AUTOMOTIVE HISTORY

Known as the automotive capital of Canada, Windsor Essex, Ontario is synonymous with cutting edge innovation and design – we are a culture of cars and distinctive automobile heritage, which harkens back to the early 1900s. Just as Detroit, our neighbors to the north are deemed the Motor City of the U.S., we too take great pride in telling our story – a story which ties itself to Windsor, including the Ford City and Walkerville districts, and the County of Essex.

Take the self-guided Henry Ford Celebration Driving Tour to explore the Canadian locations that have played an integral role in piecing together the birthplace of the Canadian automobile and the legacy of Henry Ford, the American pioneer, industrialist, and founder of the Ford Motor Company had on our region. His revolutionary Model T was a pebble tossed into a still pond, whose ever-expanding ripples still wash around us today.

In 1904, Gordon McGregor—owner of Walkerville Wagon Works, near Walkerville, Ontario—became convinced that Canadian farmers would soon be driving automobiles. And he wanted to build them in Canada. So he approached a new automaker just across the river in Detroit. Henry Ford liked McGregor’s idea, and in August 1904 they founded Ford Motor Company of Canada.

In the first year, 17 employees built 114 cars. By 1920, the Ford Motor Company of Canada, then the largest manufacturing concern in the British Empire was building 55,000 Model Ts a year. Annual world production surpassed 1 million in the early years of that decade, by which point at least half the cars in North America were Model Ts.

By the time the Model T passed the torch to the Model A in 1928, the thriving community of Ford City boasted 16,000 people of many nationalities. Before it was phased out in 1927, the T racked up worldwide sales of more than 16 million, inspiring other carmakers to exploit the burgeoning obsession with the car.

Farmers were early champions of the Model T, using the automobile as an easier way to get produce to market. Ironically, the Model T accelerated the process of Canada’s urbanization as it created many secondary industries and thousands moved from farms to better paying factory jobs.

Ford City played host to one of the most significant strikes in post-World War II Canada as union workers attempted to capitalize on their great wartime advances. The historic Ford strike of 1945 saw 14,000 members of UAW Local 200 take to the picket line for an unprecedented 99 days with the ultimate goal of gaining recognition for the union. In this historic standoff, some 2000 vehicles made up a gigantic barricade along the United Autoworkers picket line and faced off with the Ontario Provincial Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In addition, the federal government was readying armoured tank units in Camp Borden to break up the barricade.

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