Farley Mowat and the V2

An interesting story on CBC.ca:

How author Farley Mowat smuggled a V2 rocket into Canada

A former Canadian intelligence officer believes author Farley Mowat carried out one of the most brazen acts by Canadian intelligence shortly following the Second World War.

Mowat, whose novels include Owls in the Family and Never Cry Wolf — was an officer with the Canadian military during WWII, then served with military intelligence after the war.

Major Harold Skaarup is a 40-year veteran of the Canadian Forces where he served as an intelligence officer. Since retiring in 2011, he has written numerous books on military history.

Skaarup tells The Current’s Matt Galloway of Mowat’s post-war escapades after being tasked with retrieving items of intelligence value from Europe.

Here is part of their conversation: 

Tell me about Captain Farley Mowat’s work with Canadian intelligence. When the Second World War ended… what was he doing?

He’d been serving with the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment as an infantry officer and was seconded to the Department of the Director of History and Heritage in Ottawa — technically, the intelligence people. He was given a very straightforward task with the war over in Germany: go over and find anything and everything of intelligence value that you think would be useful to the Canadian government and the forces and get it back to us. 

He set out… with a vengeance and he managed to get back seven hundred tons of captured material, tanks, guns, artillery, and most interestingly of all, the V2.

How did Farley Mowat find a V2 rocket?

It’s complicated, but to squeeze it down into bits and pieces — he’d been working with the Dutch resistance; they got word to him that there are a bunch of V2s located in central Germany. 

The British Army — 21st Army group in particular — came out and said no one else is to get these, a specific order. They did not want Canada to have this technology. [The order] hadn’t actually gone to print yet, and Farley’s CO got wind of this and he said, ‘See if you can get us one.’ 

He grabbed a young lieutenant, Mike Donovan, and Lieutenant Jim Hood, and he set out with a plan. They knew that there was a railway siding with about ten of these rockets on it, most of them being pretty shot up, but at least one was intact.

He knew that the British probably wouldn’t let him have it, but he came up with this plan. Mike Donovan, he takes a 30 litre demijohn of Coopers Gin, goes down with the Jeep and he intercepts the British soldiers guarding this trainload. And he manages to get them all singing and drinking, saying, “We know we’re not going to get a rocket from you, but let’s enjoy being comrades together.” 

While he’s doing that, Farley’s lieutenant, Jim Hood, sneaks around in the dark to the tail end of the railway tracks finds an intact V2. They’ve got a tractor trailer with them that was used for towing a submarine. They break the chains and they roll this V2 rocket off the doggone railway siding car onto the trailer and then barrel it on back to Holland.

Sounds like something out of a Steve McQueen film or something. 

Along the way, they’re calling all the guard postings saying, “We’ve got unexploded ordnance, we want to get this to the ocean, get out of the way.” And guards open the gates for them. 

So… now, there’s a problem. It doesn’t take long for the Brits to realize that of all these shot up V2s, the only one that’s intact is suddenly missing. So the hunt is on. 

Farley sees the thing being wheeled into a hangar where he’s based in Holland and he immediately gets down and he orders a bunch of crew to build a wooden conning tower and attach a gigantic propeller to this V2 rocket. And then they begin painting their brains out, slapping blue paint up and down and on the side of this thing there to make it look like a mini submarine.

 And then they drag it out in the woods and hide it while the Brits are looking for it. Eventually… they get it to Montreal and take a Valcartier, where they begin to take the thing apart. 

There’s a bit more at the link. I would be curious to learn the exact provenance of this story – Mowat did have a habit of making things up

Loyalist Heraldry in Canada

A short article of mine has just appeared in The Loyalist Gazette. I reprint it here.

It stands to reason that Canadians of Loyalist descent would be well disposed towards heraldry, a symbol-system that both identifies and serves as a mark of honour from the Crown. Prior to 1988, Canadian persons or corporations wishing to receive a legitimate grant of arms would apply to the College of Arms in London (or, if especially Scottish, to the Court of the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh). The United Empire Loyalist Association of Canada certainly did: in 1972, it received a grant of arms through the College of Arms which is doubtlessly familiar to all UELAC members.1

It’s a beautiful composition, and its meaning is straightforward. On the shield, thirteen swords and one tomahawk, all extending outwards, surround a crown, neatly symbolizing Loyalists from the thirteen colonies, and their Indian allies, who defended the monarch against the American revolutionaries. The symbolism is repeated on the crest: a colonist’s arm and a native’s arm both hold up the eighteenth-century British flag under which the Loyalists fought.

