“Reds Carry Cold War to North Americans:” A brief roadmap of the circumstances surrounding the importation of Czechoslovakian automobiles into Canada at the height of the Cold War, part 1
Good morning, good afternoon or good evening, my reading friend. Yours truly dares to hope that life is treating you kindly. This is certainly not the case for everyone. Sigh…
I would like to speak with you today about a topic related to an upcoming exhibition topic at the fabulous Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa, Ontario, and to an area of research of the Canadian Science and Technology of Canada, also located in Ottawa, a museal institution which is not too bad. Sorry, sorry.
The topic of the exhibition is the Cold War, a period of ideological conflict which especially opposed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the countries of Eastern Europe under its yoke, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the United States and the countries of, err, and allied Western countries, including Canada.
Although there does not seem to be a consensus on the precise date of the beginning (1946? 1947? 1948?) of that troubled and very dangerous period of the 20th century, many researchers, if not most of them, agree in affirming that the Cold War ended with the collapse and dissolution of the USSR in 1991.
The area of research, on the other hand, is road transportation.
Yours truly actually wishes to approach the Cold War through the reaction of various stakeholders to the importation into Canada of automobiles produced in Czechoslovakia by the state firm Automobilové Závody Národni Podnik (AZNP).
The means used to bring that topic to your attention is an advertisement by the Czechoslovakian foreign trade company Omnitrade Limited of Montréal, Québec, for the AZNP Škoda 440 automobile. Said advertisement appeared in a November 1958 issue of a major Québec anglophone daily newspaper, unfortunately now defunct, The Montreal Star.
Incidentally, the $ 1 760 the Škoda 440 sold for in 1958 correspond to about $ 18 500 in 2023 currency. By comparison, fairly typical American automobiles sold for $ 2 300 to $ 2 500, sums which correspond to about $ 24 200 to $ 26 300 in 2023 currency. In other words, they cost 30 to 40% more, which was no small thing you will admit. Would you not like to buy a new automobile worth only $ 18 500 in 2023, my penny pinching reading friend?
The sale of the Czechoslovakian vehicles in Canada did not go unnoticed. Nay. In January 1958, for example, a Calgary, Alberta, daily newspaper, The Calgary Herald, published an article written by an employee of North American Newspaper Alliance Incorporated, an American news agency which might, I repeat might, have had among its staff people associated directly or indirectly with the Central Intelligence Agency.
And yes, that fearsome and feared American intelligence agency was mentioned many times in our comforting blog / bulletin / thingee, and this since February 2018.
The author of said text, which did not seem to be published in many other Canadian dailies by the way, emphasised to start with that a firm he referred to as Skoda had a presence in Canada, but only a discreet one. Indeed, the Czechoslovakian state firm did not boast of operating in a country under the heel of the USSR. Nor did it boast of supplying war materials to the armies of communist China, the communist forces of Indochina and the pro-communist governments of Egypt and Syria.
Indeed, the imposing sales of Soviet-designed arms to the air, naval and land forces of Egypt, announced in September 1955, had upset the balance of forces in the Middle East, an unstable region of the world, and therefore constituted a turning point of the Cold War.
This being said (typed?), they only involved the governments of Syria, Egypt and Czechoslovakia, at least officially.
The author of the text published in The Calgary Herald also pointed out that weapons supplied by Skoda to North Korea and / or China had injured and killed numerous American, Canadian and other countries’ soldiers in Korea.
That author was out to lunch, however. The industrial giant that was Akciová společnost, dříve Škodovy závody, se sídlem v Plzni before the Second World War was dismembered and nationalised after that conflict by the Czechoslovakian government. AZNP actually had absolutely nothing to do with Czechoslovakia’s post-Second World War arms sales, but back to the text of the employee of North American Newspaper Alliance.
The author of said text also underlined that sales of Czechoslovakian automobiles in Canada had a negative impact: “At the moment this Red-backed car goes on sale in Canada, thousands of Canadians were being laid off in this country’s automobile industry because of falling sales of North American cars.”
How could the federal government justify such a situation, you ask, my reading friend? According to an unidentified government spokesperson, quoted by the American author of the text published in The Calgary Herald,
one must maintain one’s sense of cynicism in these things. We are, after all, doing a good deal of trade with Communist countries and hope to expand it – especially with Red China.
In such trade we take a sort of long-range calculated risk. We know that by this trade we were helping the Communist economies, therefore strengthening them in their struggle against us. But we reckon that one way and another we gain more benefit.
Now, please note that yours truly cannot state at this point if the statement you have just read was genuine or, as my late mom would have stated, American b*llsh*t.
