HoveRovers and Spectras

6 March 1969

According to a 1966 Time Magazine report, futurists had great expectations for what the world would be like by the year 2000. Some things they got very right. As projected, technology has indeed enabled us to live longer, healthier lives even though bacterial and viral diseases were not eliminated as forecast. They correctly projected that advances in immunology would permit the ready transplantation of human organs though artificial did not become “commonplace.” An estimated global population of 6 billion at the turn of the millennium was also bang on. (In 2020, it stood at 7.8 billion.) Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian philosopher who coined he phrase the medium is the message, foreshadowed the world wide web, predicting that many people would be working from home using a country-wide telecommunications network.

But other things they got very wrong. We did not establish a permanent base on the Moon by the year 2000, nor did we land a human on Mars or send an astronaut past Venus. While automation has had an ongoing dramatic impact on the labour market, it was not the employment killer futurists expected. New jobs replaced jobs lost through computerization so that massive unemployment has not occurred though people continue to worry about the impact of technology—this time, artificial intelligence—on the labour market. As a consequence, work was not and is not being rationed, and moonlighting has not become as “socially unacceptable as bigamy” as some futurists feared in 1966.

Another thing many futurists, including McLuhan, got wrong was the elimination of the family car. They predicted that automobiles and highways would be obsolete by 2000, replaced by the family hovercraft which could easily skin over land, water and ice on a cushion of air. The hovercraft had been developed ten years earlier by Sir Christopher Cockerell, a British engineer.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Ottawa-based firms tried to make McLuhan’s prediction a reality. For a short time, the capital became a global centre of air cushion vehicle (a.k.a. hovercraft) production before the dream foundered due to mechanical problems, stability issues, and noise concerns. A deteriorating global economy, including the imposition by the United States of a 10 per cent import tax in 1971 and high oil prices in 1973 also undercut the new industry. But for a time, two Ottawa firms stood out, Canahover Ltd and M.H.V. Industries Ltd, both of which started operations in the capital in 1968. Both companies showed off their model hovercrafts at an outdoor Dominion Day exhibition the following year, fittingly outside of the Canadian Museum of Science and Technology. Canahover, a subsidiary of Bogue Electric Company of Patterson, New Jersey, manufactured hovercrafts under licence from the Hovercraft Company of England out of facilities located on River Road. On 6 March 1969, the company publicly demonstrated for the first time its sports model, designed and built in Ottawa, on the Rideau River in front of journalists and potential dealers from across Canada and the United States. They and William Guttenberg, president of Bogue Electric, who had come up from New Jersey for the event, witnessed two hovercrafts successfully perform manoeuvres at high speed over the ice and open water of Mooney’s Bay.

Advertisement for the HoverRover, Ottawa Journal, 20 December 1969.

The two-seater vehicle, nicknamed the HoveRover was sixteen feet long, seven and a half feet wide, and just over five feet high. It was propelled by two German-built, air-cooled, rear-mounted, 25 hp engines that operated two aircraft-type propellers. A third engine mounted in the front powered two “lift” fans to provide the air cushion. Buoyancy when idle on water was provided by Styrofoam floats. The hovercraft, which was equipped with a Plexiglas canopy, was made of fibreglass over an aluminium and steel frame. It could travel at speeds 45 mph over land, 35 mph over water, and up to 55 mph over snow. The craft’s eight-gallon gas tank permitted a range of about 120 miles on one fill-up. There were two throttles, one for each of the rear engines as well as a rudder mechanism. To change directions, a driver would throttle back one of the engines as well as use the rudder. The craft’s 16-inch air cushion could clear 10-inch-high obstacles and climb at a 30-degree angle. The HoveRover, which retailed for $3,995 (equivalent to more than $28,000 in 2021 dollars), was also equipped with headlights and a safety beacon. Subsequently, the company began to manufacture a freighter model, costing $4,795, that could carry a payload of 1,000 pounds.

The company thought that its hovercraft would appeal to surveyors, hunters, and prospectors in remote areas, especially in the far north where wheeled vehicles damaged the environmentally delicate tundra. Canahover, as well as other manufacturers of small hovercraft, also hoped that the vehicle would repeat the success achieved by Bombardier’s Ski-Doo as a family sports vehicle. Indeed, many felt that the hovercraft’s versatility as a fun vehicle for all seasons and environments would supplant the snowmobile.

The first production HoveRover rolled off of the assembly line in mid-May 1969. It was immediately packed up and sent to Uplands Airport where it was loaded onto an U.S. Air Force freighter for delivery to its buyer who was none other than the Shah of Iran. The Shah must have been impressed. Iran later placed what was probably the company’s single largest order—20 freighter-type machines worth $100,000.

