By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement
Two years ago, at this time, I wrote a post about how Oshawa celebrates the Civic Holiday – we have done so by naming the day after the prolific citizen, Col. RS McLaughlin. Knowing that this weekend is McLaughlin Day, I thought I would keep this month’s Street Name Story simple, and share the story behind Colonel Sam Drive.
Farewell Street is the western beginning to this street which leads to the headquarters of General Motors of Canada. East of Farewell, one can travel along Wentworth Street and eventually arrive at the productions facilities for GM. Colonel Sam Drive was named in 1989.
The Honourable Colonel Robert Samuel McLaughlin was born on September 8, 1871 in Enniskillen Ontario. He was born to Robert McLaughlin and his wife Mary (nee Smith). Along with Sam, as he was affectionately known, Robert and Mary were blessed with two other sons, George and John and two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth.
In 1887 Sam became an apprentice in the upholstery shop of his father’s business. It was during this time that Sam learned all that a journeyman upholsterer needed to know to be successful such as stitching and fitting the cloth. And so, in 1890 Sam decided to move to Watertown, New York to test his workmanship. Sam wanted an unbiased opinion of his work and so he tried to keep the identity of his father a secret. Sam was hired as an upholsterer with H.H. Babcock Co. but his plan to keep his father’s identity a secret did not work and within a couple of days the other employees were aware of who he was. Sam stayed on at H.H. Babcock Co. for another two months, during which time he learned a great deal about plant management. After leaving H.H. Babcock Co., Sam stayed in New York to work with two other companies before deciding to come back to Canada to work with his father. In 1892 Robert formed a business partnership with two of his sons, Sam and George.
In 1897 Sam decided to break away from the carriage company to try his hand at being a politician. He was successful at this endeavor as he became the head of Oshawa Town Council. However, this experience allowed him to realize that he did not have the same love for politics as he did for carriages and he returned to building carriages.
In 1898, at the age of 26, Sam met his future wife Adelaide Louise Mowbray. Within two weeks of meeting Adelaide, Sam proposed. On February 2, 1898 they were married. They were married for 59 years and had five daughters: Eileen, Mildred, Isabel, Hilda and Eleanor (Billie).
On December 7, 1899 the McLaughlin Carriage Company burned to the ground. The Town of Belleville was the first of 15 cities to offer the McLaughlin’s cash and bonds to rebuild their factory in their town. The McLaughlin’s chose to accept Oshawa’s deal to loan them $50 000 until they were able to pay the Town back. While they were rebuilding the factory, production was moved temporarily to Gananoque. The McLaughlin Carriage Company returned to Oshawa in the summer of 1900. In 1907 the McLaughlin Carriage Company began to build automobiles; in that first year they produced 193 cars.
In 1915 Sam and Adelaide bought Prospect Park to become their family home. Sam tore down the original home and in 1917 built Parkwood, a state-of-the-art home for his family.
George and Sam McLaughlin sold the family business to General Motors in 1918. Many factors weighed in this decision. A personal factor that led to this decision was that Sam had five daughters and no sons to carry on the family business. George was preparing to retire and Sam did not want to run the business without him because he considered it a partnership. George’s two sons were not interested in the business either and therefore there was no one to pass the business on to. After selling the Carriage Company to General Motors, Sam, at the age of 47, became President of the Canadian Division.
Sam also focused on contributing back to the City that he had called home for so many years, Oshawa. He was always considered a philanthropist and the donations of his time and money to the City of Oshawa were considerable. Sam donated money to aid in the creation of many things including Camp Samac, the maternity wing at the Oshawa General Hospital, the McLaughlin Band Shell in Memorial Park, the Union Cemetery War Veterans Plot and the McLaughlin Library.
In 1920, Sam and George bought the land for Lakeview Park in the name of General Motors of Canada Limited. The land was then deeded to the Town of Oshawa for one dollar with only one restriction: that the land was to be used as a public park for the citizens of Oshawa under the control of the council and parks commission. The firm also forwarded a cheque for $3,000 to cover initial improvements and another $6,000 for a suitable park playground.
In 1936, Sam was named Honorary Colonel due to his involvement with the Ontario Regiment. It is from this honour that Sam earned his nickname of “Colonel Sam”. Sam retired as President of GM in 1945 and took on the role of Chairman of the Board of Directors.
Sam’s wife of 59 years, Adelaide, died January 10, 1958 at the age of 82. On January 6, 1972 in his 101st year, Sam passed away.¹
As previously shared, Adelaide Avenue has been named for Col Sam’s wife, and there is another street in Oshawa, McLaughlin Boulevard, which has also been named for this noteworthy citizen.
¹The preceeding was adapted from the Historical Information Sheet: Col. R.S. McLaughlin, ©Oshawa Historical Society.