Next year being the 40th in business for CANAV Books, I’ve started on a history of our operation. Who knows where it might end, but every book publisher needs to do this – there’s always an important story to be told. Too bad, however, but few in Canada have bothered. Guess why? It takes somebody with an interest to get the ball rolling. Besides … it’s work! When CANAV began in 1981, there were hundreds of members in the Canadian Book Publishers Association. Today? Few of those from ’81 still exist. Curiously, while most of the great names have faded, it’s mainly smaller publishers that have survived — Annick Press (Toronto, 1975), CANAV Books (Toronto, 1981), Dundurn Press (Toronto, 1972), General Store Publishing (Ottawa Valley, 1981), Harbour Publishing (Madeira Park, BC, 1974), Pottersfield Press (Nova Scotia 1979), etc.
While few specific histories have been published about our Canadian industry, there is a very serious, 3-volume series from the University of Toronto Press — History of the Book in Canada listing at about $240. Then, there is Roy MacSkimming’s well- researched and eminently readable 2003 general history of Canadian book publishing – The Perilous Trade. MacSkimming chose a really apt title – if nothing else, this is perilous business! The Perilous Trade should be required reading for Canadian business history courses. Too bad, but few such courses any longer require students to do any serious study – such as reading actual books, where course members will find actual knowledge. Few other Canadian histories of the MacSkimming standard exist, but there is David Mason’s 2013 The Pope’s Bookbinder, an important history of the antiquarian and used book businesses in Canada. Try to find copies of these two key titles — try http://www.bookfinder.com. Meanwhile, in 2020 most Canadian book publishers have little-to-nothing to say on their websites about their histories. Too bad, right, but few in today’s trade have any connection with the past, and even less interest. Believe it or not, some publishing staff barely can muster the energy to sound interested when a customer calls with an order (in my experience, the bigger the publisher, the less the enthusiasm).
CANAV Books began with an idea about challenging the Canadian aviation history status quo, a devil-may-care attitude about the risks ahead, and some dumb notion that things would pan out. Now, after 40 years I find myself toying with a chapter about how/where CANAV Books has fit in based on the basic, old time book review. Some academic likely could earn a degree by methodically studying the vast subject of book reviews over the decades. Here, I’m just going to present a summary of CANAV’s experiences and how reviews were seminal in CANAV’s survival.
For any publisher, reviews can be nervously anticipated, once the review copies have been distributed. The results might call for a toast, but also bring a bit of stress. Publishers normally take reviews as they come, even if wish-washy, not that CANAV has had any serious negative comments for its 36 titles over our decades. On the whole, our books have been wonderfully received by the top Canadian, UK, European, US, and other worldwide aviation periodicals, and the general daily press. However, publishers can’t expect everything to go their way. For example, there crank “reviewers” exist, who are ready to pounce and tear a book to pieces simply out of vindictiveness. These pitiful kooks are to books what malicious hackers are to your home computer. The mystery is – why would a self- respecting journal or newspaper publish such a travesty? CANAV has had two of these attacks over the decades (more about this, later).
CANAV’s products have survived the test of time. Particularly, this is thanks to our original editor and graphics guru, Robin Brass. Having had a solid career in books, beginning in the UK, Robin was at McGraw Hill-Ryerson when I met him about 1975. We both then were in our early 30s. As a sponsoring editor at MH-R, he accepted my proposal for a general book about Canada’s aviation heritage. This was an idea that I had been “shopping around” since 1968, first with the famous book publicist and agent, Peter Scargill, then on my own, after Peter had run out of ideas. It didn’t hurt my cause that Robin knew a bit about aviation, for his father had been a wartime squadron commander (W/C D.M. Brass, DSO, 612 Sqn) and after the war had introduced Robin to the great Farnborough airshow. Simply entitled Aviation in Canada, the book came out in 1979, then went on to something rare in Canadian trade book publishing — five printings and status as a best-selling hardcover. Robin soon went into freelancing, with CANAV as an original client.
A Strong Beginning – The Avro CF-100 1981
Creating CANAV’s first book, The Avro CF-100, involved a serious team effort. To begin, I was in touch with many who could tell me the story of the CF-100 from personal experience, whether at Avro Canada, or, in the air force. I mainly gathered the basic information by a dogged letter-writing campaign – I still have the hundreds of letters, a real treasure “for future reference”. I also interviewed many people by telephone and in person. Masses of documents were unearthed and the writing began. As a sub-story was roughed out, usually I mailed it to some knowledgeable person to correct for errors and make suggestions, provide further leads, etc. I also scrounged for aircrew logbooks, photo albums and tech manuals. Over about 15 months, all such raw material came together and an plan for chapters was emerging. Meanwhile, I had gathered a hands-on crew of experts, whom I’d needed for production. Besides Robin, I needed a printer/binder. Knowing the game well, Robin connected me with Bryant Press, a prominent Canadian company. It dated to the late 1800s in downtown Toronto, and by this time was in a modern plant in east Toronto. At Bryant, I teamed with one of the firm’s old-time customer reps, Joe Matiasek. Joe was eminently qualified to guide me through the processes, for I knew almost nothing about the trade. He toured me though the plant and I started to get clued-in. Meanwhile, as I began feeding chapter material (manuscript, photos, etc.) to Robin, he started the page layout (book design). Next, he sent his work on to Arlene Weber and her company, Second Story Graphics on Queen St. in east Toronto. Arlene was our “page paste-up” expert, right down to making single- word corrections by cutting out each typo/change with a razor knife, then waxing the tiny corrections in place (these, of course, very much were pre-digital days).
