________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 19 . . . . May 26, 2006


Chasing the Arrow.

Charles Reid.
Vancouver, BC: Sandcastle Books/Beach Holme Publishing, 2004.
138 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 0-88878-439-2.

Subject Headings:
Avro Arrow (Turbojet fighter plane)-Juvenile fiction.
Bullying-Juvenile fiction.
Mothers and sons-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Mary Thomas.

*** /4


Although Robbie had kept up his nocturnal visits to the landing once a month throughout the winter, he had heard little that was interesting about the plane and generally crept back into his room after an hour or so. But at the first meeting after his mother bought the Thunderbird, things really got exciting again.

Joe Wilkie started the discussion. "I don't think I've ever seen Crawford Gordon so angry. I thought he was going to burst a blood vessel after the air force insisted on having this new Astra electronics system from RCA Victor."

Jack Fowler took a sip from his coffee mug. "It's the cost factor that's really bothering Crawford. We've got enough trouble with the government on cost overruns as it is, and Crawford's convinced this new system will send the bureaucrats into another panic."

"Well, they approved it, didn't they, Jack?" Robbie's mother said.

"That won't help us if it inflates the budget. They'll find a way to blame us. Count on it."

"I agree," Emily said. "Even though we've stated clearly that we're convinced the Hughes system with the Falcon missiles will do the job for a fraction of the price, it won't make any difference if the Astra's development costs spiral out of control. The politicians will hold us accountable, anyway." ...

A little numb with fatigue, Robbie returned to his room and climbed quietly into bed, his mind trying hard to grasp the complexities involved in the building of the CF-105. As his brain spun with visions of missiles and electronic components, he did know one thing: the worry in the voices of his mother and her friends spelled trouble.


The saga of the Avro Arrow is absolutely fascinating from several points of view. As a Canadian success story of engineering design and development, it can hardly be rivaled. Equally, as a tale of political interference and wrong-headed decision making, it is also top of the line. The Arrow, or CF-105 as it was originally designated, was Canadian from tip to tail: design, development, engine, components, the works, and had the (occasionally half-hearted, but at least present) support of Pearson's Liberal government and the then Minister of Trade and Commerce, C.D. Howe, during the early and mid-1950s. Then Diefenbaker's Conservatives defeated the Liberals over the pipeline fiasco, gaining first a minority and then, nine months later, an overwhelming majority government. Dief was apparently keener on sucking up to American interests than he was in developing a Canadian aviation industry, but by then the Arrow had been unveiled, the project was 90% complete, and flight trials were being overwhelmingly positive. The project should have been beyond being cancelled. It was not. On February 20, 1959, Dief made a speech in the House of Commons, terminating both the Arrow and its offshoot, the Iroquois engine, projects. Twenty-five hundred skilled workers at the Downsview site lost their jobs at one blow. It was remarkable that the government could get away with this, but, with over two hundred seats in the House and cities like Toronto packing less political clout than they do today, it did. The final, most inexplicable, thing was that all the aircraft, plans, and blueprints were ordered destroyed! Five of the six completed machines were, in fact, chopped up for scrap, but the sixth, again inexplicably, ended up being ditched in the waters of Lake Ontario.

     There are a number of mysteries here, and Charles Reid doesn't really attempt solutions to any of them. The plot, for which the Arrow is the background, concerns several years in the life of young Robbie, son of Emily who is both a single mum (much less acceptable in the fifties than now) and an aeronautical engineer working on the design of the plane. The two of them move to Toronto when the project is in its initial stages and Robbie is entering Grade 7, and, for a while, all goes smoothly. Then Robbie goes off to a different high school from his best friend and encounters a nasty bully who makes his life hell, teasing him unmercifully about having no father and suggesting that his mother actually just makes coffee and deals in sexual favours in Downsview--just the sort of bullying that Robbie could not tell his mother, or any other adult, about. The implied parallel to Diefenbaker's attitude to the Arrow project is drawn quite strongly. Diefenbaker 'knew' that there was no way mere Canadians could make a world-class plane, but, just in case they had, he made sure that no one could ever say so for certain by destroying what he didn't quite not believe in. Robbie's bully gets his just desserts eventually, but it is unlikely that the Arrow will ever be raised from the floor of the lake. How it got there is another mystery to which I'd really like a solution, but Reid doesn't give us one. In fact, he doesn't even tell us that that's where it ended up, which is a bit of a cop-out in my view.

     It's a great backdrop for a good story, and the psychological explanation for cancellation and destruction of the plane is possible, if not really very satisfying. It is unfortunate that the text doesn't flow along a bit more smoothly. In an effort to be sure we, the readers, all understand the political ramifications, Reid has Robbie eavesdropping on the engineers' Friday night get-togethers after work--where his mother does, in fact, supply the sandwiches and coffee!--but where her colleagues carefully give full name and occupation of the @#$&* SOB who is mucking up 'their' plane! (Expletives merely implied.) Robbie's conversations with his friends also sound stilted, even when they are talking baseball or Lonnie Donegan recordings, so that the whole story seems a bit fake. That is too bad; it's still interesting, but it could have been so much better. And I do wish someone could answer some of the questions that remain about the fate of the Arrow!


Mary Thomas works in elementary school libraries in Winnipeg, MB, but is presently on leave in Oxford.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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