Canada’s Best Aviation History Booklist Is right here: Download
One title that you’ll really treasure in your library is Dancing in the Sky: The Royal Flying Corps in Canada. By 2020 few Canadians know much about this monumental WWI story. This gem of a book tells in details how the RFC, desperate for pilots in 1916, solved its problem by establishing a magnificent air training plan in Canada. Headquartered in Toronto, the plan almost overnight built massive aerodromes starting at Camp Borden, then Armour Heights and Leaside in Toronto, Deseronto east of Toronto, finally Beamsville in Niagara. There also were recruiting, indoctrination and trades training centres in Toronto and Hamilton. Soon thousands of young men were training here to learn to fight in the world’s first great aerial war. Thousands were sent overseas and by war’s end there still were 12,000 men in the RFC Canada system. The plan brought with it Canada’s first aircraft mass production, more than 1200 JN-4C trainers being built at a vast factory in west Toronto, plus parts for hundreds more.
Author C.W. Hunt presents all the fine details – how the plan was organized, the camps established, the training of pilots and mechanics, much about the problems of weather and accidents, and how thousands of Americans also passed through the RFC system.
Suddenly, the war ends and overnight the plan folds. Hunt brings the story right to the end in 1919. This is one of the really important Canadian books about WWI — how Canada went from being an aviation featherweight to an aviation powerhouse all in about two years. Believe it or not, but some of the sturdy hangars from RFC Canada days are still in use at Camp Borden and Beamsville! Order your copy by sending (for Canada) $43.00 by PayPal or Interac to firstname.lastname@example.org , or, post a cheque to CANAV Books, 51 Balsam Ave., Toronto, Canada M4E3B6. USA or Int’l orders send CDN$50.00.
You’ll also be tempted by this new beauty — Flying to Extremes, Dominique Prinet’s new book about his career as an bush and Arctic pilot. Much about the Cessna, Otter and Beech 18, but many other well-known types as well. This is very much a book about the north and its people — not just the airplanes. Besides that, it’s really well designed with many colour photos, some excellent original aviation art and some very useful original maps. 278 pages, softcover, glossary, index. This one is irresistible! $42.00 all-in by PayPal or Interac to email@example.com or mail a cheque as mentioned above. USA or Int’l orders send CDN$50.00.
“Ghost” Canso Update – Something’s Up
Many of you regular CANAV blog followers enjoyed our recent item about Gananoque’s “Ghost” Canso, CF-NJL. Last August, my old pal from high school days, Nick Wolochatiuk, visited Gananoque to see what was doing, then submitted this summary:
Most of Gananoque’s triangle of 2530’ runways are now devoted to corn, but in the decaying hangar at the east side of Runway 36-18, Canso “NJL” still sits, outer wing sections by now removed. Fortunately, it’s an amphibian, as the hangar roof really leaks. Snuggled nearby is wingless Bush Caddy C-FZGG. Its elongated nose gives the appearance of an ant eater. Some other planes are scattered around, including Pietenpol C-ILTB. Due to COVID-19, the local parachute training school was shut down. Outside, we spotted Bush Caddy C-GIRU. For a very long time, not a BCATP Tiger Moth, Fleet Finch or Harvard has been seen at Gananoque. As you can see by the crumbling hangar, those glory days are long gone.
Here are two shots that Nick took in August. These can be compared with our main article to which you can scroll back, if you have the time. That’s all the current “intel” for “NJL”. Let me know what else you might hear via the grape vine.
CANAV Books Visits the 10th Mountain Infantry (Light)
The 1980s were full of great aviation history projects. Besides working on such books as Canada’s Air Force Today and AIRCOM, I was burning the candle at both ends doing a lot of aviation journalism. I had begun to dabble with this in the late 1950s by submitting photos and short items to such journals as “Air Pictorial”, that great UK monthly. Eventually, Toronto aviation editors such as Bob Halford (“Aircraft” magazine) and Hugh Whittington (“Canadian Aviation”) were giving me assignments, then I started writing feature stories for “Aviation News”, “Air Classics” “Air Combat”, etc. It was great to be making such connections. The pay ranged from zero in those days to $50 – $750 for a feature, even $2500 for something Hugh sent my way – a detailed overview of Canada’s aerospace industry. Every penny counted back in those times.
