Oakville’s economy has changed a lot since the founding of the community. From the earliest days of agriculture, milling, and ship buildings to carriage works, kerosene, and manufacturing. Today, Oakville’s most prominent employer remains Ford of Canada and is our final stop in the town’s industrial heritage.
Henry Ford did not get it right the first time. After failing to establish a profitable automobile manufacturing business, his third attempt stuck. His first attempt came in 1899 with the Detroit Automotive Co failed quickly and was reorganised into the Henry Ford Co in 1901. Between Ford’s infighting and other conflicts, he left in 1902; oddly enough, the remaining investors reorganised in 1903 into the Cadillac Automobile Co, while Henry Ford formed the Ford Motor Co that same year. Ford cars were made quickly from a standard set of parts using the assembly line technique. Across the river in Windsor, Gordon McGregor of the Walkerville Wagon Works reached out to Henry Ford about transforming the company into a child company of Ford. And in 1904, Ford and McGregor and other investors formed the Ford Motor Company of Canada. As a child company, they gained all the patients and manufacturing rights of the Ford Motor Company and access to markets across the British Empire (except for England and Ireland). The Walkerville (Windsor) plant could produce two cars simultaneously and, within the first full year of production, built 117 vehicles. When Ford introduced the Model T in 1908, it quickly became the primary car produced in Canada. The only difference was the higher number of Canadian-made parts from its American counterpart. Ford would join the Canadian War effort in the first and second world wars, producing trucks and guns. During the Second World War, the Canadian Military Pattern truck and licence-built Jeep (the popular Willys M38) were among the prevalent vehicles that made up a total of 335,000 produced by Ford of Canada for the war effort. I should also note that Henry Ford continued to do business with Nazi Germany during the Second World War, and the Ford-Wrke GmbH plant did use forced labour by French POWs. Ford of Canada, despite being a child company of Ford Motor Company, was separate from the German division at this point in history. The rise of the affluent middle-class and personal automobile affordability in the post-war period drove up new car sales. Ford of Canada acquired a poultry farm in Trafalgar Township and completed a new headquarters and car assembly plant in 1953. A truck plant was added in 1965. Until the opening of the Taylorville plant, all Ford vehicles made in Canada rolled out of Oakville. And by the 1970s, Ford was the largest and most influential corporation in Canada. But it came at a cost; a report released in 1989 named Ford’s Oakville plant as a top polluter in the province. In response, Ford cleaned up their Oakville plant by expanding their manufacturing capacity and installing the needed treatment facilities to prevent pollution from being dumped into the air and lake through the 1990s. The original headquarters were replaced in 2002 and demolished when a new building opened. And Ford of Canada became a wholly owned subsidiary of Ford Motor Company in 2004. Today the Oakville plant is the only active Ford manufacturing plant in Canada. While it is currently undergoing renovation and retooling, the aim is for a reopening in 2025 for the manufacture of electric vehicles.
I honestly wish I had a time machine to go back and capture the original Ford headquarters building. It was far more interesting than the all-glass building that stands today. I have clear memories of seeing that building driving along the QEW. But the next question was how to capture this building. There is no easy way to capture sections of the original plant without drawing attention to myself, and finding a site line from north of the QEW proved impossible. So I found myself along the service road at almost high noon with my 210mm lens. And making sure that most of the parking lot was empty so as not further to draw attention. I’m happy with the composition but should have gotten in closer, and metering of the dark windows and under-exposing by a stop made a clean exposure.