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.
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 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.
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.
Throughout March 2021, Archives took to Twitter and shared their collections from A to Z. Never one to skip social media trends, the Oshawa Museum played along with the daily #ArchivesAtoZ prompt and were excited to showcase our collection.
Here is our round up of #ArchivesAtoZ:
A is for Audio – our collection contains documents, photographs, and many hours of audio interviews! Through the pandemic, at home volunteers have been working to transcribe these audio files, making them accessible and simpler for searching!
B is for Boxes – Hollinger Boxes, to be precise. The majority of our collection is stored inside these boxes, organized by by subject, collection, or Fonds. Designed for long-term storage, they were LIFE SAVERS (or, I guess, collection savers, in the 2003 Guy House Fire.
C is for Collections – Our archival holdings have a number of collections. A favourite is the Dowsley photograph collection, a series of photo donations, images taken by Mr Dowsley through the years. It is a wonderful documentation of Oshawa through the last few decades.
D is for Digitization – A focus within the archival field for well over a decade, the purpose of digitization is two fold: preservation and access. In one of our podcasts, our archivist looks into the process of digitizing the archives for access.
E is for Exhibit – We have a number of online exhibitions, featuring the archival collection. One of our newest was to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Lakeview Park: https://lakeviewparkoshawa.wordpress.com/
F is for Fire Insurance Maps – Fire Insurance Maps are one of those hidden gems within an archives as they can help a wide variety of researchers. These incredibly maps show the footprints of the buildings that existed at the time the map was created, and their original purpose was to assist insurance underwriters with determining risk when assessing insurance rates.
G is for Granny – Perhaps one of our largest archival items, the portrait of Harriet Cock. We often just call her Granny. It was donated just over a decade ago, & after some restoration and reframing, she has been on display in Guy House since 2012.
I is for Immigration – We have been actively seeking to fill gaps in the collection, and our Displaced Persons Project came from this. We have been collecting oral histories of people who immigrated after WWII for several years now, and these stories will not only become an important part of the archival collection, they will also form the basis of an exhibition we plan on opening Summer 2021: https://oshawaimmigrationstories.weebly.com/
J is for Jennifer – Meet our archivist, Jennifer Weymark. She’s been part of the OM team since 1999 and the archivist since 2000. She manages the archival collection and ensures this information is preserved and made available to those interested in researching.
K is for King St – This is what Oshawa calls our section of Highway 2, and the story of King Street has been whimsically painted by local artist Eric Sangwine. His paintings, depicting his interpretations of local history, are a beloved part of our archival holdings.
L is for Letters – Our 2013 donation of letters, photographs, & receipts, all relating to Thomas Henry, helped us better understand one of the patriarchs of our Museum buildings. The letters formed the basis of a book, To Cast a Reflection: The Henry Family in their Own Words, and this book can be bought from our online store.
M is for Marriage Certificate – This was included in the 2013 Thomas Henry donation; he was a witness for this marriage. It was received at the same time that our research into Oshawa’s early Black History was underway. This marriage between George Dunbar and Mary Andrews was interracial, and Mary’s family was one of two Black families who settled in Oshawa in the 1850s. Research through documentary evidence has helped us to better understand the history of early Black settlers in the area and has helped us to share this important aspect of our history. While we work to fill in the gaps left by earlier collecting practices, we are also working to tell the histories that were lost in that gap. Items like the marriage certificate are a part of work.
O is for Oshawa – Oshawa is our mandate, to collect the history of our city from the earliest Indigenous inhabitants to present day.
P is for Photographs – Our collection is over 10,000 images & growing yearly! Photos help us understand how our community has changed, and what events & experiences were like. Our oldest images are from the c. 1860s, and our newest are the COVID-19 pandemic.
Q is for Query – Does your research have you wondering about something in Oshawa’s past? Contact our archivist with your query and we’ll do our best to help!
S is for Storage – We underwent a large storage upgrade project in 2012, improving our storage room and shelving. While this project was incredibly beneficial and allowed us to increase our collecting capabilities, it was a band-aid for the larger issue we’ve faced at the Oshawa Museum for decades. We are at capacity and are in need of a purpose built museum facility to allow us to continue to collecting Oshawa’s history and open that collection up to researchers.
T is for Telegram – This is part of a special collection of correspondence of a man named William Garrow. He enlisted in 1915 & wrote letters to his sisters at home. His family received this telegram, notifying of his death in June 1916. https://lettersfromthetrenches.wordpress.com/
U is for Union Cemetery, a decades old partnership. We offer walking tours of Union, researched using archival resources. In the 1980s, the Durham OGS Chapter transcribed headstones in that cemetery, and copies of those transcriptions are part of the collection.