Meanwhile, with travelling pals Tony Cassanova and Mike Valenti I had begun branching out into New York, the nearest US state to our base in Toronto. I already was familiar with Niagara Falls, NY, home to the 136th FIS. My old pal, Merlin Reddy, and I first had visited the 136th for Air Force Day on May 16, 1959, then Nick Wolochatiuk and I covered the open house on May 20, 1960. These were a really impressive events. What we thought was amazing was how the general public was not herded around like cattle. Instead, we could wander on the ramps even as airplanes came and went, everything from an L-19 to a C-124. Here are a few photos that we took both years mostly using Merlin’s twin lens Yashika loaded with 120 b/w film. As I recall, I also was shooting with an old Permaflex. Everything in black-and-white, of course:
Fort Drum Visit
Through the 1980s we made good connections at Griffiss AFB near Rome, home to the 416th Bomb Wing (B-52s) and the 49th FIS (F-106). The 416th PR man, Carl R. Sahre, was keen to have us down to see what Griffiss had to offer. Another good spot for us was Syracuse, from where the 174th FS of the NY-ANG flew (AT-37, later A-10, F-16, Predator). Finally, through 10th Mountain PR man, Lee McTaggart, we got our connection to Fort Drum where the 10th Mountain Division (Infantry) recently had reactivated its aviation battalion. “Aviation News” would take a story about this famous unit. In typical US military style, he jumped at this as an opportunity to promote the 10th Mountain and my first visit was set up.
I drove down the NY State freeway early on March 13 and soon was busy doing interviews and shooting Kodachromes. There were no restrictions – whatever I needed, 10th Mountain PR was on it. An OH-58 piloted by 1Lt Richard F. Delev was at my disposal for getting out onto the Fort Drum Range, then I was offered something I hadn’t dreamed of – a famil flight in an AH-1G Huey Cobra gunship flown by CW4 Howard.
Typical of such trips, Fort Drum was a whirlwind affair, but chalk up another great experience in US military aviation history. Back home, as soon as I had my slides from Kodak, I got to work on the story. As things often went, however, the story didn’t see the light of day until November.
Here is a random selection of Kodachromes from my March 1989 trip and a copy of the ”Aviation News” report. Each such story tended to build up an aviation journalist’s reputation. I guess that was one good reason to keep up with such strenuous fieldwork. In the end, we “Canucks” got to know the USAF and US Army in upstate New York in the 1980s. Eventually, I visited, flew with and had stories published about the 416th at Griffiss (B-52 and KC-135) and the 49th (F-106). I also wrote about the 174th and flew on a photo trip in an AT-37 (PA-ANG) shooting some 174th A-10s. Finally came the helios of the 10th Mountain.
To add to up my knowledge of Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain, I revisited on January 8, 1990 accompanied by Tony Cassanova. That was another red letter day, as we again had carte blanche. Highlights included having the base commander’s UH-1 Huey as our taxi for the day, then each having a flight in a mighty CH-54 of the PA-Army Guard that was busy that day repositioning targets on the Fort Drum range
The CANAV Books Story Part 5
Moving right along with our rough ‘n ready story of CANAV Books, here’s a bit about three other leading titles of the 1990s (in the not-too-distant future, the plan is to refined these items into a book):
The Royal Canadian Air Force at War 1939-1945 1990
For 1990 CANAV Books published the grandest single volume covering the RCAF during WWII. This time, I teamed with Hugh A. Halliday, Curator of War Art at the Canadian War Museum (1976- 1985), RCAF researcher and writer, and long time member of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society. This became another 480-page blockbuster. For this project I went to Bob Baglow in Ottawa for the graphics side of the project. I forget how this came about, but assume that Robin Brass was overworked that year.
Besides its massive text, the book ended with some 1600 photos and it could not have been better reviewed. Summing up its point of view simply, the great “Aviation News” of the UK (Vol.19, No.20, Feb. 1991) noted: “All you ever wanted to know about the RCAF in action in World War 2 … is contained in the thumping big book … as comprehensive a record of the vital part played by this Dominion as ever received in the editorial office. A goldmine of factual information.” Covering it for “Canadian Geographic” (January 1991) was David McIntosh. As was reviewer Ron Lowman of the “Toronto Star”, Dave had been an operational navigator on Mosquitos, and not one to suffer the least gaff by any author.
In early reviews of CANAV titles, Dave already had fired a few sharp rounds, when he found the least point with which to disagree. But both he and Ron mainly were fair. The fellows would read and digest every line. Both also had a quirk of straying off topic, something a bit odd for high-speed, low-level navigators. Dave got somehow distracted in this review when he launched forth with this tirade: “The RCAF at War at last fills a need that the government’s and the defence department’s lassitude has denied Canadians for nearly half a century. The official air force history is so far behind that it can be carbon dated. Milberry and Halliday, old and practiced hands at such compilations, have flown to the rescue of all the airmen- survivors of the war who have slipped the surly bonds of earth.”
