Avro Arrow spawned a Canadian legend

Sleek, technogically advanced and faster than any jet of its time, the Avro Arrow is the most famous aircraft in Canadian history. To this day, it fuels engineers’ dreams and underpins one of Canada’s most enduring legends.

Eric Gibson, a designer of aircraft engines and dedicated volunteer at the Paris Museum and Historical Society, would like to have been part of the team of highly skilled engineers who produced the storied aircraft. Alas, he emigrated to Canada too late. When the British engineer arrived in Montreal in 1964, the Arrow was but a poignant memory.

He was recruited by aerospace manufacturer Pratt and Whitney. As he was introduced to his new colleagues, one after the other told him proudly: “I worked on the Avro Arrow project.”

Intrigued, Gibson learned everything he could about the Canadian supersonic interceptor jet.

Today he is so knowledgeable that he gives lectures on the subject, supplemented by a slide show and brought to life by anecdotes from people touched by the project. He delivered his talk at the Paris Museum on March 13, 2018 — the 60th anniversary of the Arrow’s first flight.

“It was a very adventurous project,” he said. “We’ll never know what might have been.”

His predominantly male audience of 20 sat spellbound as he told the story of the Avro Arrow, from its promising beginning in the mid 1950s to its heartbreaking end in 1959.

The CF-105, better known as the Avro Arrow, was conceived in the Cold War. Russia was working on a supersonic bomber. The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) turned to Avro Canada, a Malton-based aircraft manufacturer with a good track record, to design the world’s most advanced military interceptor.

The company assigned a crack team of designers and engineers to the task. It decided to create the mainframe and buy the engine and weapons system off the shelf to keep the project affordable.

The Arrow team tried things that had never been done before; computer-aided design (when computers were in their infancy), extensive use of lightweight titanium and composites, newly-discovered aerodynamic principles.

Skipping the prototype stage entirely, Avro rolled out the first Arrow on Oct. 4, 1957. In an ominous foreshadow of what was to come, the unveiling of the Canada’s most advanced military jet was overshadowed by the launch of Russia’s Sputnik missile.

“The Arrow was designed to chase supersonic bombers,” Gibson explained. “With missiles, it didn’t have a mission.”

Moreover, the political atmosphere had become hostile. That year, John Diefenbaker, a Conservative prairie lawyer promising improved social programs, won the general election, ending 22 years of Liberal rule. “Diefenbaker was not admired by people in the aircraft industry,” Gibson observed wryly.

The third strike against the Arrow was its cost. By the time the mainframe was built, the engine of choice, made by Rolls Royce had been discontinued. The design team hastily substituted Pratt and Whitney engines in its test models. Then there were problems with the landing gear, requiring costly repairs. Each adjustment drove up the price tag.

The Arrow performed well on its first flight. But its fate was already sealed. “It was getting frightfully expensive,” Gibson admitted. “And it is a bit pointless keeping an aircraft when you don’t have a mission for it.”

On Feb. 20, 1959 — known as “Black Friday” in the aircraft industry — the axe fell. Diefenbaker rose in the House of Commons and announced the termination of the Avro Arrow project.

All five test models and the 34 aircraft in production were to be destroyed; parts and equipment were to be scrapped; plans, drawings and technical specifications were to be demolished.

More than 14,500 highly-skilled workers at Avro lost their livelihoods that day. A further 10,000 positions were cut by Avro’s suppliers. “People were told to pack their things and leave,” Gibson recounted. “They didn’t believe they were out of a job.”

The top engineers dispersed, some to aircraft makers in the U.S., some to Pratt and Whitney, some to other industries.

For years, rumours circulated that someone flew one of the Arrows to safety. In 1997, June Callwood, a respected Canadian journalist and pilot herself, wrote in Maclean’s magazine that she heard the distinctive sound of an Arrow flying over Toronto the day after Diefenbaker announced that the jets were to be destroyed. In 1968, Air Marshall Wilfred Curtis, the First World War flying ace who headed the Arrow program, refused to answer when a Toronto Star reporter asked whether one of the Arrows was still intact. To this day, some “Arrowheads” believe it is out there waiting to be found.

Gibson is dubious, but he can say with assurance that “there are a lot of parts in people’s basements.”

The Arrow lives on in legend; kept alive by the families of the workers who thought they were making history; by aviation buffs savouring Canada’s moment of aeronautical leadership; and by ordinary Canadians captivated by the tale of a high-flying aircraft, grounded before it could soar.

Carol Goar


Spring cleaning came early for Paris Museum Volunteers this year. A group of volunteers spent an entire day clearing out and reorganizing the museum’s display storage area. All the items needed to be removed from the old storage shelves and placed temporarily in the arena lobby before new shelving could be installed. The volunteers then relocated the items on the new shelving in categories and well-labelled boxes. A great job was done by all!

– Ursula O’Brien

Volunteer Training

The first of three volunteer training workshops took place at the Museum on Saturday, February 10th and was very well attended. We welcomed experienced volunteers who came for a refresher, along with three brand new volunteers eager to get their feet wet.

