What began with a handshake deal in 2018 has become Winnipeg’s newest landmark and tourist destination.

What began with a handshake deal in 2018 has become Winnipeg’s newest landmark and tourist destination.

It was no fly-by-night transaction that led to the $43-million home for the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada.

Businessman Hartley Richardson and Arthur Mauro, who was then the Winnipeg Airports Authority chairman and is now the museum’s honorary cabinet co-chair, struck a deal for an annual payment of $1 for 56 years to lease authority land for the fitting tribute to the history of aviation in western and northern Canada.

That handshake, followed by more than a year of construction work, moving arrangements by museum staff and hours upon hours of toil by volunteers led to Thursday’s grand opening of the new museum. About 200 volunteers and dignitaries got their first look at the new home for its historic aircraft.

"One phase is finished, the building is up, it’s ready to go and we’re ready to entertain, educate and inspire Manitobans," said Terry Slobodian, museum president and chief executive officer. "It’s a new day and a lot of work ahead of us."

Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon was among the VIPs who helped opened the museum, which received $11 million from each of the federal and provincial governments.

Private investors and donations paid for the rest. Slobodian said the building is paid for; funds are flowing in for the $48-million goal, which includes a $5-million endowment fund.

"While we heard the great news from the governments who provided significant funding, there was a core of private donors who stepped up," said Bruce Emberley, chairman of the museum’s board.

The museum announced a campaign on May 2 in which the Richardson Foundation matches donations dollar-for-dollar, to a maximum of $750,000.

The Richardson family though its business, James Richardson & Sons Ltd., has played a big role in Canada’s aviation industry, especially in Manitoba. James A. Richardson, whom Winnipeg’s airport is named after, founded Western Canada Airways in 1926 and some of the company’s planes are on display within the museum’s bright facility.

The museum opens today for annual pass holders while the public is welcome to visit beginning Saturday. Its daily hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Visitors will be greeted by a huge welcome banner by Winnipeg Cree artist Leticia Spence that states "Hello," in nine languages — Canada’s two official languages and seven Indigenous languages.

It’s one of many locations where the museum touches upon how aviation in Western Canada crossed paths with Indigenous culture.

Prior to singing a song to bless the museum, Carl Stone, an elder from Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, shared a story from his grandmother, who was born in 1880 — 23 years before the Wright Brothers flew a motorized plane — and how she envisioned "silver birds" with long tails flying overhead when she was a child.

"Little did she know her grandson would one day open a museum with many of these silver birds," he said.


Twitter: @AlanDSmall

Alan Small

Alan Small

Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.