The brief life of NAACO

by Bill Klassen | January 23, 2024

Canada has been home to many firearms manufacturers, but the short-lived North America Arms Corp (NAACO) may be the only one that met its demise after partnering with the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) and allegedly supplying arms to Latin American countries.

My first brush with the company was around 1962. “Big” Bill Roper, a game warden in Sprague in southeastern Manitoba, showed me his new NAACO Mallard. It was the first three-inch-magnum chambered 12-gauge shotgun I’d ever seen. I did not see another until buying one in an online auction a few years ago. This piqued my interest and I started researching and buying any NAACO firearms and paraphernalia I came across. 

NAACO was formed to produce a range of firearms and other products. Its plant was located at 8 Bermondsey Road, in East York, and later at 1489 Birchmount Road in Scarborough. Records indicate John R. Cavanaugh was president of the company, while Maj-Gen Chris Vokes was a prominent member of its 1959 board of directors. The latter commanded the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade during the Second World War’s Allied invasion of Sicily. 

What they built

Based on NAACO’s 1961 catalogue, the company produced .22 and .22 magnum-calibre rifles, both single shot and magazine repeaters in both sporting and target rifle configurations. The company also produced or marketed shotguns under its name and built NAACO-branded centrefire rifles. They sold European sporting and target pistols, and imported and sold long guns from Finland, Japan, and Spain. Lastly, the company built a prototype .45 calibre military pistol which was never mass produced. It is not known how many firearms NAACO produced in total.

Of all NAACO firearms, its .22 rifles are the most frequently encountered. The .22 sporting rifles – single shot and repeater — were identified as Grizzly Models 10 and 20, respectively, the No. 15 North Marksman, a magazine repeater, and a .22 magnum repeater, the Model 40 Grizzly. The target rifles were the No. 16 North Match and the Model 30 Grizzly, both single shot models. The .22 rifle barrels were blued and usually had plain walnut stocks, although some had plain maple or birch stocks, some with rosewood forearm tips and pistol grip caps. These .22s are very good quality with reliable accuracy.

Guns made for others

Shotguns sold by NAACO included a re-branded Savage single shot called the Model 5 Mallard. It was available in .410, 12, 20 and 16 gauges. They also produced three models of 12-gauge pump guns using ManuFrance actions and stocks to which they fitted their own barrels. These guns were the La Salle with a 23⁄4-inch chamber and the Mallard with 3-inch chambers. The La Salle guns had checkered French walnut stocks. The Mallard pump guns were designated the Model 15, with smooth “choice walnut” stocks while the Model 25 Mallard had checkered stocks. The 1962 catalogue also shows a semi-auto Model 35 Mallard. These guns were available with a choice of barrels in three different lengths, plain or ventilated ribs.

Their bolt-action, centre-fire rifles consisted of blued, NAACO-produced barrels fitted to Sako or FN Mauser actions with Sako trigger groups, with excellent plain or checkered walnut stocks. These rifles were named the No. 50, No. 60, No. 80, and No. 90 Grizzly and were available in several calibres. The 1962 catalogue also shows a Sako lever action as the Model 100 Grizzly (Sako’s VL63 Finnwolf) but it is doubtful NAACO sold any under its name since Sako did not build that model until 1963.

The stocks for the .22 rifles and the centre-fire rifles were produced by Judd Gunstocks Ltd., a southern Ontario stock maker. Some of the centre-fire stocks are excellent quality walnut with hand- cut checkering. NAACO also built .22 and centre-fire rifles for the T. Eaton Company. Eaton’s applied their TruLine brand to these firearms.

More than guns

Besides firearms, NAACO dispensed its own brand of firearms accessories and care products. These included Luminar and Luminex scopes, NAACO gun cleaning kits as well as gun cleaning solvent, patches, gun grease, and gun oil. The company also marketed a number of small calibre European-sourced handguns. Additionally, perhaps because of having Vokes on its board, the company had gunsmith Robert Herman and designer Russell Sutherland spend a year developing a prototype .45 cartridge with muzzle velocities almost twice those of the .45 ACP, and a heavy semi-auto pistol, named the Brigadier, to handle it. However, this handgun was not adopted by the Canadian military as the company had hoped.

Demise cause uncertain

Sources indicate NAACO went bankrupt in 1962. The cause of the company’s demise is not known. It has been suggested that the company became over-extended by the development cost of their military sidearm. However, there is also the following excerpt from The Almost Classified Guide to CIA Front Companies, Proprietaries and Contractors by Wayne Madsen.

North America Arms Corporation (NAACO). [CIA partner]. Based in Toronto. Manufacturer of small arms. Exported arms to Latin America. Involved with a firm called Décor International and a principal of Décor named Maurice Sharago, who, according to a wiretap conducted in Miami in 1961, was apparently involved in arms shipments to Latin America. US Air Force records indicate that a Maurice A. Sharago flew for the Air Force between Florida and Yucatan, Mexico. NAACO declared bankruptcy in 1962.

My attempts to verify this information with the RCMP and the CIA were not successful.

Leftovers went to Ottawa

It appears that on the dissolution of NAACO, the leftover inventory of .22 rifle components was acquired by Globe Firearms Limited, at 140 St. Paul Street in Vanier. Globe Firearms operated from 1953 to 1992. Globe .22 calibre rifles are infrequent finds. Their barrel, bolt, sights, and stock configurations are identical to NAACO .22 rifles, but the barrels are simply stamped “Globco” or “Globe Firearms Ltd.” Often these Globe .22s will have NAACO butt plates.

There is probably still much to learn about this short-lived company. Anecdotes are now hard to find with former employees no longer alive. If you have any details that could fill in any of the blanks this story has identified, email us as mail@oodmag.com.

Originally published in the Jan.-Feb. 2023 issue of Ontario OUT of DOORS

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