Norseman Update: Visit to Norseman Festival website www.norsemanfestival.on.ca/airworthy-norseman-list-2019/ to get the latest news, including what’s happening with the restoration of Red Lake’s famous Norseman CF-DRD. Also, see the great list there by Rodney Kozar of Norseman survivors current to 2020.
Formidable Hero Update:
Canada’s Air Force Today & AIRCOM 1987 & 1991
For this session I’ll pick things up with our blockbuster 1987 and 1991 titles, Canada’s Air Force Today and AIRCOM: Canada’s Air Force. This pair served well in updating Sixty Years of 1984 fame. We also put out a 24-page 1991 update for CAFT. All this was done when there was next to nothing else coming out in books about contemporary Canadian military aviation history.
These were really exciting times for CANAV, for the air force in those years had command people who appreciated our efforts. In researching for these books, I was welcomed to air force bases from Greenwood and Summerside to Namao and Comox, and invited to fly in all the aircraft in service, whether the humble Musketeer trainer, Tracker and Aurora patrol planes, the mighty Voodoo and Hornet fighters, T-33 and Tutor jet trainers, and all the helicopters. In these long ago times, AIRCOM commanders would be calling CANAV to invite me to special events, even to ride along on major overseas operations. These days CANAV Books doesn’t even qualify to receive RCAF press releases. But … times change and we go with the flow and get our books out one way or the other.
Both of these books were well received. Canada’s Air Force Today sold out its 4000 first printing. Then, McGraw Hill-Ryerson did a 6000 reprint that also sold out. AIRCOM followed (4000 copies). Both now are long out-of-print, but you always can find good, affordable copies on the web. I still hear from readers about how much they continue to enjoy these detailed, authoritative histories of Canada’s air force 3 – 4 decades ago.
Both of our modern day air force books were widely reviewed, including CAFT by Hector Lindsay in the 1989 “Canadian Book Review Annual”, one of the top sources for library acquisition staff. Canadian librarians ordered many copies of CAFT and AIRCOM, but, mysteriously, by 2020 they had lost all interest in such important Canadian subject matter. I suspect that this has something to do with Canada’s new national religion which worships at “The Church of Political Correctness”. Airplanes carrying bombs and rockets are nasty things for the PC crowd to contemplate, and Canadian public institutions such as libraries certainly at dominated by political correctness. Also of interest, if you check the usually puny aviation bookshelf in a typical Canadian public library, you’ll mainly find American books. In 2020 not one Canadian library ordered a single book from CANAV. In comparison, 25 years ago public librarians eagerly would anticipate receiving their seasonal CANAV Books mailing. Meanwhile, your neighbourhood library today has no shortage of the latest in American published sexercise books and many other such edifying “quality” titles. Canadian aviation? Not so much, although there are a few library branches where serious Canadian non-fiction still is respected. Perhaps there’s a public librarian out there with an explanation? But … I digress.
Hector’s critique is refreshingly different. Commenting on Canada’s declining defence budgets, he suggested (tongue in cheek, I suspect), “Perhaps Milberry’s book will help to tip the scales, as he illustrates how much our Air Force has managed to do with so little”! He adds, “The illustrations … are outstanding in every way … The author has done all Canadians a service with this loving portrait of our Air Force.” You must be convinced by now that CANAV must have paid Hector handsomely for this write-up, but … not so. I never knew Hector. He just told it as he read it. Good job, Hector, even if the people who need to see such solid commentary – RCAF HQ and library acquisitions people, for example — almost never seem to find such reviews as they coast along semi-oblivious to the importance of our military aviation heritage.
As you’ve seen by now in this series, the sources of book reviews vary. Some are local, such as a small town weekly, or, a base newspaper. Others are national, such as the “Globe and Mail” or aviation periodicals such as “Air Classics”, “Flypast”, or quarterlies such as the “Canadian Aviation Historical Society Journal”. The US Navy’s authoritative journal, “The Hook”, wrote about AIRCOM in its Spring 1992 issue: “An up-to-date account of military aviation in Canada … a spectacular collection of over 300 color photographs … attractive layout, informative captions and overall attention to detail.” Nice, eh, but I suspect that no one in today’s RCAF HQ reads “The Hook”. Too bad. Further praise for both books came from the “Journal of Military Aviation” (July/August 1992): “Both are superb photographic collections … highly recommended.”
