A new hunt for Avro Arrow models in the depths of Lake Ontario: This time the search will be different

A renewed search to find and bring the planes to a final resting spot at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa and the National Air Force Museum of Canada in Trenton, Ont. is announced.

State-of-the-art sonar technology used in the Franklin expedition will aid search this summer

The Avro Arrow was scrapped in 1959 after its development was cancelled by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. One-eighth scale models used in its development were fired over Lake Ontario. (Avro Museum)

It's become the stuff of legend — lying deep in the depths of Lake Ontario are the remains of nine Avro Arrow models launched in the mid-1950s.

Today a renewed search was announced to find and bring the model planes to a home at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa and the National Air Force Museum of Canada in Trenton, Ont.

The Arrow, a sleek jet interceptor developed in Malton, Ont., in the 1950s, had the potential to propel Canada to the forefront in military aviation. When the program was abruptly cancelled in 1959 by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, more than 30,000 employees lost their jobs — and the planes were ordered to be destroyed.

The Arrow was built to intercept Soviet bombers that might have entered North American airspace over the North Pole during the Cold War. (Avro Museum)

"Cut up with torches, hammered down with steel balls like they destroy buildings," described a photographer who rented a plane to take footage of the destruction, since media were not allowed in the facility.

Cut up with torches, hammered down with steel balls like they destroy buildings.- Description of photographer who captured footage of Avro Arrow destruction

It's believed that nine three-metre long, or one-eighth scale models of the Arrow fitted with sensors were strapped onto rockets, and fired over the lake.

Today, with the help of equipment that assisted the successful Franklin expedition in 2016, the details of a search for those models were outlined.

"We're not trying to rewrite the history of what happened to the Avro program, this is a search and ideally recovery," said John Burzynski, the president and CEO of Osisko Mining — the man who will lead the search team.

Ottawa orders all evidence of Arrow destroyed

43 years ago
Duration 3:53
April 1959: all five Arrows are cut to pieces. Nobody in Ottawa will own up to the decision.

Burzynski said the idea has been a work in progress for the last year and a half and his group has recently acquired all the necessary permits to conduct the search and possible recovery.

The mission, a collaborative effort by several private companies in assistance with the Canadian Coast Guard and the Royal Canadian Military Institute, will begin next week.

John Burzynski will lead the search team, which starts work in Lake Ontario next week. (Makda Ghebreslassie/CBC)

A Newfoundland company, Kraken Sonar Systems, was awarded the $500,000 contract which will involve deploying its state-of-the-art ThunderFish underwater vehicle and AquaPix sonar system to capture high-quality images of the lake bed.

This won't be the first search for the models, but Burzynski hopes it will be the first successful search. 

Theories about location abound

"There's a lot of different stories about where we think they could be," said David Shea, vice-president of engineering at Kraken, the company that created the sonar equipment to be used. 

David Shea, with Kraken Sonar Systems, will provide an unmanned, untethered automated underwater vehicle to assist in the search. (Makda Ghebreslassie/CBC)

They know the models took off from Point Petre in Prince Edward County, more than 200 kilometres away from Toronto. 

The search grid covers water ranging in depth from five metres closer to shore and 100 metres farther out in the lake, Shea said.

The mission will run the underwater sonar equipment for eight hours a day, after which the data will be downloaded and analyzed by the team of scientists, which will also include archeologists. They expect to search an area about half the size of Vancouver, or 64 square kilometres.

A 1980 CBC report says after the destruction of the existing Arrow planes — created based on the models now in Lake Ontario — pieces were sold to a Hamilton junk dealer, for 6.5 cents per pound. At 67,000 pounds, a scrapped Arrow would have cost you $4,355.

Impact of cancellation still felt

"There was such a brain drain in Canada because we lost such a core of our aerospace industry," said Erin Gregory, a curator with the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. "It resonates with people through the years ... you're looking at thousands and thousands of people who lost their jobs."

Jack Hurst was a teenager when he was hired by Avro to be an aerial photographer. (Makda Ghebreslassie/CBC)

One of those people was 83-year-old Jack Hurst, a photographer for the Arrow program who got the job at the age of 17.

"I was one of the kids there," he said.

"It was cancelled today and you were out today," he recalled about the day the government ordered the program shut down. "There was no going back, it was really tough."

Hurst eventually found work as a photographer for the Eaton's catalogue.

He plans on joining the search mission next week, and will likely pull out his camera a few times.

"I'm just so thrilled to be part of this program," he said. "I'm one of the few living people that worked there ... it's the greatest part of history in Canada and to have it revitalized, I just think is a wonderful thing."

John Diefenbaker defends his Avro Arrow decision in 1964

11 months ago
Duration 1:48
Dief the Chief on the Avro Arrow: 'It was right to end it.' Aired on the CBC program Document on March 25, 1964.

Unveiling the Arrow

4 years ago
Duration 0:33
The first sleek white Avro Arrow is unveiled in front of a crowd of 12,000 at the Avro Plant in Malton. But the Russians unveil something of their own. Arrow photo: National Archives of Canada, PA-210520

The hunt for Avro Arrow models

24 years ago
Duration 3:03
Lake Ontario hides sunken treasure: nine test models of the Avro Arrow.

With files from Peter Cowan and Makda Ghebreslassie