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A look back at General Motors in Oshawa

Click to play video 'The beginning of General Motors in Oshawa' The beginning of General Motors in Oshawa
As the dust settles on the shutdown of vehicle assembly in Oshawa, we take a look at how it all began.

Thursday marks the first day since production at the General Motors plant came to an end.

While it is a difficult time for the individuals that worked there, there is no denying the automaker made its mark on Oshawa, Ont., and the world.

“Automotive production has a long history in Oshawa,” says Alexander Gates, Curator and Executive Director of the Canadian Automobile Museum. “It all dates back to the 1870s with the McLaughlin family.”

That family, originally from Bowmanville, Ont., moved to Oshawa, founding the McLaughlin carriage company of the same name — the business we now know as General Motors. In its glory days, ‘McLauglin Motors’ started a new era of transportation.

“They produced their first automobile the first McLaughlin Model F in 1907, and that’s going to be the start of Oshawa as an automotive city,” says Gates.

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READ MORE: GM closure an example of technical changes ‘disrupting’ Canadian industries: expert

Through a series of changes the business grew, first building ‘McLaughlin Buicks’ — then adding Chevrolet and Pontiac to their lineup. It was all part of a business partnership with General Motors in the U.S. In 1918, GM bought the McLaughlin Motor Company, creating GM Canada.

“One of the reasons that production was so successful here over the years, was those associations with American manufacturers.”

The plant went through ups and downs, labour movements and job losses, but at one point it employed more than 20,000 people. In the 1980s Oshawa’s facility grew to be the largest in North America — building not only cars, but helping grow Canada’s economy.

Click to play video 'Last shift wraps at Oshawa GM plant, line shuts down' Last shift wraps at Oshawa GM plant, line shuts down
Last shift wraps at Oshawa GM plant, line shuts down

“If you go back to the McLaughlin family, you can see their names on everything,” says Durham Regional Chair, John Henry.

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“From high schools to public schools and libraries and hospitals, they were very very generous. They helped build communities and support really amazing causes.”

Over the century it was in operation, GM produced a number of models you might recognize. Oldsmobile, Buick, Chevrolet Impala and the GMC Sierra to name a few. All vehicles made for your everyday Canadian.

“Oshawa wasn’t producing sports cars or high-end vehicles, it was producing cars that were used by average people on a daily basis.”

READ MORE: ‘Everyone wanted to work here’: GM retirees crushed following Oshawa plant closure

GM survived the Great Depression (1929-1933) and two world wars – it was even converted to military production in 1942.

It survived after declaring bankruptcy and being bailed out by the government in 2009.

Where southern Ontario’s GM workers lost was when the company wanted to move operations to Mexico. This would push production out of the country, and after 100 years, out of the city of Oshawa.