A Canadian Visits The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

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Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

A Canadian perspective on a visit to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
in Simi Valley, California

A visit to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California was on the agenda of the North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA) 2016 conference in Oxnard, California. I wondered if I would find the Library boring or irrelevant because I was a Canadian. I wanted to see the Air Force One exhibit, but I didn’t know if I would find anything of interest beyond that.

Air Force One exhibit at Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

As expected, the Air Force One Pavilion was fascinating. On display is the plane which served seven Presidents between 1971 and 2001 and which Ronald Reagan flew over 660,000 miles to 26 foreign countries and 46 U.S. states. The plane was disassembled, transported to California, and reassembled (minus the engine) on site before the walls were built around it.

Inside Air Force One at Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
Inside Air Force One
Wall drawings of Air Force planes at Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
Drawing of all the Presidential planes cover one wall of the Pavilion. Jackie Kennedy did not like the orange colours and had a new colour scheme designed.
Presidential Motorcade car at Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
Part of the Presidential Motorcade on display

Ronald Reagan was President of the United States from 1981 to 1989. Galleries contain artefacts, papers, photographs, and audio and video clips covering various aspects of his Presidency, including the assassination attempt on his life, economic policies, the air traffic controllers’ strike, the Iran-Contra affair and the war on drugs. Some of my American colleagues with an interest in history became very excited about the information in these galleries. Others who had admitted earlier to not being Reagan fans were more sedate.

I found the information on Reagan’s role in ending the Cold War particularly interesting. He was portrayed as a transformational President instrumental in bringing down the Berlin Wall, which occurred in September 1989, several months after the end of his Presidency. Ironically both his “peace through strength” strategy of military buildup and Strategic Defense Initiative, which initially escalated the Cold War, and diplomatic efforts were credited. I did further research after my museum visit and discovered differing opinions as to the significance of Reagan’s role. It was definitely an interesting time in history.

Part of the Berlin Wall on display at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California
A piece of the Berlin Wall is on display
Oval Office replice at Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
Replica of the Oval Office, decorated as it was during Reagan’s Presidency
Replica of White House South Lawn at Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
Replica of White House South Lawn

View from Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

An aspect of the Library not to be underestimated is its situation and view. The Library was originally slated to be housed at Stanford University, but there was limited space. Developers donated 100 acres of land in eastern Ventura County. This site was picked from among 30 others because of its pristine surroundings, views and proximity to Los Angeles.

View from Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

View from Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

I may not have connected with everything in the Library in the same way a U.S. citizen might, but I did not find the Library boring or irrelevant. It was interesting to read the key stories of Reagan’s Presidency, even if presented from an American and pro-Reagan perspective. I had not realized how extensively Reagan had travelled beyond the United States.

I also became interested in the concept of Presidential Libraries and Canadian equivalents. The U.S. Presidential Library system contains fifteen libraries, part of National Archives and Records Administration. The tradition began with Franklin D. Roosevelt. Acts of Congress have established a system of privately erected and federally maintained libraries. Presidential records become the property of the government with Presidential Libraries as their repository.

There is no similar system in Canada. There is no Canadian law stating that Prime Minister papers belong to the government. They remain personal property although many Prime Ministers have donated records to Library and Archives Canada.

Have you visited the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library or another Presidential Library? What did you think?

PIN ITA Canadian perspective on a visit to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California #California #museum #SimiValley #PresidentialLibrary

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  1. Now, if I had had access to Air Force one, I wouldn’t have cared what colour it was. 🙂

    I visited the Kennedy Museum in Boston and it was interesting in the way it represented that time. I guess it’s inevitable that presidential museums cast an unreservedly glowing light on their subjects. All the 60s memorabilia was fun.

    1. Deb, I have to agree that the outside colour of the plane wouldn’t have mattered much.

  2. I have not visited any Presidential library, yet I am pleased that we have them as historical record. It also presents an amazing rear view mirror of our culture at the time.

