NAMS Genesis, Evolution and the Museum

Genesis, Evolution and the Museum | Favourites | Volunteering

NAMS Creation

In 1979 a group of senior Canadian aviation industry executives and historians came together to form the National Air Museum Society (NAMS).  They believed that the perilous state of the 1940s vintage wooden hangars in which the outstanding National Aeronautical Collection (then housed at Rockcliffe) placed  Canada’s aviation legacy at significant risk. Their plan was to use the Society as a platform to speak candidly yet forcefully with the Government of Canada about the necessity to properly store, maintain, and exhibit this national treasure.

The original 1940s hangars in which the Museum was originally housed. CASM Archives, CAVM23625
Fire destroys the San Diego Aerospace Museum and its collection in February 1978. Credit: San Diego Aerospace Museum

The urgency of this task was driven home in 1978 by the  total loss due to fire of a significant aviation collection in San Diego, housed in similarly flammable buildings.

The Society achieved not-for-profit and charitable status. It recruited an energetic Board of known figures in the Canadian aviation world, all of whom shared the same concern and the determination to steward the allocation of sufficient funds to house the collection in modern, safe buildings.

NAMS – Historical Advocacy Successes

The Museum’s Canadair C-54GM North Star showing the effects of over 40 years in the open air. Copyright Ingenium

Following its establishment, the Board and its allies conducted an effective campaign of speaking to Parliamentarians, Cabinet Ministers and opinion leaders. They also mobilized the aviation community to voice a consistent message of concern. In 1982 the Government of Canada allocated sufficient funds to develop the first of what was planned as a multi-phase project to provide a proper home for the collection. The magnificent delta-shaped building opened in June 1988 at Rockcliffe Airport. The NAMS Board was rightfully pleased at the results its activities had brought about,  but it was also mindful that the approved funds had not solved all of the accommodation issues.  The new building simply was not large enough for several of the largest aircraft.  They had to remain in the open awaiting a further allocation of funds to develop the next of the planned phases.

With the main task accomplished, and with the apparent commitment of the Government of Canada to proceed with subsequent phases in the not-too-distant future, NAMS became much less active for over ten years. It did, though, continue to engage with the then Canada Aviation Museum, now the Canada Aviation and Space Museum (CASM) and to be briefed on the Museum’s own efforts to bring the next phase on stream.

In 1994 the NAMS Board of the day decided to adopt a two-pronged approach to supporting the Museum in the face of severe reductions in federal spending.  This involved branching into a role of financial support for projects the Museum would not otherwise be able to undertake and to provide significant advocacy support. This resulted in a request for financial donations from the NAMS membership.

Part of the Museum’s outstanding collection of World War I aircraft. Copyright Christopher Terry
The museum’s replica Nieuport N.17 rests in front of the newly completed delta shaped home of the National Aviation Museum in 1988. Copyright: Ingenium

The membership responded enthusiastically. Sufficient funds were received to enable financial support to be provided a bi-annual basis.

By the end of the 1990s however, the state of the aircraft left outside was deteriorating dramatically and the existing building was filled to capacity. The need to revisit the earlier pledge to continue with the phased development of the Museum at Rockcliffe was taken up again.  The NAMS Board, acting in concert with the Museum, again took up an advocacy campaign at the political level.  This was not something the Museum staff could do. And the Board once again mobilized the broad aviation community in Canada to add the weight of their support.  The Government of Canada responded with the approval of funds to construct a new collection storage hangar in 2001. Once opened in 2006, the building enabled the complete collection to be properly housed for the first time.

New 1998 Museum building on the left, and 2006 storage hangar on the right. Copyright Ingenium

NAMS Financial Support Successes for CASM

In concert with its advocacy role, the Board promoted the need for continued financial support for the Museum from NAMS membership.  By the 2000s the results permitted an annual donation of funds from NAMS to support a wide variety of projects ranging from preserving and restoring the collection to programs for visitors and electronic outreach.  In total, from 1994 to 2018 NAMS donated over $130,000 to priority work. Key NAMS seed funded successes include the following projects.

  • Aviation book for children
  • Nieuport 17 & 12 Restoration
  • Project Northstar Restoration 
  • Beaufighter Restoration 
  • Centennial of Flight Celebration 
  • Digital Media Projects
Nieuport N.17. CASM Archives CAVM29783

2020 Rejuvenation of NAMS Board

NAMS underwent a major revitalization in 2020 with the retirement of many long serving directors and the recruitment of a slate of new directors representing a broad cross section of the Canadian aviation and space community. The National Aviation Museum Society is now able to offer CASM the services of a wide array of aviation experts and specialists who have been or are currently practicing executive, management, supervisory or operational responsibilities in the Canadian aviation and space sectors. The aggregate experience of the current NAMS team is summarized below.

Key Sector Expertise

  • Military flight operations and training;
  • Civil flight operations, training and maintenance;
  • Civil space operations and maintenance;
  • Civil air traffic services development and operations; and
  • Military and civil airport development, operations, training and maintenance.
Moving the Canadair NorthStar into the storage hangar. Copyright Ingenium

Specialty Sub Sector Expertise

  • Air defence and civil support operations;
  • Search and rescue operations;
  • Air carrier scheduled and charter operations;
  • Satellite operations and astronomy;
  • Aviation training institution development and operations;
  • Remote, austere and exploratory air operations;
  • Industrial oil, gas and mining air operations; and
  • Recreational flying and civil air competitions.