For artwork, I connected with the great Peter Mossman, a fellow member of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society, Toronto chapter. Peter’s reputation as a fine artist preceded him, so we could not have had a better man for the job. Peter agreed to do the cover art, plus several CF-100 colour profiles to appear in the book. His art was the icing on the final product. Anyone seeing his jacket design on display in a bookstore would be hard-pressed not to stop and take a look.
CANAV’s small team beavered away to meet our deadline of having a book in print for the stand-down in September of the CF-100 in Canadian air force service. For this, there would be a grand final gathering of CF-100 people at CFB North Bay, home to 414 (Electronic Warfare) Squadron, flying Canada’s last few CF-100 “Clunks”. In aid of this, the Defunct Clunk Club had been formed and people everywhere were planning to attend the weekend. Reality check — I happened to have little cash. I had packed in my day job in June 1980 to re-do myself as a book publisher, so had only a pittance of the money needed for such a project. Happily, there always seemed to be a solution. With financial advice from an old friend, N.K. “Bud” Found of Found Brothers Aviation, I made a connection with the Bank of Montreal, where I secured a Bank Letter of Credit for $22,000 to cover essential expenses. It was great to have such top professionals nearby at every step, right down to Robin designing my flyer for advance promotions, and Arlene printing it, to the DCC supporting our project by letting its 1000+ members know that a special book was on the way.
Once “the book” reached Bryant Press about mid-July 1981, all the layout sheets were photographed. The resulting negatives were used to produce plates, which went on Bryant’s massive 72-inch Harris press. Everything finally printed, the big sheets were “folded and gathered” in the bindery, then turned into absolutely beautiful books. Going for broke, I had ordered 3500 copies, a quantity that then was typical with the big publishers for such a book. In August, Bryant delivered 3520 copies, which it even was happy to store for me at no charge – Bryant was treating me like royalty all the way. I don’t have the records today, but within a few days we had a wonderful book launching at Peter and Ruth Mossman’s place in downtown Toronto. Too bad, but no photos survive from that evening.
Naturally, when The Avro CF-100 appeared, all involved were on pins and needles. Would the book fly, or, would it crash and burn? You can imagine our relief when it quickly sold out. Initially, we had received at least 1000 advance sales from CF-100 fans around the world (I had been doing a lot of advertising before the book came off the press). Meanwhile, glowing book reviews were starting to appear. The CANAV team was relieved – to say the least. The day that Bryant delivered our books, I wrote them a cheque for the full amount due. This cemented our relationship for projects to follow. I then was busy for a couple of weeks shuttling books from Bryant down to “CANAV Books World HQ” (my house). With the help of friends, we soon shipped all the advance orders. Len Neath’s newly-formed Aviation World (then a basement operation) did a land office business, selling something like 500 copies. The book was sold out in nine weeks, the DCC gathering at North Bay greatly helping that cause. Hundreds who attended bought their copies in the hangar, while the stationary shop in downtown North Bay sold another 500. Only in my wildest dreams could I envision selling out CANAV’s first book, but so it happened. Next, Bryant Press was delighted to re- quote me for a 2500 re-print. All the enthusiasm over the book saved my bacon. After all, those B of M funds had been dwindling and the bank was looking for steady loan payments. Somehow, things panned out, even though I was the least experienced book publisher in the country.
Book Review Tidal Wave
Book reviews for The Avro CF-100 soon began appearing in the world press. Imagine still being on your book launching high, then receiving a review from the “United State Air Force Times” describing your book as, “One of the best aircraft biographies … possibly the best of the decade.” So it began. The leading French aviation history journal – “Air Fan” – published a superb review (No.35, September 1981), noting, “Le livre … rend magnifiquement honneur à cet avion … en plus de 300 photos de qualité irréprochable …” Writing in “Air Fan”, the respected historian, Jean-Michel Guhl, identified our book’s special features, even reminding readers how much blood and sweat go into such a project. This was a solid, all-around piece, concluding that our efforts were “complet et objectif”.
Meanwhile Germany’s leading modeling journal, “Modell-Fan” (August 1982) published its own take. Retired Arctic pilot, Roland Brandt, recently did a translation for me, revealing some very nice comments of which I had remained clueless for 40 years! One says it all: “This book about the CF-100 is one of the best publications in the genre of aviation literature. Hardly any other book measures up to the high quality standard in text and pictures.” Of course, “Modell-Fan” was blown away by the book’s 300 photos — ideal references for the model builders of the day.
Another wonderful review came from one of Britain’s and the world’s most revered journals, “Scale Models” (Vol.13, No.148, January 1982). Clearly, the reviewer had devoured the book with relish, before concluding: “The reader is taken through the development and service life in a most detailed manor. The bald facts are fleshed out with numerous verbatim accounts and the text is rounded off by a number of appendices.” The photos, charts, colour profiles, etc. are given top marks, and the reviewer concludes, “All in all, The Avro CF-100 is a beautifully produced book … Recommended”.
