Thanks to Canada’s great aviation artist, Peter Mossman, The Canadair North Star has stunning cover art. In two printings this classic, considered a model for producing an airliner history, went to 7500 books. Here’s your chance to get one of the 250 new copies that remain.
When I quit my day job in June 1980 to venture into the world of book publishing, my plan was to produce a series in praise of Canada’s great airplanes and the people who turned them out. I couldn’t have made a more appropriate first choice than the CF-100. Going full-out, I got the research and writing done. Then, with the support of editor/designer Robin Brass, we got the book launched in August 1981 at artist Pete Mossman’s place in Toronto, then at the CF-100 phase-out thrash in North Bay in September. Having made a success of that project (from a first printing of 3500, The Avro CF-100 went to re-print after just 9 weeks), I immediately took aim at another special Canadian topic — the North Star.
The North Star in its day was at least as controversial from a media standpoint as was the later Avro Arrow (we have short memories, don’t we). The political turmoil swirling around it was “world class Ottawa”. The engineering challenges seemed equally insurmountable at times, but were beaten to the ground, showing Canadair and TCA for the aeronautical engineering powerhouses that they were. Then, once the plane got into service, its operational record shone. The North Star put TCA on the map as a modern airline with long-range capability; gave the RCAF the equipment needed to support the UN’s Korean War airlift; and relieved BOAC, when its fleets of Tudors and Hermes faltered in international service.
To produce the book, Robin and I worked with graphics specialist Arlene Webber (in pre-computer times, so everything down to the tiniest correction was done by hand), artists, and Toronto’s Bryant Press. Soon I was organizing for a book launch party, an event that in those days was integral to the whole book publishing mystique. It was the crowning moment for author, publisher and all others involved, much as is the roll-out of a new airplane. Well, airplanes still get rolled out to great fanfare, but what about books? Not so often, sad to say. The world of arts and culture has slipped more than a few notches, giving way to such horrid surrogates as the video game, tweeting, AM shock radio, and reality TV. We still need to fly, but not necessarily to read books, especially ones having words of more than two syllables.
The Canadair North Star appeared first on November 3, 1982 at a posh little affair down at Dorval set up by Air Canada’s great Beth Buchanan. Beth, who had been executive secretary to TCA president, G.R. McGregor, arranged to fly me and daughter Kate to Dorval for a lunch attended by TCA/Air Canada retirees. Company president Claude Taylor himself turned up, anxious to get his hands on 20 copies to have with him next morning at a business meeting in Geneva.
Not many have a clue these days about using film and cameras that needed the photographer to manually set shutter speed and lens aperture, load film, consider the shooting conditions, etc. The parameters for light, motion, etc. constituted a totally different world compared to today’s idiot-proof world of the point-and-shoot digital camera that asks nothing of the “photographer” except maybe a pulse. Indoor photography was a challenge unless one had professional equipment, high-speed film, flash equipment, etc. Here’s a typical indoors snapshot of the times, and not too bad a one at that, all things considered. Air Canada president (1976-84) Claude Taylor is autographing a North Star book for Kate Milberry at Dorval, while dad looks on. Claude, later inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame and awarded the Order of Canada, understood that Canada’s aviation heritage was to be treasured. He had assigned Beth Buchanan, then custodian of the TCA/Air Canada archives and library, to make sure I had carte blanche in doing my research. Since Claude and Beth retired, Air Canada disposed of its archive and library as if those were liabilities. How times change, right. One day many years later, I presented a copy of the North Star book to an Air Canada PR lady. She looked at the book, back up at me, back at the book, then stammered, “Why thank you, Mr. Milberry, but what am I supposed to do with this?”
Sitting around reminiscing at our 1982 Dorval book reception are TCA old time technical wizards James T. Bain and Al Hunt, and Air Canada archivist Beth Buchanan.
To unveil The Canadair North Star to the world, I reserved a convention room at the Cambridge Motor Inn near Toronto International Airport. D-Day would be November 4. By supper time we had the place set up but, as the afternoon had progressed, the weather worsened. By book launch time a serious storm was blowing. In those conditions, who would show? I was getting worried, but needn’t have, for the place began filling. Some vintage TCA captains and stewardesses arrived wearing their 1950s uniforms. People came from far and wide – the legendary Capt Bob Bowker from Bermuda, artist Bob Bausch from San Francisco, others from BC, a crowd from Montreal. Recently, I came across a stack of old prints from this event 31 years ago. Most of these shots were taken by Monty Montgomery from Air Canada’s radio operation at Malton. Monty doubled as base photographer and always was delighted to show up with his Pentax kit to cover such an event. Any fan will get a real charge out of these pix, so here you go.
