'It's devastating': Relatives of WWII vets fight to save Toronto's Avro Lancaster bomber
More than 400 Avro Lancasters were built in Malton during the Second World War
Relatives of veterans who died while flying the legendary Avro Lancaster during the Second World War are urging Toronto to restore and display the city's bomber, one of the few surviving examples in the world.
The city's Avro Lancaster was prominently displayed along Toronto's waterfront from 1966 to 1999, when it was moved to a museum at Downsview Park. When the museum closed in 2011, the plane was dismantled and put in storage.
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"For the three of us who have relatives who were actually killed in Lancasters, it's devastating," said Lynn Berry, who's part of a group trying to have the plane restored and put back on display.
Berry's uncle was killed while serving as a Lancaster tail gunner for the Royal Air Force. As a child, she remembers her mother taking her to see the plane to teach her about the uncle she never met.
For Berry's mother, who had two other brothers serve in the war, the removal and dismantling of the bomber has been difficult to accept.
"She just wants his memory to be alive for her grandsons and her nieces and nephews and all the people that never got to meet him," she said.
Lancaster's Toronto connection
"What we're losing here is a connection to the city of Toronto," said retired airline captain Dan Grant, whose cousin was killed in a Lancaster while returning from a bombing mission over Berlin.
"It's been bothering me for the past six years that the airplane's been in storage."
While the vast majority of the more than 7,000 Avro Lancasters were built in England, Victory Aircraft in Malton manufactured more than 400 of the aircraft, with its first bomber rolling off the line in 1943.
The bomber was a technological marvel during its time in service, and played a pivotal role in the Allied victory.
"It was able to carry the heaviest weight the furthest," Grant said. "No other airplane during the war could surpass it."
When Nazi Germany bombarded the British Isles in 1940, Winston Churchill himself said only the bombers could turn the tide in the war.
"The fighters are our salvation, but the bombers alone provide the means of victory," he said at the time.
Plane 'will not be destroyed,' city says
While Toronto's Lancaster sits in storage at the Edenvale Aerodrome west of Barrie, the city says it is will soon begin exploring new plans for the plane.
Toronto's economic development and culture division has issued a call for proposals to "manage and preserve" the bomber.
"Several options have been presented to the city and staff are currently evaluating them to determine what is the most cost effective, provides the most protection for the plan and opportunity for the public to see this important artifact," Don Peat, a spokesperson for mayor John Tory, wrote in an email to CBC Toronto.
He said a report on the plan will be issued in 2018, with a promise that discarding the plane will not be considered.
"Regardless of the outcome of next year's report, it will not be destroyed," Peat wrote.
Berry said the Lancaster would ideally be returned to its old location on the waterfront. More than ever, she said, it's important it be there as a reminder of what the plane, its crew and builders accomplished during the Second World War.
"Once these veterans are gone, we're counting on my generation and my son's generation to recognize what that plane did," she said.