In 1960, three men from Nanton purchased an old Second World War bomber from RCAF Vulcan for $513. They wanted a piece of history in Nanton, their town south of Calgary as a tribute to the young Canadian men who flew them and lost their lives in the war.
Howard Armstrong, Fred Garrett and George White paid the same price the aircraft was worth as scrap. It had no propellers or engines. It took two days to move it from Vulcan to Nanton. But because of its wide wheel base of just over nine metres the heavy bomber had to be moved across farmers fields, not roads.
Museum director and curator Karl Kjarsgaard said once the Lancaster arrived in Nanton the hunt was on for motors and propellers to complete the aircraft.
“They were still scrapping Lancasters at Fort McLeod Airport so the same guys that brought the Lancaster over, they went down to Fort McLeod and they bought four engines and four propellers for a Lancaster for $45 each,” said Kjarsgaard.
The plane sat just off of Highway 2 for 31 years as a local landmark and tourist attraction. But it suffered not only from southern Alberta’s harsh weather but from vandals who smashed windows out and broke into it, damaging the inner workings.
In 1985, town councillor Dan Fox realized something needed to be done before the historic aircraft was a total loss, so he helped form the Nanton Lancaster Society.
Six years later enough to money was raised to build a hangar.
“We had a gravel floor and no roll up doors,” said Fox. “We had it all wide open of course while they were building it so we rolled the Lanc in on the gravel, parked it and now it was inside.”
Thousands of volunteer hours
Fox says thousands of volunteer hours have been spent restoring the aircraft along wth thousands of dollars in rare parts. The four engines run and it’s a taxiable aircraft, one of only four in the world with an estimated value of somewhere from four to six million dollars.
“It’s a valuable commodity,” said Fox. “But it doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to the town of Nanton and that’s the way the three original buyers wanted it. They said it can never be sold and it can never leave the town of Nanton.”
The facility has evolved into the Bomber Command Museum of Canada after it installed a granite wall honoring all the Canadian airmen who gave their lives from 1939 to 1945.
“So we became a national memorial to all of our bomber boys and what we’re trying to do is carry the torch and tell Canada that these guys sacrificed for you,” said Kjarsgaard.
Dan Fox is passionate about the Lancaster and the museum because he’s related to one of the men listed on the memorial.
“My cousin Kenneth Read Smith is on the wall out there,”said Fox. “He was a navigator on a Lancaster and was shot down in 1943 and he and his six crew mates were killed.”
The museum has acquired a Halifax heavy bomber that is underwater off the shore of Sweden. The plan is to restore it and build another addition onto the museum doubling it’s size to house the two rare aircraft side by side.
Learn more about the museum here.