The man behind Canadair’s trip to the book launch was R.D. “Dick” Richmond, then No.2 at Canadair as President Fred Kearns’ right-hand man. That’s Dick on the right. Centre is the great Jim Bain, then your lowly author. I remember being floored when, once the room had pretty well filled up, the door swung open and the Canadair party waltzed in. All seriously dressed for the occasion, but looking a tad glum, I thought they maybe had meant to enter the room down the hall, where there was an undertakers’ convention. No, it was the Canadair contingent, but they had had a rough-weather trip from Montreal and an especially bumpy final approach to Malton (the pilot confided that next morning). Away back behind us is artist Les Waller, who produced two fine paintings for the book. In this day and age one could not attract a single senior rep from any Canadian aerospace company to any aviation book launching. Terrific, eh!
More luminaries. On the left is the great Ron Baker of TCA. The rest are famous Canadair types, a major book for each one of whom needs writing: Tom Harvie, Al Lilly, Dick Richmond, Bob Raven, Peter Gooch and Ray Hébert. As a young man, Winnipegger Dick Richmond, whose aeronautical degree was from the University of Michigan, had spent the war with the NRC and Fairchild, working on such projects as a target tow mechanism for the Bolingbroke. Next he was a leading member of the team designing the outstanding F.11 Husky bushplane. Later positions included vice-president at P&WC and Spar (a top man on the Canadarm project) and president of McDonnell Douglas Canada. At Canadair he was largely instrumental in saving the Challenger program, then he pushed to launch the CRJ, both of which efforts were strongly opposed by aggressive negative factions. Both projects long-since have become gigantically successful. Happily, Dick has been honoured with membership in Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame.
Speaking further of a room bulging with the “Kings of Canadian Aviation” … no five fellows could have been more steeped in aeronautical knowledge, successful practice and a great love for same. In 1982 Gene Schweitzer (left) was a senior technical man at Pratt & Whitney Canada, mostly immersed in the PT6 program. The PT6 was faltering on every front and Gene expected soon to be out of a job. However, he and his young cohorts at P&WC persevered and the PT6 finally found its way. Today there are some 52,000 PT6s around the world. In later years, Gene assisted me greatly in while I was getting ready to publish Power: The Pratt & Whitney Canada Story. Al Lilly by this time was a retired Canadair executive. Early postwar, he had been the first Canadian to “break the sound barrier”, accomplishing that in a USAF F-86 (Al then was Canadair chief test pilot). James T. Bain was one of Canada’s top aeronautical engineers and a brilliant mind in keeping the North Star out of too much technical trouble during the formative years. Kenneth Meredith “Ken” Molson headed Canada’s National Aeronautical Collection. He put it on a rock solid footing, establishing the magnificent bushplane collection, etc. As the museum sits 40-50 years later, that’s pretty well what Ken and his great successor, Robert Bradford, built, although Ken’s name there is almost unheard of by now. Go figure, eh! Ron Baker had been chief test pilot at TCA doing all its North Star proving trials in the 1940s. Gene, Al and Ron later were inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame, Jim received the Order of Canada, but Ken has so far been sidelined in the awards department. One wonders how this could be – talk about your classic “crying shame”. Will someone kindly nominate Ken Molson for something! Sad to say, but all these five great gentlemen by now have left us. Over Ken’s left shoulder is Doug Anderson, another of the many North Star pilots present.
The always unassuming, decent and shy Ken Molson caught again by our candid photographer, Monty. To 2023 the very best efforts imaginable have failed to get Ken, the very founder of Canada’s national aviation museum in Ottawa, inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame. Only in Canada, right, and talk about a disgrace. People abroad will not believe this, but so it goes, sad to say.
A couple of unruly aviation artists get into it at the book launch: Pete Mossman (left) produced several remarkable North Star colour profiles for the book. Robin Brass featured these boldly as stunning fold-outs. Robert Bausch was one of several who came from afar to enjoy our evening. Beth Buchanan got him to Toronto, then back to San Francisco using an Air Canada pass (as a lowly aviation artist or history writer, try to get one of those today). Well-respected in the USAF art program, Robert rendered a fabulous painting for me, showing the ex-TCA North Star converted for tracking ICBMs tested over the South Pacific. The Canadair North Star was the first Canadian aviation book to feature a gallery of original art.
Ralph Clint and Ian Geddes – solid Canadian aviation history types if ever there was a pair. Having had a career with TCA/Air Canada in ground radio, Ralph became a vital member of the CANAV team, proof reading and fact-checking manuscript and galleys, and making detailed maps and accurate technical drawings. Ian at this time was a senior public relations man at Canadair. In 2013 Ron Pickler recalled: “When I first joined Canadair’s publications department 60 years ago, Ian was the one I turned to for advice or for scuttlebutt. He knew everything about everyone. He knew how to get things done. He had a good memory and knew enough about the aviation industry to make sense.” Away over Ian’s shoulder is a pair of CAHS stalwarts, Les Wilkinson and Johnny Biehler.
