By Marilyn Bruinsma
Part of McGees collection
Eugene McGee at right.
Photos courtesy Don Matheson
Recent letters and news articles published in the Goderich Signal Star brought attention to the readers about Eugene McGee’s extensive collection of artifacts and memorabilia from the Port Albert airfield and training base during the Second World War.
At almost 80 years old, Eugene wants his collection moved from his home to one suitable location where it can be displayed in its entirety.
COPA 45 members felt the collection should be exhibited in the terminal beside the Sky Harbour Gallery, which displays Goderich’s collection from the days that it was a training base.
Huron County was unique with the four training bases at Goderich, Port Albert, Clinton and Centralia within its’ borders. Goderich was for elementary air training while Centralia was for advanced air training. Port Albert was for navigation and Clinton was for radar. Both our neighbouring counties of Perth and Bruce went to Ottawa to lobby for a training base but were unsuccessful. Training over water would be an asset favouring the Goderich location.
With that consideration, COPA’s Executive contacted historian Paul Carroll to speak at their October meeting to pursue this possibility. Also asked to attend were Eugene McGee, Beth Ross, Huron County’s Chief Librarian; Deb Shewfelt, Mayor of the Town of Goderich, which owns the airport; Ben Vandiepenbeek, Reeve of ACW, the municipality in which the airport is located.
Councillors Connie Black and David Yates attended for the Mayor and Reeve. MP Ben Lobb for Huron–Bruce, who was home from Parliament this week also attended.
Meanwhile, on a sunny Saturday, September 19, the COPA 45 members visited Eugene’s home to view the collection. “Impressive!” “Unbelievable!” Were the words expressed at the vastness of original artifacts and archival information.
Afterwards, Flight 45’s members met to discuss the physical possibilities of relocation.
At our meeting, Carroll talked about preserving history, its’ importance, rewards and problems. He stated that the collector must feel comfortable releasing his artifacts and archives to a new owner. Sometimes there are conditions attached and other times no conditions exist leaving it fully up to the recipient to handle and relocate the collection at his discretion. Even family members cannot always agree on the transfer of the items.
In Huron County, there is only the museum staff and the volunteers from the Goderich Historical Society to pack, process, catalogue and display the collections they receive from the many local residents and relatives of local families from years past.
Carroll said this meeting is a chance to discuss the Port Albert collection and its’ new home. Presently, the county museum has no space to house the McGee collection either as a temporary or permanent exhibit. Various ideas, comments and suggestions were expressed during the discussion from guests and members.
We now know heritage requires county decisions with county visions, with support from, the local municipalities. Carroll is convinced the planning is in place and the appropriate resources will be there when needed.
Our MP Ben Lobb listed several organizations like the Dominion Institute, New Horizons, Heritage Canada, Veterans Affairs, along with federal infrastructure money that we, as various groups, could apply for funding.
Canada Summer Jobs, Co-op students from Ontario’s colleges and universities as well as local high school students could be used to staff the gallery.
COPA 45 members believe that with some structural changes to the Sky Harbour Gallery, the Port Albert collection of artifacts could be accommodated here. The Flight agreed to further meetings to write letters to local governments and designated others to consider the shortcomings within the terminal building and a proposal to expand the Gallery space to hold the McGee collection and possibly others.