Studebaker of Canada Corporation Limited

Location: 1946-1966, Ferrie Street East, Hamilton, Ontario

A colourful rendering of the Studebaker logoIn February of 1852, brothers Henry and Clem Studebaker opened a blacksmith and wagon-building shop in South Bend, Indiana. Their partnership became the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company in 1868. Forty-one years later, the Everitt-Metzger-Flanders Automobile Manufacturing Company (E.M.F.), a partner of Studebaker Brothers, established a plant in Walkerville, Ontario (now a part of Windsor). In 1913, the two companies formally merged to become the Studebaker Corporation, and the Walkerville plant a wholly-owned Canadian subsidiary.

The company had already begun manufacturing "horseless carriages" (automobiles) in 1911, and in the 1920s it abandoned the manufacture of horse-drawn buggies altogether. When World War II began in 1939, the Studebaker of Canada (S.C.) plant in Walkerville was shut down for lack of orders. When the war ended, the need for automobiles in Canada increased so dramatically that S.C. required larger and more modern facilities. The first car produced at the Hamilton, Ontario, Studebaker of Canada plant in August, 1946 (click for a closer look) The old anti-aircraft gun plant on the property of Otis-Fensom Elevator was acquired from the government in 1946, and on August 18, 1948, the first Studebaker built in Hamilton rolled off the line: a Deluxe Champion four-door sedan in blue. Six months later, the first truck was produced, a 1949 2R5 half-ton pickup. Studebaker was not the first automobile manufacture in Hamilton; however, it was the most enduring.

By May, 1949, the Hamilton plant was producing about 20% of its parent corporation's world export business. Studebaker cars were being delivered to distributors in Switzerland, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and Panama. The plant produced about 70 cars per day, five days a week. However, in 1951, the automotive production industry suffered from an industry-wide slowdown in car sales. To prevent excess inventory, the Hamilton factory's production rate was cut by 45%, and 500 hourly workers were laid off.

The directors of the company, though, were optimistic that the lull was temporary. They authorized the purchase of 190 acres on Guelph Line, east of Burlington, Ontario, to hold for possible expansion. The Hamilton plant itself had 320,000 square feet of space, and the directors would have preferred to expand in the city, but they could not find enough industrial space.

In June, 1954, the parent company, Studebaker of U.S.A. (S.U.), merged with the Packard Motor Car Company. The amalgamation included Studebaker Canada (now Studebaker-Packard of Canada Limited [S.P.C.]), since it was a wholly-owned subsidiary of the American company. Hamilton was again selected as the headquarters of the new Canadian organization.

Over the next few years, the product line of S.P.C. was expanded to include the manufacture of the Scotsman station wagon, which had previously been imported from the U.S.A., and the Canadian distribution and sale of Mercedes-Benz autos in partnership with Daimler-Benz A.G. of Germany. The Scotsman decision proved to be a successful one; production at the Hamilton plant was increased by 50%, and employees who had been laid off were recalled. In 1958, the partnership between Studebaker U.S.A. and Packard dissolved, and the Canadian company later returned to its original name, Studebaker of Canada Corporation. A 1960 Studebaker Lark (click for a closer look)

Almost 500 workers - members of the United Auto Workers (U.A.W.), Local 525 - struck at 8:00 a.m. on May 13, 1959. The strike ended 25 days later, on June 7. The workers gained, among other things, an 18 cent hourly wage increase over three years, and a five cent per hour cost of living bonus, effective immediately. The next year, production of the Lark model of compact car was stepped up, increasing the production 25% from 24 to 32 cars per day. Six hundred workers were employed at the Hamilton plant at this time.

Unfortunately, the plants in the U.S.A. did not share the Canadian company's profitability. Studebaker of U.S.A. ceased car production in December of 1963, having lost money in the enterprise over the last four years. While S.U. would continue in its other ventures - nine other divisions including appliance manufacturing, military air transport, and agricultural implements - car production would be consolidated in Hamilton. Production was forecast to increase dramatically from 8,000 to about 30,000 cars per year, and the payroll to double from 675 to more than 1,200 workers.

The directors and management of Studebaker Canada were extremely optimistic about the developments. Then-president of the company Gordon Grundy stated:

All indicators, in fact, seem favourable for the coming months, and we feel we are on the right track.
A 1938 Studebaker (click for a closer look)

However, the problems that had beset the American manufacturers apparently crossed the border, for only three months after president Gordon Grundy made the above remark - March 4, 1966 - he announced that the Hamilton plant was closing (having produced 179,325 cars and trucks in its 18-year history). Sales for Studebaker cars had decreased through 1965, enough to fall below the break-even point for the auto division. Studebaker was out of the car-making business altogether.

Shortly after the closure of the Hamilton plant, the parent corporation merged with another company to become Studebaker-Worthington, manufacturer of automobile accessories, engines, and turbines.

In November, 1969, Otis Elevator bought the old building back from Studebaker, and used it as a warehouse until the Otis factory closed in February of 1987. The building is now used by the Allan Candy Company. The Burlington acreage remained unused by Studebaker, and is now an industrial park.

Studebaker cars remain a popular hobby for old car rebuilders and drivers, and several car clubs have been organized around the world.




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