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In a Class of its Own

(Chapter 12 of The Fight for Canada: Four Centuries of
Resistance to American Expansionism
, by David Orchard.)

Canada's ongoing struggle for its own economy was graphically demonstrated by an episode in the aerospace industry. It involved an airplane, a jet interceptor, that could fly twice the speed of sound and was called the Arrow.

Until 1940, Canada had looked to Britain for its military supplies. With the declaration of war in 1939, Britain urgently needed a source of supply herself. C.D. Howe, an American­born engineer and businessman, was made minister of munitions and supply in the King government and given the job of organizing Canada's war industry. He recruited one thousand businessmen ­ "Howe's boys" ­ from across the country, set up twenty­eight Crown corporations and achieved dramatic results. Canada's gross national product ­ the total value of goods and services produced by the nation ­ jumped astoundingly, from $5 billion in 1939 to $12 billion in 1943, and Canada climbed to fourth among the Allies in industrial production. By the end of 1944, Canadian shipyards had turned out almost 600 ships; some 45 aircraft companies, running 24 hours a day and employing 80,000 workers, had produced 16,000 aircraft. Declared Howe: " Never again will there be any doubt that Canada can manufacture anything that can be manufactured elsewhere." 1

Sir Roy Dobson of Hawker­Siddeley Aircraft, developer of 180 aircraft projects in England, came to Canada and was impressed by what he found. "It opened my eyes, I'll tell you," he said. "If these so­and­so's can do this during a war, what can't they do after. One thing this country would need is an aircraft industry of its own: design and development, not just assembling somebody else's stuff." Later he explained:

By 1945, the Royal Canadian Airforce was the third largest in the world in terms of men and equipment. Robert Leckie, chief of air staff, had for years had fought for an independent Canadian air force, with aircraft designed in Canada and built to suit Canadian needs. At the close of the war, Roy Dobson and C.D. Howe struck a deal, and A.V. Roe (AVRO) Canada was set up in the Victory Aircraft plant outside of Toronto "to give Canada," as Dobson told the press, "a basic industry which, in our opinion, she badly needs. Canada will become the aircraft production centre of the British Empire within ten years."3 Hamilton native Fred Smye, aircraft production director at Victory, became the first employee and a driving force behind Avro's future success.

March 17, 1949, saw the test run of the first Canadian jet engine, the Avro Chinook. In August, the Avro Jetliner, the first North American commercial jet aircraft and second in the world, made its maiden flight, fourteen days after the British Comet had lifted briefly a few feet off the ground in England. In April 1950, eight years before the first American commercial jet airplane took flight, the Avro Jetliner carried the world's first jet airmail, from Toronto to New York, where its crew was welcomed with a ticker tape parade through the streets of Manhattan. The trip was made in half the flight time of a conventional airplane.

Avro then designed and produced the Orenda jet engine, named after the god of the Iroquois. Developed by a small group of about forty young Canadian engineers, the Orenda was one of the most successful turbojet engines ever built. By 1954, more than one thousand had been delivered to the Canadian air force.

Avro went on to design and build the highest­rated all­weather, long­range fighter in NATO, the CF (Canadian Fighter) 100. The first of hundreds of Orenda­powered aircraft was delivered to the RCAF in October, 1951. By 1958, the Canadian content in the CF 100 was 90 percent, and in its Orenda engines 95 percent. Avro, following a buy­Canadian policy, established a network of Canadian suppliers and sub­contractors, which created a beehive of development activity in nearly every other Canadian industry. By now, A.V. Roe was the third­largest company in Canada, employing 50,000 people in all divisions and carrying out 70 percent of all research in Canada.