V is for Vacuum – Why Vacuum? We have a small vacuum that we’ll use for very carefully cleaning the spines of books.
W is for Weights – We have weights in the archives which helps our archivist hold down documents when working on them.
X is for eXamination – X is hard, ok… BUT examination of documents and photographs are an important part of archival work. In this video, Jennifer works out the critical thinking examination she uses for photographs:
Y is for Yacht Club – In 2014, our exhibit was Reflections of Oshawa, a community rooted exhibit, and one participant, Linda, shared her memorabilia from the Oshawa Yacht Club.
Z is for Zoom, the NEW way to meet the archivist! If you’re an educator and would like to book a Q & A with Jennifer, let us know! We want to help however we can with these new ways of learning.
In 1981, a collection of wicker doll toys were donated to the Oshawa Museum. The donation of a tiny rocking chair, a toy washstand, and a set of doll furniture certainly fit the collecting mandate of the Museum given that the Pankhurst family had been long time residents of Oshawa. These toys also had deep connection to an important part of Oshawa’s history as the donor, Greta Pankhurst, was the great-granddaughter of Wealthy Andrews, the matriarch of one of Oshawa’s earliest Black families.
Early collecting practices tended to focus on collecting items that had connections to prominent early white settlers. This donation has that connection as the donor forms indicate that the items had belonged to the Conant family before coming into the ownership of Greta. This connection would have made the donation very important under these early collecting practices. While it is unclear if Greta’s connection to Wealthy was known or understood when the items were added to the Museum collection, this donation is important because of its connection to Greta and her family.
Today we are grateful for the existence of this donation as it is one of the few artefacts that we have connected to early Black setters. Museums use artefacts or objects to help us to understand the past and to tell the story of our community. There is very little artefact or object based evidence to help us tell the history of early Black settlers in our community, and this creates a challenge when it comes to exhibiting these stories.
We are fortunate to have documentary evidence. In fact, beyond resources like census records and land records, we are incredibly fortunate to have the original marriage certificate of Greta’s grandparents, Mary Andrews and George Dunbar. We also have family photographs and an audio recording of Greta’s brother, Ward, reminiscing about growing up in Cedar Dale. Research through documentary evidence has helped us to better understand the history of early Black settlers in the area and has helped us to share this important aspect of our history.
While we work to fill in the gaps left by earlier collecting practices, we are also working to tell the histories that were lost in that gap. Items like the little wicker doll set are a part of work.
One of our popular Blog Series is ‘The Month That Was,’ which looks at a month of newspapers from the past, highlighting interesting stories, images, advertisements, and anything else eye catching. Often, the stories are quaint, humourful, or sometimes, they can give an insight into the happenings and/or politics at the time. Newspapers leading up to elections are always interesting, especially those from the mid 1800s as the newspapers had very evident political biases.
Sometimes, a simple annotation to the historical article can enhance a modern reader’s understanding of the event. For example, the August 9, 1872 edition of the Ontario Reformer reported:
Grace Marks received her pardon on condition that she would leave this country never to return. She left Kingston on Tuesday, for the United States.
With this, an annotation was added, explaining that Grace was the subject of the popular Margaret Atwood book, later turned miniseries, Alias Grace.
When the trivia is short and simple, it makes annotating easy without taking away from the purpose of the article, highlighting stories from decades past.
However, while reading the newspapers in October 1873, news stories gave pause and left questions as to whether to present the articles as written, to annotate, or to exclude the stories because the additional context needed was greater than the blog post allowed. We opted for the latter, allowing another post, this one, to give the needed context.
Many articles in the October 24,1873 edition of the Ontario Reformer were discussing the results of a by-election in Manitoba which saw Louis Riel elected as a Member of Parliament.
The editors of the Reformer published their own editorials, slanted with their Liberal bias:
The Riel Difficulty Riel, the murderer of Scott, is in Ottawa to-day claiming his seat as one of the People’s representatives, sheltering himself from just punishment behind a pardon granted by Sir John Macdonald… The question will then arise, however, how far that amnesty can be made to stretch. While granting immunity to subjects in rebellion to Her Majesty’s laws, can it be also held to shelter the wilful, deliberate, unprovoked brutal murder of one of Her Majesty’s loyal subjects – not while in arms against the so-called Provisional Government, but while a helpless prisoner, utterly incapable of either resistance or disturbance. We believe very many of the member’s from Ontario maintain that the amnesty cannot be held to cover this foul crime, and we trust that bad as the character which the second Parliament has earned it, it will not be further sullied by association with a convicted murderer.
