If you have never heard of the Canadian Automotive Museum, don’t worry, you are not alone. In fact, a number of years ago when the AJAC Canadian Car of the Year awards Testfest event made a pit stop at the museum, a large percentage of the journalist members had never even heard of the place. Only a handful of locals had actually set foot in the aging building.
Perhaps even more surprising is that many residents of Durham Region, even those who are car enthusiasts are unaware of the existence of a car museum in Oshawa, even though it is right on the main drag in the downtown area.
Earlier this week, the museum hosted their first ever Curator’s Reception, to showcase the many upgrades which have been made in recent years to bring the facility into the modern age. Some of them are remarkably basic, but absolutely required.
Located at 99 Simcoe Street South, the museum is housed in a building that was home to the Jackson Motor Company in 1921. A couple of years later, it became home to Ontario Motor Sales, a dealer which is still in operation today, close to a century later.
In 1962, the Canadian Automotive Museum was created in the space as a project by the local chamber of commerce to celebrate Oshawa’s rich automotive history.
At various times throughout the years, the collection has shared space with the chamber of commerce, a Christian supplies store, and a camera shop, before the building became entirely dedicated to the museum in 1986.
While the collection was expanded with the addition of archival materials from the Craven Foundation in 1986 and 20 vehicles from the McDougald Collection in 1995, the facility itself received few, if any upgrades through the years. Essentially, it became a dark and dusty old hall full of cars.
That all changed in 2015, when the board of directors realized that something had to be done. Curator Alex Gates, an actual museum guy, was hired to carry out a multi-year plan to bring the space up to snuff.
With the upcoming Canada 150 celebration in 2017, the CAM was able to take advantage of some government funding, which coupled with private donations allowed for a variety of renovations.
One of the most important things for any museum is creating a stable environment for its collection. To say that the existing HVAC system was inadequate would be an understatement, as in some parts of the building a winter jacket was required in the colder months. Updates to that system have allowed for stable temperatures.
New signage was installed on the exterior, along with exterior insulation and modern cladding for the walls, which has in turn helped control heating costs.
The building’s electrical systems, which had been largely untouched since 1962, have been brought up to modern specs.
A neat side effect of the exterior work was the discovery of the building’s original 1920’s era windows, which had long ago been covered up by interior wood panelling. So intact are the windows, that milk bottle closure tabs from the 1940s were found where some worker tossed them seventy-something years ago. Those windows will remain in place as the display area decor evolves.
New entry doors in a period correct style have been installed, while the front display room has been completely renovated. The floors on the main floor of the two story building have been painted, along with many of the exposed pipes and other bits of the very industrial looking ceiling.
The old girl still has a long way to come, but the difference in the space is truly like night and day.
Along with all of the physical improvements, Gates and his team have implemented a solid marketing effort using social media, email, and genuinely becoming part of the downtown Oshawa community rather than just being there. These efforts are working, as last year the Museum welcomed 14,000 visitors, up from just 4,000 five years ago. A large percentage of these new visitors are kids.
The collection itself is a mixed bag of machinery, from early Canadian built cars to genuine royal luxury and a modern movie icon.
When your fastest growing demographic is kids, you give them what they want to see! This life sized Lightning McQueen is by far the most popular car in the collection, as kids young and old all love a movie star!
1914 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost.
This elegant beauty has real royal roots, having been used to transport Edward, Prince of Wales during his 1919 Canadian Tour.
1960 Ford Frontenac
One of the CAM’s most recent acquisitions, this Ford Frontenac was built in Oakville, Ontario. Essentially a re-badged Ford Falcon, 9,536 units were built for the Canadian market and this car is one of only 15 still in existence.
Built in Germany in 1965, the Amphicar is a car that does double duty as a boat. While they are not too uncommon in some circles, the car on display at the CAM is unique in that has just 84 Miles on the odometer!
1971 Manic GT
Built in Quebec from 1969-71, the Manic GT was a cool little coupe with a fibreglass body, based on Renault mechanicals, including a 1,300 cc four cylinder engine.