The company had high hopes for the future. With 25 employees in mid 1969, producing one hovercraft per day, the company intended to ramp up production to four vehicles per day and employ 100 persons at its hangar-like plant on River Road. To help boost sales, Canahover held demonstrations of the HoverRover in London on the Thames River and at the Miami Boat Show in 1970 and 1971, respectively.

At the same time, M.H.V. Industries, located initially in Gloucester and later at 1780 Queensdale Avenue in Blossom Park, began developing and testing its sports-style hovercraft called the Spectra I. Smaller than Canahover’s HoveRover, the Spectra I was just over ten feet in length and had a net weight of 450 pounds. It could travel 45 mph on land and 40 mph over water. Its advertising hype called it “the hovercraft for the fun market, comfort designed, industrially engineered, a scientific, aerodynamic, sports space craft, all terrain, all-weather, two-person-on-board capacity, straddle seat, surface-to-air, moon sled.” The Spectra I was priced at a relatively affordable $1,595-$1,095, depending on engine size. The higher price model was apparently able to achieve speeds of 50 mph on water and 70 mph on ice or snow.

The M.H.V. Spectra I in operation on the Ottawa River with the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge in the background, advertising postcard, M.H.V. Industries.

M.H.V. Industries was owned by 32 shareholders, mostly from the Ottawa area. Its president was Geoff Voyce, whose last name supplied the “V” in the company’s name. Two other major shareholders, Ted Michell and Norman Howard, furnished the other two letters.

Time Magazine described the Spectra I as looking like “a funland bump car with a big fan on the back.” Less sophisticated that the HoveRover, it was powered by twin 25 hp engines—one for propulsion and one for lift. The vehicle was also equipped with an instrument panel, a front cowl, a main body shell, and a rear fan guard. It had a 350-pound payload. Time Magazine saw the Spectra I as a potential game changer, commenting that M.H.V. had “raised the specter of a noisy hovercraft in every garage.”

Despite claims of sizeable orders, M.H.V. Industries went into voluntary receivership in 1970, owing to a variety of problems, not least of which were structural problems related to engines that needed to be sufficiently strong to power the craft but light enough to permit it “to fly.” Dealers began returning vehicles. There were other problems. It was tricky to drive. Even Voyce commented that “the first feeling you get in our craft is one of sheer panic.” On turns in water, the Spectra I tended to drift. Sudden stops could propel the operator over the bow into the water. Voyce also remarked frankly that it had “really shoddy mufflers, and its laminated wood propeller deteriorated rapidly in damp climates. Unfortunately, the firm simply didn’t have the funds to make the necessary improvements despite having a “marketable product,” at least as far as the firm’s president was concerned.

M.H.V. Industries briefly re-emerged from receivership under a new president, David Findlay, with aid from the provincial government. Work also began on a new and improved hovercraft—the Spectra II. The machine was quieter than its predecessor using a new drive unit developed in Ottawa by HPL Engineering with financial backing provided by the National Research Council and M.H.V. Industries. Two 30 hp engines powered the craft which gave it 70 per cent more thrust than had the Spectra I. It also had 50 per cent more “lift.” The Spectra II was equipped with a four-bladed propeller instead a two-bladed one. Top speed was 60 mph over ice or snow, 45 mph over water and 35 mph over grassy fields.

You too could win a Spectra I hovercraft! In the spring of 1970, M.H.V. Industries launched a marketing campaign with Harvey’s restaurants, Ottawa Citizen, 2 April 1970.

Despite the introduction of the much-improved Spectra II model, M.H.V. Industries did not last for very long. Sales were anemic. By 1974, the firm was bankrupt, its assets sold off to help pay back creditors. It was officially dissolved for good in 1980.

Canahover too did not endure. What happened to it was not reported in the press. But, like M.H.V. Industries, the firm was officially dissolved in 1980. Its parent company, Bogue Electric Company of Patterson, New Jersey, is still in business.

While hovercraft have yet to feature in every Canadian garage, small recreational air cushion vehicles are readily available today. In the United Kingdom, the home of the homecraft, the British Hovercraft Company offers for sale three recreational vehicles as well as a commercial rescue craft. Small hovercrafts are also made in Canada. Air Rider Hovercraft of Perry Sound is one such manufacturer.

The Canadian coast guard, which is based in Ottawa, currently operate four hovercrafts for search and rescue purposes. These are the CCGS Mamilossa, the CCGS Sipu Muin, the CCGS Siyay, and the CCGS Moytel.  The Mamilossa and the Moytel were built in the United Kingdom, while the Siou Muin and Siyay were constructed by Hike Metal Products of Wheatly, Ontario under licence.