Volunteers were taken on a tour of the museum including the exhibit area, research and storage rooms. Detailed information was presented about the museum shop and reception process. The next workshop, March 10th will begin with a review of material presented at the first workshop and include more detailed information on the accession and catalogue process. April 14th will also start with a review and then we will focus on researching.

Thanks to all who helped with the refreshments and photocopying. See you next month!

For more information about volunteering with PMHS, please contact us at info@theparismuseum.com

Ursula O’Brien

Annual General Meeting

Sunday February 25, 2018
2:00 PM — 4:00 PM

Each year, members of the Paris Museum & Historical Society are encouraged to attend our Annual General Meeting. It’s a perfect opportunity to catch up with what’s going on at the Paris Museum. It’s also a great time to give us your feedback about the past year and let us know what you would like to see happen in the coming year. All members in good standing have a vote, and memberships can be renewed at or before the AGM.

Join us as we prepare for an exciting 2018 together!

The Paris Museum & Historical Society
Syl Apps Community Centre,
51 William Street
Paris, Ontario.
(Enter directly from the parking lot)


Portrait of a Passionate Collector

Sean Murphy, whose historic bottles and pottery line the north wall of the Paris Museum, can remember exactly when he became a collector. He was 14 years of age. His father took him to a dump in the woods near the family cottage in Underwood Ontario (about 20 km north of Kincardine). They searched for treasures. Sean found an old gold pocket watch, some early pop bottles and a few blue turn-of-the-century shampoo bottles. He was hooked. His father took him to more rural dumps, a riverbed, then a farm auction. He bought his son the 1969 classic Bottles in Canada by Doris and Peter Unitt.

The teenager turned his bedroom into a museum filled with bottles and pottery. “That is what you find in rural dumps and farm sales,” he explained.

Forty-seven years later, Sean’s collection of stoneware and bottles — from China Russia, India, Chile, the U.S. and Canada — fills his entire basement. He estimates the number at 500. The book his father bought him has grown into a library of 160 volumes about bottles and earthenware. He has developed a transcontinental network of fellow collectors.

Since retiring from his job as a technician at the nuclear division of Ontario Power Generation, Sean has devoted more time to auctions and sales, acquired more knowledge about antiques and retained all of his passion for searching for historic bottles and stoneware.

“Half the pleasure is in the hunt,” he says. “The other half is learning where it was made, who the original owner was and how it fits in the history of the region.”
The Paris area — as far south as the U.S. border — is the second-best area in the province for bottle collecting because it was settled in the 18th century. The best area is eastern Ontario because it was settled first.

He has paid as much as $1,200 for a single bottle in cash and trade; $900 for cash alone. Right now, prices are dropping because young people aren’t interested in antiques. But the cycle will change, Sean says.

He plans to sell off the majority of his collection when he and wife Sharon, a PMHS board member, downsize. He has already begun paring, trading 5 bottles for example for one he really wants.

Sean enjoys sharing his knowledge with members of the museum. He gave a talk entitled “Pottery of Paris” when he and Sharon joined the museum four and a half years ago. It proved so popular that the board asked him to deliver an updated version at its 2017 annual general meeting. Once again, the audience listened attentively and responded positively.

Today, he is less hungry to acquire new artifacts than to delve into the knowledge they bring. “Collecting is like opening a door,” he says. “It leads to history.”

– Carol Goar

The PMHS Outreach Program

The Paris Museum strives to inform and educate the public about the history of Paris, its buildings and families. However, some people, such as seniors, may not be able to come to the museum. So the museum comes to them.

The volunteers that are involved in our Outreach program visit Telfer Place on Grand River Street in Paris, Tranquility Place in Brantford and starting in March will visit Park Lane Terrace, also on Grand River Street in Paris.

The presentations may include videos about the Penmans factories, farming in the area and parades and events in 1940s Paris. Outreach volunteers also bring artifacts to show during presentations. The Museum has a traveling “What’s This” box. Seniors can look at and handle objects from the box while trying to guess what the objects were used for. Some volunteers bring storyboards about topics like the Coronation of Elizabeth II or Prohibition.

The presentations are informative and cover topics like how the cobblestone houses unique to our area were built and how exclusive miniatures depicting those cobblestone buildings, on display in our museum, are made.

The presentations also often evoke memories for the seniors who attend. For instance, a PMHS video showing interviews with area farmers brought back vivid memories of growing up on farms or owning farms for some seniors who attended a recent presentation. And they happily shared their memories with others who attended.

If you are interested in helping with the Outreach program, or would like more information, send an email to info@theparismuseum.com. The Outreach Program Co-ordinator will also have a sign-up sheet at PMHS’s upcoming Annual General Meeting and will be available to answer questions at that time. The AGM will be held on Sunday, February 25th starting at 2 pm.

