Profiling: George McLaughlin

George William McLaughlin was born in Tyrone, Ontario on February 17, 1869. He was the third of five children born to parents Robert and Mary McLaughlin, along with his siblings John James (b. 1865), Mary (b. 1867), Robert Samuel (b. 1871), and Elizabeth Ann (b. 1874).

At an early age George showed an interest in the carriage business owned by his father.  He began his apprenticeship with the company by age 16, working first in the trimming shop. In the early days there were no conspicuous advantages to being the boss’s son.  George worked 70 hour a week, earning $3.00 per week ($2.50 of which was deducted for room and board).  His personality was well suited to salesmanship, and by 1892 he had become a junior partner in the McLaughlin Carriage Company.

A year later, in 1893, George married Annie Hodgson.  Annie had grown up in Tyrone, across the road from the McLaughlin homestead.  She and George would have four children – Ewart, Ray, Dorothy and Kathleen.

George McLaughlin, Annie (nee Hodson) with children, Dorothy, Ray, and Ewart. Oshawa Public Libraries, Local History Collection

In 1907 the McLaughlin Motor Car Company was formed.  With George as Treasurer, the McLaughlins began producing Buick car bodies for the Buick Motor Company of Flint, Michigan.  By 1915 they were producing Chevrolets.  The carriage company had been sold to Chevrolet Motor Company, and the Chevrolet Motor Company of Canada Limited was incorporated, with George as President.   In 1918 General Motors purchased the two businesses.  Younger brother Sam became President of the newly incorporated General Motors of Canada, while George fulfilled the role of Vice-President until his retirement at the age of 55 in 1924.

George is seated, first row, third from left

George McLaughlin was not idle in his retirement.  He remained on the boards of various companies, and his interest in them continued.  He travelled to Europe, the Mediterranean, and South Africa.  He also turned his attention to farming, which had been a life-long interest for George.  He purchased the McLaughlin family farms around Tyrone and land to the north of Oshawa and established progressive farming operations, importing pure-bred cattle which benefited the farming industry of Ontario and ultimately the whole of Canada.  George was known for his Clydesdale horses, Holstein cattle and prize-winning apples, and earned the distinguished title of “Master Farmer” for his contributions to farming.

During his lifetime, George McLaughlin made generous contributions to the community. He was modest about his philanthropic activities, such as the large amounts of time and money he devoted to community services and civic improvements.

George was the first president of various newly formed groups in Oshawa, including the Oshawa Welfare Board, the Boy Scout movement in Oshawa, and the Oshawa Chamber of Commerce.  He involved himself with the Children’s Aid Society, serving as President for a while, and devoted some of his best years to municipal office.

George and Annie made numerous donations towards school and church improvements, the Salvation Army, and the Red Cross.  For many years, George served on both the Board of Education and as Superintendent of the Sunday School at St. Andrew’s United Church.

In 1920 George and his brother Sam, in the name of General Motors of Canada, bought the land that would become Lakeview Park and sold it to the Town of Oshawa for one dollar.  In 1924 George tried to start a zoo in the park by introducing buffalo from Wainwright, Alberta.  Unfortunately the idea did not succeed, and the buffalo were relocated to the Riverdale Zoo in Toronto. 

Sam and George also donated the McLaughlin maternity wing to the Oshawa General Hospital, and contributed generously to the hospital endowment fund over the years.

On July 1, 1922 George McLaughlin presented the Union Cemetery to the Town of Oshawa.  He had purchased all outstanding stock of the holding company that operated the cemetery and turned it over to the town, making the cemetery a municipal affair from that point onward.  He also generously donated $500 towards the creation and upkeep of a soldiers plot in the cemetery.  A monument donated by George was erected in the cemetery in honour of the “boys from Ontario County, who served, fought and died for Canada in the Great War.”

DS Hoig noted that before the cemetery was transferred to the city, it had fallen into almost a state of neglect. Hoig wrote:

From this depth it was finally rescued by an outstanding citizen, well known for his interest in the affairs of this town. By buying stock in the Cemetery Corporation, found himself after a time in possession of a majority of the stock. From that moment no further dividends were paid, all monies that accrued from the sale of lots were applied year after year to the improvements and beautifying of the grounds… The whole business was carried through with so little fuss or publicity that the identity of this gentleman is known only to a few that were connected with this transaction.