For more information about early Canadian-made hovercraft, see the website of the Hovercraft Club of Canada.


British Hovercraft Company, 2021, https://britishhovercraft.com/.

Hovercraft Club of Canada, 2009, http://www.hovercraftcanada.ca/Default.htm.

Air Rider Hovercraft, 2021. https://airriderhovercraft.com/.

Morning Call (Patterson, New Jersey), 1969. “Bogue Introducing Land-Water-Snow Craft,” 6 March.

Ottawa Citizen, 1969. “Hovercraft starts new local industry,” 7 March. 

——————, 1969. “Ottawa shaping up as A.C.V. manufacturing centre,” 1 November.

——————, 1970. “New Kanata factory to build 9,600 hovercraft this year,” 19 January.

——————, 1971. “Hovercraft, Will it outdo snowmobile?” 18 December.

——————, 1973. “Hovercraft,” 10 February.

Ottawa Journal, 1969. “Local Firm Makes First Hovercraft,” 16 May.

——————-, 1970. “Misfortunes Dog M.H.V. Industries,” 21 March.

——————-, 1971. “Industrial Now, Pleasure Next,” 23 January.

——————-, 1971. “Air Cushion Carrier Firm Gets $100,000 Contract,” 7 June.

——————-, 1974. “Offer ‘quiet thrust package,” 12 January.

Time Magazine, 1966. “The Futurists: Looking Toward A.D. 2000,” 25 February.

——————, 1970. “Modern Living: A New Life for Hovercraft,” 19 January.

Province (Vancouver), 1969. “Miniature hovercraft put to test,” 8 March.

Eugène Ysaÿe, the Tsar of the Violin

6 March 1905

To draw up a list of the top violinists of all time acceptable to everybody would be a nigh impossible task. Selection criteria and their appropriate weights would be open to debate. Recency bias, where we put disproportionate weight on more recent events or observations, could lead us to favour living artists over the dead, especially those whose careers preceded sound recordings. Regardless of such difficulties, on any list purporting to represent the best would appear such virtuosos as Yehudi Menuhin, George Enescu, Fritz Kreisler and Isaac Stern. Of early masters, Niccolo Paganini, who was active in the early 19th century and was the composer of the fiendishly complex 24 caprices for solo violin, would also be on everybody’s list.  Of those currently playing, Itzhak Pearlman, Viktoria Mullova and Pinchas Zucherman, the Musical Director of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa from 1999-2015, stand in the highest regard.

Another master, though one less known outside of music circles today, who would be a candidate for the world’s finest list is the Belgium-born violinist and composer Eugène Ysaÿe (pronounced “Ee-zah-ee).” The late, great Russian violinist, Nathen Milstein, once dubbed him the tsar of the violin. Kreisler reportedly wouldn’t play Ysaÿe compositions in the man’s presence, and said that Ysaÿe was the greatest interpreter of the Elgar Violin Concerto. This Concerto had been expressly written for Kreisler by Edward Elgar and is widely viewed as among the most difficult of a violinist’s repertoire.

ysaye san fran chronicle 21-5-1905
Eugène Ysaÿe, San Francisco Chronicle, 21 May 1905

Ysaÿe was born in 1858 in Liège. During his very early years, he and his older brother were taught the violin by their musician father who scrapped a living by playing in an orchestra in nearby Germany. He made his first public appearance as a violinist at age seven. He later studied music at the Liège Conservatory. His older brother was apparently the one who was supposed to have a musical career. But once he heard his little brother play a violin solo at age nineteen, he abandoned his career and is quoted as saying, “I shall never play again.”

As a young man, Ysaÿe’s talent was recognized by some the leading composers of the time. Ferdinand Hiller, the German-born composer and conductor, introduced Ysaÿe to Jacob Joachim, who at the time was considered one of the greatest violinists of the 19th century. On hearing Ysaÿe play, Joachim delphically said that he had never heard the violin played like that before. While it is unclear whether Joachim liked what he heard, his pronouncement illustrated the originality and freshness for which Ysaÿe was later to become famous.

At age 20, Ysaÿe came under the tutelage of the great Belgian composer and violinist Henri Vieuxtemps. (As a sidebar, Vieuxtemps owned and played a violin made by Giuseppe Guarneri in 1741 that Ysaÿe used during his early career. In recent years, that same violin, now known as the Vieuxtemps Guarneri del Gesù, was played by Pinchas Zucherman. It was sold in 2013 for more than US$13 million and is currently on lifetime loan to American violinist Anne Akiko Meyers.) Vieuxtemps enabled Ysaÿe to study music in Brussels for three years and gave him private lessons. In 1880, Ysaÿe became the leader of the Bilse’s orchestra in Berlin. In 1886, he became professor of violin at the Brussels Conservatory. He made his first trans-Atlantic tour in 1894.

