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A night at the museum

Improvements underway at Sault's Bushplane Heritage Centre to host events

The Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre is increasingly opening its hangar doors to outside events.

Renovations are underway this winter at the Sault Ste. Marie waterfront museum for a new entertainment centre to better accommodate social and corporate gatherings.

Armed with $1.1 million in federal and provincial funding for capital improvements, part of that money was earmarked for new accessible washrooms, reheating ovens for event caterers, and storage space.

The work should be finished by late April. In marking the centre's 30th anniversary, 2019 figures to be a busy year for the centre with a loaded calendar of celebratory events, but also a fair number of outside bookings as well.

"It's a lot busier place than I even anticipated," said executive director Dan Ingram, who took the job less than a year ago.

With a collection of vintage aircraft and ample room for visitors to wander, the bushplane museum offers 63,000 square feet of all-purpose and flexible space.

The historic hangar dates back to the beginnings of the Provincial Air Service in 1924, created by the province to spot forest fires, deliver fire crews, and to oversee Ontario's Crown forests.

The former floatplane base and its associated buildings are now owned by local businessman Jack Purvis.

The complex hosts a microbrewery, a prototyping and advanced manufacturing business, and a high school aviation and aerospace program.

The centre has permitted event capacity for 500 and regularly hosts about a half-dozen events per month. Ingram said the kind of social and corporate events they're capable of staging is open to the imagination.

When not buried in snow, the Sault's most attractive natural feature is its waterfront.

"That's a selling point for us," said Ingram.

With hangar doors that roll open to an outside apron on the St. Mary's River, the centre is becoming a popular venue for weddings – seven are booked so far this year – stag and doe parties, bridal shows, celebrations of life, and repeat events, including a fall craft show, beer and comedy festivals.

A trip to the bushplane museum will be part of the shore excursion for passengers aboard visiting Great Lakes cruise ships this summer.

There have even been some one-off bookings, said Ingram.

A film production crew recently used it as a warming station, The Weather Network visited the Sault to shoot some footage inside, and a Tourism Ontario conference staged a function in the hangar.

"It offers a unique venue for out-of-town guests that they're not going to get anywhere else," said Ingram.

The bushplane centre is following a trend among museums and galleries of inviting in outside events to help boost revenues.

When not landing public funding for capital projects, 70 per cent of the revenue the not-for-profit organization generates is through community fundraising and its army of volunteers and members.

"The event space is key for us to be able to pay our bills, essentially," said Ingram.

With its projection screen, a 64-seat theatre is available for conference presentations.

Two people are on staff to co-ordinate events, and arrangements can be made for conference audio-visual needs along with full stage, sound and lighting for concerts.

Those who are booking the place must obtain their own event liquor licence. Part of the renovations include having dedicated space for travelling exhibits.

And the hiring of a new curator, Brian Bubinas, who comes with a visual arts and design background, has Ingram excited to see what impact he can make to better showcase the museum.