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The finely-crafted 1927 McLaughlin Buick “Royal Tour Car” was built for a royal tour by the Duke of Windsor, who was so impressed he ordered a McLaughlin Buick for his official limousine after becoming King Edward the VIII. (Courtesy of the Canada Science and Technology Museum)
The finely-crafted 1927 McLaughlin Buick “Royal Tour Car” was built for a royal tour by the Duke of Windsor, who was so impressed he ordered a McLaughlin Buick for his official limousine after becoming King Edward the VIII. (Courtesy of the Canada Science and Technology Museum)

Classic Cars

What makes a car Canadian? Add to ...

At the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa, a 13 vehicle exhibit entitled The Quest in Search of the Canadian Car poses the question, "what makes a car Canadian?"

Is it design, manufacturing, marketing or simply the preferences of Canadians that have made one model stand out from another?

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The questions posed are as interesting as the eclectic mix of vehicles chosen from the museum's collection. Sponsoring auto maker Toyota has been selling cars here for almost half a century and building them here since 1988. Are the Corolla or Prius displayed as worthy of being termed "Canuck" cars as the McLaughlan Buick, Manic, Volvo, Bricklin, Ford or Plymouth minivan?

In pictures: a gallery of cars in Canada throughout the years

Visitors to the display can ponder the answer while eyeing the vehicles along with advertising material, memorabilia and audio visual features that provide "a variety or perspectives, inviting visitors to draw their own conclusions." They're also invited to post pictures and their own views on the "My Canadian Car" Flickr site www.flickekr.com/groups/canadiancar-voiturecanadienne/ or visit the museum's YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/cstm.

So a Canadian car, eh? Aren't virtually all the cars we buy designed and in many cases built in Europe, Japan or the U.S.? Well, yes, but it wasn't always that way. We had our automotively inclined inventors, dreamers and schemers too "back in the day" - which incidentally we can date to 1867. And along the way we've built a heck of a lot of cars and trucks in plants here, and taken more than a few to our collective hearts.

The vehicles on display are a decidedly odd admixture that leaves a lot of our Canadian industry pioneers' stories unsung.

It does include our first attempt at a "horseless carriage" though, Henry Seth Taylor's Steam Buggy, which was demonstrated at the Stanstead Quebec Fair in the Centennial year of 1867. It broke down mid-demo failing to impress the locals, did better the following year, but then went into the history books as our first car crash. Henry, a jeweler by profession, hadn't fitted it with brakes and a career down a local hill spelled its doom.

The 1903 Le Roy was actually a fairly faithful copy of the American Curved Dash Oldsmobile produced by the Le Roy Manufacturing Co., founded in 1899 by Nelson and Milton Good of Berlin, (now Kitchener) Ontario. It's said to be the first gasoline-powered automobile to be manufactured in quantities for sale in Canada, at a time when electric and steam-powered cars were still more popular, but Le Roy only remained in business until 1907.

Ford, which began manufacturing here in 1908, fared better with its Model T, a 1914 example of which is on display. Henry Ford built "a car for the great multitude" and many Canadians became owners of the 15 million built by 1927. It became a best-seller here by making car ownership a possibility for many Canadian families.

The Russell Model 14-28, 1914 was built by the Canadian Cycle and Motor Company (CCM) which went into the car business in 1905. The company's first car design, the "Russell," was named after CCM's founding president, Thomas Russell and its body and engine were designed in Toronto. Later models, designed for an upscale market, were equipped with quiet Knight engines imported from the U.S. The Russell Motor Car Co., as it was then named, stopped producing cars in 1916.

The finely crafted McLaughlin Buick, 1927 "Royal Tour Car" is a highlight of the exhibit and great example of how the Canadian industry evolved. The McLaughlin Company of Oshawa, Ontario, was originally a Canadian owned carriage-maker, but in 1907 Sam McLaughlin partnered with American William Durant, head of Buick, to form the McLaughlin Buick Company, which 1918 became General Motors of Canada. This car was built for a royal tour by the Duke of Windsor who was so impressed he ordered a McLaughlin Buick for his official limousine after becoming King Edward the VIII.

The 1958 Volkswagen Beetle is included it seems because, "Canadians loved the Beetle for its reliability, simplicity and low gas consumption. They also liked its low price." It was first sold in Canada in 1952 and by 1960, the Beetle was Canada's third bestselling car - almost five million Beetles were sold here before its demise in 1977.

The Meteor brand, sold by Ford between 1949 and 1976 here was always popular with Canadians, and is represented by a 1961 Meteor Montcalm. The Meteor's appeal here was heightened with distinctively Canadian model names such as "Niagara," "Rideau" and "Montcalm."

The fiberglass bodied Manic GT of 1971was manufactured in Granby, Quebec in 1970 and relied on Renault engines and running gear. It was designed by Jacques About and Serge Soumille, who sought a "Canadian" look by combining European and American styling elements, but planned to compete with other sports cars in the global marketplace. Demand for the Manic was depressing low, however, and production ceased in 1971.

Another Meteor on display is the 1973 Silver Anniversary Edition. Meteor was discontinued in 1976 but by that time nearly 600,000 had been produced in Ford of Canada's Oakville, Ontario plant.

The Bricklin SV-1 of 1975 recalls the boondoggle and debacle that resulted after American Malcolm Bricklin, with funding from the New Brunswick government, set up manufacturing plants in Saint John and Minto in 1974 to built the car, which was only sold in the United States. It closed its very expensive doors in 1976 after manufacturing fewer than 3,000 cars.

Another seemingly odd exhibit choice is the 1984 Plymouth Voyager, although this model, along with the Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country were long production mainstays and built in serious numbers by Canadians in Windsor, Ontario. Caravans remain top sellers in Canada.

Volvo's 1989 Model 740 GL was also built by Canadians in a Nova Scotia plant that the Swedish company set up in 1963, becoming the first auto maker from outside of North America to set up shop on this continent. Cars were assembled from kits with a few domestic parts added. The plant closed in 1998.

The 1989 Corolla was first Canadian-made Toyota to be sold in Canada, built in its Cambridge, Ontario factory, and purchased by the mayor of Cambridge. Over the next ten years, more than 1.5 million Corollas were manufactured in Canada and many exported to the U.S. It's Toyota's most popular model - 30 million have been sold worldwide - and second in sales among all brands in Canada.

Toyota's 1998 Prius is the world's first mass-produced gas-electric hybrid and was introduced to Canadians at a 1998 ceremony at the Canada Science and Technology Museum. The car on display was used at the ceremony. The Prius is the world's best-selling hybrid. More than 14,000 have sold in Canada, and more than 1.7 million internationally.

In pictures: a gallery of cars in Canada throughout the years

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