Britain’s highly regarded “Air Pictorial” also zeroed in on our book. As boys, we used to wait anxiously for the monthly editions of “Air Pic” to reach Canada. It had been in a 1959 issue that I first was published, so what an honour 20+ years later to receive an “Air Pic” review for CANAV’s first effort. “This is a superb book,” began “Air Pic”. “The easy style and injection of many personal accounts and anecdotes from those who made, flew and serviced the CF-100 provides an extra dimension to this work … Lavishly illustrated throughout … large, fine-art paper format … This is a book which will cause the reader some regret when he reluctantly reaches the last page.” You can see what I mean about “effusive”. A tuned-in reviewer catches on quickly when there’s a good book before him.
Being recognized by “Air Pic” was honour enough, then the UK’s beloved “Air International” stepped in with an item in its October 1982 edition. This reviewer also looked at the book’s overall qualities, such as recognizing the great Peter Mossman, who painted our colour profiles. “Air International” concluded, “The production quality of this book is excellent and it is one of the best “one type” coverage we have seen.” Meanwhile, “The Financial Post” already had observed: “Milberry’s photo- and fact- crammed book omits few of even the most trivial details of the aircraft’s history … the super collection of photos would be more than enough to delight those who flew it, or, aviation buffs in general.”
Even the crankiest reviewer was hard-pressed in 1981-82 to find anything negative to say about The Avro CF-100. In one case, I was apprehensive on hearing that a particularly “grouchy” reviewer (so he sometimes was known) at the “Toronto Star” was going to have at The Avro CF-100. This piece appeared as the Star’s lead review on October 3, 1981. In trepidation I started to read, but soon was elated. Reviewer, Ron Lowman, had been a wartime Mosquito navigator and recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross. Ron concluded, “Though his book is a little technical in spots for an average reader, Milberry has nevertheless done a masterly job of research on the Clunk. The book is crammed with anecdotes from people who flew, navigated and serviced the aircraft.” Talk about dodging a bullet!
The great W.J. “Bill” Wheeler, editor of the Journal of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society (Winter 1981) concluded: “I would like to have tempered this rather glowing report with a mention of some small shortcomings; but I’ve found none. Nor has anyone among the many people I have asked been able to offer any criticism.” In another case, the Royal Aeronautical Society (founded in 1866) joined in. In its June/July 1983 edition, the RAeS “Aeronautical Journal” (likely the most respected such UK periodical) passed judgment, claiming that The Avro CF-100 provides “everything that can be said of the aircraft, the people associated with it during its 30 year life, and even the songs and poems to which it gave rise … The author describes … every inch of its development and service.” Like a truly professional book man, RAeS reviewer, W.P. Hildred, finished with praise of the book’s many exceptional features from photographs to appendices, bibliography and index.
In the history of modern aviation book publishing, few books have been so well received. Here’s a further example. In its No.63, Autumn 1983 edition, the American Aviation Historical Society centred on our book’s special features, even commenting regarding its “high quality paper”. The AAHS concluded, “American publishers should take a look at this superb presentation. Definitely a “10’”. Further? This could offend a small category of literary snobs, but we also garnered an “Air Classics” review. Of course, since “Air Classics” is American, some fans turn up their noses at it, but this was a solid, reliable, beautifully-produced periodical. It survives to this day.
To open his detailed critique in the May 1983 “Air Classics”, the reviewer observed: “Right up front we should probably qualify this review by stating that The Avro CF-100 is one of the best if not the best aviation book published in the last several years. … [it] gives aero historians exactly what they want.” Again, this serious reviewer zoomed in on the book’s features, especially liking the Peter Mossman artwork. Further support came from renowned CF-100 test pilot, Stan Haswell, in his column in the Royal Canadian Military Institute’s “SITREP” of September 1981. Then, writing in The Royal Canadian Geographical Society journal, former RCAF CF-100 pilot, William Marsh, concluded, “This book is both a remarkable historical documentary and a people story. It makes good reading and gives a penetrating insight into a 30-year epoch of Canadian military aviation.”
Besides all the mainstream publications, many that were lesser known reviewed The Avro CF-100. A typical case was “Trident”, the base newspaper at CFB Shearwater. G.R. Jenkins, there, somehow got a copy. He had heard that a second CF-100 history was imminent (so it was – Ron Page’s excellent Avro Canuck). Jenkins put it this way: “[Page’s book] will have to be superb to top Mr. Milberry’s”.
The Canadair North Star 1982
Having survived at publishing the CF-100 book, then being buoyed by the support of readers, booksellers and reviewers around the world, CANAV decided on its next subject — the Canadair North Star. This was another landmark Canadian industrial project of the early post-WWII era. Our plan was the same – fastidiously gather the essential history, design a lovely book, then see what people thought. The Canadair North Star was launched at an exciting event near Toronto YYZ on November 4, 1982. It was a stormy night, but people had come from the UK, Bermuda, Montreal and the West Coast to take in the festivities. So keen in those days were aviation people that some old- time TCA retirees turned up in their wonderful old stewardess and captain uniforms. The Montreal contingent arrived in foul weather aboard Canadair’s corporate LearJet. (See http://www.canavbooks.wordpress.com for the details and photos, just search for North Star and you’ll find the item and many great photos.) Within a few days a hundred or so review copies were heading for the world’s aviation magazines and journals, as well as to Canada’s daily newspapers. On top of that, Air Canada president, the great Claude Taylor, packed 20 copies with him on a business trip that week to Switzerland.