George McLaughlin died of bowel cancer at the age of 73 on October 10, 1942.  Upon his death the family homestead near Tyrone was passed on to his son Ewart. He is laid to rest inside the Mausoleum at Union Cemetery.

His contributions to the automotive industry, to farming, and to the community are the legacies for which George McLaughlin should be remembered.


References:

A Pictorial Biography of George W. McLaughlin (CD produced by and with the permission of Mary P. Hare) – MBE.

Henderson, Dorothy.  Robert McLaughlin:  Carriage Builder. Griffin Press Ltd., 1972.

McLaughlin Genealogy file, Oshawa Museum Archival Collection

Petrie, Roy.  Sam McLaughlin. Fitzhenry & Whiteside Ltd., 1981.

Robertson, Heather.  Driving Force.  McClelland & Stewart Inc., 1995.

Llewellyn Hall

By Melissa Cole, Curator

“Formerly the residence of Mr. R.S. McLaughlin and became the possession of the Foreign Mission Board in the year 1919.  It was known as Llewellyn Hall and the name continued.  It is a two and a half storey brick building, on one of the best residential streets in the Town.  It has beautiful grounds, magnificent trees and tennis court, and is artistically finished within as well as attractive without.”

~The Second Prospectus, 1924 Llewellyn Hall

Opening in the fall of 2018 at the Oshawa Museum will be an exhibition that looks at Community Health in the 20th Century: An Oshawa Perspective.   What does Llewellyn Hall have to do with community health?  It was utilized for a brief time as Oshawa’s Maternity Ward.

The home was ordered to be built by James Odgers Guy who was a coal dealer in Oshawa.  He resided in this home with his wife Rachel and their children.  The name of the home was Llewellyn Hall, in memory of a son named Llewellyn Harold who had passed away.  They lived in the home until 1897.

James Odgers Guy
James O. Guy

Robert Samuel McLaughlin of Tyrone purchased the home from the Guys.  Robert lived in the home with his wife Adelaide and all five daughters, Eileen, Mildred, Isobel, Hilda and Eleanor were born there.  This was the McLaughlin Family home until 1917, when they moved into Parkwood Estate.

Robert and Adelaide McLaughlin, under the names of the McLaughlin Carriage Company, the McLaughlin Motor Car Company and Chevrolet Motor Car Company of Canada, gifted their home to the Oshawa General Hospital, for $1, to be used as a maternity hospital.

Adelaide McLaughlin, who was president of the Hospital Auxiliary, stated at the formal opening of the maternity hospital that she hoped “all future mothers in this house may be as happy as I was when here”.  Inspector of Hospitals, Dr. Helen McMurchie of the Ministry of Health for the Province of Ontario stated that “every hospital must have a satisfactory maternity wing and Oshawa has successfully followed this direction”.

Maternity Home

The first baby girl was born the day it formally opened on Wednesday July 12 at 1917, delivered to a Mrs. F. Patfield by Dr. F.J Rundle.  In 1918, the Spanish Flu swept through the Maternity Ward.  It was reported that ninety-five percent of the babies in the Ward passed away.

One of the last babies to be born at the Maternity Ward was in 1919 before it was sold to the Presbyterian Church in Canada to be a home for children in missionary families of the United Church of Canada.  For the next twenty-nine years, Adelaide McLaughlin offered her support through various means, financially, socially and advisory to the residents, Matrons and staff.

The final years of Lewellyn Hall were spent as the location of education and worship, after being purchased in 1948, by the Oshawa Hebrew Congregation, known as the Beth Zion Synagogue.  By 1952 the number Jewish families in Oshawa outgrew the space and the building was torn down to build a new synagogue, which still stands today.

This house nurtured many lives that crossed it’s threshold.  Built for the Guy Family and for fifteen years it was home to Colonel Sam and Adelaide McLaughlin and their five daughters and it was a home for Protestant missionary children and before its end was the core for education and worship.

Blog Rewind: Automotive Industry: In the Words of Col. R.S. McLaughlin

This post was originally published on March 1, 2013.

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

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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.

Where the Streets Get Their Names – Col. Sam Drive

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).

McLaughlin Carriage Fire, 1899; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
McLaughlin Carriage Fire, 1899; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

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.

Postcard of Prospect Park, from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
Postcard of Prospect Park, from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

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.

Col Sam at home at Parkwood, from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
Col Sam at home at Parkwood, from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

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.