Cross-cutting Themes Expertise

  • Aviation museum organization, management, development and operations;
  • Women in civil and military aviation;
  • Demographic diversity in aviation;
  • First Nations participation in aviation;
  • Professional civil, mechanical, electrical, systems and avionics engineers; and
  • Educators, historians, writers, accounting and book-keeping skill sets.

Under the direction of its newly recruited volunteer Board, NAMS plans to continue its two vital legacy roles advocacy and financial support.

The first, advocacy can be used when a voice outside the Museum is necessary.  History has demonstrated that it doesn’t happen often but when it is needed the results can be a game changer.

The second, financial support where experience shows that an independent entity is dedicated to supporting the CASM and provides an excellent adjunct to the Museum’s own efforts to generate revenues to fund its work. It also provides tangible evidence of broad public support.

Future Focus of the New Board

CASM however has changed as has society. Visitor demographics and expectations 40 years after World War II were quite different from those of today, where we are now some 80 years beyond the war. CASM now serves a larger, more aware and diverse audience seeking an educational experience across a myriad of new aviation and space disciplines. Many visitors seek knowledge of the future as well as the past. In order to provide the museum with help in the areas of most demand and need, the new NAMS Board has undertaken a study of CASM needs now and into the near future. This study revealed a number of potential projects that will require advocacy and financial help for CASM to achieve. NAMS will further analyze these projects and focus on those that best fit the resources of NAMS to support and CASM priorities.

CASM Scope and Audience Expansion

The transformation of the Canada Aviation Museum into CASM in May 2010 brought with it the potential to highlight Canada’s legacy of contributions to space exploration and robotics. In May 2013, Space Shuttle Endeavour’s Canadarm went on display, with the unveiling including a video link with astronaut Chris Hadfield on the International Space Station (ISS).

Canada has been a pioneer in space for several decades, with crucial contributions to the Apollo program, ISS, space weather monitoring, spacecraft robotics, and satellite communications. In late 2020, the announcements of Canada’s involvement at both public and private levels in the Artemis and Lunar gateway programs bring with it the opportunity to showcase past, present and future contributions across generations. Upcoming museum developments include the creation of facilities dedicated to terrestrial and space-based robotics, as well as drone technology.

Space Exhibit – Chris Hadfield Space Suit and Capsule Chair. Copyright Ingenium
Space Exhibit – CanadArm. Copyright Ingenium

In addition, the rapid expansion of social media and internet access in the past few decades brings with it the possibly to reach and attract a broader audience, while also providing a path to expanding public support. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the necessity of incorporating some level of remote or virtual exhibits alongside existing infrastructure.  The NAMS expertise highlighted earlier will undoubtedly benefit CASM in these aspects.

Current Museum Needs

CASM has identified needs in many areas where NAMS support could be used to complete existing projects or initiate new projects or programs . Some are museum program and facility projects which are already underway but still others will require additional resources to get underway and examples include:

  • Museum outreach projects in the areas of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) topics as well as Science Technology Engineering Arts Mathematics (STEAM) topics;
  • Supporting the creation of new content for the museum exhibit islands thereby enhancing the museum visitor experience;
  • Continued restoration of aircraft such as the North Star; and
  • Development of new museum facilities and exhibits dedicated to the areas of terrestrial and space based robotics and Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) (commonly known as unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs).
CASM Space Exhibit & Educational Programs. Copyright Ingenium

NAMS Needs

NAMS has been fortunate since inception to have a generous membership base who have paid their annual dues and donated to NAMS in order to continue the financing of CASM projects and advocacy as required. However NAMS, like many organizations, has seen a declining membership as generations pass. Consequently, as part of the NAMS renewal process, a project is underway to expand the NAMS membership base. This will be accomplished by surveying our existing members to better understand what aspects of NAMS attracted them in the first place and how NAMS can evolve to provide better value to our existing membership and attract new members with similar interests and support ideals.

Why Support the National Aviation and Space Society?

Just as Canada’s transcontinental railway united the country from coast to coast and facilitated westward expansion and settlement of the country, aviation was the next evolution in technology. It was a key catalyst in the expansion and settlement of this nation geographically northward. Supporting NAMS will permit the Society to continue its financial and advocacy support of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. CASM is not only a unique cultural institution within Canada but is also unique as one of only three national museums in the world to house collections of both aviation and space artifacts with national significance. CASM has an international reputation as one of the finest aviation and space collections in the world.

Aerial View of Current CASM Campus with Historic Rockcliffe Airport in Foreground. Copyright Ingenium

Each aircraft, piece of technology, document, photograph, film or video held in the collection holds a specific connection to Canadian history.

The artifacts on display in the CASM facilities, the information in the archives and on CASM’s web site and social media tell the story of Canada’s people from the inception of aviation to Canada’s role in space exploration. It is a story as much about people as it is about aviation and space technology. Without an institution like CASM, the history of Canada’s place in the world of aviation and space would be lost to the ravages of time. Through support of NAMS this Society can continue to build on the past successes in advocacy work on behalf of the museum and the sourcing of financial support to seed fund new projects and programs.

Visit the Canada Air and Space Museum  to find out more.

Link to membership

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