Now that it’s such ancient history, I can look at the invoice for the North Star book without being terrified by that big, ugly number at the bottom. I had ordered 5000 copies, Bryant’s bindery gave me 4914. In the early 90s, McGraw Hill-Ryerson did a 2500 re-print. I still have a few of those in pristine condition, for anyone interested ( look at the above booklist, or, drop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org ). Looking at the details of the invoice – it was a complex printing and binding job, for the book included foldouts + a complex foldout. About this time, Jay Miller (Aerofax) in Texas published a similar, beautifully-produced book about the X-1 planes. He was amazed that I was nervy enough to order 5000 North Stars. His book was equally a gamble, but he didn’t run 50,000 copies, as the comparative populations of Canada and the USA might have suggested. He ran 5000 in the same fear and trepidation as CANAV. Henceforth, pretty well every CANAV production has been financed by a new mortgage on 51 Balsam Ave. After 40 years, there’s still a fat mortgage owing on our recent books, but use what resources you have and – above all –don’t chicken out, right!
What the Reviewers Decided
The great “Air Pictorial” summarized The Canadair North Star about as succinctly as possible – no additional verbiage required: “A magnificent book in every respect… Highly recommended”. “Scale Models” (Vol.14, No.164, June 1983) concurred: “The usual superlatives fail to convey the quality of the 252 page book, which has to stand as a model of how to write a type monograph. It really is all here: development, use, engines, sidelights, production lists, the whole works … The author has worked a mass of technical detail into the story without allowing it to overburden the general flow of the work … the reader will find a discreet pocket attached to the inside back cover containing a folded, 3-view sectioned plan. It’s that kind of a production. … A book should be well written, enjoyable and leave the reader knowing more about the subject on the last page than he did on the first. “North Star” comes high in all three categories. Most highly recommended.”
In its March 1983 edition, “British Airways Touchdown also noticed the North Star book. Legendary BA senior purser and avid aviation photographer, Peter R. Keating, took the chance to direct fans at BA to the famous Aviation Hobby Shop, where they could buy their copy. Peter also thanked the various retired BOAC staff, who had assisted with that chapter of the book. Covering the book in the RCAF Association’s “Air Force” magazine (March 1983), reviewer Graham Wragg also liked what he read: “It’s a tremendously evocative book with something for those with a casual interest, but especially for those whose hearing is just coming back.” A bit droll, Graham, but well understood by those who had suffered the North Star’s infamous cabin noise.
The Journal of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society continued in its Vol.21, No.1: “[Milberry] has succeeded to the extent that I cannot imagine any member being without a copy … As with Aviation in Canada and The Avro CF-100 [he] has refused to let the cost factor detract from the quality of his work.” France’s highly regarded “Air Fan” also got on the band wagon with a major review with such comments as, “Le livre est magnifique, l’histoire de l’avion ne l’est pas moins.”(“The book is wonderful, the story of the plane is no less.”) Going even further, Air Fan crowed, “Remarquable. Décidément tout ce que signe Larry Milberry mérite ce qualificatif. (“Remarkable. Definitely everything Larry Milberry signs deserves this qualifier.”) Concluded “Air Classics”: “This book is produced to the highest standards – perhaps even higher than the almost perfect CF- 100 volume… Don’t miss this one.” I’ll quote one final superlative. The Italian aeronautical journal “Aerofan” put it this way: “Il prolifico autore canadese he prodotto questa volta un’altra eccellente monografia che è forse piu perfetta di quella precedente al CF-100”. This one just sings — no translation needed, right! (Nonetheless: “This prolific Canadian author produced another excellent monograph … perhaps, more perfect than the one before — the CF-100.”). Now … on the CANAV book No.3.
The De Havilland Canada Story 1983
In 1983 we published a history of De Havilland Aircraft of Canada. Our author, Fred Hotson, was the most qualified historian to do this book. After graduating pre-WWII from Central Technical School in Toronto, Fred had worked at DHC on the Tiger Moth line. With the war, he had a distinguished career in the BCATP and Ferry Command. Postwar, he was a bush pilot, flew many years in corporate aviation (Mallard and DC-3), was a leader in the early days of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society, then returned to DHC for several years demonstrating the Twin Otter around the world. Fred already had written a 50th anniversary history of DHC, when the company asked him and CANAV to produce a major book for the April 1983 rollout of the Dash 8. With Robin Brass, Peter Mossman, Arlene Weber and other professionals, we started on a tight timeline, but somehow were able to deliver a spectacular book for the rollout. Once again, people loved what they saw, especially DHC CEO, John Sandford, who once had warned me that, if the book was one minute late for his Dash 8 event, I’d better not show my face ever again at DHC! It was a tight squeeze, but we made it with three days to spare. Just under the wire, the truck arrived from Bryant Press with Mr. Sandford’s 3000 copies (total off the bindery was 5970 of my order for 6250 copies). Waiting at DHC reception was my cheque. With that in my pocket, I drove straight back to Bryant to pay my invoice in full.
In its October 1984 edition, the monthly journal, “New Zealand Wings”, took a close look at The De Havilland Canada Story. Reviewer Janic Geelen was impressed, observing in part, “The book provides interesting reading, but the photographs selected complement the text well… Fred Hotson through his long connections with the company, is able to provide a unique insight into the affairs of employees and management … a high quality, superbly illustrated book, which is as much about the De Havilland Canada people as the products which have made the name famous worldwide.” Janic did wish that there was more New Zealand content in the book, but was intelligent enough to realize that a general book can only go so far.
