I have written a general overview of the building now known as 65 Carl Hall Road, which currently houses the Canadian Air & Space Museum, which you can read on the Heritage Toronto blog here: http://www.heritagetoronto.org/news/story/2011/11/10/story-plant-1-downsview
This is, sadly, a timely article as the Canadian Air & Space Museum is under threat of eviction; there are plans to demolish the building it is in so as to make way for a hockey rink. In recent weeks developments have been fairly well-reported elsewhere. If reports are accurate, the building currently containing the museum was designated as a historical building by the federal government in 1992, but quietly lost this status a few years ago. Historical information outlining its designation was available on a federal website until late October, when it was mysteriously yanked.
There are, in essence, two overlapping issue here. One is the eviction of the museum, whose collection consists of many materials, most notably older planes and equipment relating to the city’s (and country’s!) aviation history. The other issue is the building itself, built in sections between 1929 and 1944 as a multi-purpose facility for de Havilland Canada.
To a degree, the building is itself a museum piece, and certainly one of the Air & Space Museum’s chief assets. It has served a variety of uses over the years, and has come to represent three key stages in Canada’s aviation history: the early, pioneering days; the manufacturing of aircraft for the allied war effort in WWII; and the post-WWII economic boom which saw Toronto eventually emerge as Canada’s largest city and the golden horseshoe develop as a major industrial area. The building embodies the rise of Toronto in the mid-twentieth century, as the city’s surrounding farmland increasingly gave way to large-scale industry. This shift is mirrored in some of the airplanes which were developed inside this building in the post-war years, such as the Beaver, a civilian craft designed to help develop the vast Canadian north.
I encourage you to read the article for more information – it also has some great pictures courtesy of the museum and various other archives.
Online Sources of Information about the site
The federal government’s 1990 background file on the the Downsview site is available on the City of Toronto’s website, which you can access here as a 66-page PDF file.
The building is listed on Toronto’s official heritage inventory, a status which does not offer any real protection but which is often used a stepping stone to designation (i.e. protection) under the Ontario Heritage Act. It also means that the city should have an extensive background file on the property, although as the listing was added back in 1998, this file does not seem to be available online.
The best repository for information on the museum, both in terms of its building and the museum as a collection, is undoubtedly the museum’s own website. The museum has also posted links to information concerning some of the more recent developments concerning the museum. Some of the highlights include:
- A link to the recent Downsview episode on Rogers TV’s Structures, the second half of which focuses on the area’s aviation history, the museum and its building, and recent Downsview Park redevelopment which is overwhelmingly cashing in on the aviation heritage of the area.
- Recent interviews concerning the site on Dale Goldhawk’s radio program on AM 740, featuring an interview with Downsview Park’s chair David Soknacki who defends evicting the museum, and a rebutall by Ian McDougall of the Canadian Air & Space Museum, which contradicts many of Soknacki’s comments. These are highly recommended for those seeking the positions of Downsview Park and the Museum regarding recent events.
- Links to various news articles, including those reporting on a statement from the director of the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum asking that people consider the building’s historical value.
There are dozens of more good links on the museum’s website, but I believe these provide the best overview. I encourage people to visit the museum’s website and read all that they can.
And finally, the museum’s website includes a link to a petition which asks “that the building be granted a long-term reprieve and the protection of the Federal Government and that the Museum be granted the opportunity to continue its work in preserving the memory of Canada’s place in aviation and aerospace history.calling for the building to receive long-term .”