Mini-Exhibits

Designed in Canada

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Today, numerous high-tech airliners manufactured by Bombardier, a Canadian company, fly all over the world, but few people know that aircraft construction in Canada goes back to the time when aviation was in its infancy.

Between 1909 and 1914, that is, from the first flight of a heavier-than-air machine in Canada to the beginning of the First World War, a number of Canadians designed and flew—with varying degrees of success—their own aircraft (some of them being inspired by experiments in France or the United States).

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Aviation and the Mining Industry in Canada

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Generations of schoolchildren—you may be among them—have been taught that Canada is a huge land replete with underground natural resources. It boasts a world-class mining industry, based on diamonds, gold, oil, iron and uranium. Most of these resources lie far away from large cities. We owe their discovery to prospectors, who criss-crossed the land first on foot or by canoe until the invention of the airplane allowed them easier access to resources further afield. Around the world, aircraft have long played a role in the discovery and mining of ore deposits.

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Flights, Dreams and the Imagination

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Human beings have been intrigued by flight since ancient times. Myths and legends about heroes flying across the sky abound. The first flying machines—balloons in the eighteenth century, followed by airplanes in the early twentieth century fuelled our fascination. In the early 1900s, newspaper articles, often full of illustrations and printed in great quantity, allowed millions of Europeans and North Americans, including Canadians, to follow the exploits of pioneer aviators step by step. Exhibitions, air shows and record-breaking flying feats invited phenomenal response.

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Structures and Materials

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Today’s engineering teams designing next-generation transport aircraft face the same challenge that aviation pioneers like the Wright brothers and members of Canada’s Aerial Experiment Association faced in the early twentieth century. That is, how to make sure that the engine, wings, fuselage and control surfaces are all lightweight, strong and reliable, and that funds are available for production. The structures and materials being used at the dawn of the twenty-first century, however, are very different from those that were available in 1903.

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Canadian Aeroplanes Limited

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At the outset of the First World War, many people—including Canada’s Minister of Militia and Defence Samuel Hughes—considered airplanes impractical. Beyond facilitating the occasional reconnaissance mission, it was difficult to imagine airplanes playing a part in the war. And yet, just two years later, in 1916, the airplane was well on its way to becoming an essential element in modern warfare: it was needed not only in reconnaissance but also in battle.

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The Flying Club Movement

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After the First World War, hundreds of military aircraft were decommissioned by Canada and the United States, and many were bought by First World War pilots and civilian pilots. Some pilots were drawn to stunt flying, or “barnstorming,” performing daredevil tricks such as aerobatics and wing walking for curious onlookers across Canada and the United States. Others started small commercial and passenger services. But by the mid-1920s, barnstorming had all but stopped in Canada and many of the commercial operations had closed down.

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The Hudson Strait Expedition (1927–1928)

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By the 1920s, wheat represented a significant percentage of Canada’s exports. Much of this western prairie wheat was being shipped to Europe via the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. However, an alternate—and shorter—route to the Atlantic was being considered as an important priority. Hence the Canadian government decided to construct a railway line ending with a terminal at Churchill, Manitoba, in Hudson Bay, and build an ocean port from where exports would be shipped.

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The First Trans-Canada Flight

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Prior to 1919, people could only imagine flying across Canada. The geographic obstacles were great. The northern stretches of the Canadian Shield were uncharted and sparsely populated, and no one had yet crossed the Canadian Rockies by airplane. But, in August 1919, perceptions began to change. Captain Ernest Hoy’s flight over the Canadian Rockies in a Curtiss JN-4 “Canuck” prompted the question: Might it actually be possible to fly across the entire country?

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