Canadian NORAD Museum honors 50 years of air defense to North America
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The rebirth of the Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command Museum in downtown Colorado Springs reminded the NORAD deputy commander of a special day nearly 40 years ago that would change his life forever.
“It’s apropos finally to have a display like this because when I was a little guy it was an air museum that inspired me to be a pilot … and the rest is history,” Canadian Forces Lt-Gen. Eric A. Findley said during the Feb. 22 museum opening ceremony. “I like the idea that some little guy is going to come through here and end up being the deputy commander of NORAD … a lot of years later.”
Findley continued: “Thank you on behalf of all Canadians of NORAD for what you’ve done here in Colorado Springs to bring this story to life.”
A “love for preserving our heritage” also found museum director Roy Thompson in a familiar position, once again.
“I built two museums from scratch … and I said I’d never do it again,” said Thompson, a former Canadian Air Force major who served as the NORAD director of protocol from 1978-82. “And here I am standing in front of you,” he told those attending the opening ceremony at the Air Services Museum.
City of Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera proclaimed Feb. 22 as Canadian NORAD Museum Day, a day dedicated to recognizing “the great achievements” of the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Canadian Forces for more than 50 years of mutual defense and “professional respect” with the United States military in the defense of North America, according to the proclamation.
The Canadian NORAD display provided the obvious starting point for a group of businessmen and museologists who united to put their dream into a “practical plan that would be self-supporting in three years,” Thompson said, noting that about half of the artifacts were previously on display at the Peterson Air Force Base Museum.
The Canadian NORAD Museum is only the “first step” in a journey that will hopefully evolve the Air Services Museum into a 200,000-square foot building with a 90,000-square foot aircraft hangar. Ultimately, plans call for the museum to also feature civil aviation, including commercial airliners, air ambulance, air police, air firefighting, etc. Additional military exhibits are planned to include the Tuskegee Airmen and women in service. The Air Services Museum will maintain a “50-percent” focus on activities for youth of all ages, to include model building.
The NORAD display will be complete when the Canadian exhibit is joined by “an identical” United States NORAD exhibit. Together they will bolster the Air Services Museum’s military section dedicated to telling the air defense of North America story, Thompson explained.
That is, the story of “the hard work [the men and women of NORAD, both past and present] do in protecting us,” he said. “No matter how many generals tell you the story, or how many briefings you see, you don’t realize the hard work that these people do day in and day out, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”
The evening culminated a seven-year old vision of the 971 Wing – the Colorado Springs Air Force Association Wing of Canada – to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the formation of the Royal Canadian Air Force.
“This project became a labor of love for us … and at the end, we have produced a truly first-class display,” said Art Nielsen, 971 Wing president. “Canada’s contribution to NORAD has been quite significant and we wanted to tell that to the world … that was our dream.”
And the dream has already received its first official stamp of approval from the Air Force museum officer assigned to the 1st Canadian Air Division Directorate of Heritage and History in Winnipeg.
“One of my jobs is to look at museums like this and recommend whether they should be given accreditation in the Canadian Forces Museum system,” said Canadian Forces Maj. Guy Trudeau. “And I can guarantee you that I will make that recommendation.”
The Canadian NORAD Museum, a part of the Air Services Museum, which opens to the public June 1, is located at 425A East Fillmore Street in Colorado Springs.