McLaughlin "Colonel Sam" (1871 - 1972)
Founder General Motors of Canada
Born in Enniskillen, Ont., in 1871, Robert Samuel
McLaughlin started as an apprentice upholsterer in his father's
factory, the McLaughlin Carriage Works in Oshawa in 1887. His
pay was $3 a week, from which his father deducted $2.50 for
room and board.
Sam was not keen on building carriage bodies, but had a flair for upholstery.
As a journeyman upholsterer who could spit tacks as he worked, he moved to the
high ranks of $6 a week. Soon he expanded his talents to designing more than
140 models of carriages and sleighs.
Young Sam loved travel and speed. Once for a holiday he rode his bicycle over
dirt roads from Oshawa to Brockville and back - a distance of more than 300 miles.
Often he rode the toll road for 30 miles from Oshawa to Toronto, delighted that
he didn't have to pay because he was using his bike, not a horse-drawn carriage.
The successful McLaughlin family enterprise was turning out 25,000 horse-drawn
buggies and sleighs a year when the first horseless carriages appeared in Canada
around 1900. The family apparently didn't pay much attention to the new-fangled
Sam's First Car Ride
He took his first car ride in 1904 in a thousand-dollar Ford belonging to Oliver
Hezzlewood, the McLaughlin Carriage Works bookkeeper. "I think it ran on
one cylinder and was chain driven," McLaughlin told Maclean's Magazine in
1954. "It had no doors, top or windshield." When it rained, passengers
got soaked to the skin.
At Hezzlewood's request, McLaughlin devised a rubberized sheet that fit over
the body of the car, with four holes cut for the heads of the driver and three
passengers. It worked. In gratitude, Hezzlewood allowed young McLaughlin to drive
his car. "From then on I had a new kind of wheel in my head: motor-driven
wheels," McLaughlin said.
In 1907, the McLaughlin Motor Car Co. was incorporated in Oshawa, ready to handle
an annual production of 100 McLaughlin-designed cars. William Durant, owner of
the Buick Co. of Detroit, offered to supply the engines. The joint venture launched
the first motor car actually assembled in Canada, with parts brought in from
Michigan: the McLaughlin-Buick Model F.
Sam McLaughlin became a director of General Motors in 1910 and, in 1918, sold
the McLaughlin Motor Car Co. to GM, becoming president of General Motors Canada.
He retained the title and served as company chairman until well into his 90s.
" Chrysler, Olds, Chevrolet - the men, not the cars - were his buddies," wrote
author Heather Robertson, "for McLaughlin presided at the birth of the North
American auto industry." One of McLaughlin's proudest achievements was his
induction in the 11th Ontario Regiment as Honorary Colonel. For the rest of his
life, to friends and associates he was known as "Colonel Sam."
McLaughlin Foundation is Established
McLaughlin was 80 years old when he established the McLaughlin Foundation in
1951. "I want you all to share in everything I have done," he said.
His primary intention in establishing the Foundation was to promote good health
among Canadians by encouraging study and research in medical science. But he
was also concerned about arts, culture, education and community. The same year
that he created the McLaughlin Travelling Fellowships for young doctors, he also
established the Queen's University Trust to foster research and graduate studies
in fields other than medicine. The McLaughlin Foundation began with $1 million
in 1951, and grew by another $32 million after Sam McLaughlin's death in 1972.
When the Foundation ceases by the end of 2001, it will have donated nearly $200
million to institutions, charities and individuals in many parts of Canada.
Separate from both the Trust and the Foundation, there were also significant
gifts that came personally from Colonel Sam. Among them:
The McLaughlin Planetarium
The Intensive Care Unit of The Hospital for
The Guelph University Library
Part of the Group of Seven collection of the
Colonel Sam at 100
On Colonel Sam's 100th birthday, he received congratulations from well-wishers
ranging from the Queen Mother (whom he had entertained at his Oshawa mansion)
and Henry Ford II to a Niagara Falls peach picker who began his letter, "Dear
Friend Sam." Four months later, early in 1972, he died. The Oshawa Times
reported that some 20,000 mourners filed past his flag-draped coffin.
The McLaughlin Carriage motto reflected the motto for Colonel Sam's life: "One
grade only, and that the best."