Writing in the “Toronto Star” on June 25, 1983, Ron Lowman, DFC, eased back a bit on his usual prickly style to dole out some praise, saying early in his lead review, “Author Fred Hotson, a former De Havilland employee, who is also an air enthusiast, pilot, engineer, and president of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society, has produced a readable and reasonably critical “biography” of a company. The pictures alone are worth the price of admission.” After taking a few shots here and there – even at his own beloved D.H. Mosquito, on which he flew a combat tour – Ron admitted (no doubt with some pain) that, “The book is a valuable anecdotal addition to the shelves”. Ron let us off the hook again!
Another solid review appeared in the “Vancouver Sun” about the same time. Penned by the always clued-in Phil Hanson, it covered the book’s content in detail, then gave The De Havilland Canada Story high marks: “DHC is one of the world’s most respected aircraft companies and Hotson’s book does it justice.” Enough said, right! On June 12, 1983, Mike Filey, our prolific Toronto historian (to this day) covered The De Havilland Canada Story in his regular “The Way We Were” column in “The Sunday Sun”. Mike gave a nice, compact summary of the book’s content, then told his readers two key details – where to buy a copy, and that the book is, “A real treasure.” The “Financial Post” of June 25, 1983 also covered CANAV Books — The De Havilland Canada Story included –in serious fashion. We really would have been on Cloud Nine back in these days when CANAV Books was being praised around the world. Here’s the column penned by FP’s Eva Innes in “Faces & Places”:
Often over the decades we also were honoured with reviews from one of Canada’s kings of aviation news and history, the inimitable Robert “Bob” Halford. Early after his wartime career in the Merchant Navy (see Bob’s ace of a book, The Unknown Navy), he edited Canada’s aviation monthly, “Aircraft and Airport” (later renamed “Aircraft”), then, for decades published his own popular bimonthly, “Canadian Aircraft Operator”. Bob was always attuned to the latest in worldwide aviation news and was highly literate. CANAV received “CAO” reviews one book after the next as the years passed. Each review was intelligent, while critical. Bob loved Fred’s DHC book: “Beautifully produced by CANAV Books of Toronto, The De Havilland Canada Story reflects the author’s deep affection for the company, where he got his first aviation job and where, after a long wartime and postwar absence, he returned for his final years of aviation employment.” Bob concludes that: “Fred Hotson has written an absorbing and highly readable story, not easy to do when the story is a company history and the type of composition which, wrongly executed, can have the effect of a sedative.” Bob adds that no review of Fred’s book would be complete “without mention of its high production values, equal or superior than those already established by CANAV Books.” Meanwhile, “Aviation News” in the UK scrutinized our DHC book. Bottom line? The book is superb! “The Aeronautical Journal” of the Royal Aeronautical Society (October 1983) also had a look. It liked everything about our book, concluding, simply: “This is a book to delight any aviation enthusiast.” After praising Fred’s book’s many fine qualities, Enid Byford of “Canadian Geographic” added her own special point (as intelligent reviewers will do): “Of pleasure too, to an editor, was the absence of typographical errors, all too common in many books today.”
In briefer reviews “Aero News of Belgium” (No.3, 1984), “Air- Britain Digest”, “Air Classics” (September 1983), “Aircraft Illustrated” (August 1983), “Flypast” (July 1983), “FineScale Modeler” (October 1984), “Metropolitan Toronto Business Journal” (Vol.5, No.6) and “ScaleModels” (August 1983) all agreed, the latter observing: “We have always been impressed by the sheer quality of aviation titles from Canada, and the latest publication from CANAV Books can only enhance that reputation… There’s a lot for modelers here … Congrats to CANAV for their efforts and we eagerly await further publications from their stable.” In this period, any review from the inimitable “Propliner” is a serious honour. Look at Propliner’s decision regarding our 1999 “born again” version of Fred’s book — De Havilland in Canada: “The amazing selection of colour and black and white photographs is stunning. If only someone here in England could match your quality and depth of research. There were so many interesting aircraft manufacturers in England, but none has ever received the equivalent of the CANAV treatment”
Sixty Years – RCAF Anniversary Book 1984
Our 1984 landmark title Sixty Years: The RCAF and CF Air Command 1924-1984 was destined to become one of Canada’s most widely read and beloved aviation books. Following our success with three major books in less than three years, it didn’t take a brain surgeon to see that a book covering the RCAF 60th anniversary was crying out to be done. This was especially so, since no current general RCAF history existed. Time being so tight, I set straight to work, mainly to get a small group of fellow researchers busy covering the basic themes. The De Havilland book had only been delivered in May 1983, yet enough progress already had been made on the RCAF project that I had a quotation for 8000 copies from Bryant Press on February 24, 1984. It all was going ahead “at the speed of heat”, 7 days a week. So much had to be done – compile an authoritative text, find some 800 essential photos, have a team of top artists produce 94 magnificent colour profiles, get a glorious piece of cover art painted by the world-renowned Tom Bjarnason, edit and proofread non-stop, create an appendix and detailed index, plan for production and promotion, figure out funding, etc. Somehow, things stayed on the rails. Colin Clark delivered the last colour profile pretty well as the project was going out the door to the printer. Bryant Press delivered 7810 copies in the last week of August. (For Tom Bjarnason … search for him at http://www.canavbooks.wordpress.com , especially see “ CANAV says farewell to one of its original artists ).
