New Brunswick

'National treasure': Edmundston gives up its Lancaster bomber

Edmundston has bid farewell to its very own Lancaster bomber, one of the last survivors of a celebrated Second World War fleet and a landmark in the area for more than 50 years.

After 50 years by the road in northwestern New Brunswick, plane will be dismantled and sent to Ontario museum

This Lancaster bomber was purchased by the City of Edmundston in 1964, but it is in need of restoration, which the city can't afford. (Edmundston society for the Preservation of the Lancaster/Facebook)

Edmundston has bid farewell to its very own Lancaster bomber, one of the last survivors of a celebrated Second World War fleet and a landmark in the area for more than 50 years.

Residents gathered Wednesday for a small ceremony to commemorate the Lancaster KB 882 before the start of the aircraft's long journey to Trenton, Ont., where it will be featured at the National Air Force Museum of Canada.

"It's a mixed feeling, obviously," Edmundston Mayor Cyrille Simard said during the ceremony. "This plane has been here more than 50 years.

"It's part of our community, it's part of our history."

The bomber, which has been sitting still on the grass near the Trans-Canada Highway for decades, was flown on 12 operational missions during the Second World War.

 'It's a new beginning for future generations.'-  Cyrille   Simard

It then served in area reconnaissance for 15 years, providing service to the Royal Canadian Air Force for mapping, charting and photographic work in the Arctic, said Kevin Windsor, the curator of the air force museum.

The City of Edmundston bought the plane in 1964 for $1,600.

Over the years, Simard said, people from around the world have come to see it.

But after being outside for so long, the Lancaster bomber was in desperate need of restoration work, which the city couldn't afford to do.

Too costly to keep

For many years, volunteers looked for help to get the plane restored and preserved and worked with government to find ways to raise the millions of dollars needed.

Preservation was just too costly, however.

"If you want to do something right, you need some resources," said Simard. "If you want to preserve it you have to do something."

Initially, the Alberta Aviation Museum submitted the winning bid for the plane, but later backed out after realizing the plane was too expensive to take on. The Trenton museum finished second in the initial bidding and was still interested.

Simard said the City of Edmundston eventually gave the bomber to the Ontario museum, and he's looking forward to residents from the area visiting the plane in its new home.

"It's part of us, so there's a bit of sadness to see it going away, but at the same time we feel satisfied of the fact that … this national treasure has to be preserved." 

Prior to the long journey to Ontario, technicians will carefully dismantle the hundreds of pieces that are part of the plane, a process that could take three or four weeks. Bits and pieces of the plane could start arriving in Trenton as early as next week.

Some of the pieces, such as engines, propellers and different parts of the wings, will be crated and taken to the museum on a truck. Technicians are still trying to figure out how to transport larger pieces such as the fuselage. 

"These aircraft were built during the war era, so it's been about 70 or 80 years since we've really had a lot of experience with the actual assembly," Capt. Jamie Boudreau, the on-site officer in charge of the Lancaster recovery project.

"It's a step-by-step process, but there will be snags and issues along the way that we'll overcome to get the aircraft back safely."

History in the making

It could take up to seven years to restore, at a cost of about $25,000 a year. 

"It's going to add to our displays at the National Air Force Museum of Canada," Windsor said.

Technicians begin dismantling the aircraft this week for the trip to Trenton, where it will eventually be seen at the National Air Force Museum of Canada. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC News)

The plane will also be joining a fully restored Halifax bomber, which served two different missions in 1945 above Germany at the same time as the Lancaster.

Windsor said the National Air Force Museum will be the only museum in the world to feature both restored airplanes to tell the history of war and post-war years.

Two Lancaster planes are still flying today, in Hamilton, Ont., and the U.K. More than 7,377 Lancasters were built, including 430 in Canada, the museum website says.

 "At the end of the day I feel like this is a new beginning for this plane," Simard said.

"It's a new beginning for future generations."