Monday, July 20, 2015

Part 1 of The Empire Strikes Out - Canada's Defence & The Commonwealth Space Program

The Beginning; How to Build a Space Program & the Canadian Astronautical Society

By Robert Godwin
British aircraft engineer Geoffrey de Havilland circa 1960.
The general confusion during the late 1950s about the merits of missile defence led to several questionable strategic decisions made by the Governments of Canada and the United Kingdom. 
The possibility of a third contestant in the Space Race, in the form of a Commonwealth space program hinged on the sharing of technology and financing amongst the various invested nations, but more significantly on the political choices made regarding the future defensive postures of Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.
When Geoffrey De Havilland committed to building an aircraft factory in Canada in 1927 Britain was still a global power, despite the immense losses and repercussions of World War I. Canada was independent but continued to be perceived by many, both at home and abroad, as part of the British Empire. During World War II Canada "came of age" and provided Britain with a disproportionate amount of military hardware, particularly aircraft such as the Avro Lancaster bomber and the De Havilland Mosquito fighter. A vigorous exchange of engineering skills and personnel took place between the two countries, before, during and after the war.

Between the 1920s and 1950s vast sums of money were spent building Canada into a competitive world-class center of aerospace science and engineering. In the late 1940s and early 1950s much of Britain’s industrial energies were tied up rebuilding the country’s infrastructure after the Second World War.

The birth of the long-range strategic missile during that conflict, and during the subsequent Cold War, raised the stakes until Britain no longer had the resources to project itself onto the world stage with the same big-stick as the Soviet Union and the United States. The British government banned the export of capital from the UK and so large corporate concerns like A.V. Roe and De Havilland could only continue their Canadian ventures by offering "in kind" services, which frequently took the form of the transfer of skilled personnel. Many of those British engineers and scientists chose to permanently emigrate to Canada and Australia in search of better opportunities.

By the summer of 1958, the UK parent of A.V. Roe Canada, Hawker Siddeley, was publicly trumpeting its Canadian success story. British reporters were literally catching flights to Canada just to interview the daily flood of emigrant engineers. Employees at "Avro" and its branch subsidiaries had escalated from 300 in 1945 to 41,000 in 1958; during the same period sales at Avro rose from zero to $310M.[1]

The rival De Havilland Company, also headquartered in England, had a net asset reserve of just over £19M (£400M in 2015) and its Beaver aircraft continued to be churned out of their factory at Downsview in Toronto. The Beaver had performed so well during the International Geophysical Year (56-57) that no less than three different geographical features had been named after it in Antarctica, and the US Congress had actually passed a special dispensation to allow it to be purchased by the US military...[2]

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Robert Godwin.
Robert Godwin is the owner and founder of Apogee Space Books. He is also the Space Curator at the Canadian Air & Space Museum

He has written or edited over 100 books including the award winning series "The NASA Mission Reports" and appeared on dozens of radio and television programs in Canada, the USA and England as an expert not only on space exploration but also on music. 

His books have been discussed on CNN, the CBC, the BBC and CBS 60 Minutes. He produced the first ever virtual reality panoramas of the Apollo lunar surface photography and the first multi-camera angle movie of the Apollo 11 moonwalk. His latest book was written with the late Frederick I Ordway III and is called "2001 The Heritage and Legacy of the Space Odyssey" about the history of spaceflight at the movies.


1. Daily Express Oct 30 1958
2. De Havilland Gazette June 1959

Next Week: "Cancelling the Arrow; A Government Not Interested in Space; Sounding Rockets, the Black Brant & Velvet Glove" as part 2 of "The Empire Strikes Out - Canada's Defence & The Commonwealth Space Program" continues!

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