Topping AIRCOM’s reception is the lead review from “Aviation News” of December 20, 1991. This begins by congratulating CANAV for having survived its first 10 years in business, then outlines the book’s content in predictable style, concluding: “It is a timely production … Certainly an authoritative comment on a varied and contemporary subject.” With this kind of wide support, a small publisher back in those times could get the word about any such new book spread around the world in about a year.
Power: The Pratt and Whitney Canada Story 1989
Published in 1989, Power: The Pratt & Whitney Canada Story was CANAV’s first “mega” project. Although we already had turned out Fred Hotson’s De Havilland Canada Story, the P&WC project was different. I still recall how it all started. One day in 1987 the phone rang. When I answered, no one at the other end said “Hello”. Instead, there was this sudden blunt message: “My name is Smith. I work for Pratt & Whitney Canada. We’re having some trouble getting our company history into print. Can you help us?” That was it – a very direct call from the no-nonsense Elvie Smith, President and CEO of P&WC (CASI McCurdy Award, later Order of Canada, and Member, Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame).
Over the ensuing months there was a mad flurry of activity as I, co-author, Ken Sullivan, researcher Ken Swartz, P&WC PR vice- president, Pierre Henry, CANAV editor and graphics guru Robin Brass, and artist Tom Bjarnason teamed to complete in spectacular form the 60th anniversary history of this spectacular Canadian company. To this day, Power remains one of most beautifully presented and historically detailed aviation corporate histories. P&WC and the world loved the book from Day 1. But … what would the critics think? Well, if such a Canadian book could pass muster with Paul Dilworth, one of Canada’s senior aeronautical engineers, then Ross Wilmot, a dean among Canadian aviation journalists, let alone the great global aviation publisher, John Wegg, then I think Power “cut it” fairly well.
In his review of Power in “Engineering Dimensions” of September/October 1990, Paul summed up his thoughts: “This book is a fascinating, comprehensive history of Pratt & Whitney Canada, and contains a kaleidoscopic range of text and photographs on the company’s evolution… the book also serves as a convincing message, by example, for all Canadians concerned with our industrial health and ability to compete under free trade … Power should be required reading by Canadians responsible for the future of Canadian industry, including senior corporate executives, managers of engineering and marketing, and federal and provincial politicians, civil servants and advisors.” Talk about an endorsement! Ross Wilmot penned his own thoughts for the “Canadian Book Review Annual”, doing the expected summary of contents, then concluding (a bit blandly) how, “The book … would be of interest to general readers and aviation buffs alike.”
Bland is not the story of the great John Wegg’s review of Power in “Airways” magazine. After carefully scrutinizing our book, John described Power quite simply as, “an attractive example of how to make a company history come alive.” The “Canadian Aviation Historical Society Journal” added, “”If you have enjoyed previous books published by CANAV, you will treasure this one.”
Power Goes off the Rails
Not everything went smoothly with the P&WC project. Big trouble came with production, which was done in the old T.H. Best plant in Toronto. Dating to the 1800s, Best was Canada’s oldest book manufacturer, so could turn out a nice product. This time, however, things went south in what I sometimes call, “the primitive art of book manufacturing”. Firstly, Power went on press during a brutal heat wave and something was not working in the plant environment. The heat combined with intense humidity resulting in the entire first run being lost due to offsetting – the problem whereby ink on sheets coming off the press does not dry instantly as needed. As sheets poured off the press at Best, ink from one sheet was offsetting to adjacent sheets, in spite of liberal use of a drying powder. Astoundingly, no one caught this, the run was spoiled and we had to start over. Then … another disaster. Once the final pallets of sheets off Best’s big 72-inch Harris presses were ready for the bindery, someone again was asleep, and too much glue was used in the binding process. Something like 10,000 books were pretty well ruined before “quality control” woke up. This was about as bad a week as Best and CANAV could have, but Best made good, and P&WC was delighted with their huge shipment of some 26,000 books — half in English, half in French. Part of the shipment comprised books salvaged from the botched-up run that we found could be bound as softcovers. Soon afterward, Best went under – a sad ending for a great company. General mismanagement was to blame, after Best’s “old guard” passed control to a new generation, which didn’t connect with the complexities of printing, binding, advancing technology, marketing, customer relations, etc.
