In January, I had the opportunity to visit the Shearwater Aviation Museum, next to CFB Shearwater in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. The Museum was actually really easy to get to (wbich I did not expect, not being from Halifax) and I visited after class.
Outside the museum stand a number of gate guards and memorial plaques, across the road from the museum itself. These aircraft outside include a Sea King helicopter and a TBM Avenger.
The Museum itself is rather frankly unimpressive from the outside. It was clearly converted from a couple of hangars or maintenance spaces. However, inside it’s absolutely lovely. When you walk in, to the left there is a comfortable, warm lounge with good seats, next to a memorial wall. I was lucky enough to be greeted by Christine Hines, the curator, who gave me a quick tour.
There are two main hangar areas. One basically focuses on World War Two and 1950s aircraft, and also has on the upper levels some lovely art collections (which I did not take photos of for copyright reasons). I was very surprised how big the Fairey Swordfish was- much larger than i thought it would be.
The organization/layout is pretty straight forward- aircraft at the main level, with models hanging above. I very much enjoyed looking at all of them- but also the walkway around the hangar at the second floor is well worth your time.
One thing that surprised me- and that I really enjoyed- was the T-33 Thunderbird cockpit simulator, at the front of the room. You’re able to sit in both the front and rear cockpit seats. I was struck by how *small* the aircraft is. I’m only 175 cm, but I couldn’t figure out how to comfortably sit so that my head would be lower than the (missing) canopy.
It’s really striking that much of this museum- they’ve put things where they’ve had space. Which is entirely fair- given the space is that available, and the type of materials that they have, the curators and staff have done a fantastic job. (Actually, I was rather impressed- I dropped one of my gloves *inside* a Sea King helicopter when I was having a gander about, and one of the staff was happy to open it up and retrieve it for me).
The other hangar features mostly helicopters- although it does have some lovely examples of fixed-wing aircraft from the Royal Canadian Navy’s 1950s and 1960s fleets. They have two Sea King helicopters, one painted as it originally looked, and one painted and configured as they were before they were retired in 2018. I admit though that I was thrilled to sea examples of the Sikorsky HO4S-3 and Piasecki HUP Retriever (a HUP-2, painted to reflect the appearance of the RCN’s first HUP-3). I was actually surprised how small the Sea King was, compared to what I was expecting.
Also included in this hangar were were the Banshee fighter and Tracker ASW aircraft, which the RCN flew off the Bonaventure, Canada’s last aircraft carrier.
I was particularly fascinating by the Tracker, as I’d never seen the sonarbuoy launcher on the back of the enginepod before. With most of these aircraft, you are able to get very close to them. There are also several other aircraft, including the Beechcraft Expeditor you can see in the background. Also in this hangar was a workspace for the Fairey Firefly which is being rebuilt.
After this, I was fortunate to have Ms Hines give me a tour of the museum’s library and archives as well- its an incredibly set of holdings, and they’re doing a lot of work on digitizing. However, since they are funded by the Department of National Defence, it means they do not- cannot- qualify for any of the government grants available to other museums. I hope that they are able to get more funding, and put it towards creating an environmentally stable storage space for their collection of papers, blueprints and other items.
I would absolutely recommend that anybody who is in the Halifax area and interested in the Royal Canadian Navy or aircraft should visit the Shearwater Aviation Museum.