The presence of Czechoslovakian automobiles on Canadian soil did not date back from 1958, however. Nay. With your permission, I would like to continue our story with a little bit of historical context.
Liberated mainly by Soviet armed forces, between September 1944 and May 1945, Czechoslovakia became a sovereign country again in April / May 1945. As you might imagine, the local communist party, or Komunistická strana Československa (KSČ), was quite popular . It was all the more so because Czechoslovakians had not forgotten the (in)famous Munich agreements and... You know nothing about the Munich agreements? Sigh… What are people learning at school these years?
In September 1938, as Europe held its breath, waiting to see if war would break out, the frightened prime ministers of France and the United Kingdom, Édouard Daladier and Arthur Neville Chamberlain, ally and friend of Czechoslovakia, knelt before the monstrous German dictator, Adolf Hitler, allowing him to easily occupy the Sudetenland border region of Czechoslovakia, the last democratic country in that region of Europe. The Czechoslovakian government, the party most affected by this vile stab in the back, was not even invited to take part in those “negotiations.”
With friends like those, who needs enemies?
And yes, my disenchanted reading friend, there are indeed many populations around the globe who had friends like those in 2023.
The Czechoslovakians would soon realise that the USSR was far from being a friendly country, however. You see, the KSČ seized power in February 1948 with the help of the USSR, but without a military intervention from the latter. Hundreds of people were arrested or placed under house arrest as part of that Prague coup. A communist dictatorship was established which would continue until November 1989.
Given the obvious hostility of the federal and provincial governments of Canada towards the USSR around 1948-50, a hostility shared by a majority of Canadians, the importation of automobiles produced in Czechoslovakia by AZNP was quite surprising. Let us see what it was all about.
The first automobiles which came from Czechoslovakia after the Second World War arrived in Canada no later than late May 1949. An AZNP Škoda 1101 or 1102, I think, and a Tatra 600 / Tatraplan were on display in Toronto, Ontario, as part of the Canadian International Trade Fair held on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition between 30 May and 10 June.
The first automobiles which came from Czechoslovakia after the Second World War in order to be sold arrived in Canada no later than July 1949. They were distributed throughout the eastern part of the country, from Newfoundland to Manitoba it seemed, by a firm founded that same month, Établissements Cotton Incorporée of Québec, Québec, a firm which might have been associated with another firm founded that same month, Cotton Motor Sales Company Limited of Québec, these two firms being creations of the Québec businessman Randall Cotton.
And yes, my reading friend, that sentence was very long. An em-dash, an em-dash, my kingdom for an em-dash! Sorry, sorry.
And no, Établissements Cotton did not seem to have a showroom. It actually had to use that of Garage de la Canardière Enregistrée of Québec.
The firm, however, had enough moolah to pay for a fairly large advertisement in an August 1949 Sunday edition of an important Québec daily newspaper in decline, La Patrie of Montréal.
Advertisement of Établissements Cotton Incorporée of Québec, Québec, extolling the merits of the AZNP Škoda 1101 or 1102 automobile. Anon., “Établissements Cotton Incorporée.” La Patrie, 7 August 1949, 63.
Ironically, it was largely in L’Action catholique of Québec, a very conservative, not to say (type?) reactionary, daily newspaper, financed by the roman catholic archdiocese of Québec, yes, the city, not the province, that Établissements Cotton advertised its Czechoslovakian vehicles between 1949 and 1951. Money, it seemed, had neither smell nor colour when it filled one’s coffers. Sorry.
According to Établissements Cotton, the Škoda 1101 or 1102, I think, were economical automobiles which outperformed all American or British vehicles available in Canada. In all likelihood, that small firm used such words to attract the attention of automobile dealers in Québec and elsewhere in Canada who might have considered selling those vehicles.
According to some, about 55 automobiles produced by AZNP arrived in Canada in 1949. A little more than 1 100 apparently did the same in 1950. Yours truly has not yet found any data for the 1950s, the year 1950 obviously being part of the 1940s. Yes, yes, of the 1940s. Check that out online if you do not believe me, but not now.
Mind you, Établissements Cotton also distributed automobiles produced in Czechoslovakia by Tatra Národní Podnik. According to some, approximately 170 Tatra 600 / Tatraplans, a more powerful, luxurious and expensive automobile than the Škoda 1101 or 1102, arrived in Canada between 1949 and, at the latest, 1952, but I digress.
Incidentally, a Škoda 1101 / 1102 and a Tatra 600 were on display at the Montréal department store Henry Morgan & Company Limited in January 1950, as part of an exhibition of European (Czechoslovakia, France, Italy and United Kingdom) automobiles
In March, examples of those Czechoslovakian automobiles were on display in a chic Montréal hotel establishment, the Mount Royal Hotel. They had then rubbed shoulders with numerous North American vehicles.