Power Makes a Comeback
As the years passed, P&WC inevitably exhausted its stock of books, and CANAV sold its own 4000 copies (that’s how I had taken my payment for the project instead of in dollars). In 2012 P&WC wanted the book updated and reprinted – the company understood something about the importance of corporate history and culture, something that mainly is lost in Canadian aerospace by 2020 (the other exceptions that come to mind are Bombardier and CAE). The smoothest way to get this done was for P&WC to assume rights to the book and complete the project to its own specs. In 2013 “Pratt” turned out a straight re-print of the original book (which needed no correcting, so I heard), then produced a smaller companion volume covering 1990 to 2013. These books are presented in an attractive slipcase. The only glitch was that our Tom Bjarnason cover art was nowhere to be found. I had thought that it had stayed with Pratt, but to this day it has not re-surfaced. However, Pratt had two lovely new covers produced. So it goes that our world famous 1989 Power and Propulsion heads into its 4th decade.
“Power” Book Review Surfaces from 31 Years Ago!
I’m finding lots of good reading by going through ancient copies of all those famous and revered UK aviation periodicals. Lately, I found reviews of Woody and A Formidable Hero in “Aviation News”. Today, in flipping through “Aviation News” of August 4 – 17, 1989, to my pleasant surprise I spotted this really well-crafted and insightful review of Power. This one’s really worth a read, the reviewer was totally on the ball.
Power remains a treasure to this day for any reader following aviation history in depth. Yes, believe it or not there is far more to our favourite hobby than airliners or fighters. Although Power is long since out-of-print, any keen reader will love this book. You can find very nice and affordable copies on the web. See what you think of this resurrected book review:
Air Transport in Canada 1997
The research and info-gathering for this book kept me busy for years from the late 1980s. Travel alone took me to most parts of Canada and many international spots. Once we started putting things together, Robin Brass was committed for more than a year, as the book expanded. Eventually, it went to Friesen printers in Manitoba to become a 1040-page, 10-pound “monster” in two volumes having more than a million words and 3500+ photos. Why the move from Bryant Press? For one thing, Friesens was very hi-tech for the times (and has remained so), while Bryant was slower to adapt. Secondly, Friesens offered quite a better price.
Leaving Bryant was tough, for the company had been good to CANAV since 1981. It was well-run and very customer oriented. I learned the ropes there, having begun as a total dunce about book manufacturing. Founded in 1897, Bryant Press had been owned by the Weld family since 1903. In 2000 it was taken over by Gandalf Graphics of Toronto. In CANAV times, Bryant was headed by John Weld, and his son and daughter were there learning the trade. The quality of such business leaders as Mr. Weld (1928-2013) can be gauged by a few words from his obituary: “John was … educated at Ridley College and the University of Western Ontario. John started work in Winnipeg with the Farmers Advocate, but the majority of his career was with the family book manufacturing business, The Bryant Press, where he became President and C.E.O. He was a past president of the Ontario Printers Association, the Toronto Hunt Club, and a member of the Board of Governors of the North York General Hospital.”
Based in Altona, about an hour’s drive south of Winnipeg in Mennonite country, Friesens also was an old family business. When I started dealing with the company, it was still a closely-run family operation and very prosperous. The staff was tops for customer relations and quality work. Employees worked at a lower pay rate than union shops, but Friesens had a profit-sharing plan. People on the presses or in the bindery seemed like any other hourly workers, but many of them had profitted handsomely from the company’s generosity. From a fellow pushing a broom to the chairman of the board, everyone I met was friendly and helpful. The main book operation had the latest in printing and binding equipment, far ahead of Bryant and Best in Toronto (you can scroll back and see some Friesen photo coverage on the blog).
