It’s that time again! Don Smith is here for more museum upgrades. First to be updated was the First World War panel at the entrance to the Main Gallery. The panel now better explains the context surrounding Canada’s involvement in the war and the impact that it had on Canadian Society. New displays including a framed trench map, a Lee Enfield rifle display, and the Breadner and Stalhelm helmets, completes our introduction to the First World War.

I sat down to chat with Don about the upgrades and had the opportunity to satisfy my curiosity about his work. We talked a little about the importance of the new Support to Air Operations panel. The last time I spoke with Don, at the installation of the 443 Maritime Sqn, he stressed the importance of sight-lines and maximizing space in museum design. New artefacts such as the radar displays have been built into the surrounding diorama. “Now when you come around the corner, following the Squadron walls your eye leads you into the Support wall and then into the diorama.” The existing gap between the Squadron operations and the rest of the Wing has now been successfully filled.



Support Operations include Wing Operations, Wing Administration, Wing Logistics and Engineering, and the Wing Comptroller, handling everything from Security to the Chaplains service to mechanical engineering and financial control.Don then went on to say that, “It was important to shift the focus from the Air Force and recognize the significant contribution of the the support trades in the Air Force. It might not be the sexiest or exciting story but the truth is that the planes don’t fly without all of the people performing all of these support tasks.”

The McPhee diorama has been a mainstay in the museum since it’s opening but had little connection to the surrounding exhibits. The Support to Air Operations panel contains Don’s favourite graphic from this project, the layout of the airfield. The addition of photographic inserts and a biographical panel transitions the explanation of the support trades into McPhee’s personal story.

The scale model of the Comox Airfield was donated by the McPhee family  in the name of their son F/L Joseph Noel McPhee who was killed in action on a raid over Lutzendorf, Germany, March 15, 1945. He was 23 years old. The photographic inserts include a shot of a Lancaster bomber flying overhead and a photograph of McPhee’s headstone. “McPhee’s story reinforces the theme of sacrifice”, an essential theme in military museums.


From there the conversation turned back to the art of museum design. I was curious if the size of a space made it easier or more difficult to design. Our museum is on the small side but it isn’t the smallest space Don has developed as a museum. That honour goes to the Campobello Island Museum in the Bay of Fundy. In co-operation with the Canadian Parks Service and using newly acquired space obtained from knocking down the washrooms in the grand old home, the museum is dedicated to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his family. “We were extremely successful in creating an exhibit called “Between Friends” about the relationship between Presidents and Prime Ministers over the years in an area about 1/2 the size of this space.” he said, looking at our Library.

So the size of a space is not as important as the story it tells and the Comox Air Force Museum has been almost completely redesigned despite the fact that the size of the space has not actually increased. Our old 1940’s theater has become a great museum and fulfilled it’s role in informing the public about of BC’s military aviation history. It’s flattering to note that Don sees the involvement of the volunteers as a vital component that makes our museum great.

So what’s next?

As Jon always says “Museum’s are never finished” and the other purpose of the visit is to research the next project. In our case, it will be the UN/Peacekeeping section.

Corrine, CAFM Volunteer