Des McGill (left) served TCA/Air Canada mainly as a technical illustrator. The first edition of the North Star book came with a huge fold-out in a pocket at the back of the book. This showed the North Star in detailed line drawings, done to perfection by Des. When McGraw-Hill Ryerson with permission from CANAV reprinted this book years later, they were too cheap to include Des’ drawings. So … lucky is the bibliophile who has his first edition. On the right is Joe Matiasek, my sales rep at The Bryant Press, printer/binder of the first few CANAV titles. Bryant was a typical case of the tradition-bound book manufacturer unable 30 years ago to adapt, as computerization started to change printing at the speed of heat. After almost 100 years turning out top-grade Canadian books, Bryant folded over night in the early 1990s.
In 1982 Harry Brown was a beloved CBC Toronto radio host (“As It Happens” and “Metro Morning”). Those were the days when there were such CBC types who revelled in any chance to soak up some really solid Canadian content. Bill McNeil and Cy Strange (“Fresh Air”) and Peter Gzowski (“Morningside”) were others – they all had me on their shows in those days. Now – well, you can guess. When I launched Aviation in Canada: The Pioneer Decades to celebrate our Centennial of Flight in 2009, I sent review copies to several CBC program hosts. Not one so much as acknowledged this (not even CBC Halifax or Sydney in the very home province of the “Silver Dart”), no doubt being totally bored about aviation book possibilities (and not having a clue what “Silver Dart” meant), while contemplating which “Jane Fonda” they could interview next. Here is the great man on the left in the company of legendary TCA aeronautical engineers Jack Dyment and James T. Bain and an unknown BOAC retiree.
Des Burge (left) was a former RCAF PR officer. Next is Stu Parmalee, a career RCAF Air Transport Command captain with a million miles on the North Star. Later, Stu captained the RCAF Yukon that delivered those scummy, yahoo terrorists to Havana, following their disgraceful shenanigans around Montreal. Next is Russ Bowdery, another old time RCAF PR officer. Russ opened some of the first doors for me, as I attempted to find a spot as an aviation writer. Lucky Russ, for he got to cozy up beside Suzanne Hughes of Wardair, as did John Waldie, another renowned RCAF transport captain, Empire Test Pilots School graduate, etc.
Wee Stephanie Milberry at the launch with book launch fans Pat Flood and John Callaghan, two of the top educators ever to grace a Toronto classroom.
In 1949 Archie Vanhee (left) pioneered on CPA’s “C-4” North Star route-proving flights across the Pacific to Australia and on to China. Archie told me that from Shanghai airport they could hear the fighting as Mao’s forces pummelled Chiang Kai Shek’s. CPA’s crew beat a hasty retreat to Hong Kong. It would be a very long time before another Canadian airliner visited Shanghai. Archie is chatting with Don Lamont, a veteran TCA North Star captain and one of the company’s many former Bomber Command pilots.
John Wegg looks back to early CANAV times. Publisher of the renowned monthly “Airways A Global Review of Commercial Flight” (http://www.airwaysmag.com) and author of such spectacular books as Caravelle, John recently wrote to CANAV:
G’day Larry … I remember Steve Piercey (of Propliner fame) telling me about how some newbie Canadian writer was going to do a great book on the North Star, and me — the cynic — quietly wishing him well, while giving long odds on completion, let alone success. Well, the North Star book set the standard for CANAV (and everyone else for that matter) that has never faltered.
Congratulations on your tremendous publishing achievement. I admire your stamina. Onward and upward, and as Freddie Laker once told me, “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” All good wishes … John
Pierre Gillard has his say … You really should take some time to browse Pierre’s great blog . He covers the full range of aviation from microlights to the A380, civil and military, you name it. Lately he posted his review of The Canadair North Star and here’s what he has to say in loose translation (if you prefer, read it in French on Pierre’s blog).
These days Quebec (rightly so) only has eyes for the exciting new Bombardier CSeries, which has just completed its first flight. But how many remember that the North Star, manufactured by Bombardier’s predecessor, Canadair, was Canada’s first successful commercial transport? I just want to let you know that there still are copies of The Canadair North Star — the magnificent book that tells this story. Don’t hesitate to complete your library if you don’t yet have your copy. As with each CANAV title, this one is a mine of information with unparalleled detail and historic accuracy. It has become a major reference, when we talk about the first transport plane designed, developed and manufactured by Canadair.
The Canadair North Star… some sample pages
Ordering your copy …
Get the low-down on this famous Canadian plane in a book that’s the model for any such effort. Canada’s first airliner from conception to demise. Who wouldn’t want to know! Hundreds of photos, diagrams, artwork, foldouts, app’x with lists and specs, biblio, index. These bon mots from the Air Pictorial review really sum it up: “A magnificent book in every respect.” 252 pp, hc. All copies are autographed by the author. Canadian orders $54.60 (book, post, tax), US and Overseas $72.00 all in.