– Ursula O’Brien

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Paris Museum and Historical Society

It’s Christmas day. The sun is strong and bright overhead, the snow squeaky under my feet. I can feel my cheeks reddening with the cold. I am wearing my new Christmas outfit, a tartan kilt with a hunter green cardigan and tights to match. And I am walking the three blocks from my home to my grandparent’s house for our annual Christmas family gathering. Once everyone has arrived it will be happy chaos. The modest white-framed house, so lovingly and diligently maintained inside and out, will be bursting at the seams. But for now I am savouring the quiet. There’s no one else in sight. All I hear is church bells. It feels perfect. Like a true introvert, I am storing this feeling of peace against the hurly burly that I know is coming. I am also happily anticipating the fact that, because I have volunteered to come early and help my beloved Grandmother with preparations (she won’t actually need my help, everything will be under control and under her thumb), I will have her to myself for a little while.

The above is a moment in time from one of my happiest remembrances of childhood Christmases. I hope that you also have some happy memories of Christmas and that you will have a chance this year to make many more with your loved ones.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Paris Museum and Historical Society!

2017 has been a busy year for PMHS. Our energetic and committed volunteers have researched, catalogued, cleaned, organized, blogged, fundraised, filed and just generally participated in a million and one activities — all necessary to keep our organization on track, so that we can keep Paris’ history alive for future generations. So it’s time to say a huge “Thank-you” to all of you. And that includes not just our active volunteers but also all of our devoted members and community supporters as well. None of the magic happens without you!

It seems fitting in this holiday season to take the time to reflect not just on the past year, but on the coming one as well. Rest assured, there’s a lot in store for PMHS moving forward into 2018.

To find out more about what’s coming up, please mark Sunday, February 25th on your calendar and plan to join us at our Annual General Meeting. It’s a chance to catch up with other like-minded supporters of local history, have a look at our current exhibit if you haven’t been in for a while and get a glimpse into the inner workings of our organization. We hope to see you there.

But for now, I hope that you are happily anticipating those little moments either alone or in company, that will make your Christmas bright and memorable.

Cate Breaugh

Gift shop ends the year on a high note

Thanks to an influx of new vendors, some well-timed marketing and a donation of tapestries depicting landmarks of Paris, our gift shop was a busy, profitable place in the last two months of 2017.

In the final four days before our Dec. 17 Christmas break, we chalked up an extraordinary $700 in sales.

The hottest selling item of the season was our Paris afghans/tapestries, depicting town landmarks. Volunteer Steve Pinkett brought in a donation of 42, provided by Mary Maxim. Just one — the display model — remained on closing day.

Other top sellers included copies of At the Forks of the Grand — Parts I and II, written half a century ago by Donald A. Smith, one of the founders of the Paris Museum; photographic prints of Paris scenes by volunteer Wayne Wilkinson; one-of-a-kind jewelry, hand-crafted soaps with ceramic dishes and maps of Paris.

Under the leadership of gift shop manager Chris Galloway, the entire inventory of the gift shop is now digitized for our new tracking system. It is now possible to produce a daily, weekly or monthly account of how many items were sold, how each was paid for and what needs to be re-ordered.

As a back-up, our paper bookkeeping is being kept in operation until all front-desk volunteers are trained to operate the museum’s new electronic system.

The steady improvement in the museum’s 2-year-old gift shop is the result of a team effort. Chris recruited and interviewed vendors, welcoming suggestions from PMHS volunteers. Sharon Murphy got the word out, Ursula O’Brien recommended new artisans. And Steve Pinkett, as mentioned, delivered boxloads of Paris afghans donated by Mary Maxim.

For those seeking warmth as the temperature plummets in January, there are plenty of winter hats still in stock. We also have a good supply of 2018 calendars with spectacular photos of Paris, produced by Concerned Citizens of Brant.

The museum and gift shop re-open on Jan. 3, 2018.

Carol Goar

Volunteer appreciation reception

Honouring a tradition initiated in 2002, the Paris Museum and Historical Society held a volunteer appreciation reception in early December.

The first such gathering was hosted by Marg Deans. It consisted of a horse-drawn wagon ride followed by potluck dinner.

This year’s get-together was held at the festively decorated museum.

The highlight of the afternoon was a talk by pottery collector Sean Murphy about the origin of local pottery and earthenware; what antique collectors should know about the price of these items; and how to differentiate a genuine antique from an old, but not valuable, jar.

Volunteers — both antiquarians and interested novices — listened intently as he illustrated the attributes and estimated the selling price of pieces of pottery from his own collection, then answered questions about everything from where to go treasure hunting; to whether to buy a piece just because you like it.

After a break, where volunteers mingled over wine, punch, fruit and goodies in the research room, they were called back to participate in a prize draw.

Each person had received a ticket at the door. When his or her number was picked out a drum, the individual was invited to the prize table to choose one prize. Pictures, puzzles, aprons, tote bags and books were available.

There were more prizes than tickets, so most volunteers ended up with at least two items. On their way out, they also received a goodie bag and sincere thanks for their dedication.

The reception was a collective effort but Cate Breaugh, Sean and Sharon Murphy and Marie Williamson deserve special thanks for their leadership.

Carol Goar

Volunteer Appreciation

On Sunday, December 3rd the hard-working volunteers of the Paris Museum and Historical Society gathered for a Volunteer Appreciation event. Attendees enjoyed a buffet, prize draws and a presentation by bottle collector, museum member and volunteer Sean Murphy.

Rick O’Brien