Volunteer ingenuity and teamwork take museum exhibit to new heights

Display department volunteers Phil Vere (l) and Daryl Bazin (r).

What do you do when you want to erect a 20-foot high facade in a historic hangar which you are not allowed to alter?

You call on Alberta Aviation Museum’s new display department and volunteer Phil Vere.

“We weren’t allowed to permanently attach the wall to the structure of the building so we had to find a method to make that happen,” says Vere, who has been volunteering at the museum for 11 years. “So we built these vertical piers on the side. I found a way to wedge them firmly into the (hangar wall structure) and then fix the walls to them permanently.”

Vere is a veteran of such projects around the museum. He designed the curbing you see around all the story islands on the hangar floor.

“I was a peace officer most of my career,” he says. “But I have a love of building things and making things work. I love a puzzle.”

Vere’s ingenuity is typical of the those in the new department which was set up in the spring to work specifically on displays. The team’s latest task is the biggest and most complex display the museum has ever undertaken. It’s a 20-foot high, 40-foot long facade behind the deHavilland Mosquito. It will depict a burned out building, typical of what was left after a bombing run by 418 City of Edmonton Squadron during the Second World War.

The new diorama is part of the museum’s push to set its collection of aircraft against backgrounds that will better tell their storied histories.

The completed wall as part of the deHavilland Mosquito diorama.

The move to set up the new department was partly the idea of Display Coordinator and volunteer Daryl Bazin.

“When I came here two-and-a-half years ago we had an education department and a restoration department but we did not have a display department,” Bazin says. “It was inefficient because guys would get grabbed for a job and were all fighting for the same tools.”

Now the department has its own space, in the northwest corner of the hangar, its own tools and equipment and its own team of volunteers.

Bazin spent 40 years in the army. He has always had a love of history which led him to pursue more education when he retired. He is almost finished his Alberta Museums Association certification program. He also volunteers at the Royal Alberta Museum in military & political history.

“The one thing I was always known for in my career was to take 100 moving parts and get them pushing in the same direction,” he says. “I look at the guys and say ‘who has this particular skill to get this done?’. Then I go to them and ask them.”

The facade for the Mosquito display is put together from eighteen 4 by 10 foot panels. Putting them into place required scaffolding and coordinated teamwork to squeeze them into a tight space without damaging the aircraft.

But the job needed more than just construction skills. There was a lot of artistic skill required to turn Home Depot rumpus room panelling into something that looks like a 1940s-era European building.

“Thank God (volunteer) Pierre (Valois) walked in the door,” says Bazin. “As soon as I saw he worked at the Walterdale, he brought Joan in.”

Joan Hawkins is a retired visual artist who spends most of her time volunteering at the Walterdale Theatre painting and designing sets. She welcomes the challenge of putting her talents to work for the museum.

“They build the walls and it’s all brand new and we have to make it look like a burned out building in the Second World War. We are painting burn effects, so we just have to darken up everything from where the fire would have come out from inside. Scene painting is the same kind of techniques you use in visual arts but in a larger scale.”

Both Vere and Bazin are quick to point out that this job was a team effort.

“I came up with a method of making it work,” says Vere. “But accomplishing it took so many people and so many hands and so many talents that I don’t have. It’s fantastic how people have come together for this. “

Bazin is delighted to see the project coming together.

“A museum has a social responsibility to take those artifacts and display them in a way that engages and educates the public and our community.

Our thanks to the teamwork and skills of the display department and to members Daryl Bazin,

Phil Vere, Joan Hawkins, Ted Mageau, Vic Scheuerman, Ray Rideout, Pierre Valois, and Brian MacKenzie.

Be sure to check out the new Mosquito display as it is completed over the coming months and look for other exciting changes to our exhibits in the future.