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Thirty-five years ago I stepped into the deep end of the pool without a life jacket by founding CANAV Books and publishing The Avro CF-100. Happily, things worked out. Overnight the book became a best-selling Canadian hardcover with 6000 copies sold in Year 1. When McGraw Hill-Ryerson followed up with a small reprint, the CF-100 topped 7500 in print before fading. Buoyed by such numbers, CANAV turned out The Canadair North Star (1982), The De Havilland Canada Story (1983), Sixty Years (1984), then Austin Airways and Helicopters: The British Columbia Story (1985). Happily, the world still was full keen, liberally-educated, book-minded people, so Canadian publishers were not afraid to keep producing good books. So, “What next for CANAV?” became the question, and that soon was resolved.
This is the announcement I mailed out in 1985, once I decided to do the Sabre book. *2022 Update. Should you wish this classic book, new copies remain available and at a final special price (CAD$): Canada $40.00 all-in, USA $45.00 all-in, International $65.00 all-in. Use PayPal to pay directly to our email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
(Above) I photographed this lovely RCAF Sabre when it stopped into Downsview one sunny day c1960. 23404 is listed in my Sabre notes as having crashed on September 9, 1963.
As a kid in the late 1950s I used to cycle 15 miles each way to meet some pals and hang out along the fences at Downsview to watch the Sabres flown by Toronto’s RCAF weekend warriors. There seemed to be no more exotic jet fighter back then, and to this day Sabre’s aesthetic looks still impress. Gradually, I met many who had flown or worked on Sabres, and started filling notebooks with interviews, and gathering other Sabre “stuff”. Then, while I was down at Canadair doing North Star research in the early 1980s, Ron Pickler and Ian Geddes showed me a big pile of rare Sabre production info. This was too much to resist, so I really got to work, and before long had the basis for a solid general history of the Canadian-built Sabre. In August 1986 the book was launched in a flurry of great fun in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. RCAF Sabre people, bibliophiles, modellers, all sorts of in-depth people keen on the Sabre flocked to our launches, starting in Toronto on August 19. Toronto was smashing, crowded with leading Sabre people and other fans. Shoulder to shoulder that evening were such Kings of the Sabre as RCAF pilots Denny Denouden, Ken Hagerty, Paul Hayes, Dean Kelly, Scotty McKay, Bernie Reid, Ernie Saunders and Jerry Tobin.
No trouble moving a few copies at the book launch 35 years ago. At the left here is Chuck Kemp (430 Sqn 1960-63), Gerhard Joos (Luftwaffe F-84F), Spitfire veteran Raymond Munro (dark tie), photographer/artist Bob Finlayson, modeller Derek Pennington, author Larry Milberry with daughter Stephanie, and Max Nerriere (Orenda).
The Canadair Sabre book won immediate praise from the old-guard reviewers. Air Combat simply called it, “The aviation literary event of the year”. France’s leading aviation monthly, Air Fan, added a delicious compliment: “Ici encore, les anecdotes savoureuses fourmillent. Ce sont celles-ci qui rendent les livres de Milberry différents des publications anglo-saxonnes ou américaines, qui sont généralement moins humaines”. So … Air Fan picked up on my two chief objectives in doing any book – to tell the human side of the history as carefully as the airplane side. The inimitable Air International commented: “There seems scant prospect of a better history.” Greece’s aviation monthly, Ptisi, added that the book was “a real oasis for F-86 fans”. No publisher or author could have had his book better received.
Many Sabre pilots joined us for the launch, Ralph Heard (left) and Ken “Hagis McPuke” Hagerty (center) included. By this time Ralph was flying helicopters for Ontario Hydro. Hagis was pretty well retired. Cancer since deprived us of these wonderful Canadians. On the right is the great Moe Servos, retired from Air Canada and enjoying the joys of flying his classic Beech 17 Staggerwing. Moe later died in a traffic accident.
The Bryant Press of Toronto was my printer/binder for this project. All such old-time Canadian book manufacturers long since have faded, forced out by changing technology and management styles. They could or would not adapt. Those were the days when big, mainline Canadian book publishers would do a first-run of any major hardcover trade book of 3500 to 5000 copies. If required, a reprint could be ordered, but the big publishers never really were risk takers – there could be no more conservative an industry back then. For CANAV, however, in the 1980s it always was a balls-to-the-wall effort, when a new book was in the offing, so I ordered a first printing of 10,000. Bryant thought I was nuts, but put its seasoned pressmen on the job. That August they delivered 10,422 copies of The Canadair Sabre. With each book at 3.27 lb that gave me a job weighing in at about 17 tons. What made a fellow think he could ever sell 17 tons of Sabre books still is a bit of a mystery, but I was encouraged by advance sales in the hundreds.
Revered wartime Spitfire pilot, Dean Kelly (left), was one of the first to do a Sabre solo demo airshow, while on 441 Sqn. Dean (as they say) could make your eyes water with his amazing display. Here he is with John L. “Denny” Den Ouden (410 Sqn), well-known on squadron and with the wild and crazy Overseas Ferry Unit. Denny later practiced law in Niagara Falls and built up a spectacular 5000-volume aviation library. Both of these fine aviators have departed.