Friesens was a bit of a culture shock for a big city easterner, for the place was all Mennonite to the point that in 1997 when I started visiting, I was a bit surprised to see that men and women still had their own eating arrangements in the cafeteria. Friesens remains our printer, even if things gradually have changed in Altona. Many non- Mennonites now work at Friesens, and what once was almost at the heart of the operation – Friesens’ booming cafeteria – now is closed, replaced by a row of vending machines. All in the name of modern-day efficiency, I guess.
Published in 1997, ATC was the world’s largest ever such aviation history title. It also became one of the most costly trade book “indi” publishing projects in Canada. When the bills were tallied, CANAV had spent some $400,000, which it had no prospect of recovering. After almost 25 years ATC is going out of print still owing me about $100,000. C’est la guerre, oui!
Once launched at the old Constellation Hotel near “YYZ” in November 1997, ATC was hailed for its fine production qualities, wide coverage, and comprehensive treatment. There never has been since, nor will there ever again be anything comparable in Canadian trade book publishing. Much comes to mind when thinking back about ATC, including how – just hours before our Constellation Hotel launch – books still had not arrived from Friesens in Manitoba, and Friesens dispatch couldn’t say where the books were, especially since there had been bad winter roads along the way from Steinbach. Finally, at about 1500 on that blustery day, the truck finally pulled in to TTS Distributing in Aurora, north of Toronto. The load totalled 3650 sets weighing about 20 tons.
Yes … aviation book publishing in Canada can be a bit crazy, and definitely is not for the faint of heart. In the end, the launch turned out, with hundreds of fans from aviation braving the nasty weather to show their interest and support. At the time, it was especially fitting how the Constellation Hotel had an actual L.1049 Super Constellation as part of its set-up. The old-time “Super Connie” people who attended were delighted that they had made the effort that evening.
How did the press view “ATC”? We were all anxious to know, of course, but when the reviews started to appear, we had no worries. Wrote “Airways: The Global Review of Commercial Flight”: “These volumes are possibly the world’s most inclusive ever devoted to aviation history.” Added Ottawa’s famous graphics house, Aerographics: “This is the Oshkosh of aviation books”. The “Montreal Gazette” added, “Impressive! The word is sometimes misapplied to a book that is merely interesting, but for these two volumes, it may well be an understatement.” American Aviation Historical Society reviewer, Robert Parmerter, noted, “If I were to be stranded on an island and could chose just one aviation title to take, this two-volume set would be it.” Robert himself is author and producer of one of the world’s greatest modern aircraft histories, Beech 18: A Civil and Military History.
Own a Piece of Air Transport in Canada
Air Transport in Canada includes one of the finest galleries of original Canadian aviation art found in any such book. Here are three examples by one of our artists, Robert Finlayson of Hamilton. These paintings are another brilliant reason for having your own set of ATC, even for ordering several sets at our special price (see below) to use for VIP corporate gifts, etc. Here are Bob’s lovely acrylic renditions of RCAF wartime Goose 917, Don McVicar’s WWA C-46 CF-IQQ on the DEW Line as one of Don’s DC-3s arrives, then one of Spartan’s famous P-38 Lightning aero survey planes on a Whitehorse assignment in the early 1950s. The many large, original paintings from the ATC art gallery now are on the market, in case you spot one of these treasures that you really like. Prices start around $3500.
Should you still not have ATC in your aviation library, here’s the best chance to date to latch on to an autographed set. Sticker price? $155.00, but this special deal gets you ATC all-in (shipping & tax included) at CDN$65.00 for Canadian orders, CDN$80.00 USA orders, CDN$160.00 overseas orders (surface mail). Drop a note to me if any questions email@example.com That’s it for today for CANAV history. Thanks for dropping by and stay tuned for Part 5. Meanwhile, enjoy what’s below – an exclusive slide show from a fellow “who knew what’s what” in airplane photography.
