National bomber museum in Nanton celebrates 60 years since purchase of first aircraft

The Bomber Command Museum of Canada in Nanton, Alta., is commemorating the 60th anniversary of the purchase of its first airplane — before the museum even existed.

In 1960, George White, Fred Garrett and Howie Armstrong bought a Second World War Lancaster from an airport in Vulcan, Alta., approximately 40 kilometres away, for $513.

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The three Nanton businessmen then enlisted the help of towing equipment and several groups of men to transport the plane back to their hometown.

“It was the last Lancaster to be cut up in Vulcan, Alberta, so we just saved it in the nick of time,” said curator of the Bomber Command Museum of Canada Karl Kjarsgaard on Saturday.

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“Let me tell you, crossing a river, crossing railroad tracks with a Lancaster is not an easy task but they did it in two days.”

In 1960, three Nanton, Alta., men purchased a WWII Lancaster and transported it across the Prairies, making for the beginning of the Bomber Command Museum of Canada.
In 1960, three Nanton, Alta., men purchased a WWII Lancaster and transported it across the Prairies, making for the beginning of the Bomber Command Museum of Canada. Courtesy: Karl Kjarsgaard

Following an arduous journey through the southern Alberta Prairies, the plane was placed at the side of Highway 2.

“That was the genesis of our Lancaster memorial,” Kjarsgaard said.

However, they realized the elements and vandalism could take a toll on the plane and decided to expand the single memorial piece into a full museum over the next few decades. First, a fence was built, and then a single building. Now, it stands much larger.

“They had to get the town all together to support it,” Kjarsgaard explained. “The Nanton Lancaster Society was the core group that started that.”

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In 1960, three Nanton, Alta., men purchased a WWII Lancaster and transported it across the Prairies, making for the beginning of the Bomber Command Museum of Canada.
In 1960, three Nanton, Alta., men purchased a WWII Lancaster and transported it across the Prairies, making for the beginning of the Bomber Command Museum of Canada. Courtesy: Karl Kjarsgaard

Today, Kjarsgaard said the one-of-a-kind museum, housing more than around 16 historical aircraft, is complete with a restoration shop that continues to service projects.

“We found a Halifax underwater off the coast of Sweden, and we’re lifting it up and bringing it to Nanton next summer to be restored and [placed] beside the Lancaster,” Kjarsgaard said.

The Handley Page Halifax is a British Royal Air Force four-engined heavy bomber of the Second World War.

Nanton is located approximately 90 kilometres south of Calgary.

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