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The Origins of the OVRA Universe

By Mike Batch
Published in The Cat's Whisker, Winter 2007

Summer 1968, while on my way to work I noticed a display of antique clocks in the window of the Canada Trust Company office located in the Proctor and Gamble building at Yonge and St. Clair Avenue in Toronto. This display motivated me to call the PR department and inquire if they would be interested in a display of my vintage radios. (I've been a collector since 1950 and have an assortment of radios and related gear).

To my astonishment, they were very interested and as a result several displays followed in various parts of the city. The most successful in terms of public response was the one at the company's head office on King St, between Yonge and Bay streets.

This display created a lot of interest in my vintage radios but most importantly I received a call from Colin Murray, who was a reporter from the Telegram. From this interview Colin wrote an excellent one-and-a-half page article on radios, published on 30 Aug., 1969.

The response from the public was phenomenal. I received countless letters, phone calls and made many new acquaintances, such as Ernie Welling, Bill Choate, Sid Prior, Austin Reesor, Peter Denman and John Robertson to mention just a few.

John had a splendid collection of vintage gear, Ernie was editor of the Electron magazine (McLean-Hunter) for whom I wrote a series of articles titled Yesterday's Radio.

In response to this publicity, I wrote to Mr. Murray and placed an ad regarding the possibility of forming a vintage radio club. The initial response was very encouraging, so in the spring of 1970, Ernie Peter and myself got together in my basement and decided to form a radio club dedicated to collectors, historians and radio amateurs. The name Canadian Vintage Wireless Association was chosen and so the CVWA was born.

Ernie was instrumental in securing a place for our first meeting. It was held in July 1970 at the McLean-Hunter Publishing Co. facility at Dundas and University Avenue in Toronto.

The founding members at this first meeting (if my memory serves me well) were Bill Choate who was elected president, John who became editor, Sid who was elected treasurer, and myself, who volunteered to act as secretary. Other members present were Ernie, Gordon Pipe, James Montagnes, Peter Denman, Jack Knott, Clarence Seaward, Mervyn Fry and Mike Cox.

It is also worth mentioning that we invited Fred Brown, manager of the Arts and Crafts Building at the CNE. Fred was receptive to our proposal to have vintage radios displayed at the 1970 CNE and provided the club with a free booth.

The CNE was an instant success! Our new members were a very dedicated bunch indeed! We put up a lovely display, manned by one or two members each day during the entire duration of the show. The purpose of the display was three fold: to establish a public awareness of vintage radios, solicit new members and, last but not least, to obtain vintage gear for the members manning the booth.

In the years that followed, the membership grew by leaps and bounds, and by 1975 we reached well over 200 members. They came from all walks of life and age groups, ten to 80 years. Those interested included collectors, restorers, historians and radio amateurs, etc.

Our Canadian membership reached many provinces with about 80 per cent in Ontario. Internationally, 24 per cent were from the U.S., with the rest from England, New Zealand and Australia.

The CVWA also participated in numerous events such as in 1971 when we presented a telegraph key and sounder to the Todmorden Mills, East York historical site, with Lord Mayor True Davidson officiating. The key is now in the old Don railway station telegraph room on that site.

The mayor invited the club to display vintage radios in the station waiting room and they were there for several years. Also we made several displays at various technical schools and at the McLean-Hunter stereo shows. Two trips were arranged to Fred Hammond's Museum. One of our summer activities was the annual picnic and auction. That was fun time! We are thankful to our member, the late Austin Reesor, who made his Woodland Park facility available for the occasion, which included a cooking facility, picnic table and corn roast.

Our publication The Cat's Whisker was named after we held a contest where many names were submitted and the winner was Austin Reesor.

Through the years this bulletin, which then as now comes out four times a year, had many changes in format (depending on who was editor). Our first editor, John, left after two years and I took over from 1972-'76, and with the help of Mervyn and my family, try to match his good work as well as my secretarial duties.

After I was laid off from my work and started my own company as well as holding another job, the workload became too great a burden. Dorian Challoner took over as editor with Mervyn as co-editor. Dorian eventually left for California and his last edition was March '79.

Nineteen-eighty was a decisive year for the CVWA. We were unable to continue with a meaningful executive. There were no volunteers for president nor for editor! So we had to throw in the towel and call it quits!

At the last meeting, in a desperate move to hold things together, I proposed that we should have at least a local club for members that could attend the meeting only. My proposal was accepted and thanks to Ted Catton who volunteered to look after the local group. The new club was named the Ontario Vintage Radio Association.

A very special thank you is due to the following individuals who so generously contributed to the CVWA's existence over those ten years. Ernie, Bill, Bert DeKat, Charlie Catalano, John, Jack Knott, Ted, Peter Denman, Clarence Seaward, Nobel Hutton, M. Caplan and, last but not least, our fearless auctioneer Barry Coleman. Also, an extra thank you to Barry for being the CVWA's representative in the Quebec chapter and in Alberta, and to Marshall Laughen and the Radio College of Canada.