It was a whirlwind experience, now (as they say) “the rubber hit the road”. Advance sales had been encouraging, to the extent that we shipped 2000 copies in the first week. Not surprisingly, hundreds of our newfound readers were WWII RCAF veterans. We were pretty well out of stock by spring, so I was keen to act on Bryant’s March 14, 1985 quote for a quick 2500 re-print. Sixty Years eventually would go through 5 printings and some 20,000 copies. To this day Sixty Years remains the best and the only single-volume general history of the RCAF. That will change in 2024, when we produce our sequel to Sixty Years – an RCAF 100th Anniversary book.
After more than 35 years, Sixty Years hasn’t received a negative comment in the global aviation press. Could a publisher dream of a better scenario? The redoubtable UK journal, “Aircraft Illustrated”, decided that Sixty Years was: “One of those all-too rare aviation books … a delight to read and a joy to possess and to treasure… superbly produced and printed and is likely to become a classic collectors’ item … a masterpiece”; “Air International” commented on the process of creating this mammoth book: “[Milberry] has been able to draw upon a large number of contributors. … they make up a team of researchers, photographers and writers with a unique talent and an enormous fund of resources and materials, as is evident on almost every page of the work … an outstanding product … a fascinating, deeply researched text … the photographs alone are worth the price”. “AI” provides a sharp example of “the good ol’ days” of book reviewing. As you can see, bibliophile professionals used to look much more deeply than just at the pretty pictures, flap copy, or sticker price (the latter sometimes seems to rile the weaker of book reviewers – relax, fellows, our readers will make the decision to buy — or not).
Also raving about Sixty Years from the UK was “Aviation News”, which noted, in part: “The photo coverage is as great as the written story”. “AvNews” even enjoyed the book’s occasional humorous anecdotes, then concluded: “The long, 480-page book is extremely interesting … worth every penny … a magnificent effort”. Our favourite UK journal of the day — “Air Pictorial” — also went overboard: “This is a prodigious book … with no wasted spaces … unrivalled by any other work surveying the Force as a whole.” “Flypast” had its say in No.44, March 1985: “A barrage of illustrations … backed up by a very authoritative text”. The reviewer especially noted the 37 pages of original art and the detailed appendices, finally concluding, “This … is a faithful book of reference … A worthwhile investment.”
Praise also poured from “Air Fan” (January 1985), although its reviewer seemed a bit overwhelmed: “Voilà, quelqu’un a enfin raconté l’histoire de la Royal Canadian Air Force … Fruit de plusieurs années de travail passées a compiler et à collectionner des piles et des piles de documents, le liver … se présente comme un grosse brique très illustrée Fruit de plusieurs années de travail passées a compiler et à collectionner des piles et des piles de documents, le liver … se présente comme un grosse brique très illustrée …” (“Here it is — someone has finally told the story of the Royal Canadian Air Force … Fruit of several years of work spent compiling and collecting piles and piles of documents, the book … appears as a big, very well illustrated brick …”).
“Canadian Aircraft Operator” devoted half a page to Sixty Years, summarizing its content, then concluding that it’s “a more than worthy library addition even at $50, really a bargain price for a hardcover so profusely illustrated and with such high production values”. “CAO” especially praised the extensive gallery of original aviation art. (The following year, CANAV Books donated this unique Canadian collection of 105 paintings to CF Air Command. It then became known as “The Air Force Art Collection” and ever since has adorned the halls and offices at Air Command/RCAF HQ in Winnipeg.) Sixty Years also caught the eye of Hamilton’s daily, “The Spectator”, even if ages after the book appeared. Writing on July 3, 1991 reviewer, Joe Chapman, called Sixty Years “a splendid book” that would “thrill younger readers, while the technical data will delight aeronautical enthusiasts”. Joe then sent me a letter apologizing for the brevity of his review, “for the editors are more and more restricting my column”, then finished: “I thought Sixty Years was a tour de force and many readers have told me that they bought it as a gift. It should become a treasured possession for many air force veterans and part of the libraries of many Legion or RCAFA clubrooms.” Even to this day, such venues as Canadian Legion branches often still possess a dog-eared copy of Sixty Years.
In these heady years for CANAV, one of Canada’s most popular book columns was “Brown’s Books” in the Canadian Legion’s journal, then with something like 600,00 subscribers. In the December 1984 issue of “Legion”, we received another wonderful review:
RCAF veterans and others interested in aviation or military history will be happy to find Sixty Years, edited by Larry Milberry, under the tree … an enormously detailed volume, full both of the sweep of air force history as well as massive quantities of memorable minutiae. The contributors were many, their input expert, and the total effect is awesome – more than 450 pages, 800 photos with an emphasis on people and planes, and 90 colour profiles of aircraft. Sixty Years is an accomplishment, fills a real need and will bring great pleasure to the reader … priced at a justified $50.
Talk about wrapping up the whole thing with big red Christmas bow! Few could “nail” a book review like “Brown’s Books”. It was a sad day when Legion decided that books were dead, so it was time to re-categorize the brilliant “Brown’s Books” column as irrelevant for the new century.
