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Avro workers react to massive layoffs

It's the closest thing Canadian industry has to a love story and a murder mystery. The Avro Arrow, a sleek white jet interceptor developed in Malton, Ontario in the 1950s, could have been many things. It might have become the fastest plane in the world, our best defence against Soviet bombers, the catalyst to propel Canada to the forefront of the aviation industry. Instead, it became a $400-million pile of scrap metal, and the stuff of legends.

Shock. Disbelief. Anger. Despair. These are the reactions of the 14,525 Avro workers who found themselves unemployed en masse on Black Friday. CBC Radio's Bill Beatty is at the plant to witness "a funeral procession" of hundreds of cars, lined up bumper-to-bumper, carrying toolmakers, engineers and office workers from the plant for the last time. Many of them offer Beatty their parting shots.
• Before noon on Feb. 20, 1959, the Department of Defence production told Avro executives that the Arrow and Iroquois programs were cancelled and that all work on the projects must cease that day. At 4:00 p.m. an announcement was made over the plant loudspeaker that all employees were laid off immediately. Later on, a small number of workers were called back to the plant to work on other projects, and a compensation package was offered.

• At the time of the cancellation of the Arrow, Avro was the third-largest corporation in Canada. The Arrow program employed more than 40,000 people at Avro and related suppliers. The Malton and Brampton suburbs of Toronto were hardest hit. About a quarter of Brampton's workers were employed at Avro.

• On Black Friday, chief engineer Robert Lindley asked Avro executives if he could fly the Iroquois-equipped RL-206 just one time, but his request was rejected.

• News of the cancellation came just two weeks before Arrow RL-206 was scheduled to fly with the new Iroquois engine. Avro engineers had expected that plane to smash the world speed record.

• The end of the Arrow and Iroquois meant the end of Avro Canada Ltd. Avro president Crawford Gordon and executive vice-president Fred Smye believed the message from the government was that the projects were cancelled and no more projects would be offered.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio News
Broadcast Date: Feb. 20, 1959
Reporter: Bill Beatty
Duration: 3:13

Last updated: January 18, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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