NORWEGIAN CANADIAN MEMORIAL AND CULTURAL CENTRE
URBAN DESIGN & MASTER PLANNING
LOCATION: Gravenhurst, Ontario
ARCHITECT: Adamson Associates Architects
DESIGN LEADERSHIP: Michael Poitras, Partner-in-Charge of Design
COMPETITION: Open design competition – First Place
CLIENT: District Municipality of Muskoka
Rarely, if ever, does one find themselves being asked to design a new museum directly attached to a working airport. Yet with the architectural competition for the Norwegian Canadian Memorial and Cultural Centre, we were asked to do just that.
Located adjacent to the Muskoka Airport in Gravenhurst, Ontario (Toronto’s “cottage country”) is a museum dedicated to preserving the legacy of those Norwegian pilots who trained here during the Second World War, the allied training ground for Scandinavian pilots.
As you enter the site, you are immediately greeted with an elevated WW2 airplane, the type flown by the Norwegian Air Force. Driving into the site, six illuminated “tail fin” lanterns, representing the six-year duration of WW2, lead you to the facility’s parking lot.
Upon entering the parking lot, grass covered earth mounds define the limits of its southern and eastern boundaries, significantly obscuring the museum and airport from view. These mounds, known as “tumuli” in Norway, are replicas of traditional Norwegian burial mounds, memorials to those pilots who were killed in the fight against Nazi Germany. From the parking lot, a wooden boardwalk takes you to the museum proper, bridging a sea of poppies – a symbol of remembrance. Smaller “tail fin” lanterns escort you to the wood clad museum, whose overall form is slowly becoming revealed.
Inside the museum, a series of galleries made out of pine log construction, the same construction used to build the original training facilities, greet you diagonally, with staggered pine wood posts metaphorically echoing the verticality of Norway’s vast coniferous forests. Once inside the log galleries, a replication of the original training buildings, the spaces are filled with exhibits and paraphernalia from that tumultuous time in history.
Although typically off-limits to the general public, the tarmac, on special occasions, would be filled with historic war planes, bringing the museum outdoors and creating large-scale display space.
Lastly, from the vantage point of planes that fly to and from this community airport, the folded copper roof of the museum appears like a giant bird’s wing – a reference to both peace and flight – a gesture that can be truly appreciated by a pilot.
Note: For Norwegian Canadian Memorial and Cultural Centre statistics, materials and general program, see Institutional Portfolio – Norwegian Canadian Memorial and Cultural Centre.