Airplane Photographer Par Excellence: Bob Finlayson
One of the really dedicated Canadian aviation hobby photographers, aviation artists and all-around serious history buffs was Robert “Bob” Finlayson of Hamilton (1930 – 2000). The Finlaysons lived on Dalewood Ave. S., a few doors from another avid aviation photographer, Jack McNulty. Jack eventually would get Bob and I together. Bob’s father was interested in aviation and his older brother, Ross, flew Mosquitos with 409 Sqn during WWII, so Bob was keen on aviation from the start. His parents ran a sporting goods store, where Bob helped for decades. He also worked in a Hamilton camera shop, where he became expert in darkroom work back in “black and white” times. Around 1950, Bob took some flying lessons. He had a motorcycle, so got around to the local airstrips, where he mainly enjoyed photographing. In 1965 Bob became Member No.441 in the nascent Canadian Aviation Historical Society.
Bob also enjoyed sketching in pencil, especially in natural settings. The birds of southern Ontario became a great passion, along with airplanes. Eventually, Bob started using oil paints. By the time I met him about 1980, he had painted many airplanes, whether in scenes, or, as impressive side profiles. In the early 1980s, he painted a nice series of colour profiles for Sixty Years: The RCAF and CF Air Command 1924-1984, then some lovely pieces in the mid-1990s for the art gallery in Air Transport in Canada, including two of my favourites – the RCAF Canadian Vickers Vedette and the RCAF Grumman Goose.
Besides painting, over the decades, Bob printed innumerable photos for my projects in his basement darkroom (long before digital times). Also, having a vast research library, he could always be counted on to check some obscure fact of Canadian aviation history, should I be stuck. All along, Bob lived with diabetes, which he had contracted as a child. This was serious, forcing him out of school in about Grade 5. Regardless, Bob forged ahead as if all was well, he had a best disposition. He once told me about his first helicopter ride – a flight in a medevac chopper to hospital, when he collapsed at the Hamilton airshow one year! That was typical Bob, things didn’t get him down.
Besides photographing and reading up on airplanes like a real pro, Bob was always on the go spotting birds in the outdoors. I remember going along on one of his daily walks in the countryside. A flock of crows came our way and circled. Then Bob opened a bag and started tossing out chunks of wieners. Down came the crows to enjoy Bob’s treats. He called them “my boys” and apparently this was a routine. Something else we sometimes did was drive around Hamilton Harbour to photograph the ships. Bob was always a versatile fellow with a camera. Once, he had a contract with the Foundation Co. of Canada photographing bridges.
Bob had been feeling a bit down early in 2000. Typically, he didn’t complain. Then, on March 20 that year he suddenly left us. Brother Ross gave me the bad news and a few days later called me over to take away Bob’s vast photo collection, books and a few sample paintings. Sad to say, but Bob hadn’t had time to finish the blue jay he was doing for me, so all I got was his rough for that assignment.
Over the decades I’ve been able to feature some of Bob’s photos in various books. You’ll see more in our RCAF 100 th anniversary book in 2024. For today, I’ve selected a few Finlayson Kodak Ektachromes featuring the typical light planes that Bob loved to shoot at Hamilton’s nearby Mount Hope Airport. He spent endless enjoyable days there and, if it had wings, to Bob it was always worth a frame. Mostly, Bob was shooting black and white, but usually had a “35” along loaded with a roll of Ektachrome. Some of the fellows used to prefer this transparency film vs the richer-coloured but “slower” Kodachrome. It was about Ektachrome’s “softness” and higher speed (160 ASA vs 25 or 64 for Kodachrome). For today I’ve picked a random selection of Bob’s Ektachromes from 1966-68, all but one shot at Mount Hope. Any aviation fan will love these. They’re a nice break from the airliner and jet fighter photos that seem to dominate among today’s spotters. If you scroll back in the blog to such items as the Al Martin photo gallery, you’ll find lots of further details about the airplane types shown here today.