There was a time when Canada Cycle & Motor Co. had one of those three-character acronyms, like CPR and NHL, that seemed to capture the history and culture of this country. In its heyday—from the 1920s through the ’50s—it seemed like every kid in Canada rode a CCM bike and skated on CCM blades. And just as CCM’s product lines meshed with Canada’s climate, McKenty shows how its story also embodies more than the rise and fall of a business model.
CCM was born in 1899, and got off to a rocky start. In a familiar pattern, the Canadian capitalists behind it were stressing their patriotic credentials (while also hoping to turn a dollar), and facing off against other money men busy luring an American bike-maker’s branch plant north with offers of free land and cheap hydroelectricity. More unusually, CCM bought out its cross-border rival and then began to flourish, especially after launching its skate line in 1905.
As adults abandoned bikes for cars in the 1920s, CCM moved fast to lock up the youth market, playing the made-in-Canada card and riding an ad campaign that presented its bicycles as the perfect reward for good grades. (One ad urged parents to buy immediately: “If your boy doesn’t pass his exams, we will take back the bike and refund your money.”) The skates, of course, practically sold themselves in Canada, though it couldn’t have hurt that ads featuring Foster Hewitt noted that 25 of 33 players at the NHL’s first all-star game in 1934 wore CCM blades.
Complacency—CCM executives couldn’t see why the bikes they rode as children wouldn’t appeal to the next generation of patriotic youngsters—and competition from foreign manufacturers led to declining sales and labour strife from the ’60s onward. The company shut its doors in 1983, although its brand lives on as a property of the Reebok sporting goods empire. Today, the site of the CCM factory in west-end Toronto is occupied by a Tim Hortons, one Canadian icon following on another.