Photo by the author.

The UELAC was also granted a badge, a secondary mark useful for when a full coat of arms might be a little too elaborate. The UELAC badge consists of a cypher of King George III (1760-1820), surrounded by a wreath of maple leaves and oak leaves. I was pleased to see the badge in use on a sign for a UEL cemetery in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, last summer. As John Ruch once noted in the Loyalist Gazette: “the Royal Crown, the old Union Banner, and the Royal Cypher of George III can be granted only with Her Majesty’s permission. To receive any one of these is regarded as an especial honour, but to be given three is very rare indeed.”2

Persistent lobbying by the Heraldry Society of Canada paid off in 1988 when Prime Minister Brian Mulroney arranged for the foundation of the Canadian Heraldic Authority as a Canadian alternative to the College of Arms or the Court of the Lord Lyon.3 Since the CHA is headquartered in Ottawa, and not in London, and since the fees it charges are much lower than those required by the College of Arms, heraldry has become a lot more accessible to Canadians, whether individuals or corporations. By any metric the CHA has been a great success, having granted or registered over three thousand different arms, flags, and badges to worthy citizens over the course of its 32-year history. A new and enthusiastic Chief Herald of Canada, Samy Khalid, took office in June 2020 and is set to continue this legacy.

Canadians of Loyalist descent are understandably interested in recognizing their heritage, and the three symbols established by the grant of arms to UELAC in 1972 have all made appearances in grants of arms from the CHA. The most obvious is Great Britain’s eighteenth-century flag, a combination of the Cross of St. George and St. Andrew’s Saltire, the product of the parliamentary union of England and Scotland that went into effect in 1707. Since this flag was modified in 1801 by the addition of St. Patrick’s saltire for Ireland, in recognition of the Irish parliamentary union which took place that year, the previous version is now historic, and used quite a lot by UELAC to honour those who fought under it, as a perusal of this magazine demonstrates. Settlements with Loyalist connections have also availed themselves heraldically of the flag. The Town of Gananoque, Ontario (arms granted 2000) displays it on the top left of its shield.

One of the lion supporters in the arms of the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake (granted 2013) also holds it:

Loyalist-founded towns can also have it included it as a canton on their flags, as do the Town of Picton (1989) and Village of Bath (1997), both in Ontario. This design makes for a handsome flag, in the mode of Ontario’s flag or the old Canadian Red Ensign.

Our second symbol, the royal cypher of King George III, is also definitely historic, as it represents the actual king whom the Loyalists fought for. The Anglican Church in St. Andrews, N.B., founded by Loyalists, received a cypher of “GR” (for “Georgius Rex”) on its coat of arms, granted in 2006.

Photo by the author.

But as far as I am aware this is the only CHA grant to include this mark. It would be nice to see more use made of it. One might say that it is a little too detailed, and purists claim that letters do not belong on coats of arms, but the cypher does help to rescue George III from the calumny heaped upon him by the U.S. Declaration of Independence. (It would have been great if George III had a royal personal badge parallel to Richard II’s White Hart, Edward IV’s rose-en-soleil, or Richard III’s boar. However, this essentially medieval custom was abandoned by the eighteenth century in favor of royal cyphers.)

Yet the Loyalists were not just fighting for a particular king, but kingship in general. Our third symbol, the royal crown, unambiguously represents the monarchy as a concept, and not just a particular monarch. Insofar as Canada is still a monarchy, however, that also presents us with a slight problem. The crown is not just historic, it is current, and used by many official agencies to represent the power they exercise on behalf of the ultimate guarantor of it. It is likely that significant overlap exists between descendants of Loyalists and supporters of Canada’s monarchy, but these are two separate things, and it is good to maintain a symbolic distinction between them. Furthermore, the royal crown, as an emblem, is not available to just anyone. Generally, the only people allowed to put it on their own coats of arms are Governors General. What’s a good Canadian Loyalist to do, if he wants to represent his heritage?

