Sales poster for CCM bicycles
Through it all CCM was nothing if not inventive in their sales strategies. For example they advertised heavily to schools and parents that a bicycle was a very good present for their son or daughter for passing at the end of the term. Then they went a step further. The parent could buy the bicycle before the end of term as an incentive and if the student did not pass they could return the bike and get their money back. Wow, the pressure all around!
The origins of the CCM company lie with Daniel Massey, a farmer in Newcastle, Ont., who began building and importing farm equipment in 1847. He sold them to his neighbours then began selling them out west as farmers moved from Ontario to the Canadian west. His company was called Massey Agricultural Works.
After his death his son Hart Massey moved the company to Toronto around 1879 and changed the name to Massey Manufacturing. In 1891 this merged with its largest competitor and became Massey Harris, the largest such company in the British Empire.
In 1896 Hart’s son Walter Massey took over the company. He was interested in bicycles and started producing them using an American design. But then a large American company moved into Canada and became the leading competition. Massey looked around for a partner to fight back, and found several wealthy businessmen, some from his Methodist church, including George Cox and Joseph Flavelle. They decided to buy up the four largest Canadian bicycle companies and merge them with Massey Harris – the new company, launched in 1899, was called Canada Cycle & Motor. Unfortunately the market was in decline; they also had a PR problem as none of the owners were bicycle riders or mechanics. Thus they lacked credibility with potential customers.
In 1903 Massey hired Thomas Russell to run the company. Russell was a farm boy from Exeter, Ontario who knew equipment, knew how to fix it, and also rode a bicycle himself, thus generating trust in customers. He consolidated the bicycle plants and also started building cars – the Russell (one of which survives and can be viewed at the Canadian Science and Technology Museum). They made cars from 1905-1915, but couldn’t compete with the cheaper Fords.
Russell wanted to keep his employees working all year, so started making skates for the winter market. At first they made and sold only the blades, following common practice (the boots were made by different companies and sold separately). Later CCM obtained kangaroo leather boots from Tackaberry in western Canada and sold boots and blades as one unit – very popular.
Russell’s philosophy was expressed as follows:
Shared Responsibility - to give to the public a good article at a fair price, and give to the working man (and woman) the fullest share possible of the return which they helped produce.
Tommy Russell, 1922
McKenty postulates that the company lost sight of this goal in the 1970s and 1980s, and that this contributed to its eventual decline and bankruptcy. The company was broken up and sold, but in its heyday it was a thriving concern. Many people, famous in their day, were associated with the company and its products, including Willie Spencer, a professional bicycle racer in the early 1900s (the fastest man on two wheels); “Torchy” Peden, arguably Canada’s best cyclist, king of the Six Day Race in the 1930s, who was presented with a gold-plated CCM bicycle; George Parsons, an injured NHL player who subsequently worked for CCM and developed safety sports equipment; Bobby Hull who had a rich endorsement deal.
John McKenty, a retired educator and author who lives in Perth, shared some of the fruits of his labours with the RTHS this month in the form of an entertaining and very informative talk on this very Canadian company.
McKenty has always been a collector and interested in old things. He wondered who owned the first car in Perth – this led to Square Deal Garage: Sixty Years of Service to the Motoring Public. This book follows the early days of the motor car in Perth and the stories of those who sold and serviced it.
Then he found out about George and Laurence James who ran a hardware store in the middle of Perth for 75 years. They also were Ford dealers and Chev dealers, although not in the same building. Their story can be found in Follow the Crowd: the James Boys of Perth. They were also CCM dealers, which led McKenty to decide to learn more about CCM.
McKenty finds the most interesting part of doing research is the people you meet along the way. One of these was Gord Chard who is 85 years old but played hockey on the CCM team fifty years ago. He worked at CCM in Weston for thirty-nine years and was the manager of their tool and die department. When the company went bankrupt in 1983 Gord and a team were given two weeks to empty the place and shut it down – a sad task for the long-time employee.
A "hobby horse" bicycle
Gord was there at the ending of the company, but who was there at the beginning? McKenty started his research by looking at early versions of bicycles, the origins of which are lost in the mists of time. In 1818 a contraption called a hobby horse, with two wheels and a board connecting them was developed in Europe in order to get around a very large garden more easily. The person sat on the board and propelled it with his feet on the ground.
A "velocipede" bycycle
A "velocipede" bycycle
In 1869 the velocipede (“fast-foot”) was developed in France; its improvement was pedals on the front wheels, but it still had no brakes. In Coventry, England in 1874 the much-faster (but still dangerous) high wheeler (“penny-farthing”) was popular among young men who formed clubs and went on tours.
A "penny farthing" bicycle
In 1888, J. K. Starley built a bicycle with two wheels the same size and pedals attached to the back wheel by a chain and sprocket. Also around this time Dunlop developed the first pneumatic rubber tire, and coaster brakes were invented. These bicycles were safer, and ladies began riding them. They still were priced for, sized for, and sold to adults, not children.
J. K. Starley's forerunner of the modern bicycle.
With the dawning of the 20th century and the age of motor cars things changed. Adults progressed to travelling in cars rather than on bicycles. Manufacturers trying to find new markets targeted young people. The CCM company made that transition successfully. CCM went to schools and handed out scribblers which had advertising on the covers.
Canada Cycle & Motor: the CCM Story 1899-1983
Presentation by: John McKenty
Article and Pictures by Susan McKellar