October 4, 1957, saw the official roll­out of the first Avro Arrow ­ a supersonic jet fighter designed and built in four short years. With the Arrow, Avro had created a brilliant aviation industry that drew to Canada international specialists at the top of their fields. After the unveiling, Aviation Week reported: "Avro CF­105 Arrow has given Canada a serious contender for the top military aircraft of the next several years. The large, decidedly advanced delta­wing fighter was rolled out of the Malton plant a few days ago... The Arrow's power, weight and general design leave little doubt of its performance potential."Flight, another international aviation magazine, called the Arrow "the biggest, most powerful, most expensive and potentially the fastest fighter that the world has yet seen." 4

On March 25, 1958, the Avro Arrow Mark I ­ a "great, sleek, white bird," to one observer ­ lifted gracefully from the runway and was airborne for the first time.5 The most advanced aircraft in the world, it exceeded all expectations. At three­quarter throttle, the Arrow flew at nearly twice the speed of sound ­ faster than the most advanced plane in the Canadian Air Force three decades later, the American F­18.

The world speed record in 1958 was 1404 mph. The first five Arrows, fitted with temporary, less powerful engines, flew at 1320 mph. Into the sixth Arrow was installed the most advanced and the most powerful engine in the world, the brand new Iroquois, Canadian designed and built from scratch. On February 19, 1959, the Avro Arrow Mark II, fitted with Iroquois engines, was on the tarmac, being prepared for the test flight expected easily to break the world speed record. Behind it, another thirty­one Mark IIs, Iroquois equipped, were ready to roll down the assembly line.

At the sprawling 400­acre Avro plant just outside Toronto, almost everybody felt good about their work. They saw themselves as contributing to Canada. Absenteeism was low and lateness was rare. The atmosphere was described by one aviation writer as touched by magic: "They were so proud of that airplane, and of the inescapable fact that they were producing something that was the best in the whole bloody world. You could sense it the minute you walked in the place." Joe Morley, the sales and service manager, explained: "We were all possessed with one ideal ­ the Arrow. No one, even in junior management, ever punched a time clock; it would have been as much overtime as straight time." 6 The design and development people were top notch, as were the engineers. The Arrow "was in a class of its own and at least twenty, if not thirty, years ahead of its time in terms of design philosophy, materials, and manufacturing technique!" 7

Yet all was not as well as it seemed. A peculiar thing had happened back in 1950: C.D. Howe had ordered production of the Avro Jetliner stopped after the first aircraft was completed. One of the outstanding aeronautical achievements of its day, the one and only Jetliner broke records with every flight. Robert Rummell, chief engineer for Trans World Airlines in the United States, described the pioneer plane: "The Jetliner, the first jet transport produced in North America, was an advanced, medium­range, 450 ­mph plane that first flew an amazing eight years before Boeing's 707. This extraordinary achievement is all the more remarkable considering that it was the first product of a new company in a country not dominant in the development or construction of aircraft. The design, developed by A.V. Roe Canada (AVRO), was conspicuously ahead of any competitive transport." 8

Then, one Saturday, early in February 1957, after eight years of flying, the Jetliner came in for a routine check. The following Monday morning, the staff found the craft cut in two. It was sold for scrap. In 1959, Fred Smye, at the time the president and general manager of Avro Aircraft, said:"It had exceeded every specification and if it had gone ahead would be selling around the world today." 9 A few days after the Jetliner was destroyed, the Saturday Evening Post of February 16, 1957, carried a two­page centrefold advertisement of the new Boeing "Jetliner," the 707, proudly describing it as "America's first Jetliner, the only American jet airliner flying today." 10

Now, on the morning of February 20, 1959, at 9.30, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was in the House of Commons to deliver a statement on "one facet of the national defence" of Canada. "The government of Canada," he went on, "has carefully examined and re­examined the probable need for the Arrow aircraft and Iroquois engine known as the CF­105... The conclusion arrived at is that the development of the [Arrow] aircraft and Iroquois engine should be terminated now." 11

The shocked employees heard the news first from a reporter. A telegram from Ottawa ordered Avro to "cease and desist as of receipt of this telex on all government contracts and acknowledge that you are so proceeding." And over the public address system, 14,528 employees were told their services would no longer be needed. They were laid off immediately. Ordered by Raymond O'Hurley, minister of defence production, to "cut up the Arrow and destroy... all material associated with it," Smye refused. O'Hurley replied: "If you don't do it, we'll send the army in to do it." 12 Teams of men with cutting torches came into the factories and cut the completed Arrows into scrap. The blow torches didn't stop until the "obscene destruction of millions of dollars worth of finished and almost­finished planes, of tools, jigs, fixtures and masses of expensive production and test equipment" was complete.13 Some of the employees who had built the aircraft were seen to "stand and cry as grown men seldom cry" as they watched the torches "melt down and cut to pieces the magnificent airplanes which they had spent seven years of their lives designing, creating and building."14 Operating manuals, blue­prints, records, drawings and thick volumes of specifications data were collected and destroyed.