Wikipedia.

The answer: use one of the two Loyalist coronets devised in the early days of the Canadian Heraldic Authority. The great thing about a coronet is that it references a crown without actually being one. The coronets consist of alternating maple leaves and oak leaves, as suggested by the wreath surrounding the royal cypher in the UELAC badge. This is a great combination: since they’re both leaves, they’re graphically parallel to each other; furthermore, the oak leaf is royal, representing a political principle; it’s not ethnically “English” necessarily. It is true that the Loyalists themselves might not have recognized a maple leaf as symbolic of their new homeland, but the maple leaf was certainly in use by 1867 to represent Canada and has remained a preeminent national symbol ever since. Finally, the Queen’s permission is not required to use a Loyalist coronet – only proof of descent of the sort required by UELAC.

As a graphical mark it has several advantages. It can be shown in any color or combination of colors. It can be shown on the shield in two dimensions, or on the crest or supporters in three dimensions – and since it is circular, it can surround some other object. A separate “military” coronet (with pairs of crossed swords) is reserved for the descendants of those who actually fought for the king in the Revolution; otherwise, the “civilian” coronet can be used by individuals or corporations alike. Several Loyalist coronets may be seen in the grants of arms above. Others appear in the shield of the City of Quinte West, Ontario (1998):

On the supporters of the arms of Albert College in Belleville, Ontario (2017):

And on all three of the shield, supporters, and crest of the Black Loyalist Heritage Society of Shelburne, N.S. (2006):

Four examples of Loyalist coronets in personal arms may be seen on the shields of Robert Bengry (2011), Kenneth Calder (2000), David Dorward (2004), and Kawartha Branch member David Rumball (2002). This is only a small sample of the many Loyalist coronets that the CHA has granted to Canadians of Loyalist descent.

One more heraldic symbol may be mentioned. As you can see on the arms of Gananoque above, Loyalist-founded settlements can sometimes depict actual Loyalists as their supporters. Gananoque’s is designated “a Loyalist woman tempore 1784.” The Village of Bath and Loyalist Township (formed from the amalgamation of Bath, Amherst Island, and Ernestown in 1999) both show a “woman habited as a Loyalist settler” and a “man habited in the uniform of the Jessup’s Loyal Rangers tempore 1784.” (Loyalist coronets and the 1707 Union Flag may also be seen in these grants.)

The problem with human supporters, however, is that they come with a very high opportunity cost. Any person depicted automatically excludes everyone else! Thus does the CHA tend to discourage them, although there can be no doubt, in these cases, whom they are supposed to represent.

Anyone interested in the possibility of a grant of arms (with or without any Loyalist symbolism) should contact the Chief Herald of Canada at Rideau Hall, 1 Sussex Dr., Ottawa, ON K1A 0A1, or by email at armorial@gg.ca.

Except where noted, all illustrations are from the Online Register of Arms, Flags, and Badges of Canada. Used by permission.

Notes

1. See Conrad Swan, “The Armorial Bearings of The United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada,” The Loyalist Gazette 10.2 (Autumn 1972).

2. John E. Ruch, “The Canadian Heraldic Authority and the Loyalists,” The Loyalist Gazette 28.2 (Autumn 1990).

3. See John E. Ruch, “An Heraldic Authority for Canada,” The Loyalist Gazette 26.2 (Autumn 1988).

Murdoch Mysteries

Historical characters I have learned about from watching Murdoch Mysteries:

Florence Nightingale Graham (1881-1966), who went by the business name Elizabeth Arden, was a Canadian-American businesswoman who founded what is now Elizabeth Arden, Inc. and built a cosmetics empire in the United States. By 1929, she owned 150 salons in Europe and the United States. Her 1,000 products were being sold in 22 countries. She was the sole owner, and at the peak of her career she was one of the wealthiest women in the world.

