The First Aviation Museum in Calgary
The first aviation museum in Calgary, "The Air Museum of Canada," was founded in 1960 but was largely a collection of privately owned aircraft. Disbanding in 1971, the museum's aircraft and assets were turned over to the City of Calgary and housed at the city's Planetarium for safekeeping and display. In 1975 the "Aero Space Museum Association of Calgary" was registered as a non-profit, charitable, organization and assumed the care and upkeep of these artifacts.
By the late 1970's a central office was established. Recently retired Calgary Airport manager Bill Watts agreed at that time to manage the daily operations of the museum. In 1985 the Aero Space Museum of Calgary took up residence in the former Bullock Helicopter Hangar at the south end of the Calgary International Airport. A former WWII BCATP training hangar, this building has been home to the museum's collection since that time, in what is now known as The Hangar Flight Museum.
The History and Evolution of the Hangar
The building in which the museum calls home had its origins in the founding of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). Built in 1941, it was the drill hall for #37 Secondary Flight Training School.
The BCATP was developed to provide Commonwealth airmen with an opportunity for training. Over 130,000 airmen graduated from the plan, with many seeing action in the skies of Asia, the Pacific and Europe. These airmen trained long and hard at hundreds of sites across Canada, including Calgary.
The drill hall was one of 7,000 buildings built in support of the BCATP. It was used for various activities including sports. One of the airmen who likely walked the floor of the drill hall was Commander Peter Middleton, the grandfather of Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge. Commander Middleton was stationed in Calgary from 1942 to 1944.
Left vacant and unused for a time post war, the building eventually became home to Bullock Helicopters. Bullock Helicopters performed oil exploration, search and rescue, and transport for seismic crews and their equipment.
One of the first tasks Evan Bullock and his team undertook was to tear up the original wooden floor and pour a concrete slab in its place. Also, during their tenancy, Bullock Helicopters built the area that currently features the Museum gift shop. At the time it was used as their reception area and administrative offices. As an interesting side note, visitors to the Museum often comment on the beautiful stonewall that backdrops the gift shop inventory. The Bullock pilots would return from trips up north with unusual stones and fossils they discovered. This collection was eventually assembled into the museum’s showpiece wall.
Other companies also hung their shingles above the door, the last of which was Kenting Helicopters. Upon their departure in 1985 they offered Museum founder Bill Watts the use of the hangar for the Aero Space Museum. Fortunately for the fledgling organization, Kenting Helicopters had paid rental on the building for the remainder of the year and granted that money to the Museum, allowing them to take occupancy rent free for their first few months of existence.
As the Museum’s collection grew, the facility had to change to keep up. In 1997, new hangar doors were installed, enlarging the entrance for the aircraft and allowing more of the collection to be housed indoors. This move was the first in a series of major changes to the Museum infrastructure over the next few years.