Meanwhile, in his “The Way We Were” spot in Toronto’s “Sunday Sun” for October 25, 1984, Mike Filey summed up Sixty Years as, “a 480-page book that brings together the most comprehensive history of our several air forces and uses the largest number of photographs ever assembled for a book on the subject of Canadian military aviation”. A few weeks later, in the “Toronto Star” of December 8, 1984, senior book editor, the renowned Lew Gloin, decided that Sixty Years was worth his “lead review” status. Imagine an upstart book publisher rating such a plum. Naturally, Lew gave the assignment to his tough, in-house aviation expert, Ron Lowman, DFC. Ron began by describing Sixty Years as “a six-decker sandwich for aviation buffs”, before getting into the content. As usual, his style was colourful, such as: “In this prodigious work, editor Milberry vacuumed together material from all points of the compass, tossed in some splendid color photography and let some of the flyboys have their head with anecdotes.” He then summed it up: “If father or grandfather was in the air force, Sixty Years will suit him nicely for Christmas. Only snag is that the stocking will have to be outsized and reinforced.” (Find a copy of Ron’s own best-selling book, Terror in the Starboard Seat, covering his wartime tour on Mosquitos.)
In these years, when it came to new books it was an exciting world compared to 2020. Canada’s daily and periodical publishers still were very much “book people”. On staff were sharp-minded writers waiting to pounce at the next interesting story, such as a book like Sixty Years. After all, the war still was a mere 15 years in the rear view mirror. Newspapers and radio stations were staffed by reporters who knew all about WWII, the Korean War and the current Cold War. So it was at the “Edmonton Journal”, where aviation had been prime front-page content since the 1920s. In 1984 the paper had its designated aviation writer — Ken Orr. Ken recently had served a tour as a tech on NATO duty with an RCAF Sabre squadron. Like so many young men, he had been living the dream by servicing top Cold War fighters on a frontline NATO base. Now, he was writing aviation for a lead Canadian newspaper. Ken was elated at receiving a review copy of Sixty Years from his boss with an assignment to turn in a review. Such a paper never underplayed aviation, so this became a 2/3 page story in a broadsheet paper. Here’s Ken’s write-up of February 10, 1985.
Several other publications also covered Sixty Years with similar enthusiasm, the “The Edmonton Sunday Sun” (October 7, 1984) and “Winnipeg Free Press” (September 29, 1984) included. The “Free Press” had its own old hand specializing in aviation – Fred Cleverley (1917-2010). Fred was a pre-WWII aeronautical engineer, a WWII combat veteran and, in postwar years, a private pilot. His take was typical: “The air force history is well told in both text and pictures in Sixty Years, a truly impressive book of military history.” Fred especially liked the tail end of the book, where the commander of Air Command, LGen Paul Manson, presented his ideas and hopes for tomorrow’s air force. Impressed by the review copies that we had sent around, other top columnists wrote items about CANAV, and there were radio interviews, including seven minutes “live” with the CBC’s great Peter Gzowski of “This Country in the Morning” fame. This came about after I had sent a review copy to Peter. His assistant, Sandy Mowatt, phoned to check me out, then booked me for an interview. Peter’s studio was the worst experience for a nervous little book publisher. To begin, I had been expecting a taped interview, so almost fell off my chair when Peter suddenly announced that we were “live”. Meanwhile, I was almost suffocating, since he and his all-female technical handlers were frantically smoking, creating a solid blue cloud — instrument flight rules “weather” in the studio. Regardless, I survived, and later that week the great test pilot, R.H. “Bob” Fowler, called to congratulate me. He had tuned in to the interview in the cockpit of the Dash 7 he had been testing that morning over Lake Ontario.
Here are CANAV items published in this period by two of Canada’s top journalists and book people, Beverley Slopen (Toronto Star, November 17, 1991) and Sandra Martin. Sandra’s story was a lead item in CP Air “Empress”, the airline’s in-flight magazine. About this time, Dan Proudfoot of the “Toronto Sun” ran a story with more of a local “small business” slant.
Besides scoring a spot on “This Country in the Morning”, I also was on air with other famous local broadcasters — Bill McNeil and Cy Strange of CBC’s hugely popular (to this day) “Fresh Air”, and Joe Coté of CBC’s lead Toronto weekday show, “Metro Morning”. On November 26, 1984 Sandy Fife of “The Globe and Mail Report on Business” took his own go at the CANAV phenomenon, pairing us with another upstart aviation publisher, the renowned Don McVicar of Montreal. Under the headline “Flying Solo No Mean Feat, Small Publishers Discover”, Sandy began interestingly: “Book publishing, like film making, is a high risk business with a glamorous image. But entrepreneurs attracted to the business by visions of prestige and quick profits are likely to be disillusioned quickly, veteran small publishers say. Larry Milberry, owner of Toronto-based CANAV Books, spends more time boxing books in his basement and worrying about bills than attending literary luncheons … Don McVicar’s Ad Astra Books based in Dorval, Que., also specializes in aviation titles, summed up his experience in the publishing field bluntly, “This isn’t a business anybody’s going to get rich at.” Sandy then pointed out that Statistics Canada reported that small Canadian publishers accounted for a mere 1.1% of the country’s $1 billion in annual book sales [$1,670 billion in 2017].