The mutilated scraps of the most advanced engine and airplane in the world were delivered under tight security to a Toronto scrapyard, along with the tools that produced them. Afterwards, a government official said tersely, referring to the Arrow: " Forget it! It never existed. Get that into your heads."15

Some 650 major sub­contracts were cancelled. The Arrow's demise affected the livelihood of nearly 100,000 Canadians and the fate of dozens of industries. Some historians, commentators and government members, using wildly distorted figures, have cited high production costs as one reason for the Arrow's cancellation. The total spent on the Iroquois engine and development of the Arrow, including the finished aircraft, was approximately $300 million. Another $200 million would have been required to complete them after which each Arrow would have cost the government $3.7 million, roughly the price of a contemporary, less sophisticated U.S. plane. And the money, technology, jobs and talent would have remained in Canada. (The Financial Post estimated that at least 65 percent of the total cost of the Arrow programme came back directly to the government in taxes.) The Arrow, in the words of Edith Kay Shaw, an aviation­engineering technologist who worked on the Avro Jetliner, the CF­100 and the Arrow, "represented one of the greatest bargains in aircraft ever offered," to say nothing of the tens of thousands of jobs created and dozens of domestic spin­off industries in everything from plastic to design.16

Why was the Arrow cancelled? The official reason given by the government was that the missile age had dawned and manned jet fighter aircraft, including the Arrow, had become obsolete. Accordingly, the new American missile system, called the Bomarc missile system, was to be purchased, and because Canada could not afford both the Arrow and the Bomarc, the Arrow had to go. Behind­the­scenes pressure from the United States for Canada to buy the Bomarc ­ a system that was untried, unproven and would eventually prove useless ­ was direct and effective. In a meeting between the Canadian defence minister, George Pearkes, and the U.S. secretary of state for defence, Neil McElroy, the Canadian government asked what would happen if Canada refused to buy the Bomarc. The Canadians were told that "the consequence would be... the emplacement of at least one more Bomarc Squadron in the U.S., south of the Great Lakes."17 Because the Bomarc had a limited range of 250 miles, this would mean, in the advent of war against incoming Soviet missiles from the north, the certainty of nuclear holocaust above Canada's most densely populated regions. Consequently, the Canadian government decided to purchase the Bomarcs, put them further north in Canada, and terminate the Arrow.

Within two months of the Arrow's cancellation, Canadians were told that fighter aircraft to intercept Soviet bombers were still necessary after all. Ten months later, General Lawrence Kuter of the United States, Commander­in­chief of the North American Air Defence agreement (NORAD), requested that Canada equip itself with supersonic fighters such as the American F­101B. In 1961, Canada purchased sixty­six of these dated aircraft ­ in no way comparable to the Arrow ­ from the United States. Two decades later Canada would spend roughly $5 billion ($30 million per plane) purchasing the American F­18A, an aircraft still inferior to the Arrow.

As for the Bomarc missile system, admitted by the Americans themselves to be entirely for the the defence of the American Strategic Air Command and not for Canada, it turned out to be an expensive dud which became obsolete before it was installed.

A significant but little known fact is that the Arrow was the only aircraft in the world capable of downing the new, top secret U­2 spy plane developed by the CIA, which in the late 1950s was overflying countries around the globe. The U­2 flew at an altitude of 70,000 feet, unreachable by any existing interceptor but well within the Arrow's range. In 1960, Defence Minister Pearkes admitted the U­2 was overflying Canada and that without interceptor aircraft, Canada was powerless to police its own skies against such an intruder.

