Carpentry Crew’s Latest Gift to the Museum? A New Gift Shop

By Maurice Tougas

Every year, dozens of Alberta Aviation Museum volunteers give the priceless gift of their time. So it’s entirely in keeping that the volunteer carpentry crew should provide their gift to the museum in the form of … a new gift shop.

The spanking new gift shop is near completion (or, depending on when you read this, complete). And every square metre of it has been purpose built by the volunteer crew.

It has taken a long time to get the job done, says Brian MacKenzie, the man in charge of the project.

Volunteer Brian Mackenzie with one of the new gift shop shelves
Brian MacKenzie with one of the new gift shop shelves

Former curator Lech Lebiedowski came up with the model to replace the museum’s front counter and gift shop in 2019. Fortunately, Brian has a CAD (Computer Aided Drafting) program on his home computer, so he was able to come up with a list of the materials needed, and the cost. The museum then obtained a grant of more than $34,000 from the Community Facility Enhancement Program for the materials.

Tiny model of the museum's 2022 Gift Shop Renovation Concept
The model of the front desk and gift shop project

The real work on the project began in the fall of 2019, but was shut down twice due to COVID-19. The team “started really hard at it” last June, says Brian.

The new gift shop will look nothing like the old one. While the display cabinets currently in use were obtained from another museum, the gleaming new look is entirely original. There are five cabinets for the back wall, and five for the front.

“Everything for the gift shop is all new,” says Brian. “Everything was done completely from scratch.”

While the gift shop square footage remains the same, there will be a lot more room for product, and storage with drawers beneath the cabinets.

The gift shop and front desk project is just one of many that Brian has worked on since starting at the museum in 2018. Like many retired men, he was looking for something to do with his extra hours. He went to a recruiting event at the museum, which led to hundreds of hours of volunteer work updating the museum’s look to world-class standards.

The team comes in twice a week, from 9 a.m. to early afternoon. Brian can’t even guess at how many hours – all of them volunteer – have been spent on the project.

Brian, who retired from his sales career a few years ago (his email address is ‘tireguy’, so you can guess what he sold), says he has only “dabbled” in woodworking, doing all his own renovations at his home.

In the eight member, all-male carpentry crew, only one was a professional carpenter. The rest, Brian says, come with “a whole diversity of backgrounds”.

Mark John was in the plastics industry before retiring, when he and his wife Linda started a part-time renovation business for a couple of years. Now retired, he “jumped at the chance” to join the museum’s volunteer staff about six years ago. A self-described “airplane nut”, James says he takes “great pleasure working on all the different aircraft as well as the company of all the different volunteers and staff”.

James Loback worked in the oil and gas industry for the last 20 years, and prior to that was involved with home building. Pierre Valois served 20 years in the CAF as a telecom tech and 17 years at Telus; he also builds sets for the Walterdale theatre and other amateur theatre companies.

The only member of the team with a carpenter’s ticket is Rick Dressler, 74. He is impressed with the skills of the amateur crew.

“They all have opinions, but we all get along really well,” he said, while doing some delicate finishing work on a cabinet.

The rest of the crew is comprised of Ray Rideout, Greg Milne, John Schmitke and Bill Graham.

What’s next? Brian doesn’t know right now, but he says, “there’s always something to do”.

Volunteer Rick Dressler doing some carpentry shelf work.
Rick Dressler putting the finishing touches on a shelving unit

Check out the new renovations today by Planning Your Next Visit to the Alberta Aviation Museum. There’s always something new to discover!