Dan Seavey, also known as “Roaring” Dan Seavey (1865-1949), was a sailor, fisherman, farmer, saloon keeper, prospector, U.S. marshal, thief, poacher, smuggler, hijacker, human trafficker, and timber pirate in Wisconsin and Michigan and on the Great Lakes in the late-19th to early-20th century.

John Joseph Kelso (1864-1935) was a newspaper reporter and social crusader who immigrated to Canada from Ireland with his family in 1874 when he was ten years old. They suffered hardships of hunger and cold in their early years in Toronto and, throughout his life, this motivated Kelso’s compassion towards the poor and unfortunate. While a reporter for the World and the Globe, Kelso founded the Toronto Humane Society in 1887 for the prevention of cruelty to children and animals, the Fresh Air Fund and the Santa Claus Fund in 1888 to provide excursions and cheer for poor women and children, and the Children’s Aid Society (Canada) in 1891.

John Ross Robertson (1841-1918) was a Canadian newspaper publisher, politician, and philanthropist. He was elected to the Canadian House of Commons for the electoral district of Toronto East in the 1896 federal election defeating the incumbent. The world of sports was also a focus for Robertson’s public-spiritedness. A fervent advocate of amateur sport, he served as president of the Ontario Hockey Association from 1899 to 1905, which was a critical time period in the history of the sport. His battle to protect hockey from the influence of professionalism caused him to be called the “father of Amateur Hockey in Ontario.”

Cassie L. Chadwick (1857-1907) was the most well-known pseudonym used by Canadian con artist Elizabeth Bigley, who defrauded several American banks out of millions of dollars during the late 1800s and early 1900s by claiming to be an illegitimate daughter and heiress of the Scottish-American industrialist Andrew Carnegie. Newspaper accounts of the time described her as one of the greatest con artists in American history. She pulled off the heist in the Gilded Age of American history, during which time women were not allowed to vote or get loans from the banks, leading some historians to refer to her bank heist as one of the greatest in American history.

Margaret Haile was a Canadian socialist in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a teacher and journalist by profession. She was active in the socialist movements in both Canada and the United States. Frederic Heath’s “Socialism in America,” published in January 1900 in the Social Democracy Red Book, lists her, along with Corinne Stubbs Brown and Eugene V. Debs, among “One Hundred Well-known Social Democrats”.

Clara Brett Martin (1874-1923), born to Abram and Elizabeth Martin, a well-to-do Anglican-Irish family, opened the way for women to become lawyers in Canada by being the first in the British Empire in 1897. In 1888, Martin was accepted to Trinity College in Toronto. And in 1890, Martin graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics at the age of sixteen, which was almost unheard of because of the masculinity associated with that field. In 1891, Martin submitted a petition to the Law Society of Upper Canada to permit her to become a student member, a prerequisite to articling as a clerk, attending lectures and sitting the exams required to receive a certificate of fitness to practice as a solicitor. Her petition was rejected by the Law Society after contentious debate, with the Special Committee reviewing the petition interpreting the statute which incorporated the Law Society as permitting only men to be admitted to the practice of law. W.D. Balfour sponsored a bill that provided that the word “person” in the Law Society’s statute should be interpreted to include females as well as males. Martin’s cause was also supported by prominent women of the day including Emily Stowe and Lady Aberdeen. With the support of the Premier, Oliver Mowat, legislation was passed on April 13, 1892, and permitted the admission of women as solicitors.

(Quotations from Wikipedia and Murdoch Mysteries Fandom)

Liberté! Liberté!

My friend Jerry Hales shared a YouTube video of a recent anti-lockdown protest in Montreal. Check out the flags on display!

A horizontal tricolour of green, white, and red, in a Canadian context, represents the Patriote movement of the 1830s.* The movement did not succeed in winning republican independence for Lower Canada but its flag remains in occasional use as a nationalist and “rebellious” statement.

A variant on the Patriote flag features a gold star in the top left and a superimposed figure of “Le Vieux de ’37,” from a painting done in 1880 illustrating an archetypical participant in the rebellion of 1837. This is designated the flag of the Mouvement de libération nationale du Québec, a separatist group founded in the wake of the 1995 referendum on independence. You’ll notice more than one of them if you watch the video. 

