Prince Edward County’s Newspaper of Record
July 23, 2024
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News
March 27, 2024
Volume 194 No. 13

History Restored

A standout connection to the past serves notice of Base31’s rich future
<p>From left Kevin Windsor (Executive Director, National Air Force Museum of Canada); Tim Jones (CEO, Base31); Steve Ferguson (Mayor, Prince Edward County); Susan Scarborough (Board Chair, National Air Force Museum of Canada); Assaf Weisz (Chief Placemaking Officer, Base31) and Jacqui Burley (Museum Consultant, Base31) (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)</p>
From left Kevin Windsor (Executive Director, National Air Force Museum of Canada); Tim Jones (CEO, Base31); Steve Ferguson (Mayor, Prince Edward County); Susan Scarborough (Board Chair, National Air Force Museum of Canada); Assaf Weisz (Chief Placemaking Officer, Base31) and Jacqui Burley (Museum Consultant, Base31) (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

KB 882, a Canadian-built Avro Lancaster bomber, arrived in the County from Trenton’s National Air Force Museum last week. 

The plane flew 11 combat missions in the European theatre in 1945. It then served on photographic missions over the high Arctic during the Cold War. 

And now it will be the centrepiece of a new County museum documenting the role of the No. 31 Bombing and Gunnery school in Prince Edward County, in Canada, and in the European theatres of WWII.

Jacqui Burley, the former Camp Picton’s property manager, now serves as the Base’s Museum Consultant. She’s been working hard for over a year to envision the museum and its displays, its role at the Base, and its appeal to the public. “It is exciting to see this museum become a reality, with its first exhibit installation the Avro Lancaster,” she said. The new museum will open its doors in 2025.

Last week, representatives from the National Air Force Museum, Base31, and Mayor Steve Ferguson gathered in front of the cockpit of the old plane at its new home in the Base’s Hangar 1.

“I want more planes in here,” said the Mayor, with a huge smile, looking around the vast, 18,000-square-foot warehouse space. 

The 27,000-square-foot museum will adjoin and include the hangar space, which is still under renovation. It will remain a mainly authentic space, alongside a modern museum filled with maps, authentic military artefacts, information boards, uniforms and other enticing exhibits to honour the British Commonwealth Air Training Program’s campus. 

Rapidly built in 1941, in its later life, in the 1960’s, the school became known as Camp Picton, home of the Royal Canadian School of Artillery.

“Celebrating our site’s past is an integral part of the creation of Base31 as a cultural destination here in The County,” said Tim Jones, CEO of Base31.

“The Lancaster KB 882 is not only an important national artefact, but a vital symbol and reminder that the fight for freedom and democracy continues to this day,” he said. “We are so pleased to be partnering with the NAFMC to showcase this remarkable part of our collective history.”

Since it first arrived at CFB Trenton in 2017, the aircraft has been in the NAFMC’s Restoration Workshop. Once all remaining pieces arrive at Base31, the Volunteer Restoration Team will continue its work in Hangar 1, where KB 882 can be fully assembled indoors and restoration can continue. Restoration efforts will focus on assembling the aircraft, completing exterior finishes, and continuing interior restoration. The  plane will be in Picton for four to five years.

The aircraft will be restored to its Mark 10 photographic condition. RCAF crews flew the Lancaster to photograph Soviet ice stations in the 1960’s.

The collaboration is the brainchild of Mayor Ferguson. He knew the national museum in Trenton needed to store the Lancaster somewhere while it underwent a major expansion. It didn’t take long for the huge, empty hangars at the County’s former flying school to come to mind. One thing soon led to another. 

“The NAFMC Board of Directors are thrilled to be partnering with Base31 as we work towards completing the restoration,” said board chair Susan Scarborough. “The support and partnership they’ve provided gives KB 882 a temporary home where its story can be shared until the NAFMC expansion is completed.”

“The loan of the Lancaster bomber has been a catalyst in creating a new Base31 Museum,” said Mr. Jones. The plane will be housed at the Base for about five years.

“While we have been working hard to interpret the site in many ways, having such a significant artefact is a game-changer. We are hoping the level of interest it generates will strengthen our ability to uncover the many histories of the base and the land.” 

The NAFMC will unveil Lancaster KB 882 to the public for a few days in June 2024, to coincide with the RCAF’s Centennial celebrations and with the launch of the Arrow Trail — a driving route that celebrates and explores the incredible story of the Avro Arrow.

The Trail honours the team behind the Raise the Arrow campaign, who found an Avro Arrow free flight test model. Originally launched from the shores of Point Petre, it is a local legend. 

Picton’s Base31 and Quinte West’s National Air Force Museum of Canada are both stops along the new route.  

“Base31 is a monument to the colossal effort by Canadians during WWII in the battle to safeguard freedom and democracy and end genocide,” Mr. Jones said. “Sadly, these battles are not over. Bringing the history of places like Base31 to light can remind us of what can happen when nations are galvanized into action against an existential threat. With all that is going on in the world today, this history is as relevant as it ever has been.” 

RABBIT STEW

KB 882 connects No. 31 Bombing and Gunnery School to Camp Picton through its decades of service from the allied effort in WWII to NATO operations in the Cold War. The heavy bomber was built in Malton, Ontario by Victory Aircraft Limited in November 1944. Its first bombing run was to the city of Hagen, Germany on March 15, 1945. 

The bomber was nicknamed “Rabbit Stew” by its crew. It was one of only a handful of RCAF bombers with nose art. Its bombardiers, navigators and gunners would have trained at a BCATP base somewhere in Canada.

Heavy bombing runs over Germany subsided with the advance of Allied troops across the Rhine. KB 882 was back in Canada within 30 days of VE Day and overhauled for action as part of Tiger Force.
Ultimately, VJ Day, Aug 14, 1945, occurred before it could be deployed in the Pacific theatre.

An RCAF Aircrew assigned to test the Mark 10 Photographic Configuration of the Lancaster KB 882 in May 1957. (Photo courtesy of the National Air Force Museum of Canada/Department of National Defence)

Mothballed in MacLeod, Alberta, the aircraft was modified to Mark 10 Photographic Configuration in 1956, nearly 12 years after its last mission. 

The plane was one of less than a handful of former heavy bombers charged with photographing Canada’s high Arctic in the 1950’s as tensions with Soviets increased. It took observation photos of several Soviet ice stations on the other side of the North Pole. 

KB 882 was also pressed into service in 1962, conducting photo and intelligence gathering during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the throes of the Red Scare, Camp Picton was built up by the Canadian Army. The former airbase was transitioned into a School of Artillery. The Permanent Married Quarters built nearby became the foundation of Macaulay Village.

Decommissioned and honourably retired at Dunnville, Ontario, the aircraft was purchased from the Crown Assets Disposal Corporation by the City of Edmunston, New Brunswick, for display at their municipal airport. It stood there for nearly half a century before being turned over to the National Air Force Museum in 2017. 

Its volunteer restoration team features many County members.

This text is from the Volume 194 No. 13 edition of The Picton Gazette
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