Stories: The Mural Part 2
SUNDAY SPECIAL - I have been encouraged to tell some stories from the mural. Here's some more Goderich History that I think readers will enjoy!
First- Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe Gavin Hamilton Green (1862-1961) Gavin wrote the books- “The Old Log School” and “The Old Log House”. Surprisingly you can still buy the originals on line through Abe Books.
Reg. McGee Garage, 69 Hamilton St. 1929-1947 The two mechanics I had mentioned earlier: Center is Geo. Hutchins of Goderich. He eventually had his own Willys car dealership, first at the corner of Wellington & Waterloo streets (1953-55) – an apartment building is there now – and then at the 5 points where Chuck’s Roadhouse is today. He also was a Cities Service gas station operator at both locations. John Hutchins, his brother, far right- was killed in a railway crossing accident in Colborne Township in 1937.
In 1940, shortly after I was born, there was a very bad fire upstairs in the apartment above the garage where we lived. I was the last one rescued, wrapped up in a blanket and taken outside. Brother Alvin, age 9 was all excited about the fire trucks coming, he ran down the back steps, up through the alleyway to the street where he was knocked down by the fire truck and had his leg broken.
Regarding the Shell and Sunoco pumps: When Ross Scott Fuels, distributor of Sunoco Products approached Reg, he wasn’t getting anywhere till he asked if there was any troubles around town, fuel wise. It was winter and Reg. replied that the ice machines down at the harbour were having difficulty starting. Ross and Reg. went to the harbour, drained the gas out of the machines, poured in the high test rated Sunoco fuel and the next morning all of the ice machines started. That was in 1933 and Reg. signed the contract to become a Sunoco dealer. Ross and Reg. were staunch friends forever. Their son Ken Scott took over the business and his daughter Mary Jane is married to my nephew Martyn McGee.
The red Model T you see in the alleyway was owned by me at the time of the mural painting and I had the artist dub it in as the kind of used car that would be around in that era.
The building shadowed to the right was Ed. Sparrs grocery store. I sure remember going in there with my mother, pulling open a bin and scooping out puffed wheat cereal into a bag. Who said bulk stores were a new thing! It was later owned and operated by Howard Aitken.
You might ask, where did father park his new and used cars? In those days you just backed them up to the sidewalk in front of your building, plus Reg. had taken in a property on a car deal in 1934 further up Hamilton Street and it had an open lot beside it, hence room to park more vehicles.
Here is your laugh for the day: I will not name the person but there will be somebody local that will remember this. Reg. Had a Hudson Terraplane for sale and parked on that lot for months. Finally a man came in interested in the car so Reg. let him take it out for a drive and the car immediately overheated. Reg. lifted the hood, went to the phone and made a call to a young lad who owned a similar car and said- (name delete), this is Reg. I will give you one hour to put that water pump you stole back on my car before I call the cops. Sure enough, up the street he came with the pump in hand and reinstalled it.
As I had stated earlier, just after our parents started in the garage business, along came the great depression. Our father would go out and buy Model T Fords for $25.00, Mother would sit up half the night putting the mica back into the side curtains, shoving the horsehair back into the leather seats and stitching them back up. Reg. would then go out and try to sell it for $50.00 or so. The oldest of the sons had their diapers and underwear made out of sugar sacks from Ed. Sparrs grocery store next door. And we think we have it tough today!
In 1949 the garage was sold to Wilfred Reinhart who operated an appliance store there for several years.
Reg. McGee & Sons dealership- 37 Hamilton St. 1947-2004: We now had electric gas pumps. All around the gas pump island was crushed red brick when the garage was finally opened. A large chimney still remained on the Saltford flats where the salt business started. Reg. got ownership to it and planned to dynamite it down and have the brick crushed. I distinctly remember crawling into the back of an old abandoned car with my Mother who had a brownie movie camera to record this. The first blast went straight up the chimney, doing nothing. The second blast brought it down. This venture sure looked nice but proved to be a big mistake as the red brick tracked throughout the garage and into customer’s cars etc. It was soon removed and tarvia laid in its place.
Now to the next giggle: The bright red 1947 Dodge Convertible on the showroom floor I had mentioned earlier was sold to Dr. Norman Jackson, Church St. Goderich. He headed off in August of 1947 with his brand new car to go to a Doctors Convention in London. It was a bright sunny day, and the roof was down. He must have felt quite dapper dressed in a new white suit and hat till he got to the stop sign at Clinton and pulled up beside a cattle truck loaded with cows going to market. The one cow must have had a bad case of diarrhea and through the racks covered the good Doctor from head to toe. He immediately drove back to the garage and traded the car back on an enclosed sedan. I had the Probus Club at my shop awhile back and I told that story and Dr. Jacksons daughter, Martha Archbold was standing there. I do not think that she had ever heard this of this embarrassing incident before.
In the early fifties I was in school when I was told of a big explosion at McGee Motors. I rushed uptown to learn that Don Fritzley, one of the mechanics working in the pit was draining gas from the tank of a car when another mechanic lit a torch. The explosion blew Don right out of the pit and amazingly without injury. It did however buckle the wall along the alleyway. It was repaired with several cement pillars being built to support it and that’s the way it remained till we tore the building down.
By the late fifties (57-59) Chrysler product cars came out with “the forward look”. The styling was fantastic but the quality issues were horrendous so in 1958 with 4 sons now in the business we added on Rambler. Chrysler was not very happy about this so we bought the lot behind the post office, put up a small building and that became McGee Motor sales with Alvin as the dealer. We enjoyed our relationship with AMC (58-62) but we had applied for the GM Pontiac-Buick-Cadillac franchise and had to resign both our Chrysler relationship of 33.5 years and AMC, 4 years to obtain it. We became GM dealers Jan. 22/62. It was a great move for us. Pontiac became the number one seller in Canada that same year.
McGee Motors Limited- 1962-to present Business grew so fast that in 1971 we bought out our cousin, Don. Aberhart , the Volkswagen dealer, whose building abutted ours, and made the two dealerships into one large one. In 1972 we bought the Colborne Hotel across the Street and tore it down. Later, we bought J. J. Hoggarth Farm Machinery and tore that old building down. Harold Shore Insurance also butted the property and a fire completely destroyed the house that their business was in so we bought it and tore it down. That now gave us lots of room to display our stock of vehicles. The lot now has a beautiful new Insurance building on it that takes up about the same amount of room as the old Hotel once did.
Leasing was gaining great ground and thanks to Champion Graders we started leasing vehicles in 1964 through our dealership. We also formed another company called Leaseway Transportation with Ken as President to expand the leasing side even more.
Now under pressure from GM and realizing our garage was out of date, brother Alvin made a deal for some farmland just off Highway 21 and Suncoast Drive where, in 2004, we built a new “state of the Art” dealership with a large drive-in service reception area. In 2008 we were able to buy the Chevrolet franchise from Paul Kechnie so our dreams were finally fulfilled. We were now a full line GM dealership.
In April of 2023 the dealership will be celebrating its 94th anniversary and having had 4 generations of family working in it. Reg. McGee- founder 1929-1960 Len McGee- President 1960-1964 Alvin McGee President- 1965-1980 Ken McGee President- 1981-2011 Martyn McGee President 2011-
I've also included portraits of Reg McGee (1891-1960) and Della McGee (1906-1987), taken in the late 1940s about the time the new dealership opened on Hamilton street.