A friend comments:

Anti-mask demonstrations around the world seem to attract various members of the lunatic fringe and so the MLNQ would definitely fit the bill. Note though that the MLNQ doesn’t really seem to exist these days as a single, organised entity at least overtly as their website and affiliated sites went down some years ago. I suspect many people using the Patriotes flag, defaced or not, in this particular demonstration are using it as an anti-governmental or anti-conformist symbol more than anything.

I assume that the inverted Quebec flag is “anti-governmental”!

The current Quebec flag started life in 1902 as the Carillon-Sacré-Coeur flag, when Catholicism meant a lot more to French Canadians than it does now. My friend comments:

I would assume the bearer might be part of one of the local fringe Catholic group such the Pilgrims of Saint Michael (AKA “the White Berets”) who tend to mix integrist religious belief with various conspiracy theories.

It is rare to see expressions of pro-American sentiment in Canada. It is astounding to see pro-Trump sentiment. Craziness!

* The Patriote Movement broke out into armed rebellion in 1837. Both it and William Lyon Mackenzie’s simultaneous Upper Canada Rebellion are seminal events in Canadian history. The flag for Mackenzie’s “Republic of Canada” deserves to be better known. 

Wikipedia.

Murdoch Mysteries

I was pleased to note a historically accurate Canadian red ensign flag in Season 11, Episode 16 of the Canadian television series Murdoch Mysteries, in contrast to an earlier appearance. The plot of this episode (“Game of Kings”) revolves around an international chess tournament taking place in Toronto in 1905. The players’ nationalities are represented by little tabletop flags. 

Constable George Crabtree has gone undercover as a Canadian entrant. His flag shows the original four-provinces shield devised for the Dominion of Canada in 1868, featuring the arms of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. It is true that Canada had nine provinces by 1905 (Alberta and Saskatchewan had been admitted on September 1 of that year, and Crabtree makes a reference to this in Episode 13 when, thinking he’s dying, exclaims “I’ll never see Egypt or any of those new provinces we have now!”). A nine-quartered shield for Canada was devised in the wake of this, but the original shield was still in widespread use until 1921. 

An American competitor is represented by a US flag with 45 stars on the canton (count them!), for the number of states in the union at the time – Utah having been admitted in 1896. Oklahoma (1908), Arizona (1912) and New Mexico (1912) would soon raise the total to 48.

Poland did not exist as an independent country in 1905, but a Polish player has entered the tournament and is represented by the flag of the Polish National Government 1863-64, which had been proclaimed following the January Uprising (although the bottom stripe, according to Wikipedia, should be blue).

Wikipedia.

The coat of arms is for “a proposed Polish–Lithuanian–Ruthenian Commonwealth which never came into being. It consists of the Polish White Eagle, the Lithuanian Pahonia and the Ruthenian Archangel Michael.”

Wikipedia.

Other Polish references in this episode include the Szczerbiec (the traditional Polish coronation sword) and the Husaria (Polish knights who wore decorative wings while mounted). 

Kitchener, Ontario

From The Waterloo Region Record (hat tip: Bruce Patterson), notice of an event from the same era that brought us Liberty Cabbage (i.e. sauerkraut) or prompted the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod to switch its liturgical language from German to English.

KITCHENER — No drums rolled. All who waited outside city hall stayed silent, digesting the news. Berlin had picked a new city name. Few turned out to vote and nobody cheered the result.

You know the winning name: Kitchener. Residents chose it 100 years ago today in 1916, in a second referendum after a bitter name-changing debate that exhausted everyone and made the city the butt of jokes across the nation.

So yes, there was little enthusiasm when it was over. More like a long, slow exhale. On Sept. 1, 1916, Berlin officially became Kitchener.

Residents voted narrowly to change Berlin’s name in the midst of the First World War to prove loyalty and stem the backlash against a city with deep German roots.

Canadian soldiers were battling Germany, dying amid distant thunder on the Western Front in Europe. Canada, consumed by anti-German sentiment, eyed Berlin darkly, uneasy about buying goods stamped Made in Berlin, suspicious of its young men who were reluctant to enlist….

