Highlights from Ask a Curator Day

On September 16th, 2020, the Alberta Aviation Museum celebrated #AskACurator Day online.  We gave our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram followers a platform to ask any question of our resident Curator, Ryan Lee.  It was a great opportunity to tell stories and provide a glimpse into the world of our ever-growing collection of historical aviation artifacts.

Here are a few highlights that you might find interesting:

Q: What is your favourite artifact in the collection that is not on display at the museum?

A: More like a collection of objects – the remains of Boeing 707-321C CF-PWZ, a Pacific Western cargo aircraft that crashed on approach to the Edmonton International Airport just north of Telford Lake, Alberta (east of Leduc) on January 2, 1973. The aircraft was carrying a herd of 86 cattle, and a crew of 5 who were sadly all killed in the accident. In 2018, a team from the museum surveyed the woods and recovered over a hundred fragments. As an archaeologist, this project was particularly interesting, as mapping out the identifiable pieces provided further information on the path of the aircraft as it skimmed the trees and then impacted the ground

Most of the fragments located closest to the lake were from the leading edge flaps, which hung down below the front of the wing when they were deployed for landing, and were torn from the aircraft as it first encountered trees.

I would like to create a display around the 1973 crash, and the 5 crew members. Leduc erected a very nice series of information panels about the crash and the crew at the Leduc Lions Park.

Q: Is a plane considered a single artifact or many artifacts because of the different parts?

A: Excellent question! Generally, we consider an aircraft a single artifact, although individual components or accessories may be cataloged separately. For example, if someone donates an aircraft, we will catalog it as a single artifact, but we may take other objects from our collection and add them to the aircraft to either complete its restoration or enhance its display. Those separate objects continue to have their own catalog records, with their location updated to reflect their changed status.

Restoration projects will often acquire parts from collectors, other museums, private sellers, government surplus, etc. Parts acquired for the restoration of specific aircraft are generally not processed through the museum’s collections database, but a separate inventory for the restoration of each specific aircraft.

Q: What is your oldest artifact?

A: The oldest artifact is a black and white photograph of Fred Bone as a student at Emanuel School in Wandsworth, London, 1912.

Mr. Bone had a long career as a pilot, including with Canadian Airways and at No. 2 Air Observer’s School here in Edmonton. The hangar that houses the museum was originally built for No. 2 AOS.

Q: What is the oldest aircraft in your collection?

A: The oldest aircraft we have is our Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny,” which is an authentic original (but restored) Jenny built in 1918. This Jenny was lovingly restored by Jack Johnson and donated to the museum in 2018. His Jenny was also the oldest flying aircraft in Canada when he last flew it in 2009.

Q: How did you first get involved with the museum?

A: I’ve had an interest in aviation since a very young age and at one point was planning to be a pilot. I used to taxi past the museum on my flights with the Edmonton Flying Club in 2000/2001 and visited the museum yearly.

A desire to go back to school led me to become an archaeologist which took me to multiple countries and then back to Edmonton.

I live only a few blocks away, and I decided to offer my services as a volunteer in late 2014 – I thought my background in both archaeology and aviation could be a good fit in the archives, but I was put to work as a tour guide at first. I then decide to talk to the curator directly about volunteering, and then got my feet wet in the archives.

Photo: First Solo Flight in July 2001

Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of being a curator?

A: The most rewarding aspect is building exhibits and seeing our audiences react so positively to the stories we tell. A lot of my job is back of house – making sure our museum’s database that records information on our collection is accurate, etc. But when we can research and design a new exhibit, and then work with our awesome volunteer base to build the exhibit and share those stories, it’s a very tangible reward. You get to really see the fruits of our team’s labour, and we have received SO many extremely positive comments on the work we’ve done.