Friday, December 9, 2016

North Star Coin Machine of Montreal Canada

Canada had a few pinball manufacturers in the olden days.

Automatic industries Inc. of Toronto Canada who produced the Maple leaf and a Whiffle bagatelle home model

Ro-S-Co of Canada

But I think the most successful canadian pinball manufacturer, or the one that produced the most electromechanically complex games was the North Star Coin Machine company of Montreal Canada.

Robert Baraké wrote a good article one the North Star coin machine company: Montreal's silver marble games If you want to read a bit on the history of Montreal's pinball manufacturer and his personal adventures, I highly recommend it.

If you don't want to go through the whole article here's a condensed version of the story of the North Star coin machine company:

On November 17th 1947 a ban on the importation into Canada of all non essential goods was ordered to conserve a dwindling US dollar supply. Pinball machines and other coin operated devices were included in the list of non essential items affected by the embargo and could no longer be imported into Canada. The importation of metal pinball parts was still allowed however.

The brothers Jacques and Gerard Tremblay, that were Laniel employees at the time, saw the ban on importation of pingames as a business opportunity. They founded the North Star Coin Machine Company of Montreal Canada.

North Star Released two models, Sea Breeze and Richelieu. The machines were assembled in old army barracks. The company re-purposed Gottlieb cabinets and parts from 40's games. The art was done by their brother in law Louis Leger. Less than a thousand games were produced in total.

The gradual lifting of the embargo started July 1st 1950. Nonetheless, the canadian market was quickly flooded with low priced used US games. The orders for North Star pingames dwindled and the company folded. The Tremblay brothers remained in the Amusement industry as operators for decades to come.

So this is the History of the North Star games.

My history with the North Star Games started somewhere in 2012 or 2013. I dont remember how or when, but I think it was while perusing the IPDB. At that time, I thought it would be completely impossible to own a North Star Game.

Then in December 2014, I decided to show up to a Friday night pinball meet at Robert Baraké's loft. At the time I didn't really know Robert, but we later became good friends.

Here's a short video from youtube that gives an idea of how those Friday pinball meets colloquially known as PowWows (PW) could be. Anyway, It was at Rob's loft that I first saw a North Star pingame in person. The game was Richelieu

On January 23rd 2016 I went to the North Star machine a Piastre's grand opening. The pinball bar is named in honour the the defunct Montreal pinball manufacturer. For the occasion, both the Sea Breeze and the Richelieu were on display. Thinking that would be the closest I would ever get to the North Star games, I had a picture of myself taken with the games.

Your humble story teller at the North Star's grand opening by Sea Breeze and Richelieu
In April 2016 I got my own North Star Richelieu. My friend Rob had a second Richelieu. He wanted a good home for it and he offered it to me. Obviously I took the game. It's sitting in my office as I write these words. It's a very slow project. It's missing a few parts and I insist on finding period correct parts for it. Hopefully, I will find the right parts in the near future and get this gem to play again.
Richelieu in my office
In May 2016, I had the chance to meet Mr. Jacques Tremblay. I listened to his stories and got to ask him a few questions about North Star's manufacturing techniques. I'll save that story for another day.

Mr. Jacques Tremblay with James Schidlowsky by Williams Major League at the North Star pinball bar

In September 2016 I had a very special repair job. A North Star Sea Breeze. Only 2 are currently known to be still in existence. The other one is at the Musée des Civilisations in Quebec City. This Sea Breeze is going to a private collector who wanted the game to be fully working. My friend who was selling the game couldn't work on it due to time constraints so he brought the game over at my place so I could take care of it. 

Sea Breeze in for repairs at my place in the middle of the living room

So 2016 has been a very interesting year for me in regards to the North Star pingames. Less than a year before, I thought I would never own one. Now, at the end of this year I've had both models in my house and I'm the owner of one of the few remaining Richelieu games. Feels like I've gone full circle. I goes to show what kind of crazy and interesting hobby pinball repair can be. 

Reference material

Canada Bans U.S. Coin machines. The Billboard November 29 1947. p. 144
Canada to get Jukes, Games. The Billboard March 25 1950. p.104, continued p. 120

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