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Collections of aviation-based artifacts had been starting to build in Canada since the days of Alexander Bell’s experiments in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, in 1909. However, it was J.H. Parkin, Assistant Director of the Division of Physics at the National Research Council (NRC) who began to spark interest in the idea of a national aviation museum. The first artifacts for the proposed museum were sent to the NRC in 1930. In 1937, a plaque was installed in the NRC’s Museum which announced “The Aeronautical Museum, organized under the Auspices of the Associate Committee on Aeronautical Research.” However, at the outbreak of World War II, the Museum was closed and all artifacts were put in storage (Molson, p. 16-21).
Beginning in 1950, the idea for a Canadian museum was raised again at the annual meeting of the Air Industries and Transport Association. A museum committee was struck in 1954 and met four times over the next four years. When a space in the Uplands Air Terminal was offered for the museum, a subcommittee was formed to study the possibility. The subcommittee was chaired by M.S. Kuhring, head of the NRC’s Engine Laboratory, who also acted as Curator ad interim before permanent museum staff began work. In February 1959, the second floor of the east wing of the Uplands Air Terminal building was approved as an exhibit space. Ken Molson was appointed the first Curator in 1959, and he began work in July 1960.
The National Aviation Museum (NAM) opened on October 25, 1960 at Uplands. NAM was initially under the Department of Northern Affairs and Natural Resources, whereas other national museums reported to the Department of the Secretary of State. It was shifted to the latter Department the following year. After opening, the Museum established a workshop for expanding and improving the exhibits. It also created a Library and began its Photograph Collection. The Library collection was expanded with donations from the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences in New York, USA, and from the purchase of the library of the former Austro-Hungarian Aero-Technical Society of Vienna. The Photograph Collection was started as a resource for publications, exhibits and restorations. The Museum received donations of photographs and loans of material that it then copied.
When the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) left the Rockcliffe airfield in Ottawa in 1964, an agreement was made to use the facilities to store the three historic aircraft collections from NAM, the Canadian War Museum (CWM) and the RCAF. The combined collection was known as the National Aeronautical Collection. In 1966, the National Aviation Museum disappeared again when it was absorbed into National Museum of Science and Technology (NMST) and former NAM staff were organized into NMST’s Aviation and Space Division. The three collections at Rockcliffe were effectively merged when the National Aeronautical Collection came under the direction of the NMST, though formal custody of the aircraft from CWM and RCAF was transferred in 1968.
The exhibits at Uplands were moved to the newly renovated NMST building on St. Laurent Boulevard in 1967. Molson resigned in 1967 and Robert W. Bradford was appointed as Curator.
Dr. David Baird, founding Director of NMST, began to prepare proposals for new storage facilities for the National Aeronautical Collection that was still being held at Rockcliffe. The aircraft were seen to be at risk from fire in the World War II hangars. Although different sites to build a new facility were considered, Rockcliffe was chosen again for its location and because it was still a live airfield, home to the Rockcliffe Flying Club.
The National Museums Act, proclaimed 1 April 1968, created a single corporation comprising the National Gallery of Canada, the National Museum of Man, the National Museum of Natural Sciences, and the National Museum of Science and Technology. Beyond a common governance structure, the museums of the National Museums of Canada Corporation (NMC) shared a common library service. NMC librarians catalogued aviation publications and the NMST Registrar controlled and catalogued the Photo Collection and any other archival materials acquired by the aviation curators over time.
In 1982, the decision was made to create again a separate Museum dedicated to aviation at the Rockcliffe site (Molson, pp. 85-93). Construction for the National Aviation Museum began in 1983 and was to happen in three phases. The aviation library and archives remained at NMST until 1987. At Rockcliffe, Building 194, a former short take-off and landing hangar, was converted to hold the administrative, curatorial, research, archival and library facilities. An NMC librarian provided access to library and archival holdings in this building. Artifacts were moved in 1988 and the newly reborn Museum opened later that year. The second phase of the site development, to include a reading room as well as library and archives storage facilities, was delayed until further funding could be found.
Changes came at the corporate level in 1990 when the National Museum of Science and Technology Corporation (NMSTC) was established as an autonomous crown corporation with the passage of the Museums Act. The Corporation included both the National Aviation Museum and the National Museum of Science and Technology. NMC staff assigned to the two museums became the NMSTC staff. Although an agreement was signed with Agriculture Canada to establish the Agriculture Museum back in 1983, the Corporation’s responsibility expanded in 1995, so that the Corporation was said from then on to comprise three museums.
National Aviation Museum archival material was used extensively on the exhibit floor to contextualize artifacts. It was also included in the NAM’s first virtual exhibits, beginning with High Flyers: Canadian Women in Aviation in 1996. Overall access to the Museum’s photograph collection was greatly improved with the creation of the online Image Bank in 1997. The Corporation was renamed the Canada Science and Technology Museum Corporation (CSTMC) in 1999 and the National Aviation Museum was also renamed the Canada Aviation Museum. During the 2000s, the archival holdings were featured in virtual exhibits such as Ken Molson: Building a Collection (2004); the virtual exhibit Brushstrokes and Wingtips (2006); and Canadian Aviation through Time (2007). In 2005, the purpose-built library facilities were finished and technical manuals and rare books were moved to dedicated climate-controlled storage. In 2010, the Museum’s mandate was expanded and it was renamed the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. The purpose-built archival storage area was completed that same year. The corporation was rebranded Ingenium in June 2017.