It is only fitting that North Bay is home of the Canadian Forces Museum of Aerospace Defence (CFMAD). Located on the Wing, it explores air defence history from the First and Second World Wars, the Cold War and into modern aerospace defence, providing a century of history to discover.
The creation of an aerospace defence museum was initiated in 1996, recognizing that there was no museum in Canada that adequately told the story of the men and women working to track, identify, monitor and intercept any airborne threats, with special attention paid to the story of those who worked on the ground with observation and radar technologies. Since opening in June 1998, exhibits have undergone major upgrades, thousands of new artifacts have come into the collection and thousands of people have visited the small but impressive museum.
Exhibits follow the stories of German Zeppelins, flying under the cover of darkness and bombing the British countryside, and the defensive response from Britain and her allies. Our Second World War exhibits include the Battle of Britain and the air defence techniques that developed with it, the story of the thousands of Canadians that were on radar during the war, the German V1 flying bombs that terrorized southeastern England.
Air defence became essential to Canada during the Cold War, and a large portion of our museum is dedicated to the many storylines that existed during this long and tenuous period. The stories begin in the early years of the Cold War and the Ground Observer Corps, a dedicated group of civilians that watched Canadian skies for signs of aircraft, and continue to the radar lines and radar stations stretched across the country like a fence.
Of national and local importance is the exhibit on the famous Underground Complex (UGC), the only underground operations centre in Canada, located here at 22 Wing. The UGC served as the centre for Canadian air defence from 1963 until 2006 from over 600 feet underground. Electronic warfare, the BOMARC interceptor missile, Canadian Cold War aircraft and space defence and other topics are also part of our story.
Our collection is diverse and unique, complementing each of these exhibits. CFMAD is the proud home of nearly 10,000 artifacts including a German battle flag flown from a Zeppelin, a cathode ray tube manufactured in Canada for radar during the Second World War, a Soviet flying suit, equipment from radar sites and the Underground Complex, original hand-painted group “Flight” signs from the Underground Complex, a CF-100 engine and hundreds of newspapers spanning from the beginning of RCAF Station North Bay’s history.
While the artifacts are fascinating, the most popular part of the museum is undoubtedly the opportunity to sit in and work the controls of the CT-133 “T-Bird” Silverstar cockpit. Children and adults alike always have big smiles on their faces as they play ‘Top Gun’ with imaginary adversaries and remark about the amount of buttons, dials, switches and instruments that the pilot would have had to know.
If you’re looking to do research on anything in our museum’s mandate, you are welcome to do so either in person or through our museum staff with our artifacts that are in storage, including filing cabinets full of archival material. In recent years, the museum has helped academic researchers with their undergraduate degrees and doctorate, authors writing local history books or websites, a television production company preparing documentaries and even an aircraft restoration team in England.
Further information about the museum can be found at www.aerospacedefence.ca, or by following the museum’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/AeroDefMuseum.