Ysaye Wikipedia US Library of Congress
Eugène Ysaÿe, later in life, Wikipedia, U.S. Library of Congress.

By the early 20th century, Ysaÿe was in top form and was an international star of the first magnitude. He was described as a polar bear of a man—“huge, massive and royal,” with a broad brow and dark, flowing locks.  “Thoroughly bohemian,” he appreciated the finer pleasures of life, especially good food. He also was keen on the sporting world. However, money seemed to have come second behind his art. In an 1895 interview given in San Francisco, Ysaÿe claimed that he rather earn $80 a month working as a professor of violin at the Brussels Conservatory than take home $10,000 per year as a professor in Cincinnati. As fate would have it, he was to become conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in 1919, a post he held for three years.

He also valued highly his family life, and for many years lived in near seclusion with his first wife Louise Bourdau with whom he had five children—three sons and two daughters—in the small Belgian town of Godinne, south of Namur in Wallonia. (After his first wife died in 1924, Ysaÿe married his student, the American violinist Jeanette Dincin, in 1927.) To an American journalist to whom he gave an interview in his country home in 1904, Ysaÿe said that he found inspiration in the pre-dawn hours of the morning paddling in his small boat on a creek near Godinne.

Ysaÿe owned two famous violins—a Stradivarius and a Guarneri. The Stradivarius, dubbed the “Hercules,” was made in 1734 by Antonio Stradivarius in Cremona, Italy. Ysaÿe used this violin when he practised, preferring the Guarneri for concert work as it was less “fatiguing” for him to play. The Stradivarius was stolen from Ysaÿe’s dressing room in 1908 while he was performing on-stage at the Imperial Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was recovered from a Paris stop in 1925. In 1972, the violinist Henryk Szeryng donated the instrument to the City of Jerusalem where it is played by the concert master of the Israel Philharmoic Orchestra.

Ysaye violin Shinichi Yokoyama Nippon Muic Foundation
Ysaÿe’s Guarneri Violin, Nippon Music Foundation, photo by Shinichi Yokoyama.

Ysaÿe’s Guarneri violin was made Bartolomeo Giuseppe, also known as Joseph, Guarneri of Cremona in 1740. The violin bears the original label of its maker—“Joseph Guarnerius, fecit Cremonae, anno 1740, I.H.S.” In 1928, Ysaÿe reportedly added a second label “Ce Del Jesus fut le fidèle compagnone [sic] de ma vie,” which means “this Del Jesus [the name of the violin] was the faithful companion of my life.” Stories about how he acquired the violin vary. One newspaper account says that he had originally purchased the instrument in Paris for 30,000 francs on behalf of man who gave it to his daughter who was a pupil of Ysaÿe. The girl insisted that Ysaÿe play the violin in concerts. When Ysaÿe found it to be the ideal instrument for his temperament, he bought the violin from the pupil’s father for the same 30,000 francs. Another account has him borrowing the violin from the woman for his first North American tour. On his return to Belgium, he traded his own violin made by Giovanni Battista Guadagnini and an additional 40,000 francs for the Guarneri. In recent years, the violin was played by Isaac Stern and Pinchas Zukerman who seems to favour instruments used by Ysaÿe. The instrument is owned by the Nippon Music Foundation and is currently played by Sergey Khachatryan.

In February 1905, Ysaÿe came to New York aboard the first super trans-Atlantic liner, the S.S. Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse of the North German Lloyd line for a massive 75 concert tour of North America with Canadian stops in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. By this time, he was the highest priced violinist in the world. His income was said to be enormous. For this North American tour, which was organized by Robert E. Johnston who managed all the great violinists of the time, he was given a $50,000 advance (equivalent to roughly $1.3 million today) before he even left Belgium.

Ysaye 4-3-05 toej
Advertisement for Ysaÿe’s Ottawa performance, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 4 March 1905.

Ysaÿe arrived in Ottawa on Monday, 6 March 1905 for a single performance at the Russell Theatre. Ticket prices ranged from 75 cents to $2.00. On the day of the performance, 300 rush seats were released at 50 cents each. It was a sell-out crowd. 1,400 spectators came to see Ysaÿe perform. The Ottawa Evening Journal claimed it was the largest audience ever to greet an artist. Ysaÿe was accompanied by M. Jules De Befve on the piano. De Befve was the head of the piano department at the Liège Conservatory.