    1. Jacquie, if all the libraries are similar to this one, they are a good mirror of the culture of the time.

  3. It sounds like a fascinating historical record. There are things which are so instilled in popular culture that they would be familiar to so many of us in the Western World. Airforce One in particular, which would be fascinating to see. And whether Presidents are right, wrong or indifferent for a writer to see what their office looked like would be absolutely intriguing.

    1. Johanna, I remembered many of the things covered in the displays. It was interesting to be reminded and at the same time see aspects of the event I hadn’t known about or considered at the time.

  4. I’ve not visited any presidential libraries although I lived in a Presidential town: Chappaqua. Hillary and Bill Clinton are our very famous neighbors and great citizens! They march in the annual Memorial Day parade and often visit the schools.

    1. Irene, with that connection you might find the Bill Clinton Presidential Library interesting,

  5. As a history buff and fellow Canadian I was intrigued to hear what you thought. I have been to the JFK Library in Massachusetts and absolutely loved it. I think this library would be interesting, yes, partly because of Air Force One. I’d certainly visit if I were in California. The replica of the Oval Office and the part of the Berlin Wall would make a visit that much more interesting.

    1. Janice, I am more likely to visit other presidential libraries now after seeing this one. I’m sure the JFK one would have been very interesting.

    1. Karen, the fall of the Berlin Wall a very significant event indeed. I remember being amazed at the time that it was really happening – it seemed miraculous. So it was interesting to go through the parts of the Library relating to that time, recall the feeling and see what led up to it with the benefit of some hindsight.

  6. Although I’m not a Reagan fan, the time of his Presidency was especially fascinating and I remember (as a child raised in the “Duck and cover” time of the Cold War) especially the the fall of the Berlin Wall. Although I haven’t had visited any of the Presidential Libraries we thoroughly enjoyed our visit last fall to Franklin Roosevelt’s “Little White House” in Warm Springs, Georgia and seeing Jimmy Carter’s boyhood home of Plains, Georgia. A very interesting post, Donna!

    1. Anita, I don’t remember doing any Duck and Cover exercises in school although my husband does. The time of Reagan’s Presidency was indeed a fascinating time in history and it was interesting to be reminded of that.

  7. Interesting story, Donna. (And it’s a little amusing to think the library might have been more interestesting or ‘relevant’ to a Canadian.) This is the sort of stuff I love to visit all over the world, but I haven’t visited any US Presidential libraries! Great that you continued your research after the visit.

  8. I am only a fan of Reagan in retrospect. His was my first election to vote in and I’m a lifelong Jimmy Carter fan (great writer of memoirs, by the way). All that said, I would love to visit this library and any of the others. I love history and seeing the way things were. Even with the shine of a bit of a glossing over on it.

  9. Hi Donna, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library is a beautiful place and very historically interesting, especially for U.S. citizens. Would have been interesting to look at everything through the eyes of someone who didn’t live here and compare it with everything you had previously heard or learned about president Reagan and that time period.

    1. Susan, I remembered most of the events highlighted in the Library, but oddly enough not my reactions or what I thought about them at the time. Except for the falling of the Berlin Wall – I watched everything around that on TV in amazement. One of the things that sticks in my memory about Reagan is the scene of him singing “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” with then Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Such a trivial thing to remember from a time when so many more important events occurred.

  10. I never thought about the fact that you are Canadian when we were at the Reagan Library! It was interesting to read your impressions and perspective of the Library. I only wish I’d had more time to really read and explore all the exhibits, as our visit was not long enough to take it all in. I really enjoyed the grounds outside the museum, too, and being able to see the grave sites, since Nancy Reagan’s funeral had taken place so recently. I have only visited one other Presidential Library and that was Lyndon Johnson’s in Austin, TX. I found it interesting also and will take the opportunity to visit others if I am in the area.

    1. Debbra, prior to this I would have bypassed visiting Presidential Libraries if I were in a place with one. Now I would be more likely to visit other ones. It was interesting to see the bits of history of a particular Presidency.