My whole reason for being in York one year ago was to go to the Yorkshire Air Museum to see the Canadian section and look up any information in their archives about my uncle Vince.
But as I walked back to the hotel after a glorious first afternoon out in the snow, I started to realise that after waiting a decade or so to even make the trip and travelling half the length of the country just to get there, I was probably going to make it to the front door, but no further. It wasn’t exactly high tourist season already – part of the reason I’d chosen to go in winter in the first place – but with the city looking much like an ol’ Mother Hubbard gingerbread house, I called the museum to make sure they were open.
I got an answering machine and the usual message about opening and closing times, but nothing more.
What the hell, I thought, might as well give it a try and if nothing else at least I’ve seen the place. So the next morning I headed back over a bridge into town for the stop for the half-hour bus ride out to the museum’s airport hangars.
The bus driver was pretty clear about what he thought of my idea of going to the museum.
“Yoo’ be’er looook i’ u’ I do’ owt ump rfhu toda’” he said, pointing to the sky.
“Yeah, you’re right about that,” I said. “But I have to go out there to see it anyway.”
Seeing as how the bus route had been changed on account of the snow, the bus driver didn’t charge me for the trip out, which I found quite friendly. He and I – there was nobody else – quickly passed through the outskirts of York to arrive at the corner where he’d drop me off. Normally I’d have taken another bus directly to the museum, but it wasn’t running. Did I need any other clues the museum would be closed?
Since the sidewalk was covered in snowbank, I walked about a mile and a half at the side of the road to finally arrive at the museum entrance. Deserted. Already I could see planes – a massive bomber covered in snow was pretty hard to miss – but there wasn’t a soul around.
Placing my boots in a couple of tire tracks I crunched through the empty parking lot and looked around to find a few planes, a hangar or two, and acres and acres of white.
But around a corner and across a small field I came across what must be the Canadian section. The plane with two maple leaf flags is probably a Canadian-built Avro, but if you know it’s not, please tell me. Of course I couldn’t go inside the building, so was left to contemplate from a respectful distance the course of history and my family’s small part in it.
Near the plane is a modest plaque of the Canadian Memorial Hangar:
Per ardua ad astra – Through struggle to the stars: the motto of the Royal Air Force but also others including the RCAF.
Despite the blinding morning sun I was by now freezing cold, so turning in my tracks I headed back for the trudge along the road whence I came to catch the bus back to York, telling myself I’d be back one day.