Dave’s review was shaping up, but it wasn’t making friends for CANAV in official Ottawa circles. His comments suggest that he was unaware of two fairly recent, massive Canadian military histories – Canadian Airmen and the First World War (1980) and The Creation of a National Air Force (1986) produced by the University of Toronto Press for the DND Directorate of History. (These would be joined by a third volume in 1994, The Crucible of War 1939-1945. These absolutely essential books total some 2500 pages and beautifully cover Canadian military aviation from pre-WWI to the end of WWII.) How could Dave have missed the first two of these? Perhaps he just had an urge to take a shot from the hip at DND? Happily, he was bowled over by the masses of content in our book, which he described as “packed, crammed, stuffed and stomped into this bulging volume.” He also appreciated how the photo captions are “as informative as the narrative”, an important detail that evaded most reviewers.
Another top review appeared in the “Ottawa Citizen”. Brereton “Ben” Greenhouse, a respected military historian/author at DND Directorate of History, called our effort, “massive, heavily illustrated and thoroughly enjoyable … a book for browsing, focussed on operations and service life rather than concepts and policy”. Ben showed a clear awareness of good books by commenting about our $75 sticker price – “… no more than the price of a good meal nowadays”. A perceived “flaw” mentioned in passing is that such great RCAF wartime figures as “Moose” Fulton and John Fauquier are not widely covered. This is easily explained — we were looking to write more about “ordinary” (less-well-known) airmen, compared to those about whom so much already had been written. CANAV is always looking for new material, so those old, well-ploughed fields tend to be avoided when we set to work.
Reviewing RCAF at War in the “Cobourg Daily Star” of August 30, 1991, D.G. McMillan made a nice point: “While the authors claim this is not a definitive book on the RCAF, it comes mighty close… a vivid picture of a period of Canadian history that is now long gone.” McMillan considered the book’s 1600 photos/captions to be “a book within a book”. RCAF at War also was reviewed in detail by Dacre Watson on “The Log –Journal of the British Airline Pilots Association”. Again, the general plan of the book is neatly summarized around the concept of how the RCAF, “… came from a small, ineffective force to become one of the largest air forces by the end of the war.” He was struck by how we authors easily might have lost our readers in the book’s mountain of facts but, instead, “managed to circumvent this by dealing with each theatre of war individually and each command … in its own way. Not only does this make the book easily readable, but also easy to use for reference.” For its part, the amazing “Aviation News” concluded, “It is as comprehensive a record of the vital part played by this Dominion Air Force as any received in the editorial office. A goldmine of factual information.” More locally, Joe Chapman of “The Spectator” in Hamilton concluded his review in a no-nonsense way – “Even at $75, the enthusiast will find it one of the best investments in aviation history and treasure it forever.”
What days these were for book reviews. The book still reigned as far as the daily press was concerned, and subscribers to aviation journals never missed their monthly book review page or two. Only begrudgingly do the major dailies run a book review in 2020. Much worse, many of the aviation periodicals consider a book review a waste of a page. Too intellectual for the 2020s, perhaps? Any of today’s magazines that brought back the book review soon would see a spike in readership. Readers want such thoughtful content.
“Air Force Magazine” of the United States Air Force Association (December 1990) also was impressed by RCAF at War: “The Royal Canadian Air Force’s contribution to the Allied victory is an often overlooked segment of World War II history. This book remedies that omission … the authors have assembled a complete look at every facet of the RCAF’s wartime operations.” The UK’s famed “Air International” also could not restrain itself, beginning its review, “Any CANAV book is worthy of attention and the latest volume to appear, The Royal Canadian Air Force at War 1939-1945, is a splendid addition to the ranks. Those who have the same publisher’s Sixty Years: The RCAF and CF Air Command 1924-1984 will have an idea of what to expect… It is an excellent example of popular history that brings to life an important period as no academic work could. If you liked … Max Hastings’ Bomber Command, you will enjoy this massive work.” Good grief – imagine a couple of “colonial” authors being compared to one of the UK’s most revered historians!