How time flies, right. This summer is the 30th anniversary of The Canadair Sabre. This hefty hardcover remains the premier tribute to all those who flew or supported the Sabre in the RCAF (I estimate about 6000 pilots, so roughly 60,000 people in all trades over about 18 years). The book also honours the thousands at Canadair and Orenda, and the many other air forces that used Canadian-built Sabres from the USAF (which operated 60 of them in Korea) to the RAF, West Germans, Italians, Greeks, Turks on to the Colombians, Hondurans, Pakistanis and South Africans. This classic title has hundreds of photos and an appendix with a full production list of the 1815 Canadair Sabres.
If you still don’t have The Canadair Sabre, here’s your chance to fix that. Usually CDN$40.00 but … my last 300 copies are now available at $30.00 + $12.00 shipping for Canada + $2.10 tax, so (Canada) all-in $44.10.
USA and overseas all-in CDN$54.00. Mail your cheque to CANAV Books, 51 Balsam Ave., Toronto M4E 3B6 or click the Sabre book cover image in the top right sidebar to order online via PayPal. I’m autographing all these last copies!
Far left in this snapshot is Len “Rocky” Redman (444 Sqn). Then … unknown, Denny Den Ouden, myself, daughter Steff and Max Nerriere. Rocky appears twice in the book for near-deadly crashes. I last met him on leaving Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition grounds minutes after we had witnessed a Nimrod crash with the loss of all aboard. Not long afterwards we heard that Rocky had passed on.
Caption Air reservists attending the book launch included Jim Foy, Denny Den Ouden, Mike Valenti, Ron Richardson and Gord Mansell. All but Mike (from the Otter era) had flown Sabre 5s from Downsview.
The success of the Sabre book counted heavily on the talents and patience of graphics man and editorial guru Robin Brass. I met Robin in the early 1970s, when he was a sponsoring editor at McGraw Hill-Ryerson. I then was trying to sell the idea for a general Canadian aviation book to succeed Frank Ellis’ 1954 Canada’s Flying Heritage. Through Robin, the idea was accepted by MHR, appearing in 1979 as Aviation in Canada, which eventually sold out five printings. Robin soon left MHR to go freelance. As such he became the production brains behind the first wave of CANAV titles. Here (right) he chats at the book launch with Ralph Clint, the project’s indispensible proof reader, fact checker, and line drawing/map making perfectionist. Left is our great mutual pal and darkroom practitioner, Bob Finlayson. Bob and Ralph since have left us. Robin recently guided the Ontario Regiment through the complex task of producing Fidelis et Paratus: The History of the Ontario Regiment, 1866-2016.
Some younger fans at the book launch: Simon and Stephanie Milberry, Zoe Brass, Kate Milberry, Jane Werniuk and Matt Milberry.
So many contributed to the Sabre project. Here I am with Gerhard Joos, who researched the basic material for Ch.11 “The German Sabre Story”. As a young postwar aviator, Gerhard flew the F-84F in the newly re-formed Luftwaffe, but his unfulfilled dream had been to fly the Canadair Sabre. Later, he flew with Condor Airlines and to this day is keen about all things aviation. Yes, those were the days when a fellow would drop everything and fly an ocean to attend a book launch. For our North Star launch at the same hotel people flew in from the UK, Bermuda and California, while Canadair showed up from Montreal with a Learjet full of old timers. By comparison, these days people barely will cross the street to attend a book event. Times and priorities change, eh.
RCAF wartime veterans all were keen about the sleek and speedy Sabre. Here W.H.D. Meaden, DFC (left, 432 Sqn Lancaster IIs, 436 Sqn C-130), is having fun at the launch with John Biehler (centre, 254 Sqn Beaufighters) and Aussie Maxwell (436 Sqn C-119, C-130, CPAir DC-8). These three fine citizens have since “moved on”.
The late Spitfire history aficionado, Robert Bracken, and John Biehler look over a spread in the Sabre book. Robert was one of the solid types at researching RCAF and CAN/RAF Spitfire personalities. His wonderful 2-volume work Spitfire: The Canadians (illustrated by the incomparable Ron Lowry) belongs in every collector’s library.
The author looks over some Sabre photos with Max Nerriere, one of the pioneers of the Orenda 14 that powered the Sabre VI. Max later was helped maintain the large fleet of ex-Luftwaffe Sabres that Pakistan clandestinely acquired.
Ray Munro of Oakville with his hero, G/C Z.L. “Lewie” Leigh of Grimsby, Lewie’s lawyer pal, and Canada’s premier aviation historian, Ken Molson of Toronto. Lewie and Ken were always supportive of my efforts, but could be no-nonsense critics. Sabre history was not really Ken’s territory – he was more of a Silver Dart, JN-4 and Fairchild FC type. Four years earlier at the North Star book launch, he gave me his opinion about that book’s art gallery. When I saw him flipping through those pages, I (foolishly) asked what he thought. In his true style, Ken told me unapologetically, “I wouldn’t give you a nickel for the lot of it.”
Some of the autographs I collected in my Sabre book at our Toronto 1986 book launch.
CANAV was the first book publisher to support Canada’s almost invisible (at the time) aviation art community. Our Sabre cover art by Geoff Bennett was his first published book art. We put up a small show at the Sabre launch – likely the first such in Canada. Other artists on show were Tom Bjarnason, Ross Buckland, Keith Ferris (USA), Ron Lowry and Pete Mossman.