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Arrow Through the Heart: The Life and Times of Crawford Gordon and the Avro Arrow

by Greig Stewart

In this engaging and revealing biography of Crawford Gordon, the charismatic and mercurial dynamo at the helm of the Avro Arrow project in the 1950s, Greig Stewart chronicles the life and demise of the infamous plane that has taken on mythic proportions. Fed by other books, a CBC film in 1979, and CBC’s recent mini-series, copious speculation continues.

Stewart has done a splendid job, conducting some 30 interviews with Gordon’s friends, business associates, acquaintances, wives, lovers, and son and daughter. Gordon’s life story begins on the Titanic – his mother was a survivor of the ill-fated cruise. Fittingly, Gordon’s life was also full of intensity. A workaholic and an alcoholic, Gordon met his second wife on a Queen Elizabeth cruise and promptly walked out on his family. Colourful, forceful, persuasive, and charming, he was to some compassionate and caring. Others saw him as cold, impulsive, impatient, imperious, impetuous, and insecure. He was a complex loner, a maverick who could be calculating and ruthless.

For example, out of spite, he once invaded Howard Hughes’s private bathroom and urinated everywhere except in the toilet. He arrived drunk and obstreperous for his showdown with John Diefenbaker (“that son of a bitch”) who served as his nemesis to his dying day.

At its height, when Gordon was but 40, the A.V. Roe empire was Canada’s third largest conglomerate, employing 50,000 people spread across 44 companies.

But Gordon crashed just like the Arrow, in short order. He gambled away his dwindling assets at Monte Carlo, having succeeded in youth, then failing and drinking himself to death in middle age.

Pierre Sévigny, Diefenbaker’s associate minister of defence, had a splash in the press recently claiming A.V. Roe scrapped the completed Arrows and had the blueprints destroyed. Not so the planes: the government’s War Assets Ltd. sold them to a Hamilton, Ontario scrap dealer for peanuts. Did Gordon destroy the blueprints? This book doesn’t say but it does say enough about him that it is credible.


Reviewer: Nelson Wiseman

Publisher: McGraw-Hill Ryerson


Price: $29.99

Page Count: 256 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-07-560102-8

Released: Mar.

Issue Date: 1998-4

Categories: Memoir & Biography