In “Legion”, Brown’s Books had a solid go at RCAF at War. This excerpt is my favourite: “Larry Milberry … and Hugh Halliday … have done a magnificent job of compiling the most wide-ranging and complete book yet on WWII Canada in the air … A tremendous accomplishment by the authors.” Mike Filey of Toronto’s beloved “Sunday Sun” also covered RCAF at War glowingly (in his column “The Way We Were”). Mike even published my phone number and urged his fans to drop by my house for an autographed copy! Now that’s a review and a half!
In its December 1990 edition, Sidney Allinson reviewed RCAF at War in the “Canadian Defence Quarterly”. Seemingly thunderstruck by the book, Sidney produced the lengthiest review that we have seen of this title. His commentary includes at the start: “It is such a rich source of information, facts, anecdotes and images that the most avid aviation buffs can gorge themselves … the depth of research … indicates a labour of love by the authors. Nothing less could inspire such a comprehensive account.” Sidney goes on: “A good deal of thought has been given to the book’s organization … This logical form of presentation, coupled with a lengthy index, helps both the casual reader and the more serious researcher to home in on specific areas”, then winds up about the authors that they are to be complimented, “… for creating this fine testimony to the quarter-million members of the Royal Canadian Air Force who valiantly served the cause of freedom …”
Also in December 1990, one of aviation’s greatest journalists and publishers (the late) John Wegg wrote about RCAF at War in “In Flight” magazine. John began his review: “Stunning, superb, unrivalled.” After the usual summary of content and organization, he concluded: “Everyone who has had contact with the RCAF in this period will snap up this treasure, destined to be a collector’s item of the 21 st Century.” I really like John’s take on our $75 sticker price – “It works out to just 15 cents a page, or, 5 cents a photo”! Then again … no one knew an aviation book better than John Wegg. Rest in peace, old pal.
What place does RCAF at War hold today in the wide domain of RCAF history? Sad to say, but by 2020 it’s yet another forgotten Canadian aviation book. But did it ever bask in its well-deserved glory for a brief moment. Naturally, to this day RCAF HQ in Ottawa has no idea about this book.
What was the bottom line for this book? As usual, that starts with the invoice from our great printer back in those days, The Bryant Press. There were many other expenses from graphics (quoted at $15,356) to brochures, magazine and newspaper advertisements, book launching, thousands in postage and shipping, taxes galore, etc. In the end it never was easy to make a penny in books, but we were always dumb enough to keep trying. From Bryant came this rude awakening — $75,222.50 for 3959 copies. Some years later Van Well Publishing in St. Catharines did a 1500 reprint. There are no new copies left, but I see today (December 5, 2020) 72 copies for sale at http://www.bookfinder.com many being reasonably priced below $90++. If you earnestly follow RCAF history and don’t yet have a copy, you really ought to buy in. You’ll be making a solid long-term investment:
Typhoon and Tempest: The Canadian Story by Hugh A. Halliday 1992
In 1992 CANAV published a ground-breaking history of two great WWII fighters, the Hawker Typhoon and Tempest. At the time this seemed to Hugh and I to be a good time to tell this story, since so many pilots who had flown these planes in combat in the RAF and RCAF still were on the go. We rolled out the book at a gala event at Canadian Force Staff School officers mess in Toronto, then let the book speak for itself. Naturally, all with an interest soon were reading Typhoon and Tempest, and the reviews were glorious. Today, the book is long out-of-print, but it did the job we set out to accomplish.
Here are excerpts from one of the many reviews. These comments are from Bill Musselwhite of the “Calgary Herald”: “A splendid book … pure history but … thoroughly readable… the book’s backbone is made up of those who climbed into the cockpits to dodge flak and telephone wires while taking out trains and tanks.”
This is how the French journal, “Air Action” reacted in its Vol.1, No.1, Summer 1993. Being the book professional that he is, reviewer Jean-Michel Guhl began by honouring the existing body of published Typhoon and Tempest history, while explaining that many extant books seemed a bit short of specific history of the people involved. He credited Halliday with visiting the archives to study the RCAF personnel documents for many individuals, and going out to interview many of them, to tap their memories, view their logbooks, and see what photos and documents they still might have. Guhl concluded, “Printed and bound to the high standards we’ve come to expect from Larry Milberry’s publishing company, Typhoon and Tempest is a superb and thoroughly researched work… In this truly pleasant book, Halliday provides us with action from cover to cover… One more ‘Must’ from CANAV Books.”