It’s a crazy story. When Berlin voted narrowly in May 1916 to change its name, it had no new name in mind. Kitchener wasn’t even in the running.

The city made itself a national laughingstock when a civic committee produced a bizarre shortlist: Huronto. Bercana (a mixture of Berlin and Canada). Dunard. Hydro City. Renoma (it means famous in Esperanto, an artificial language no country actually speaks). Agnoleo (an obscure Italian boy’s name).

Then it got crazier.

On June 5, 1916, British war leader Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener was killed when his battleship hit a German mine and sank off Scotland. His death stunned the empire, and his name was thrown onto a revised shortlist that was only slightly less odd. The final choices: Kitchener. Brock. Adanac (Canada spelled backwards). Benton. Corona. Keowana.

Kitchener barely won, chosen by 346 people. 

Click on the link to see the official ballot, which surprisingly was printed in both English and German (in Fraktur, naturlich). 

The End of the War in the Pacific

August 15, 1945 was V-J Day, when Imperial Japan surrendered to the Allies; September 2 marked the formal end of the war, when the Japanese signed the instrument of surrender aboard the USS Missouri. Something I did not know: Canada was a signatory to this instrument – and its representative signed in the wrong place! Col. Lawrence Cosgrave, a half-blind veteran of the First World War, put his signature on the line meant for the representative of the Provisional Government of the French Republic. This entailed some improvised editing, which you can see on an illustration accompanying a recent CBC article by Murray Brewster. 

That Canadians generally don’t know about this story, as inconsequential or even embarrassing as it is, is understood by historian Tim Cook to be emblematic of Canada’s “blind spot” about its role in the Second World War. According to Cook:

Following the First World War, Canadians built monuments from coast to coast. Canadian soldiers who served in that war — Cosgrave among them — wrote sometimes eloquent and moving accounts of their experiences under fire.

That didn’t happen in Canada following the Japanese and German surrenders in 1945, said Cook.

“We didn’t write the same history books. We didn’t produce films or television series,” he said. “We allowed the Americans and the British and even the Germans to write about the war and to present it on film.”

Read the whole thing to find out why.

Murdoch Mysteries

The Canadian television series Murdoch Mysteries (2009-present) is set in Toronto, starting in the 1890s. It’s a lot of fun; we’re currently up to season seven in our binge-watching. The characters are compelling, the plots not too convoluted, the art direction appealing, and the “future foreshadowing” (references to Area 51, the CN Tower, or Twitter, for instance) most amusing. I especially like hearing place names that I remember from my southern Ontario youth, like “Coboconk,” “Peterborough,” or “Grafton,” or seeing buildings like Victoria Hall, Parkwood Estate, or Boulden House (at Trinity College School) in various scenes. 

Through season six, the only flag on display in the show has been the Royal Union Flag, a.k.a. the Union Jack. 

To my puzzlement, these flags are often shown flying upside-down. But I reckon this subtly erroneous usage has always been a problem with this flag and the producers are in fact being historically accurate! 

Although I do wonder whether the Canadian Red Ensign wouldn’t have been flown more in the 1890s. A red flag with the Union Jack in the canton is at heart a naval ensign; throughout the British Empire it was often differenced with something in the fly, and some of these local variants achieved widespread use indeed, far beyond identifying ships. Canada’s flag was one such. It dates from the 1870s, was promoted for government buildings in 1891 by Governor-General Lord Stanley, and became Canada’s “civil ensign” in 1892. So you would think it would appear more than it has in the show. However, as far as I can tell, its first appearance is in season seven, episode one (set in 1901 as the portrait of Queen Victoria is being taken down in Station House Four, and Inspector Brackenreid proclaims “God save the King,” i.e. Victoria’s successor Edward VII).

The trouble with the Canadian red ensign is that the local signifier was the Canadian coat of arms. This means that one must watch for anachronisms, as Canada’s coat of arms itself changed as more provinces were accepted into Confederation. In 1901 there were seven provinces, although the original four-provinces shield also remained in common use. Flourishes like wreaths, crowns, and beavers could also be added at the manufacturer’s whim. But no one would have flown a red ensign with the coat of arms that was granted in 1921, or the version that was prescribed after 1957 (with red leaves, as in the image). 

