Working to Make Dreams Come True
Interview with Stephen Hayter
1940: It took just under a year for dormant depression-era Brandon to turn into an active war training centre after Canada joined Britain in declaring war on Germany in September 1939.
The army and air force each set up self-contained training communities within city limits. A few kilometres to the north, an aerodrome was quickly being constructed.
This community, No. 12 Service Flying Training School, would join similar sites across Canada in fulfilling its training commitment to the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.
This joint endeavour between Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand, and Australia produced 131,553 aircrew and 80,000 ground crew to achieve what Winston Churchill called “Canada’s greatest contribution to the Allied victory in WW II.”
In 1981, a group of veterans formed the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum in Hangar No. 1 on the site of No. 12 SFTS to honour the men and women who trained under The Plan.
This is the only museum dedicated solely to preserving the history and artifacts of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan of 1939-1945. It was named a national historic site in 2001.
We are in the process of creating a living history museum to show the daily life of the young airmen and airwomen, from Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, who lived and trained on the site.
It’s very satisfying to see the museum evolve. When a project is completed we know it happened because of our drive and resolve.
People feel the ambiance of walking into the hanger and seeing aircraft, which were restored on-site, in their proper setting.
I’ve always loved heritage and wanted to work at a museum. After finishing a degree in history, I completed a program in Museum Management and Curatorship, followed by a four-month internship at the Royal Artillery Museum in Shilo, in 1995.
There weren’t any museum job openings in the Brandon area, so I got a job as a furniture refinisher and said, ‘well, at least I can work on restoring our house.’ My wife, Trina, and I had just bought Villa Louise, built for Brandon’s first doctor in 1888, and is a provincial heritage site.
Then, in 1998, the provincial government provided the Museum with a grant, from the Manitoba Signature Museum program, which was dependent on hiring a full-time executive director. This was a perfect fit for me. So, I applied, was hired, and started at the Museum in February 1999.
This job is amazing — where else do you get to live history and work with the people who made it happen. I’m grateful that I got to meet so many of the veterans who founded the Museum.
I work with the volunteers and the board to ensure that the veterans’ dreams are carried forward. The volunteers inspire me with their dedication to making sure the story of the British Commonwealth Air Training plan lives on.
This is not only a Brandon story, it’s a Canadian story. It’s a memorial to those who trained under the Plan on sites across Canada and served.
One of my favourite things about this job is talking to visitors and finding out how they are connected to the Plan. We get people from across Canada and other parts of the world who come to see where a member of their family trained to fight in an air war.
Securing funding for the Museum is ongoing and is obtained in several different ways. Applying for grants is a big part of my job.
We do our best to maximize our grants. When we were restoring the hangar we initially bought windows for the building. But after paying $10,000 for seven windows, we decided to buy our own woodworking equipment and volunteers restored the rest of the windows. We’ve been able to earn money by using the equipment to help others with their restoration projects.
We fly our aircraft as it’s better for them to fly, although not many museums do that. We earn money when our aircraft are invited to fly in airshows.
Our Canteen is rented out for events and the Ladies Auxiliary is active in fundraising. The gift shop makes money — it has unique items that people want to buy.
We also host events on our site but we have to be mindful of the financial risks involved. We’ve raised a million dollars with our ongoing Above and Beyond Capital Campaign.
I also help out wherever I am needed — being the M.C. for our events, helping with restorations, and, as I’m 6′5, when they need someone tall to help with a particular task. I just adapt to the situation.
— By Brandon Now