Feb. 21, 2006. 01:00 AM
Ottawa has written the Seattle
Museum of Flight, saying an historic airliner that's been rusting for years on
Derry Rd. is a "movable cultural property" — meaning it has historical or
cultural significance to Canada — and that a special permit will be required for
The request is a potential roadblock to the museum's plans to move the
country's last remaining Super Constellation to the U.S. for restoration and
permanent display in Seattle. If the permit (and a potential appeal) is denied,
Canadian institutions will get a chance to buy the craft at market value and
keep the plane in this country.
"If we have to sell the airplane at fair market price, it won't be coming
here," says Bonnie Dunbar, president and CEO of the Seattle museum.
"I'll be quite frank — it would be a big disappointment," she added,
saying museum members and other donors have already contributed the necessary
funds to buy, dismantle and transport the aircraft. Yesterday, a crane was on
the scene as the work continued.
Since late 2001, the old Lockheed aircraft (most recently a
bar/restaurant called "Super Connie") has been sitting abandoned on property
owned by the Greater Toronto Airport Authority.
No one's paid rent on the space or maintained the 1950s-era aircraft in
"It was derelict. It was basically rusting away," says Dunbar.
But aviation buffs have kept a close eye on the Connie, which was once a
flagship of Trans Canada Air Lines in the 1950s. Before being replaced by jets,
the Super Constellation was the fastest and most luxurious way to fly to Europe.
It is, say aficionados, the sole remaining prop-driven passenger airliner from
that era in all of Canada.
As the plane sat empty, the Seattle Museum of Flight, which has one of
the best aviation collections in North America, started talking to a woman named
Catherine Scott who said she owned the aircraft. In April of 2003, the museum
says, Scott agreed to sell it the Constellation. A final bill of sale was
concluded last May 1.
From the Seattle perspective, that means Canadian museums had plenty of
time to put in an offer.
"That's fact. It was on the open market ... and my understanding is it
was also on eBay," says Dunbar, a former NASA astronaut and veteran of five
space flights. "Apparently several other (Canadian) museums had said they
weren't interested." Scott says the same thing.
But the Toronto Aerospace Museum says it wasn't quite that simple. Far
"We're not this Johnny-come-lately that we're being made to look like,"
says Paul Cabot, the museum's manager/curator. "We've been negotiating with the
GTAA since 2003. They were saying they were going to take possession of it and
make it available.
"They're (Seattle) portraying themselves as the knights in shining armour
who rode in to save this plane from a bulldozer. That's not the case at all," he
says. In fact, Cabot was so certain he would acquire the aircraft that he sought
and received permission from Ottawa to display the Constellation outside the
museum at the federally-owned Downsview Park.
Meanwhile, the Toronto museum and a group of retired Air Canada employees
have been running two online petitions to keep the Connie on Canadian soil.
Though there's been a swell of grassroots pride for plane, questions have
also been raised over which museum would ultimately provide the best nest for
this bird. It's a question some say is well worth considering.
"We'd like to see it stay in Canada — you never like to lose historical
aircraft," says Anthony Worman, curator of the Aero Space Museum in Calgary.
"But the question comes up: If it stays in Canada and it's not restored
for 50 years and it just deteriorates — in the end, what do you have left?" he
"We're not trying to make this a controversy," says Bonnie Dunbar. "We
really care about the airplane."