Meanwhile, in its February edition the inimitable “Aviation News” printed its own take on our Typhoon and Tempest effort. This sharp- minded reviewer also acknowledges the important existing literature, then explains, as did Guhl, how Halliday’s work in the official personnel records resulted in a valuable new perspective. “Aviation News” found our photo selection and appendices to be magnificent, then concluded that the book is “a very fitting tribute” to all the Canadians who had served on these two mighty fighters. Much respected “Aeroplane Monthly” also (September 1993) gave a positive run-down of the book, concluding, “The former Typhoon pilot certainly has nothing to complain about with this book.”
For production, this time I went to a good Ottawa book manufacturer, Tri-Graphic (also long ago defunct). This likely was based on the quotes I had received from other printers. Tri-Graphic was good to work with and turned out a really outstanding product. Typhoon and Tempest: The Canadian Story is revered to this day by true fans of the RCAF’s great heritage. Anyone interested in a copy can fish around on the web. bookfinder.com has 51 on sale today starting at $64.00++. Here’s the quotation I received back in 1990 from Tri-Graphic. The book was still two years away, so these projects were never for the faint of heart.
Some Great Lakes Shipping Photos
As keen young aviation fans, most of us also were getting interested in photographing other subjects. The more we hung out together, the more we learned and broadened our horizons. Several of us having gone into teaching, we quickly realized how we could use our camera skills to boost our classroom productivity. To this day (50-60 years later) former students still comment about the slide shows we’d use to brighten up and intensify a lesson.
As good pals since about 1959, Nick Wolochatiuk and I became famous among the Toronto aviation hobbyists for our exotic non- aviation field trips. One of our many haunts was the Toronto waterfront, where we photographed any ship we came across. Soon we were making Great Lakes driving tours chasing planes, boats, trains, you name it. We could never understand why for some of our buddies there was nothing worth photographing than airplanes. But … chaq’un a sa choix, right.
I’ve dusted off a few of the ancient slides I shot of Great Lakes tankers mainly spotted in Toronto harbour about 50 years ago. The diehard Great Lakes fans will know more about these ships that I. Happily, I still have my hefty 1968 Canadian Department of Transport List of Shipping. This invaluable book provides the essential facts for most of the tankers shown:
Later, Imperial Windsor was sold to Hall Shipping as the Cardinal. This report showed up in “The Scanner” of April 1973:
As we announced recently, Hall’s subsidiary, Algonquin Corporation Ltd., had purchased the tanker IMPERIAL WINDSOR and was in the act of having her name changed to CURLEW. As the papers were being processed, the Canadian Government brought it to Halco’s attention that there already was a fishtug by the name of CURLEW on the register and accordingly this could not be used as the new name for the tanker. Since CURLEW was to be named for a former Hall vessel, the company did some quick checking into their fleet lists and came up with the name CARDINAL which will now be used. The new name will honour not only the town of Cardinal on the old St. Lawrence Canals, but also a wooden tug, built in 1875, which served the Hall fleet for a short period around 1911.
Reading this, anyone can see how pricelessly important are such historical society journals and newsletters.
What a great historical resource such a ship would be (museum- wise) on the Toronto waterfront. Sad to say, however, Imperial Windsor went for scrap in 1974. On May 23, 1974 she had been up- bound in fog on Lake Erie, bound for Sarnia, when she was in a serious collision off Pelee Island with the 7600-ton Great Lakes bulk carrier George M. Steinbenner. Two Cardinal crewmen had to be cut from their smashed forecastle and flown to hospital by US Coast Guard helicopter. George M. Steinbrenner was lightly damaged, but Cardinal was un-repairable (see http://www.boatnerd.com ). At https://amp.en.google-info.org/ there’s a short clip about life aboard Imperial Windsor.
In its August 26, 1974 edition, the “Globe and Mail” printed a very worthy letter-to-the-editor from former Imperial Windsor crewman, J.M. Prince:
You published a picture (Aug. 20) of the S.S. Cardinal being towed out of Toronto Harbor bound for the scrap yards of Hamilton. Such an ignominious end for such a fine ship. Since the mid-1920s she had served her owners well, carrying petrochemical products for years as the Imperial Windsor, part of the great Imperial Oil fleet, and for the past two years for Hall Corp. as the Cardinal. And now, after almost fifty years of service, to end up just another carload of scrap for Stelco’s furnaces. During my five weeks service on her as an Ordinary Seaman and then as Able Seaman, I rarely gave any thought to her cramped quarters, or grotesquely blunt shape, but rather, as did the rest of the crew under Captain Walter Poole, her ease of handling and plucky ability to plow through the roughest weather to her destination. Funny-looking she may have been, but she had a heart.
You Wanted More Bob Finlayson Pix