We have probably driven by the Bomber Command Museum in Nanton, Alberta well over 50 times since moving to southern Alberta in 1981. We have visited Nanton many times to wander its quaint Main Street with its many antique stores and café. I have even played golf there a couple of times. But we have never ventured into the museum, until recently that is.
With my mom visiting from Hamilton, we were looking for fun and new things to do. Nanton came up as a great day trip. Backstory: Last summer, it was Calgary’s Military Museums, which I had passed by thousands of times on Crowchild Trail SW but had never visited until my Mom came in August. We decided to check out the Museum and WOW what a great surprise. Though not a big history or military buff, Museum blew us away. Learn more: Everyday Tourist visits Calgary Military Museums.
While the day was ugly (weather-wise), our trip to Nanton was great. The Bomber Command Museum of Canada exceeded our expectations. While it doesn’t look like much from the outside (its just a big metal warehouse building - no $100+ million architectural icon here), but once inside, the volunteer-run museum is most attractive.
Admission is by donation, which I think is great; this way visitors can give based on the value they received. I have always thought that this is the best way for a museum or art gallery to really judge the value they are giving their visitors, as well as remove any barriers to visiting for those who aren’t sure it worth the cost and for families who just don’t have the money to spend on museum visits.
At the entrance to the Museum, sit several display cases packed with artifacts and wonderful facts and stories about them. What makes the museum authentic and special is that most of the artifacts are from the people of southern Alberta; these items are truly part of the area’s history and culture.
The well-stocked Museum gift shop had the usual shirts, hats and knickknacks, as well as some great books and some fun fashions, including cute bomber jackets for kids.
After exploring the entrance area, you enter the main exhibition space, which is a humungous hanger space full of airplanes. My camera was soon overheated and its battery drained, as I couldn’t stop taking pictures. It was a real feast for the eyes.
One of the main attractions is a preserved Avro Lancaster bomber, which doesn’t fly but they do start-up the Rolls-Royce Merlin engines every once in awhile. You can also check out the RAF Bomber Command aircraft including a Bristol Blenheim Mk IV.
In addition there are many intriguing artifacts and displays - from engines to bicycles to local stories about those who flew in the various wars. As a former visual art curator, I was very intrigued by the Nose Art i.e. the art painted on the nose of the aircraft. I love the erotic, playboy, comic book-like art works. It was obvious these were lonely, frustrated young males.
There was sadness about it all, as the museum tells the stories of how 10,659 young Canadian men lost their lives flying bombers. I will let these postcards from the museum share some of the stories and hopefully entice you to visit.
Nanton at a glance
While in Nanton, there are many fun things to see and do. Dressing Up, the not-for-profit thrift store on Main Street is an opportunity to find your own historical artifact or treasure. There are several antique/vintage/retro stores, which are fun to explore. Brenda’s find this trip was an early 1900s vial of French perfume talc - still with it contents, for $1. Tres chic; tres vintage!
Nanton is also home to the Ultimate Trains and Big Sky Garden Railway, which we have been told is great family fun. It is an outdoor large-scale model trains in a garden setting that is open from May 1st to Thanksgiving long weekend. Sounds like another road trip in the making. Big Sky Garden Railway
The Main Street Café is our go-to spot for lunch – good home food. This time we each had a bowl of tangy hamburger soup, I had a sandwich loaded with chicken, bacon and lettuce, we shared a slice of homemade Boston Cream pie and we all had one of their gooey cinnamon buns (cream cheese added to order at no extra cost) - all for $29. The Cafe is definitely a walk back in time, as Glenn Andrews one of the owners came over and asked us how our meal was. We said how wonderful the Hamburger soup was and then got chatting about soups and he gave us a taste and history lesson on the new "soup of the day" Mulligatawny (the popular Hamburger soup had run out). Nicely rested we headed out to explore the shops.
One of the great things about being an “everyday tourist” is that you are always open to and looking for fun new things to do - be that checking out a new community in the city you live in or taking a road trip to a small town nearby.
Why is the tendency to always wait for visiting family and friend to explore our own city?