The Shearwater Aviation Museum was founded in 1978 as a CFB Shearwater project and was housed on a single floor of a barrack block that was made available by the Canadian Forces (CF). In 1979, the Museum had grown sufficiently to be accredited by the Canadian Forces Museum Committee.
Accreditation as a CF Museum qualified it for a small operating grant which along with "in-kind" staffing and maintenance support, are the only means available to the Canadian Forces to foster growth in museums portraying its heritage.
The purpose of the Museum is to acquire, conserve, organize, research and interpret to Canadian Forces personnel and to public at large for their study, education and enjoyment, those artifacts and documents which best serve to exemplify the history and technology of Canadian Maritime Military Aviation as it relates to the military establishment that is now 12 Wing Shearwater.
As the Museum became known, it has amassed over tens of thousands of artifacts from across the country from people who had any association with the air base at Dartmouth, with a specialty in preserving the Royal Canadian Navy's aviation history. This collection includes uniforms, insignia, ceremonial items, tools and equipment, photographs, documents and an extensive art gallery.
Unfortunately, because of space limitations only a very small percentage of these artifacts could be displayed. During this period the Museum also acquired eleven derelict or retired aircraft which represented various types of aircraft flown from the Dartmouth/Shearwater base.
In 1992, plans were developed to relocate the Museum to Building 13, which was originally a gymnasium in 1941 and later became the Base Exchange (CANEX) in 1975. With the move of CANEX into another location, the building was gutted and totally renovated to provide a facility to display a much greater percentage of the collection.
The location was officially opened in August 1995 and since then has attracted thousands of visitors. The expansion offered a significant improvement over the previous facilities and provided accommodation for the majority, but not all, of the artifacts. Notwithstanding tender loving care, five of the aircraft, referred to as the "Gate Guardians" had been relegated to remaining outdoors withstanding the ravages of Maritime weather conditions. The beginning of June 1998 saw these aircraft being removed from their mounts to be refurbished and brought into "A" hangar.
The winter of 2000-2001 saw the beginning of the construction of the museum's new addition. It was completed in the spring of that year and it's opening ceremony was held on August 24, 2001. The opening ceremony also saw the rolling out of the Banshee "Gate Guardian" recently restored to static display condition by 12 Air Maintenance Squadron. The Banshee aircraft, along with other aircraft previously kept in "A" hangar and a number of new additions since, are now on display in this section of the Museum's complex and can been seen by visitors to the Museum.
In its current location, the Museum also offers a number of other facilities to complement the collection including an Reference Library & Archives, Gift Shop, Conference Room and 50-seat theatre. The Museum has established itself as a major tourist attraction within the Halifax Regional Municipality.