Oshawa Ablaze

By Jillian Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

The Oshawa Fire Department has a long history. As early as December 16 1866, the Oshawa Village Council noted that some insurance companies in Quebec were refusing to insure municipalities without fire protection services.

Council passed a by-law that required every owner or occupant of a building to supply “ a good substantial ladder leading from the ground to the roof and that every owner or occupant shall cause the chimneys and stovepipes thereof to be properly cleaned at least once a month”. They also passed a by-law that required every citizen to assist at the scene of a fire. Those who refused assistance would be fined $5. This is the first recorded occasion of fire prevention in Oshawa.

Oshawa’s first department, which was organized in 1856, was made up entirely of volunteers under Chief Engineer Mr. P. Thornton by order of By-law 33.

On July 20, 1868, the Oshawa Fire Department was incorporated as a full time department by By-law 142. The first full time Chief was Patrick Thornton. He was responsible for 50 men with the Fire Company and a further 15 men with the Hook and Ladder Company, plus 1 engine, some ladders and numerous hose lines.

Thankfully, the Department was growing. Within the next 100 years there would be some major fires in Oshawa’s downtown core alone.

Oshawa Fire Department, 1905; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
Oshawa Fire Department, 1905; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

On Sunday December 8, 1872, a fire originated in George Hodder’s clothing and hat store on Simcoe Street. It was the worst fire in Oshawa up until that time. Wind, wooden buildings and lack of available water were very frustrating for the firefighters at that time.

The fire began at 7pm in Oshawa’s downtown area. When the fire began to spread and seriously threaten other surrounding businesses, firemen from Whitby came to the rescue.

A man named CW Smith jumped on a horse and raced to Whitby for the Merryweather steam fire engine, which was a new acquisition at the time.  Running on one cylinder it was made by Merryweather and Sons of London England. It was frost proof and considered to be the pioneer engine of Canada.  Fire stations in Whitby and Kingston had tested it the Merryweather, but Oshawa put it to the real test during the fire of 1872.

The Gibbs block, a large building on the south side of King Street was destroyed by flames. 19 buildings were damaged or destroyed. Spray from the hoses caused ice to form on the fire fighters clothes and bodies; citizens assisted by provided dry and warm clothing to them.

The Merryweather that saved downtown Oshawa in 1872, on display at the Whitby Public Library
The Merryweather that saved downtown Oshawa in 1872, on display at the Whitby Public Library

The cause of the fire was determined to be arson. It originated in a partition between the Fitzmaurice, a druggist and veterinarian, and the Hodder store. After a trial, it was the opinion of a jury that Fitzmaurice intentionally set the building on fire.  He was sentenced to three years in jail for instigating the fire for insurance purposes.

Oshawa would go on to purchase its own Merryweather machine at a cost of $5600 in 1875.

Oshawa's Merryweather Fire Engine, c. 1900, corner of Simcoe and Richmond; Oshawa Community Archives Collection
Oshawa’s Merryweather Fire Engine, c. 1900, corner of Simcoe and Richmond; Oshawa Community Archives Collection

Nearby was the McLaughlin Carriage Works. By 1877, the McLaughlins had outgrown their facilities in Enniskillen. The need for banking facilities, more skilled labour, and a railroad for shipping led to the company’s relocation to Oshawa.

Though the competing businesses expected McLaughlin’s business to fail, it was they who folded and due to increased business, McLaughlin was once again in need of expansion.

Robert McLaughlin made a deal with the town enabled him to trade locations and move into the old Gibbs furniture factory at Richmond and Mary Streets.

There he employed 600 people. In 1893 he took on two of his sons, George and Sam, as partners.

In December 1899, McLaughlin suffered a serious setback when his entire factory was destroyed by fire. He lost carriages in production, all materials, tools and equipment.

McLaughlin Carriage Fire, 1899; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
McLaughlin Carriage Fire, 1899; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

The town offered him a $50,000 interest free loan and, while the factory was rebuilt, he set up a temporary plant in Gananoque for a year. This factory produced 3,000 vehicles and the company was able to stay in the market. Prior to selecting Gananoque as their temporary factory, fifteen communities offered to help the McLaughlin’s re-establish their factory.

Richmond Street fire company, c. 1922; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
Richmond Street fire company, c. 1922; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

To learn more about other fires that have occurred in Oshawa, feel free to make an appointment with the Archivist or book the “Fire: A Photographic Tour of Fires in Oshawa” PowerPoint presentation for your special interest group. Please contact the programming department for more options.