Helen Earley · August 12, 2021
I knew it wasn’t “real,” but it felt so good to sit in an aircraft seat again.
I felt my shoulders relax as I shuffled to get comfortable in the narrow space between the armrests. Ensuring my seat was upright, I stowed my handbag underneath, and snapped my seatbelt into place around my hips, tugging firmly to ensure a snug fit.
I imagined the familiar smell of jet fuel, stale upholstery, coffee and chewing gum. I recalled those thrilling pre-take off butterflies; the sense of anticipation that marks the beginning of a new journey. I closed my eyes, then opened them again.
“Ready for takeoff!” I joked.
Our family is still not ready to travel outside Atlantic Canada, but as a former flight attendant and someone who loves everything about air travel, my hunger for all things aviation was satiated at the Atlantic Canada Aviation Museum, located near the Halifax International Airport.about:blank
This volunteer-led museum, which has been operating since 1986 in a former Nova Scotia Tourist Bureau, is the most comprehensive aviation museum east of Ottawa, uniquely dedicated to both civilian and military aviation history. Its location is marked by a cheerful jet, partially tucked away behind the bushes on the side of the 102 Highway.
Board member and volunteer Sean Ryan, who also serves as Director for Air Operations for Nova Scotia’s annual air show, Air Show Atlantic, told us that since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an increase in local visitors to the Atlantic Canada Aviation Museum.
“We are seeing families who either didn’t know we existed and were out looking for something to do or driving by, wondering what the jet was all about,” he explained.
“We had one family, they had been driving by for 20 years, back and forth to Enfield and thought, ‘we’re going to go have a look,’ and they couldn’t believe what was here.”
If you go
- Atlantic Canada Aviation Museum
- 20 Sky Blvd Goffs NS B2T 1K3
- Phone: (902) 873-3773
A look inside
The first gallery feels very much like the 1970s, with wood-panelled walls, a sloping ceiling, and geometric lines. This was the former tourist bureau which, we were told, also contained large fish tanks in addition to tourist information before it was transformed into a museum.about:blank
Here, we marvelled at a replica of the Silver Dart, the first powered, heavier-than-air machine to fly in Canada. Further treasures included an interesting model of Halifax’s first aerodrome (now Westmount subdivision) and a Michelin tire from the spacecraft Columbia, signed by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield.
My son’s favourite experience was the mock-up of a British Aerospace 146 cockpit, formerly used for crew training. Although it was never a fully functioning simulator, it was the exact size of a real cockpit, and had all the right dials and instruments in place, including the control column and throttles.
We climbed into the comfortable pilot seats – he as the captain, me as the first officer – and pretended to fly. I tried to remember the lingo from the days when I was invited into the flight deck for landings: the “WHOOP, WHOOP” of the auto-pilot disengaging; the countdown to touchdown. My son was suitably impressed, and we took off again for a new destination.
Next, we followed a ramp leading to a second hangar and discovered that the Atlantic Canadian Aviation Museum is much bigger than it seems.
Amongst over a dozen civil and military aircraft and weaponry, including a genuine Second World War “doodlebug” cruise missile, I was impressed with the sheer glamour of the Lockheed Jetstar, a sleek 14-passenger business jet used to transport prime ministers, including Pierre Trudeau, across the country in the 1970s and 80s.
Inside the cabin, maroon-striped upholstery defined the pièce-de-résistance: a comfortable three-seater sofa, with round ashtrays built into the armrests.
More than just a regular gift shop
Our final destination was the gift shop, which had a collection of model aircraft that would rival any hobby shop. Some of the aircraft models were acquired through the estates of aviation enthusiasts, making them ultra-collectible, Ryan told us, with many enthusiasts buying vintage models to collect, not to build. There were also some quirky finds, such as a set of Canadian Pacific Air dishes.
My son bought a simple model plane, plus a handful of small foam gliders, which brought us more fun at home as we launched them from the deck into the backyard. At 49 cents each, these tiny gliders represented the deal of the day, apart from the museum admission itself, which is free in order to encourage families to visit. A donation of eight dollars per adult is suggested, and can be paid in cash, discreetly slipped into a donation box, or by credit or debit card at the gift shop.
Next time you pass the brightly painted CF-101 Voodoo poking out from behind the bushes at the side of the 102 Highway, consider touching down at The Atlantic Canada Aviation Museum – arguably Halifax’s most driven-by attraction, and a veritable hidden gem.
Other Places to Explore Aviation History in Nova Scotia
- Phone: (902) 720-1083
- Phone: (902) 765 1494 Ext 5955
- Phone: (902) 295-2069
Helen Earley is a Halifax-based travel writer and author of a new travel guide, 25 Family Adventures in Nova Scotia. She served as cabin crew for British Airways from 1996-2007.