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.