Meet a guide at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum
While the Ingenium museums are currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we wanted to share a story of one of the happy faces that will be waiting for our visitors once we're back in action! If you’ve visited the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa in the past few years, there’s a good chance you’ve met Marie-Josée Menard. She works as a full-time guide at the museum — a fun and busy job which requires a lot of flexibility. The Ingenium Channel sat down with Marie-Josée — or M-J as she’s affectionately known at the museum — to hear more about what it takes to be a great guide.
Marie-Josée Menard (right) helps two young visitors during an activity at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.
Ingenium Channel (IC): Walk me through a typical day for you at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.
Marie-Josée Menard (M-J): My morning starts with checking all videos and interactive displays on the museum floor — including the F-16 and the Redbird — to make sure they are in working order. Next, I join my fellow guides for our daily briefing; we get the schedule of the day and are told about any special events happening, any groups coming in, and any specific instructions or requests for the day.
Once the museum is open, I walk the floor and talk to visitors and volunteers. I tell visitors about the museum’s collection, and try to answer any questions they may have…some questions are definitely head scratchers! The museum has daily offerings, such as tours of both the museum and the reserve hangar, as well as demonstrations. Every day is different, but I usually deliver two of the tours or demonstrations. When a school group comes in for an educational program, I might be the one picked to deliver it. Weekends are a bit different… we have kids’ tours, birthday parties, and “night flights,” which is when a group — such as scouts, girl guides, cadets, or a class of students — come in for a program, and then sleep here at museum.
Throughout the day, I do little things like tidy up the play area, set out tables and chairs, and inform groups about the rules inside the museum. I often ask visitors not to touch the planes — some are over 100 years old!
Brigadier-General Lee, pictured at left, flew in the museum’s Lancaster. Over the years, his passengers included the Queen of England.
IC: What do you like best about being a guide?
M-J: I like the variety of the job, the people, and of course our incredible collection; it feels like walking through history every day! I love the fact that my job allows me to meet people from all walks of life. I had the chance to meet Brigadier General Lee — who is now in his 90s — who flew the Queen of England to Canada and back about 60 years ago, in the museum’s Lancaster.
On another occasion, I met a Second World War veteran who told a harrowing story of being in a Lancaster on his way home to Canada. The soldiers were all sitting in the fuselage, side by side with their feet under the metal shelves. They would take turns climbing up to the mid-gunner position to look out and stretch their legs. On his turn, he noticed that an engine on the left wing was leaking a fluid, so he reported it. On his next turn up, the right wing was leaking profusely. It was also reported, and the crew decided to turn back towards an island. So they radioed the island — which had an American detail and a British detail — to request immediate landing. The Americans said no; they had planes ready for takeoff. But the British said yes! The aircraft’s response was, “Well, we are crashing — so here we come!” The damaged aircraft tore through the field; the pilot knew not to brake so that the aircraft would not flip. The Lancaster rolled right up to a lake shore, everyone got out safe and sound, and then the shock set in and they were shaking like leaves.
Marie-Josée Ménard, in costume, welcomes visitors during an activity at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.
IC: What kind of background do you have that prepared you to be a museum guide?
I grew up on military bases, so I’ve actually seen some of the planes in the museum’s collection flying and, at one time, crashing. I was an educator and substitute teacher before I became a guide at the museum.