Interestingly, the money paid by Canadians who bought a Škoda 1101 / 1102 or Tatra 600 remained in Canada. Approximately 60% of said moolah was used to pay the debt of the Czechoslovakian government to Canada and the rest was used to pay for Canadian products exported to Czechoslovakia. These products were largely high tech products like eggs, fish, cowhides and wood.
It might be worth pointing out at this point that an unidentified Toronto automobile dealer was allegedly ready to order 500 Czechoslovakian automobiles and become the distributor of those economical vehicles in Ontario if the Czechoslovakian authorities agreed to cut the price of each automobile by $ 50, a sum which corresponds to about $ 640 in 2023 currency. This project might, I repeat might, have led to something concrete.
Yours truly wonders if the deal in question was negotiated at least in part by the Czechoslovakian envoy who was touring Canada in the spring of 1950 to sign up orders and set up a network of dealerships, but I digress.
Would you believe that the saga of the Czechoslovakian automobiles on Québec / Canadian soil became more complicated towards the end of April 1950?
A very distressed Randall Cotton, president of Établissements Cotton Incorporée of Québec, Québec, noting the damage suffered aboard a cargo ship sailing between Rotterdam, Netherlands, and Saint John, New Brunswick, by one of the Czechoslovakian Škoda 1101 or 1102 automobiles imported by his firm. Anon., “Sabotage de 59 autos tchèques.” Photo-Journal, 4 May 1950, 4.
The aforementioned Cotton in fact claimed to a representative of the Canadian Press, the press agency and not the daily newspaper of course, that a batch of 100 or so Škoda 1101 / 1102s and Tatra 600s had been sabotaged as it crossed the Atlantic Ocean, between Rotterdam, Netherlands, and Saint John, New Brunswick, aboard two cargo ships,
- the MS Prins Johan Willem Friso of Naamloze Vennootschap Maatschappij Zeetransport, a Netherlands shipping company better known as the Oranje Lijn, and
- the MV Wanstead of Britain Steamship Company Limited, an English shipping company owned by another English shipping company, Watts, Watts & Company Limited.
Before you call me to order, allow me to point out that, after verification, a verification which took me a crazy time by the way, a good 12 minutes and 34 5/6 seconds in fact, the cargo ships in question did not bear the names Frisco and Wanstade, which were those mentioned in daily newspapers of the time, but back to our saga.
Virtually all the detachable accessories of the 100 or so automobiles had been removed, stated Cotton. More than 50 automobiles had also been seriously damaged. Nearly a dozen were, for all intents and purposes, destined for scrap metal.
“This was more than carelessness in the part of the shipper, again stated Cotton. It was nothing more than a deliberate attempt to keep Czechoslovakian cars out of Canada.”
Indeed, added Cotton, in a translation of a contemporary translation, “The shipping companies involved are responsible and reliable organisations and there is no doubt in my mind that all this sabotage is the work of a certain group of people who aim to protect their interests by destroying mine.”
Cotton estimated the losses suffered by Établissements Cotton at approximately $25 000, or approximately $325 000 in 2023 currency.
Angry as he was, Cotton apparently did not file a complaint in April 1950, which was a tad curious. Indeed, no one appeared to have contacted the federal government or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at that time. In the absence of a complaint, that police force could not and did not intervene.
In any event, Cotton stated that he had expected that kind of trouble from the time he had decided to import Czechoslovakian automobiles, in late 1948 or early 1949.
A representative of one of the shipping companies involved in the case had this to say about Cotton’s claims of sabotage, however:
Our ship had heavy going all the way out and it had to be drydocked for repairs before making the return trip to Rotterdam. We know that several of the cars were damaged by shifting during the stormy seas, but it is hard to believe they could have been sabotaged.
That representative did not rule out the possibility that careless handling at the port of Saint John had caused some of the damage uncovered, however.
W.H. Barkas, a spokesman for the import department of Shipping Limited of Montréal, the Canadian firm which represented the interests of Maatschappij Zeetransport in Canada, stated that the automobiles had been damaged on their arrival in Saint John. The firm did not know how this damage was caused but intended to carry out a thorough investigation. Indeed, Établissements Cotton, Britain Steamship and Maatschappij Zeetransport intended to carry thorough investigations, as did the insurance companies.
And no, yours truly cannot say with any degree of certainty whether Barkas and the aforementioned representative of one of the shipping companies involved in that matter were one and the same. Sorry.
I am also sorry to have to end for a week our study of the reaction of various stakeholders to the importation into Canada of automobiles produced in Czechoslovakia by AZNP.
See you later.