Saturday, April 20, 2019

Firearm Factory of the Month: H. W. Cooey Machine & Arms Company

H.W. Cooey Machine & Arms Co was once the pride of Canada, an arms maker who supplied quality guns for sportsman, the Canadian Shooting teams and supported the Canadian and Commonwealth Militaries through two World Wars.
The story begins with a man by the name of Herbert William Cooey, who was born in Toronto in 1881.
At 15 he started an apprenticeship with the Grand Trunk Railroad, later her worked a factory job in Cleveland, Ohio. 

These jobs did not satisfy Cooey and he decided to go out on his own.
After marrying his wife Susannah (the picture below was obviously taken much later) he decided to make his own way.

in 1903 at the age of 23 he opened his own machine shop on the corner of Queen Street and Spadina Avenue in downtown Toronto. 

His business proved successful and after four years he decided to move to larger facilities at the corner of Bridgman and Howland Avenues.

War Means Guns

In 1914 the Great War broke out in Europe and war always has a need for arms.

This need led to contracts being issued to Cooey for training rifles for the Royal Canadian Air Force Cadets and the Canadian Military. 
In addition they made rifle sights and other gun parts to support the Armies of the Commonwealth. 

Cooey found he had a special talent for making gun parts and after the war decided to begin work on a gun design of his own. 
A couple of things happened to the company following the war. The first was a name change, the company was no longer just a machine shop. They would now be known as the H.W. Cooey Machine and Arms Company. The second was the first rifle to bear the Cooey name. 
In 1919 Cooey introduced the Cooey Canuck, a single shot .22 rim fire rifle. It was immediately well received and became one of the best selling rifles during the '20's. 

If you were not aware the word "Canuck" is the slang term for Canadian, some might find it offensive (maybe the reason they changed the name of the rifle to "ACE"?) however the Vancouver NHL team adopted the name "Canucks" in 1945 and still use it today.

 A Christmas time ad for the Cooey Canuck, note the address at the bottom

The Cooey Canuck was a model that became known as a "Boy's Rifle" competing with models from Winchester, Remington, Stevens, Iver Johnson, Quackenbush, Hamilton and others. It wasn't long before Cooey was being asked to brand label his gun for retailers. By 1922 Cooey had sold more than 6000 Canuck rifles.

Silver & Gold

In 1924 Cooey brought his little rifle to the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley Park. The event, attended by more that 27 million people, was designed to encourage trade with the Commonwealth nations.
The Cooey Canuck took home a Gold Medal and Certificate of Honor from the Exhibition.
That same year Cooey had supplied the Canadian Olympic Team with rifles and shotguns, even competing in the Trap Competition himself. 
In Paris at the VIII Olympiad, Cooey and the Canadian Trap Shooting Team brought home the Silver Medal.

 Another Move

By 1929 the Bridgman & Howland building had been outgrown and it was time to look for a bigger facility. Cooey purchased the old Ontario Woolen Mill which sat between Tremain Street and the Coburg Creek (formerly known as Jones' or Factory Creek) in the town of Coburg.
Coburg is just 73 miles east of Toronto on the shores of Lake Ontario.

The building was constructed in 1846 and was originally powered by water that was diverted from the stream to a wheel in the basement of the building. As soon as the move was complete Cooey began working on another new design, this one a repeater.

From Herbert to Hubert

In 1937 the reins of the company were turned over to Herbert's son Hubert. Hubert Glenn Cooey grew up in the gun business. He was born in 1903, the year his father formed what would become the H.W. Cooey Machine and Arms Co.
Hubert wanted to take the company further and worked on new designs and models including a auto-loading .22 rifle.

During WWII Cooey produced firearms parts for the Canadian and Commonwealth military units, including the model 82, a training rifle designed to mimic the look and feel of the Enfield No.4 Mk.I.

The Beginning of the End 

In 1957 Hubert Glenn Cooey died unexpectedly, he was just 54 years old. His father came out of retirement to once again head the company, but found that he no longer had the drive after loosing his son.

In 1961 Herbert sold his company to Olin's Winchester-Western's Canadian division. 
Winchester hired more employees and added Winchester models to the production line. For most of the 60's and 70's Winchesters and Cooey models were built side by side. 
Also some of the Cooey designs were incorporated into new Winchester models.

In 1970 Winchester opened a brand new, state of the art facility on 50 acres on Brook Road North in Coburg. The Provincial Government provided some funding in the form of a $250,000 "forgivable loan" to help with the $2M budget. 

Winchester Canada eventually fell victim to financial pressures put on them by the union and the government. In addition were the hoplophobic politicians who believed that criminals would play nice if gun ownership were restricted. All this made for an unfriendly business environment.

In late 1979, employees learned of the closing of the plant. The last of the employees closed the doors on February 29, 1980.

Time line of events

1881: Herbert William Cooey is born

1903: Cooey opens his first machine shop, son Hubert Glenn Cooey is born

1907: Cooey moves his operation to 317-321 Howland Ave

1919: Cooey introduces the Canuck Rifle, renames company H.W. Cooey Machine and Arms Co.

1924: Cooey's Canuck wins Gold and the Canadian Trap Team win Silver

1929: Cooey moves his operation to Coburg

1937: Hubert (Herbert's son) becomes President of the company

1957: Hubert dies unexpectedly, Herbert takes the reins again.

1961: Cooey sells company to Olin/Winchester-Western Canada Ltd

1962: Herbert Cooey dies

1970: Winchester moves operations to a new state of the art facility on Brook Road North

1979: Winchester ceases operations at Brook Road

What Remains

The original machine shop at the SE corner of Queen and Spadina in Toronto is gone. Replacing it is this 3 story building which looks to have been built during the 1920's.

The Bridgman and Howland factory was torn down at some point. What stands on the corner now is the Tarragon Theater, which was constructed in 1970.

The Tremaine Street facility is no longer standing. In 1962 it was torn down and replaced with a print house by the publishers of the Coburg Star Newspaper. Eventually those buildings were also torn down.
Only one office building remains at the northwest corner of the lot.

The city has thoughts of turning the lot into a park

 The Winchester built Brook Road North building still stands, 


With more than 12 million firearms spanning some 67 different models, the Cooey name will be remembered for years to come.
Many of his designs lived on in guns like the Winchester models 370, 395, 168, and 37A.

Most notably is the Cooey model 64. It was the gun Hubert was working on when he passed in 1957. The design was based on his Father's model 39. Changing it to a simple blow back operation in a tubular receiver. The design was finished and it was introduced in 1964, the same year Ruger introduced the 10/22.
In 1980, after Winchester ceased operations in Canada, a company by the name of Lakefield Arms purchased much of the machinery and the rights to the model 64. Many former Cooey employees followed the machinery and began working for Lakefield Arms. 

In 1994 Savage purchased Lakefield Arms and continues to produce the model 64

The Cooey model 64

The current Savage model 64

Coburg History
Our Ontario
Coburg Museum
Canadian Firearms Journal

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