This anachronism is especially glaring in season six, episode twelve, in which Julia Ogden is on trial for killing her husband. The Canadian coat of arms on display on the wall behind the judge was drawn by Allan Beddoe and dates from 1957. It’s far more likely that the arms on display in a courtroom in 1900 would be the royal arms of the United Kingdom. (And I wonder whether flags would actually be displayed in this context – it seems an American custom.) 

Royal arms. Wikipedia.

Royal arms in Osgoode Hall, Toronto. Wikipedia.

People just don’t know heraldry anymore. 

The Avro Arrow

From BBC Future (hat tip: David Winter):

The record-breaking jet which still haunts a country
A decade after the end of World War Two, Canada built a jet which pushed technology to its limits. But its demise showed why smaller nations found it difficult to compete in the Jet Age.

In the early years of the Cold War, Canada decided to design and build the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world.

Canada is well known for its rugged bush planes, capable of rough landings and hair-raising take-offs in the wilderness. From the late 1930s, the North American country had also started to manufacture British-designed planes for the Allied war effort. Many of these planes were iconic wartime designs like the Hawker Hurricane fighter and Avro Lancaster bomber.

Ambitious Canadian politicians and engineers weren’t satisfied with this. They decided to forge a world-leading aircraft manufacturing industry out of the factories and skilled workforce built up during the war. Tired of manufacturing aircraft designed by others, this new generation of Canadian leaders were determined to produce Canadian designs. Avro Aircraft, the Canadian airplane maker created after the war, was the company that would deliver their dream.

Freed from the set ways-of-thinking of Avro’s more established rivals, the firm’s engineers were able to work on revolutionary jet fighters, commercial airliners, flying saucers and even a space plane. They placed Canada at the technological cutting edge of the new Jet Age.

In so doing, these engineers challenged notions of what small countries like Canada could achieve in the hi-tech industries of the day, even if convincing politicians to stump up the cash for them was an altogether trickier business.

Then came the Arrow. On 4 October 1957, 14,000 people watched a large hangar on the outskirts of Toronto open to reveal a beautiful, large, white, delta-wing aircraft. The plane was the Avro Arrow interceptor. A third longer and broader than today’s Eurofighter Typhoon, the Arrow could fly close to Mach 2.0 (1,500 mph, or the maximum speed of Concorde), and had the potential to fly even faster. It was Canada’s Can$250m (US$1,58bn today) bid to become an aviation superpower.

The project was genuinely ground-breaking. Avro’s engineers had been allowed to build a record-breaker without compromise. But Canadians would soon discover that the supersonic age had made aviation projects so expensive that only a handful of countries could carry them out – and Canada, unfortunately, wasn’t one of them.

Read the whole thing. Prime Minister John Diefenbaker canceled the Arrow in 1959 for genuine reasons of cost, but it was a huge blow to national pride, and the ordered destruction of everything to do with the project (for reasons of security) seemed an added insult. Fifteen thousand people lost their jobs as a result, although NASA did cherry-pick 33 Canadian engineers and put them to good use. They might not have been as important as Von Braun’s German team, or even the Hidden Figures ladies, but they made some genuine contributions to the moon shot, including the Lunar Orbiter Rendezvous concept, the design of the Lunar Module, and the design of the heat shield to protect the Command Module upon its return to Earth (see this CTV News article for more). 

As it happens we saw an episode of the Canadian television series Murdoch Mysteries this week. Set in Toronto in the 1890s, the episode (entitled “Murdoch Air“) featured the fictional inventor James Pendrick and his prototype heavier-than-air aircraft, which he called Pendrick Arrow, a clear reference to the Avro Arrow. It too gets deliberately destroyed. 

