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Gone but not forgotten – The Hamilton Studebaker Plant

July 2020

Hamilton, Ontario, is a proud, working-class city that is best known for its steel production, leading to its nick-name, “The Steel City.”

Hamilton was also home to a Studebaker automobile factory, established in 1947, in the former WWII Otis-Fenson anti-aircraft gun plant on Victoria Street North, built in 1907.

Studebaker was originally founded in South Bend, Indiana, in 1852, as the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company, a manufacturer of wagons, buggies, carriages and harnesses.

Studebaker first entered the motor vehicle business in 1902, producing electric vehicles. Two years later, the company began producing gasoline-powered vehicles under the name Studebaker Automobile Company. The company gained a reputation for innovative and solid, distinctive automobiles.

Although Studebaker cars had been manufactured in Canada prior to WWII, this was the first modern Studebaker factory in Canada. Hamilton was chosen due to the steel plants and likely due to the proximity to the American border.

The 740,000-square-foot Victoria Street facility was as a satellite automobile production facility, using engines produced in the United States. Studebaker also assembled half-ton pickup trucks at the plant from 1950 to 1955.

Studebaker cars built in Canada were openly marketed as Studebaker: Canada’s Own Car!

The Hamilton Studebaker plant produced numerous models of their own cars, along with Packard automobiles after the merger of the two companies in 1954. At the time, both companies were experiencing falling sales and financial troubles.

Originally the company was called the Studebaker-Packard Corporation, the Packard name was eventually dropped, and the company reverted to the Studebaker Corporation, with all cars were manufactured under the Studebaker name.

The decline of Studebaker continued into the 1960s, eventually leading to the closure of the plant in South Bend on 20 December 1963. The entire car operations were moved to the Hamilton plant, as the Canadian car operations had always been profitable for the money-losing company.

Sadly for Studebaker, this move only delayed the inevitable. The Hamilton plant closed on 22 March 1966, putting around 700 employees out of work. The final car that rolled off the production line was turquoise Studebaker Lark Cruiser, ending 29 years of automobile production at the plant.

This was a big blow to the Hamilton workforce, as Studebaker was Hamilton’s 10th largest employer at the time.

Otis Elevators later re-acquired the Studebaker plant, remaining there until 1987, after which Allan Candy used the plant until 1997.

Most of the complex was demolished in 2012, so that the property could be re-developed into the Hamilton Central Business Park. The 30,000 square foot office tower at the corner of Victoria Street North and Ferrie Street East was retained and will be the centrepiece of a new, 120,000-square-foot flex space office development.

Most of that concrete and steel structure, built in 1907, was torn down. But a historic, three-story brick and beam portion of about 30,000 square feet was preserved and will be the centrepiece of a new, 120,000-square-foot flex space office development.

As of 2020, only one business currently occupies the business park: geotechnical contractor Soletanche Bachy Canada. A new road cuts east-west across the property.

A small park with a playground occupies the east end of the property at the corner of Wentworth Street North and Mars Avenue, where one will find a modest historical plaque that was dedicated to the former Studebaker plant in September 2016.

As for the Studebaker Corporation itself, the company attempted mergers with Nissan, then Toyota, but interference from then-former U.S. Vice-President Richard Nixon ended up sabotaging these plans.

In May 1967, Studebaker was taken over by Wagner Electric, which in turn was merged with Worthington Corporation the following November to create Studebaker-Worthington Corporation.

The Studebaker name would effectively disappear when McGraw-Edison purchased Studebaker-Worthington in 1978.

The name Studebaker does live on in South Bend, which is home to the Studebaker National Museum. Amongst the prized possessions of the museum are the sole remaining prototype of a restored, never-produced wood-sided Champion station wagon, and the final Studebaker car produced at the Hamilton plant.

There have been various attempts over the years to revive the Studebaker brand-name, but only one is automobile related.

The name “Studebaker Jeans” was registered in 1987, but cancelled nine years later.

Spectra International now markets a Studebaker brand line of retro audio products and turntables.

A company called “Studebaker Motor Company” was established in 2010. The web site advises they are not related to the original company, but is a new company started by, “…a guy who has always liked Studebaker vehicles.” An image of a proposed new Studebaker SUV adorns the top of the web site, with the moto “A Time Honored Name, A New Company for the Future” along the bottom. It was last updated on 19 May 2019, so it’s unknown if this venture will ultimately come to fruition.

Studebaker fans can only hope it does.

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Studebaker, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Studebaker_Canada, https://www.thespec.com/news/hamilton-region/2016/09/09/studebaker-fans-to-unveil-plaque-at-old-factory-site.html, https://www.hemmings.com/stories/2014/03/28/most-of-studebakers-canada-plant-torn-down-to-make-way-for-industrial-park, https://www.studebakerhifi.com, http://www.studebakermotorcompany.com/home/home, https://urbancore.info/?mtheme_portfolio=440-victoria-ave-hamilton, https://creblurb.com/675-acres-shovel-ready-land-hamilton, https://perspective.ca/hamiltons-economic-development-strategy-is-working, https://www.thespec.com/news/hamilton-region/2016/09/09/studebaker-fans-to-unveil-plaque-at-old-factory-site.html.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/gone-but-not-forgotten-the-hamilton-studebaker-plant/

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