Ford Model C: Canada’s First Production Car
Canada’s first large-scale automobile production began in 1904. The Model C Ford and later the Model T were produced at Walkerville Wagon Works in southern Ontario.
He didn’t make the first automobile in Canada; there were many other cars under development. He wasn’t the only one to design production lines, either. But in 1904, Henry Ford was the first to build cars on large-scale Canadian production.
Watching the growth of the American automobile industry from Walkerville Wagon Works, his Ontario factory, 31-year-old Gordon M. McGregor spoke with his two brothers:
“There are men in Detroit who say every farmer will soon be using an automobile. I don’t see why we cannot build them here in the wagon factory.” 1
The Ford Motor Company of Canada
McGregor contacted Henry Ford, just across the river in Detroit, Michigan. The two businessmen admired each other’s work, and an agreement for franchise was made with the Ford Motor Company on August 17, 1904. The Canadian firm was given rights to assemble Ford cars for sale in all of the British Empire except the United Kingdom. .The new Ford Motor Company of Canada was headed by John Grey, head of the American parent, Henry Ford was named Vice-President, and Gordon McGregor was installed as Secretary and General Manager. (Though he was founder and operator of the company, McGregor was never made President – the parent company retained 51% of the shares.) 2
The first car to rumble off the Canadian assembly line in 1904 was the Model C.
Built with engine parts ferried across from Detroit, the wheels and car bodies were manufactured in Canada. The automobile boasted a two-cylinder, 10-horsepower engine under the seats, and a faux-hood up front to resemble a front end-motor. It was a sleek black design with front and back padded seats. The Model C was not for the everyman who wanted a modern vehicle. It was priced at the princely sum of $1,100.
In the first full year of production at Walkerville Wagon Works, 107 Model C and 8 Model B cars were assembled by a group of 17 industrious workers. The annual combined payroll, as noted on Media.Ford was $12,000.
Ford Canada struggled to gain business
While horseless carriages were becoming more visible, the public remained skeptical of the strange, noisy automobiles, relying mostly on horse and buggy yet. The fledgling Ford Canada business struggled to survive, but under the firm guidance of McGregor, it pulled through. The Model T, brought to the Canadian production line in 1909, was the trigger for success. The Walkerville factory was expanded in 1910 to accommodate production, and by 1913, was producing its own automobile engines.
The Canadian version of the Model T was somewhat different than the popular American version. The driver’s door was an actual door, not a simulation as in the US model. And since driving preferences were not yet established in the early era of the automobile, the cars came with both left- and right-hand drive. It was priced at about $850, much lower than the Model C, so that more buyers could afford to have a car. In the first year of Canadian production, over 1,200 of the 20-horsepower cars were built; six years later, production was up over 18,700 Model Ts. As production grew and became more efficient over the years, the prices continued to drop for the Model T. by 1920, the car cost about $300.
Henry Ford felt that the Canadian division of his company was in good hands. He did not attend Directors’ Meetings for about 15 years, “saying that he saw no point in disrupting a smooth-running organization.” 1
Walkerville founded by Hiram Walker
The town of Walkerville was founded by Hiram Walker, of Canadian Club Whiskey distillery fame, in 1856. It became a part of the city of Windsor, Ontario in 1935. Windsor brands itself as “The Automotive Capital of Canada” and is renowned for its large automotive industry including Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, among others.
1 Look for more on Gordon M. McGregor at Media.Ford.com
2 Canada’s Automotive Industry, by James Dykes, part of the Canada at Work Series published by McGraw Hill Company of Canada Ltd, 1970. Pp 13 – 15.
3 A Pictorial History of the Automobile, by Peter Roberts, published by Ottenheimer Publishers Inc, 1977. Photo of the Model C Ford on pg 75.
This article first appeared on Suite101.com in 2007. Copyright Susanna McLeod