Canadian Money

In Canada, prior to the “Scenes of Canada” series of currency notes, which debuted in 1969, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II appeared on all bills in circulation, as she still appears on the obverse of all the coins in circulation. As Canada’s head of state and the guarantor of the entire thing, this is just and fitting. However, Betty Windsor is also the head of a number of other states, doesn’t even live in Canada, and is a living symbol of unearned privilege and imperial conquest, etc. So the Scenes of Canada series, in accord with the mood in the 1960s, tried to insert some uniquely Canadian Content: the Queen remained on the $1, $2, and $20 bills, but former Prime Ministers appeared on the others: Laurier on the $5, Macdonald on the $10, King on the $50, and Borden on the $100. These were judged to be the most influential heads of government to date, and they were balanced with two from each of the major political parties (and represent a 3:1 English to French ratio, reflective of the country’s demographics). They did not represent sovereignty as such, but they were important people in Canadian history who exercised actual political power. This pattern remained with the Birds of Canada series, the Canadian Journey series, and the current Frontier series.

Politicians, however, don’t get the respect that they used to, and balance between political parties is not the sort of diversity that we cherish anymore. Sir John A. Macdonald, father of Confederation and first Prime Minister of the Dominion of Canada, was also responsible for Chinese exclusion, for the Indian residential school system, and for the execution of Louis Riel. Plus, he was a raging alcoholic. So his statue has been removed from in front of the Victoria, B.C., city hall, the Canadian Historical Association has removed his name from one of the prizes it awards, and as of 2018 his image has been replaced on the $10 note with one Viola Desmond, Canada’s equivalent of Rosa Parks.* So it appears that people on currency notes no longer need any connection to governance at all – in fact, “resisters” of the established order now get monetary memorialization. I’m not saying this is bad necessarily, but the advantage of putting the sovereign on the notes, or important Prime Ministers, is that the choice is obvious – there can be little debate about who should go on, and focusing on the top of the pyramid represents, in its way, everyone below. Once one expands the category to include important Canadians of all stripes, one opens a can of worms. Who gets to go on?!** Generally such memorialization is what postage stamps are for, since there is a potentially limitless number of designs for that particular medium. (Although I wonder, with the deprecation of physical cash, will currency notes soon become like stamps, with multiple designs in circulation at any one time, and new designs introduced every year? Think of how much seignorage the government could make as people collect them! Alternately, maybe we should take the attitude towards human portraits on bills that we take towards human sports mascots – best to avoid them entirely, as does the European Union.)

But since they’ve taken Sir John A. off the ten, they now feel they have to take Laurier off the five. Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz has recently stated that:

the bank will launch public consultations for the design of the polymer note, similar to the ones “that led to the selection of Viola Desmond for the $10 note,” he said. “This time we will be asking all Canadians to nominate any historic Canadian — someone who is truly banknote-able.” 

A friend of mine suggests that Louis Riel should go on. Personally I think that this would be akin to putting Robert E. Lee on an American note but I guess not all armed rebellions against state authority are equal….

At this point it does not appear that they’ve set up a website asking for suggestions. 

UPDATE: From the National Post: “Would Gord Downie even want Gord Downie on the $5 bill?” (Gord Downie being the lead singer of the Canadian rock act The Tragically Hip, who died of glioblastoma in 2017.)

* In 1946, Desmond, a Nova Scotian of African descent, refused to leave a whites-only section of a movie theatre in New Glasgow, N.S. (It should be noted that the racial segregation was theatre policy, not provincial law.) She was arrested and convicted of tax evasion, since the tax on the floor seats was one cent more than the tax on the balcony seats. She received a posthumous pardon in 2010. 

The United States is contemplating something similar. I have heard for several years now that President Andrew Jackson (1829-1837), frontiersman and champion of the common man, but also slaveholder and remover of the Cherokee, is to be removed on the front of the $20 bill, with Harriet Tubman, the escaped slave and conductor of the Underground Railroad, put in his place. But this move seems to have put on hold as a result of the change in administration in 2017. 

** I recall that, during the debate about changing the $10 bill, that they wanted to put a Canadian woman it, not realizing that the Queen is a Canadian woman. It reminded me of Mark Steyn’s response to the claim that Adrienne Clarkson was the “first immigrant Governor General”: “Ok, then, who was Viscount Monck – some hardscrabble lobster fisherman who came west and made it big on the street of dreams in Ottawa?”