Without a doubt, the performance was the social climax of the winter season. All of Ottawa’s elite was there to listen to Ysaÿe, including the Earl and Countess of Grey. The programme started with Handel’s Sonata in G minor. The Citizen’s reporter wrote “every pianissimo crescendo, fortissimo, was brought out clear as a silver bell and the audience could have listened till morning.”  Other pieces played included the Ballade et polonaise by Vieuxtemps, the Chaconne by Bach, and Saint-Saëns’ violin concerto No. 3.

The evening was a huge success. The appreciative Ottawa audience gave Ysaÿe five encores.  A local musician of considerable personal reputation called Ysaÿe’s performance “the finest example of tone production and artistic impression he had ever heard.” One observer recounted that only the presence of the Governor General and Lady Grey restrained the exuberance of the crowd. Otherwise “the men would have stood up and thrown their hats into the air.” The Evening Journal enthused that Ysaÿe began where technique left off. “The soul of Bach will sing itself away to everlasting bliss so long as giants like Ysaÿe are raised upon earth” wrote the Journal’s reporter. When the master played Abendlied by Robert Schuman, the journalist wrote that his delicate muted tones seemed to wail and sing at his command and as his face became illuminated with the beauty of the thoughts suggested to him by Schuman so the music itself took on the form of beauty and together Ysaÿe and his audience were absorbed, spell-bound, lost, nor was the spell broken when the music ceased.

The journalist feared that this might be one of the last public performances by Ysaÿe outside of Belgium as there were rumours that the master was exchanging his violin for a conductor’s baton. Fortunately, this was not the case, though over time Ysaÿe devoted an increasing amount of time to composing, teaching and conducting. In part this reflected persistent health problems that plagued the virtuoso, especially in later life. According to Canadian violinist Maurice Solway who was a pupil of Ysaÿe in the late 1920s, ill-health went a long way to explaining why Ysaÿe sometimes trembled his bow hand while playing—that and apparently his unconventional bow grip using only three or even only two of his right-hand fingers.

In 1929, afflicted by diabetes and phlebitis, Ysaÿe lost part of a leg. But he continued to work. Two months before he died, his opus magnum, the opera Peter the Miner, was played in Liège. As he was too ill to attend the debut, Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians organized a radio broadcast so Ysaÿe could listen to it from his bed.

Following his death in May 1931, Belgium gave Ysaÿe a state funeral. On a pillow in front of his coffin laid his beloved Guarneri violin.


Corzio.com, 2018. Eugène Ysaÿe (b1858; d1931), Belgium, Violinist, https://web.archive.org/web/20110522002804/http://www.cozio.com/Musician.aspx?id=20.

Cumberland Evening Times, 1931. “Eugene Ysaye, Violinist, Dies In Brussels,” 12 May.

Globe (The), 1931. “Ysaye Is Mourned In Music World,” 13 May.

Globe and Mail (The), 1981. “Grateful Solway’s Memories Pay Homage to Eugene Ysaye,” 23 October.

Detroit Free Press (The), 1904. “A Day With Ysaye.” 6 November.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1905. “Coming Amusements,” 6 March.

————————————-. 1905. “Ysaye, a King Among Violinists,” 7 March.

Ottawa Citizen, (The), 1905. “Ysaye’s Recital,” 7 March.

Nippon Music Foundation, 2018. Instruments, https://www.nmf.or.jp/instruments/eng.html.

Salt Lake Herald (The), 1905, “This Week In The Theatres,” 2 May, 1905.

San Francisco Call (The), 1905. “With the Players and the Music Folk,” 21 May.

San Francisco Chronicle (The), 1895. “He Talks Of His Art,” 12 May.

Smithsonian, 2018. Violins: Guarneri Family of Violin Makers, https://www.si.edu/spotlight/violins/guarneri.

Tarisio Fine Instruments and Bows, 2018. Antonio Stradivarius, Cremona, 1734, the ‘Hercules,’

Ysaye, Szeryng, Kinor David, Semel, https://tarisio.com/cozio-archive/property/?ID=41564.

——————————————, 2018. Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri ‘del Gesù,’ Cremona, 1740, the Ysaÿe, https://tarisio.com/cozio-archive/property/?ID=40064.

——————————————, 2018. Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri ‘del Gesù,’ Cremona, 1741, the Vieuxtemps, https://tarisio.com/cozio-archive/property/?ID=40433.

Topeka State Journal, 1905. “Ysaye Is Next.” 18 February.