Judith Robinson of the Toronto Telegram, February 10, 1959, wrote that Canada's role from the point of view of U.S. defence planners was to "provide for the defence of the United States three things: a narrow margin of time, distant early warning signals, and rocket bases. Just those three things. Manned supersonic fighters based in Canada have no place in U.S. defence plans."18

The New York Times carried a report, stating "Canada has had the dubious privilege of being first in learning the economic and political implications of U.S. domination in weapons... the result is... no real defence... a disappearing Canadian Air Force and aircraft industry; and a fearfully ill­equipped Army. Why? Because... [Canada has] conformed to U.S. concepts, doctrines and weapons."19

In 1717, the manufacturing of beaver hats was begun in Montreal. Four finished hats were turned out every day. Then came the order directly from the King of France to kill the industry. There was to be no competition from the colony for French hat makers. Colonies "are established solely for the utility of the country that forms them," Louis XIV said.20 Two and a half centuries later, instead of from Versailles, the pressure came from Washington.

The Avro Jetliner was destroyed to allow the Americans to introduce their Boeing Jetliner, eight years after the Canadian Jetliner had first flown. Just as the Mark II was about to fly, and in all likelihood bring the world's speed record to Canada, thirty­seven supersonic aircraft were scrapped. To make sure no new aircraft would rise from the cuttings of the blow torches, a free­trade agreement in defence supplies, the Canada­U.S. Defence Production Sharing Agreement of 1959, was signed. That agreement integrated the defence industries of the two countries. Canada agreed to rely on the United States for defense technology, and has never again tried to be self­reliant in the aerospace and defense industries. Instead of producing its own aircraft, Canadian industry was reoriented to produce parts for U.S. contractors. In 1958, within three months of the Arrow's cancellation, Canada joined NORAD, which integrated the air defence of the two countries under a "joint" command headquartered in Colorado. In the future, Defence Minister Pearkes said, the United States would supply jet interceptors defence if Canada should require it. The operation of these two agreements ensured that Canada would never again create and produce high­tech aircraft. The very country that has invaded Canada repeatedly, and has been by far its most dangerous and sustained threat over the centuries, now "looks after" Canada's defence.

Canada went on to spend billions of dollars on civilian and military aircraft from American firms, aircraft less suited to its needs and climate. The "Canadian" defence industry today consists mainly of subsidiaries of American corporations. These subsidiary firms are encouraged to station scouts in the United States to catch word of pending U.S. contracts. They can then make a bid to produce U.S. weapons.

With the cancellation of the Arrow thousands of the highly skilled engineers, designers and aerospace workers, some gathered with great difficulty from all over the world, who for ten years had refused repeated offers from U.S. firms to leave Canada, were thrown out of work and now had little choice. Twenty­six of Avro's top engineers, including Jim Chamberlin from British Columbia, Avro's chief of design, were sent by the Canadian government to NASA, where their skills played a crucial role in landing an American on the moon. Chamberlin was later described by NASA management as "probably one of the most brilliant men ever to work with NASA."21 Highly skilled Avro engineers made their contributions in almost all fields of aviation and technology throughout the Western world, not only with NASA but also with Boeing of Seattle, RCA in Massachussetts, Hawker­Siddeley of England, Fokker of Holland, and the European Space Agency.

With an eight­year lead on the United States in civilian jetliner technology and the Avro Arrow, the Canadian aerospace industry could have taken on the best in the world. It would also have been competition for U.S. corporations. Instead, Avro scrambled for whatever business it could find, at one point landing a contract to produce pots and pans. In 1962, Avro sold what remained of its gutted operations to de Havilland, leaving a wealth of concepts, ideas and designs that, over the next three decades, were used by leading British and American firms. And the myth began to be fostered that Canada did not have the skills, capabilities or resources to build world­class industries on its own.

