This post was originally published on March 1, 2013.
By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist
I recently came across a fascinating magazine in our archival collection. The magazine, entitled The Canadian Military Journal featured a lengthy article on Col. Sam to celebrate his 100th birthday.
What stood out in the article were quotes from Col. Sam regarding the birth of the auto industry here in Oshawa. The development of the auto industry in Oshawa has been well documented but this is a truly unique view from the man who played such a pivotal role.
The day before I had wired William C. Durant, head of the young Buick company in Flint, Mich., to ask for help. The McLaughlin automobile, which we had started to make ourselves after I had failed to arrive at a co-operative manufacturing arrangement with Durant and other U.S. car makers, had run into trouble. Two days before, with the parts of our first car laid out ready for assembly – and the components of one hundred more in various stages of completion – our engineer had suffered a severe attack of pleurisy. In my wire I asked Durant to lend us an engineer until our own man recovered.
Durant arrived in Oshawa not with an engineer but with two of his top executives. He took up the discussion of our last meeting – when we had failed to get together on a manufacturing arrangement – Justas if we had merely paused for breath. “I’ve been thinking it over,” he said, “and I have the solution to the problem we couldn’t overcome in our figuring.” The deal he suggested was pretty close to what I had in mind in the first place, and I said : “ That will work.” Durant nodded. “I thought it would,” he said, in that voice of his that was always so gentle – and always so much to the point.
We went into my father’s office with my brother George and Oliver Hezzelwood, who looked after our books, and in five minutes we had the contract settled. It ran just a page and a half and was a model agreement for lawyers to study. Chiefly it covered the terms under which we had 15-year rights to buy the Buick engine and some other parts. We could build and design out own bodies.
What a defining moment in Oshawa’s history. I was left wondering what could have been if the engineer hadn’t gotten sick or if Durant had sent only an engineer. Would the McLaughlin automobile have succeeded without the Buick engine or would it have been amongst the many car companies that came and went?
Moments such as this, from those who lived it, are what make the study of history so fascinating.