The Oldsmobile - a Relic of Canada's Car Manufacturing History

This article was originally written and submitted as part of a Canada 150 Project, the Innovation Storybook, to crowdsource stories of Canadian innovation with partners across Canada. The content has since been migrated to Ingenium’s Channel, a digital hub featuring curated content related to science, technology and innovation.

The car we have on display in the St. Catharines’ museum is representative of the automotive industry in St. Catharines, as it is the first style of car built in the City and was manufactured in the first plant in Canada designed and built specifically for automobile manufacturing. Packard electric built this car on license from Oldsmobile for the distribution in Canada and the British Empire.

The Packard Electric co. re-located to St. Catharines in order to take advantage of the close proximity to water power from a mill wheel powered by water diverted from the Welland Canal and cheap water transportation offered by that waterway. The company also manufactured and distributed motors for operating lock gate mechanisms on the Canal, as well as incandescent bulbs and watt hour meters for the general consumer. The Canadian branch of the electric company expanded rapidly to become the second largest firm of its type in the Dominion.

In 1904, the Olds Motor Works of Lansing, Michigan started on a program to build bigger, more modern cars for the 1905 season. The St. Catharines-built cars that appeared in 1905 were mostly lightweight, one and two cylinder runabouts with a hood in front and optional removable rear tonneau. Prices began around $800 and production was in the hundreds. Production began in 1905 and was discontinued before the end of 1907.

Canadian production was discontinued due to a change in market need- these cars were seen as too large and expensive for the Canadian market of the time. Oldsmobile’s Canadian operation became just a selling and servicing agency for imported vehicles, and headquarters were moved to Toronto.

In 1909, Packard electric sold a part of its real estate to the REO Motor Car Company of Canada Ltd. And REO automobiles were manufactured in this plant until 1913. In 1912, REO expanded its production from 600 to 1200 units per annum. The St. Catharines museum has a REO in its collection, dating from 1912.

Oldsmobiles were not made again in Canada until 1920, when the newly founded general motors of Canada began building them in Oshawa.

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St. Catharines Museum

The St. Catharines Museum & Welland Canals Centre is located at Lock 3 of the Welland Canal and includes the Welland Canal Viewing Platform, the St. Catharines Museum Exhibition Galleries, Merritt's Mercantile Gift Shop and several room rental spaces.