Thirty-five years ago I stepped into the deep end of the pool without a life jacket by founding CANAV Books and publishing The Avro CF-100. Happily, things worked out. Overnight the book became a best-selling Canadian hardcover with 6000 copies sold in Year 1. When McGraw Hill-Ryerson followed up with a small reprint, the CF-100 topped 7500 in print before fading. Buoyed by such numbers, CANAV turned out The Canadair North Star (1982), The De Havilland Canada Story (1983), Sixty Years (1984), then Austin Airways and Helicopters: The British Columbia Story (1985). Happily, the world still was full keen, liberally-educated, book-minded people, so Canadian publishers were not afraid to keep producing good books. So, “What next for CANAV?” became the question, and that soon was resolved.
As a kid in the late 1950s I used to cycle 15 miles each way to meet some pals and hang out along the fences at Downsview to watch the Sabres flown by Toronto’s RCAF weekend warriors. There seemed to be no more exotic jet fighter back then, and to this day Sabre’s aesthetic looks still impress. Gradually, I met many who had flown or worked on Sabres, and started filling notebooks with interviews, and gathering other Sabre “stuff”. Then, while I was down at Canadair doing North Star research in the early 1980s, Ron Pickler and Ian Geddes showed me a big pile of rare Sabre production info. This was too much to resist, so I really got to work, and before long had the basis for a solid general history of the Canadian-built Sabre. In August 1986 the book was launched in a flurry of great fun in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. RCAF Sabre people, bibliophiles, modellers, all sorts of in-depth people keen on the Sabre flocked to our launches, starting in Toronto on August 19. Toronto was smashing, crowded with leading Sabre people and other fans. Shoulder to shoulder that evening were such Kings of the Sabre as RCAF pilots Denny Denouden, Ken Hagerty, Paul Hayes, Dean Kelly, Scotty McKay, Bernie Reid, Ernie Saunders and Jerry Tobin.
The Canadair Sabre book won immediate praise from the old-guard reviewers. Air Combat simply called it, “The aviation literary event of the year”. France’s leading aviation monthly, Air Fan, added a delicious compliment: “Ici encore, les anecdotes savoureuses fourmillent. Ce sont celles-ci qui rendent les livres de Milberry différents des publications anglo-saxonnes ou américaines, qui sont généralement moins humaines”. So … Air Fan picked up on my two chief objectives in doing any book – to tell the human side of the history as carefully as the airplane side. The inimitable Air International commented: “There seems scant prospect of a better history.” Greece’s aviation monthly, Ptisi, added that the book was “a real oasis for F-86 fans”. No publisher or author could have had his book better received.
The Bryant Press of Toronto was my printer/binder for this project. All such old-time Canadian book manufacturers long since have faded, forced out by changing technology and management styles. They could or would not adapt. Those were the days when big, mainline Canadian book publishers would do a first-run of any major hardcover trade book of 3500 to 5000 copies. If required, a reprint could be ordered, but the big publishers never really were risk takers – there could be no more conservative an industry back then. For CANAV, however, in the 1980s it always was a balls-to-the-wall effort, when a new book was in the offing, so I ordered a first printing of 10,000. Bryant thought I was nuts, but put its seasoned pressmen on the job. That August they delivered 10,422 copies of The Canadair Sabre. With each book at 3.27 lb that gave me a job weighing in at about 17 tons. What made a fellow think he could ever sell 17 tons of Sabre books still is a bit of a mystery, but I was encouraged by advance sales in the hundreds.
How time flies, right. This summer is the 30th anniversary of The Canadair Sabre. This hefty hardcover remains the premier tribute to all those who flew or supported the Sabre in the RCAF (I estimate about 6000 pilots, so roughly 60,000 people in all trades over about 18 years). The book also honours the thousands at Canadair and Orenda, and the many other air forces that used Canadian-built Sabres from the USAF (which operated 60 of them in Korea) to the RAF, West Germans, Italians, Greeks, Turks on to the Colombians, Hondurans, Pakistanis and South Africans. This classic title has hundreds of photos and an appendix with a full production list of the 1815 Canadair Sabres.
If you still don’t have The Canadair Sabre, here’s your chance to fix that. Usually CDN$40.00 but … my last 300 copies now available at $30.00 + $12.00 shipping for Canada + $2.10 tax, so (Canada) all-in $44.10. USA and overseas all-in CDN$54.00. Mail your cheque to CANAV Books, 51 Balsam Ave., Toronto M4E 3B6 or pay by PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org or order on-line (see canavbooks.wordpress.com). I’m autographing all these last copies.
All the best as usual … Larry