Local artifacts are treasures from the past

Cliff Kenyon

Show Jennifer Ross a pile of old stuff, dusty or not, and she’s in her element.

It’s not a surprise that stuff some people may think is junk are treasures to Ross. It’s stuff that may need cleaning. It may be filthy. And Ross knows it will certainly need labelling, cataloging and proper storage.

Ross is curator at Cold Lake Air Force Museum, a position she has enjoyed for eight years.

“It’s a fun job if you are the type of person who enjoys detailed work. I’m really lucky to work here.”

There is a lot more to running a museum than designing and creating appealing and informative displays.

The big job, which can mean “massive amounts of work,” involves the proper cataloguing and archival storage of items.

Many items are donated. Each item must be identified, cleaned and prepared for storage or eventual display.

She admits sometimes she relies on experts from 4 Wing to identify obscure items they may be more familiar with.

“You need to learn about the history of each item.”

Ross studied archeology at Brock University in Ontario.

“We have to take great care with each individual item and the way they are stored.”

An archival room at the museum is full of items that still need to go through the process prior to storage.

“There is so much here. It’s daunting. But there will be a lot of gems in here.”

She estimates that with an assistant it will take five to eight years to catalogue items the museum has received to prepare for storage. To prevent damage, items are stored in a heat and humidity controlled environment.

A new exhibit involves the contribution by the Royal Canadian Air Force to Canadian participation in Afghanistan. Photos are an important part of the exhibit.

“We try to give a point of reference into what people saw in Afghanistan.”
There are actually four museums on the site. Housed in more than 100,000 square feet. They are the Cold Lake Air Force Museum, Oil and Gas Museum, Heritage and Aboriginal Museum.

“I try to look for things now to preserve our history. We have to be protective now.”

The Aboriginal Museum tracks the history Dene, Cree and Metis who were in the Cold Lake area before Europeans arrived.

The oil and gas interpretive centre tells the stories of technology developed specifically for the Cold Lake area.

The buildings at the site all used to be part of 42 Radar Squadron during the cold war era. The radar squadron operated at the site from 1954 to 1992. The radar portion of the museum features a Cold War era General Electric Height Radar Finder which dominates the room.

The answer to the Soviet Cold War threat was construction of a line of radar stations across Canada to provide warning of an impending attack. This defence strategy first took shape in 1954 with construction of the Pine Tree Line of radar stations across Canada.

Construction of 42 Radar station in Cold Lake was completed in 1954. As well as performing a monitoring function it was a training site for pilots and operators in simulated military offensives. By the late 1980s the buildings were old and equipment antiquated and radar operations were moved to 4 Wing.

Displayed outdoors are a CF-5 Freedom Fighter, CT-133 Silver Star, the CT-114 Tutor and the CT-134 Musketeer.