at times, the busiest airfield in the world with nearly 900 flights arriving each day.

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“During the war, Edmonton became one of the most busy airports in the world because of the American effort to send planes to the Soviet Union. So Hangar 11 played a pretty significant role in that,” Lee said.

The museum’s hangar is also wood-framed but Lee noted unlike Hangar 11, their facility has a sprinkler and security system, fire extinguishers and people regularly on site to spot issues.

That said, Monday’s fire showed just how fast older buildings can be lost.

“It’s a constant worry that, you know, one bad move and things could go up in flames. It’s a real testament to how quickly history can be lost if you’re not careful.”

The Alberta Aviation Museum currently leases Hangar 14 from the City of Edmonton.

A city administration report released two years ago indicated that a minimum of $41 million worth of repairs would be required within a five-year period to keep the aging building from experiencing “critical asset failures.”

Click to play video: 'Hangar 14, home of Alberta Aviation Museum, in need of $41-million renovation'
Hangar 14, home of Alberta Aviation Museum, in need of $41-million renovation

Lee said the city didn’t want to pay for the upgrades so it decided to unload the property. Hangar 14 was recently listed for sale but the city said that came with the condition that new owners would keep the museum on as a tenant.

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“Their initial idea was to sell the hangar to a developer who would come in and do the necessary work (to) somehow keep the museum in here and also somehow turn a profit,” he said.

“We did meet with some developers to kind of look at that idea and determined that they would probably charge us $1 million a year in rent, and we’d get maybe a third of the hangar. And our entire budget is $1 million a year so it’s not very feasible.”

Click to play video: 'Aviation museum faces sale by City of Edmonton, searches for solid ground'
Aviation museum faces sale by City of Edmonton, searches for solid ground

Lee offers a simple solution: let the museum take over the building.

“We put a proposal into the city to say, you know what, just turn over the building to us and then we’ll be the ones responsible for doing all the fundraising and figuring out the maintenance long-term for the hangar.”

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Lee said the museum doesn’t yet know if their pitch was successful, but said it will need financial help from likely all levels of government to keep the facility running long-term. The city said it is still looking at its options for the property.

“There were multiple proposals received and a decision on the competitive offering will not be made until administration returns to executive committee with an update next month,” said Bartoz Jarocki, branch manager of real estate at the City of Edmonton.

“It’s one thing to have a historic buildings sit dormant and dilapidated, but if you’re able to actually use it for an exciting purpose and get people interested and excited in it, that’s really worth preserving,” Lee said.

Not every historic building can be saved, Lee acknowledged — but still, he argues the aviation museum and its hangar home deserve to stay in Edmonton.

“I think it’s really important to have those visual reminders so people can connect to those aspects of their community if they’re interested in it.”

“What’s the story with Edmonton? What is this place? And we really want to celebrate that and celebrate how cool Edmonton is.”

Click to play video: 'A perfect day to discover the wonder of flight'
A perfect day to discover the wonder of flight

As for Hangar 11, it was declared a historic resource in 2022, which allowed the owners to receive a $5-million grant to assist with rehabilitation of the building. Even though the building is no more, the grant still exists.

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“The grant provided to Hangar 11 from the City’s Heritage Resources Reserve Fund is still active and is still assigned to that building, although none of the funds have been disbursed to the building owner,” said a statement from Erik Backstrom, a senior planner with the city’s Urban Planning and Economy department.

He added it’s too early to say what decisions might be made and city council will need to decide what should happen to the grant going forward.

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