Polish born Janusz Zurakowski, the decorated fighter pilot who test flew the Arrow, wrote: "Canada, by creating its own industry, could have satisfied most defence requirements ­ but not the American industrialists who wanted the market." He added: "Governments and torches can destroy an aircraft, but they cannot destroy hope, and aspiration... In the hearts of the people, the dream lives on."22

If the Jetliner and Arrow had gone ahead, they, like the CF­100, would have been purchased by other countries. American industrialist Howard Hughes was interested in producing the Jetliner in the United States, and several American companies wished to order the aircraft from Avro. An American company had signed a contract with Avro to produce the Iroquois under license ­ the first contract of its kind signed by the United States with a Canadian company. France had approached Avro about purchasing 300 Iroquois engines for use in its Mirage jet fighter. Both the United States and Britain were interested in the Arrow because they had nothing comparable.

The technology, the research and the talent, as well as the money since spent on foreign aircraft, both military and commercial, would have remained in Canada. A dynamic aerospace industry would have established itself as one of the major engines driving Canada's economy. Equally significant, Canada would have had the capability to patrol and defend its own borders and airspace against incursion by all intruders. If the Arrow had flown with Iroquois engines, it almost certainly would have broken world records for both speed and altitude. Had the Canadian public seen that happen, cancellation of the Arrow would have been impossible. That is why the blowtorches came in before the Mark IIs could lift off the ground.

The Arrow was not cancelled because it was costly or obsolete or defective. It was, in the words of electronics engineer and Arrow researcher, Palmiro Campagna, "erased from existence, because it was too damn good!"23


(1.) Howe, quoted in Greig Stewart. Shutting Down the National Dream. A.V. Rose and the Tragedy of the Avro Arrow. (Toronto: McGraw­Hill, Ryerson, 1988), p. 13.

(2) Dobson quoted ibid, p. 29; and in E.K. Shaw, There Never Was an Arrow (Ottawa, Steel Rail Educational Publishing, 1981), p. 32.

(3) Dobson, quoted in Stewart, Shutting Down, p.44.

(4) Aviation Week, October 21, 1957, and Flight, October 25, 1957, quoted in Palmiro Campagna, Storms of Controversy: The Secret Arrow Files Revealed (Toronto, Stoddart, 1992), p. 54.

(5) Shaw, There Never Was, pp. 57­58.

(6) Stewart, Shutting Down, p. 2; and Morley quoted in Stewart, p. 267.

(7) Campagna, Storms, p. 69.

(8) Rummel, quoted in ibid., p. 8.

(9) Smye, quoted in Stewart, Shutting Down, p. 270.

(10) Shaw, There Never Was, p. 40

(11) Diefenbaker, quoted in Campagna, Storms, p. 1.

(12) Stewart, Shutting Down, pp. 261, 273, 274.

(13) Shaw, There Never Was, p. 100.

(14) Ibid., p. 89.

(15) Ibid., p. 110.

(16) Ibid., pp. 173, 167.

(17) Campagna, Storms, p. 100.

(18) Judith Robinson, "Rabbits for the Eagle," (Toronto Telegram, February 10, 1959, quoted in Shaw, Never Was, p. 127. (Shaw relates that after this article, the Telegram dropped Robinson's column and did not reinstate it until she dropped all references to the Arrow or to the defence.)

(19) New York Times,quoted in Shaw, Never Was, pp. 174­175.

(20) Stanley B, Ryerson, The Founding of Canada. Beginnings to 1815 (Toronto: Progress Books, 1963), p. 161.

(21) Zurakowski, quoted in Shaw, Never Was and Stewart, Shutting Down, xii.

(22) Campagna, Storms, p. 122.

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Book Cover: The Fight for Canada In an effort to realize their grand dream of one nation from Panama to the Arctic, Americans have attempted to conquer our land and our spirit, using war, trade sanctions, and political inventions of all kinds. "The fight for Canada continues to this day," says David Orchard.
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Orchard probes the legacy of John A. Macdonald, Louis Riel, Henri Bourassa, Pierre Trudeau, and others; explains the evolution,content,and effects of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, which he calls "the new constitution of Canada"; and outlines in plain language our new trade arrangements with the U.S. and Mexico. Orchard also tackles Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords and considers what lies ahead.

David Orchard, a fourth generation Saskatchewan farmer, is national chairman of Citizens Concerned About Free Trade.

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