It all starts with a plane: Dr. Olaf Skjenna’s volunteer story

Dr. Olaf Olaf Skjenna

Dr. Olaf Skjenna’s love of aviation – and his vow to work in aviation – began with a plane ride when he was just 4 years old. That love fuelled his impressive career specializing in Aerospace Medicine, including highlights such as his work with the Royal Canadian Air Force and his years as a professor teaching in post-secondary institutions around the world.

He now shares his passion for aviation with visitors young and old as a volunteer at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. Whether teaching flight manoeuvres using a tiny model plane or sharing the stories of the full-size aircraft on the floor, he is an amazing storyteller who makes Canada’s aviation heritage come alive.

Since 2014, Olaf has spent almost every Saturday volunteering at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. His inspiration for signing up was simple, he explain “as ex-military [Royal Canadian Air Force] and with an aviation background, I visited the Museum a lot. I saw some volunteers here, and thought ‘well, gee, that sounds like it’s fun and interesting’.” He says that his volunteering certainly has proven fun and interesting, and also helped him overcome a worry about retirement – that his experience and knowledge would “go to waste”. He is happy to say that his work with the Museum “brings back the memories and experiences” and gives him the opportunity to share them with the next generation.

Olaf believes that the Museum has an important role in connecting young Canadians with the innovations, challenges, and sacrifices of the past. He describes how:

“What I am very pleased to see is all the young people coming in – classes and that type of thing – because, you know, for example, WWII veterans, there are very few of them left – there’s fewer than 10%.

And I’m so pleased to see that Legacy Project, where the history will be made available to students in schools. And I think that there has to be that connection there, people have to understand how we got here.”

He smiles as he tells me that not every child is going to grow up to work in aviation, but that every child should have the chance – like he did at 4 years old – to experience the power of flight. The experience doesn’t even have to be in a working plane, he notes that “even a 4-year-old getting into one of those cockpits on display at the Museum might have a positive effect on them.”

This connection between the past and the future is something Olaf talks about often during our conversation. He believes we have the power now to ensure that our history, like the stories of his father, his mentors, and his colleagues, inspires the next generation.

It’s difficult to choose which of Olaf’s many powerful, touching – and sometimes hilarious – stories to share. I encourage you to visit him at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, where he might be so kind as to share a few himself. My only hint? They all start with a plane.

Inspired by Olaf’s story? Find out more about volunteering at the Museums.