Sandy did a solid job, seeking info from professional groups, and prying into CANAV, finding out such details about the Sixty Years project as, “Milberry … raised the $40,000 needed through bank loans and advance direct mail sales”, and that sales of Sixty Years were 20% to mail order readers, 80% to “200 independent book sellers and retail chains across the country.” Peppering Don McVicar with questions, he reported, “After examining the costs, Mr. McVicar … decided not to go into the publishing business … he set up a book distribution company to handle his work … The former Royal Air Force pilot, Canadian airline owner, consultant and broker, started writing about his flying past in 1977. Ferry Command was done by Airlife Publishing Ltd. of Britain in 1981. It sold 4000 copies world- wide… By this time, Ad Astra Books was handing 10 Airlife titles in North America… [McVicar] is hoping the company will be making money this year, but if it were not for his continuing work as a consultant, he would not be able to keep operating …”
By standard trade practice, Sixty Years should have been priced at $75 (a book’s sticker price then usually was determined as being five times the “plant” cost. i.e., the cost of printing and binding). However, by running a tight ship, I was able to fly with a $50 sticker price. Later editions by McGraw Hill-Ryerson went at $60, but sold out, regardless – clued-in readers know a good book and care less about the price. Meanwhile, CANAV had not yet applied for any sort of Ottawa or other “arts council” grants (neither have we done so to this day). Many Canadian book publishers seem to exist chiefly to collect these government handouts. I always figured that if I chose to gamble in the book publishing game, it would be poor form for me to pick my neighbours’ pockets in the process.
Final Word for Sixty Years
All things considered? There’s no argument about Sixty Years being the best single volume ever produced under the heading “general history of the RCAF”. It’s a real gem for anyone with a passion for RCAF heritage. A few new copies of the fifth (final) printing still are available. See the attached booklist: CANAV Booklist Summer_Fall 2020 or drop me an email: email@example.com Watch our blog in the coming weeks for Part 2 of this series. We’ll pick it up with notes about our Austin Airways and Canadair Sabre books.
CANAV Photo Archives … A Few More Old Gems
My airplane spotting sidekick, Merlin Reddy, and I drove out to Malton that day in his old ’54 Ford. It was Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition airshow week, so we were looking for some excitement. Topping the bill were three impressive Vickers Valiant bombers of RAF 90 Squadron, and the US Navy Blue Angels Grumman Tigers along with the team’s R4D-8 and F-9F-8 Cougar support planes. As usual for 1960, I was shooting 120 black-and-white film with my Minolta Autocord. In those days, we tended to frame our shots a bit tight. In the first 3-4 decades of hobbyists shooting airplanes, this somehow had become one of the basic rules. Happily, we gradually realized that this was dumb (along with other of those early rules).
In subsequent years, we’d see the Valiant’s V-Bomber stable mates, the Victor and the Vulcan at the Toronto airshow. One or the other invariably turned up following 1960. To get a detailed picture of the Valiant development program, treat yourself to a copy of Brian Trubshaw: Test Pilot. An absolute gem of a book. “Trubbie” flew most of the early Valiant trials, before eventually becoming chief test pilot on the UK Concorde program. You can find copies of this fine biography on the web.
Here are shots I took of Valiant XD830 and XD871 taxiing at Malton on that September 6. The trio had arrived together, likely after a refueling stop at Goose Bay. They were in the standard RAF “anti- radiation” all-white colour scheme of the day. The squadron logo on the fin (“XC) indicates 90 Squadron from RAF Station Honington (situated about half way between Cambridge and Norwich). The low- slung Valiant was an impressive sight with its massive shoulder- mounted wing, huge 1500-Imp.gal. underwing fuel tanks and hefty undercarriage. A crew of five occupied the pressurized nose compartment. The bulge under the nose housed the ground-mapping radar. All our Valiant shots this day were real set-ups, since each plane taxied by slowly. The other two Valiants this day were XD830 and XD862. All three went for scrap in 1964-65, after corrosion was discovered through the fleet. The government decided it was time to retire the Valiant, rather than face costly repairs. Of 107 Valiants built, the only complete example is XD818, which may be seen at the RAF Museum at Cosford.
Through the 1930s-50s a loose association of airplane photographers (chiefly in the USA) was establishing the basic rules for this hobby. Initially, the group was called the International Amateur Aircraft Photo Exchange. Such Canadians as Gordon Irons of Vancouver, Jack McNulty and Basil Vansickle of Hamilton, and Peter Troop of Toronto were early members. You can read about the IAAPE in two articles by the well-known American photographer, Brian Baker, at: 116/616 Photographers – Areoflies
Also, see Brian’s longer article in the July/August 2020 edition of “Vintage Aircraft” ( http://www.vintageaircraft.org … subscribers only, however). My pals and I became strict adherents of these rules, when getting into airplane photography in the 1950s. My photos here reflect some of the basic rules then being strictly preached by our mentors who came out of the 1930s. Check the three Valiant photos, for example. For this exciting shoot, we were on the mandatory “sunny side” (“shadow side” was to be avoided at all cost), the foreground is unobstructed by people, vehicles and other dreaded “clutter”, there is no “unsightly” background such as buildings or wires, the horizons are straight, the aircraft markings are evident. In a word, my Valiants are all ideal “set-up shots”. If you’re one of today’s airplane hobbyists, you’ll enjoy “116 / 616 Photographers – Aerofiles”, so track it down and have a look.
Arctic Current Events
Arctic readers take note … There’s a website with a very informative selection of daily news reports about Arctic developments, especially regarding Russian and American military happenings, including a recent exercise with RNoAF F-16s and six USAF B-52s. What does the future hold across the to
West Coast Wild Fires … here’s a good summary of how aviation is helping with this season’s West Coast wild fires:
FYI …for your copy of CANAV’s Extensive List of Misc. Books, Journals etc. contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org