That "Art Deco" Dealership
Reg. McGee knew he had a problem. But, after suffering through the depression at his small garage near the foot of Hamilton Street, and with no cars used or new hardly to sell, things changed dramatically and just before the Second World War started in 1939 his business was booming. He knew eventually he had to build a new, much larger dealership.
In the 1943-44 time frame he began buying up properties further up Hamilton Street towards the Square.
Some of these properties were the Chas. Videan Feed & Seed Store, Sam Lee Chinese Laundry, Goderich Monument Works and Joe Mutches Barber Shop.
At the war’s end in 1945 construction began on a new modern garage. Just after the building started, tragedy struck. The contractor was killed in a car accident. Panic set in, but up showed a promising young man named Bill Wilcox from London who took over and did a wonderful job. He eventually went on to be a very successful builder in London before retiring to Goderich many years later.
The front end of the Garage had beautiful terrazo floors and housed the parts department, Reg’s Office, and room to display up to 2 cars. The front curved section was to serve the gas pumps, house the pop and ice cream machines and a place for the bookkeeper was provided as well as an additional sales desk. The mid-section had 3 double depth stalls holding six vehicles if need be. The garage had all new state of the art in ground hoists, overhead lubrication equipment and a large pit. A large open but covered canopy allowed for some vehicle repairs and a great protected area to bring vehicles into the service stalls. The very last section housed tires and exhaust parts and eventually a spray booth and a body shop. A large wall to one side separated the garage from Willy’s Car dealership next door running down St. Andrew’s Street.
I can remember all the wood trim that surrounded the windows being hand rubbed with shoe polish by my brothers, and it looked great. The roof was reinforced with used but very substantial steel beams as thoughts were to perhaps store cars on the roof, which never came to be.
The new garage was officially opened on July 29, 1947. A 3 ton flatbed Dodge Truck sat under the canopy and had the CKNX barn dance group sitting up on the bed performing. I was at that time 7 years of age, and had a little baton in my hand leading the band. There was dancing in the streets and whiskey flowing in the offices that evening.
The garage was written up and its’ photo appeared on the front cover of the Garage Operators Magazine touting it as the most modern up to date garage around. I loved the magic of that place. We had large display cabinets full of accessories that I was always cleaning or reorganizing and setting up displays of oil cans in the front area that served the pumps. As usual in those days’ garages, we had candy, cigarettes, cigars, peanuts etc. I remember the distributor locally for those supplies was Craigies Pool Room at the corner of Montreal Street on The Square. I would go over and the manager, Arnold “Cueball” McConnell would let me go behind the counter, lift up a trap door and I would load up with the Oh Henry bars, Planters peanuts, Black Cat Cigarettes and oh yes, Marguerite cigars for Reg.
The one big thing that our father did not take into consideration was parking room. Our cars were displayed facing out onto Hamilton Street and backed up against the wall that separated us from the garage next door. Customer serviced cars were parked anywhere we could find room up and down Hamilton and St. Andrews Streets.
In reflection after building this beautiful Art Deco Dealership Reg. started to return more to his farming interests. He loved horses, hockey, and was an avid Lions Club member. He knew Leonard and Alvin were handling the car sales very well, Ken started working full time at the age of sixteen, and Ron who had become a professional race horse driver would eventually find his way into the garage as well.
Reg. McGee passed away in February of 1960 at 68 years of age.
Pictures from the Dealership scrapbook showing the New Dealership as well as some of the construction of the new garage, with Bill Wilcox standing in the doorway. (second photo from the bottom, on the left)