There was also the following inclusion:
An Opinion of Riel We have been requested to publish the following resolution, passed last evening, and we commend it to the attention of the Hon. Mr. Gibbs:
Oshawa, Oct 23rd, 1873
An Emergency Meeting of the LO [Loyal Orange] Lodge, No 686, held at Oshawa, it was unanimously resolved that we regret to learn, that Louis Riel has been elected as a Representative to the House of Commons, of the Dominion of Canada, and , that we, as a Body, feel that his presence as a Representative in your Honorable House, would be a scandal and disgrace to our country, and utterly distasteful to the Members of our Loyal Orange Association, as well as to a large portion of the inhabitants of our Country, and we humbly trust that measures will be taken as will prevent him from taking a seat in the Parliament of the Dominion, and to bring him speedily to account for the murder of Thomas Scott in Manitoba, and that a copy of this resolution be sent to the Secretary of State and the Governor General of the Dominion of Canada.
The words being used by the various authors are strong: “murderer,” “utterly distasteful,” “foul crime,” and “disgrace to our country.” According to the Reformer, the local Orange Society was one of many around the country holding such meetings, wanting to see justice against Riel “if he attempts to enter the Province.”
Without providing additional historical and contemporary context to Riel, presenting these articles, as written, are not giving the full picture of the happenings of the Red River Rebellion or of Riel himself, whom we know today to be a complex historical figure, far more complex than the villain he is painted to be by many of his colonial contemporaries.
According to his Dictionary of Canadian Biography entry, Louis Riel is “one of the most controversial figures in Canadian history,” with the Métis people regarding him a hero, the French Canadians sympathizing with this “victim of Ontario religious and racial bigotry,” and while those in the mid-1800s in the Canadian east painted him the villain, many today regard him as one of the Father of Confederation, a founder of the province of Manitoba.
Riel was born on October 22, 1844 in Saint-Boniface, Red River Settlement (modern Manitoba). He was regarded as very well spoken, and he gained notoriety in the late 1860s, standing up for Métis culture, way of life, and rights.
A purchase of land by the government from the Hudson’s Bay Company and subsequent land surveys resulted in the organization the Métis National Committee. They denied the surveyor entrance to the lands, Upper Fort Garry was seized from the HBC, and the Red River Colony, under the leadership of Riel, was formed. In December 1869, the “Declaration of the People of Rupert’s Land and the North-West,” was issued, rejecting “Canada’s authority to govern the Northwest and propos[ing] a negotiated settlement between Canada and the new provisional government” (Canadian Encyclopedia). Canadian delegates were sent, and negotiations resulted in the Manitoba Act, creating the fifth province to enter Confederation. It was agreed that 1.4 million acres were to be reserved for Métis descendants, and it was also promised that Manitoba would officially be bilingual.
Meanwhile, a small group of Canadians appeared unpleased with the provisional Métis government. They proceeded to Portage la Prairie, armed, and surprising the Métis who in turn imprisoned them. A young Orangeman, Thomas Scott, was sentenced to death by a court martial convened by the Métis, a sentence that was not commuted by Riel; Scott was executed on March 4, 1870. Protestants and Orange Lodge members in Ontario placed the blame for Scott’s death (or murder, as described later in Oshawa papers) upon Riel, who fled into exile after the Rebellion.
Clearly, the situation surrounding the death of Thomas Scott is layered and cannot be simplified into the black and white. It fits well into the modern narratives of land rights, reconciliation, colonization, and repatriation. The Métis peoples appeared to be defending the lands where they had lived for decades and upon which their Indigenous ancestors had lived for millennia. Riel, representing the Red River Colony, was defending his people and their culture. To simply present the 1873 ‘English/Orange’ narrative of Riel as murderer without the additional context, is an unfair representation, furthering the mistakes of history and repeating the 19th century detrimental biases. The editors of the OntarioReformer, in their wording of ‘so-called Provisional Government,’ made it clear how they felt about Riel’s and the Métis’ actions in late 1869/early 1870.
After his election in 1873, Riel took the oath but never took his seat in the House of Commons, fearing assassination or arrest. In the 1880s, Riel led a second, unsuccessful, rebellion for which he was sentenced to death, which was carried out on November 16, 1885 in Regina.
It is difficult to fully present the Red River Rebellion and founding of Manitoba in a blog post. In writing this post, content from the Metis Nation of Ontario, the Canadian Encyclopedia, and Dictionary of Canadian Biography was used, and it is highly encouraged that they are examined for further reading.