McGREGOR, GORDON MORTON, manufacturer and civic officer; b. 18 Jan. 1873 near Windsor, Ont., second son of William McGregor and Jessie Lathrup Peden; m. 2 Nov. 1898 Harriet (Hattie) Dodds in Detroit, and they had three daughters and two sons; d. 11 March 1922 in Montreal and was buried in Windsor.
Gordon M. McGregor was born at his family’s home south of Windsor, on the Detroit River. His father had a chequered career in business and as mayor of Windsor and Liberal mp for Essex. Reared in a Scottish Presbyterian family, Gordon was educated in Windsor and Winnipeg, where the McGregors lived for a time. He worked for a men’s clothing store in Detroit and then with his father in a real estate and insurance agency in Windsor. By 1897 he was becoming active in Liberal politics. Known for his singing voice and socializing, he married the daughter of a wholesale druggist in Detroit, where he also kept the books for the Photokrome Company. In 1902, when McGregor Sr became collector of customs, he was installed with no experience as manager of the wagon works in Walkerville (Windsor) that his father and banker John Curry had acquired.
There McGregor witnessed four converging trends: the proliferation of American branch plants to bypass Canadian tariffs; the growth of machine trades related to the bicycle craze; the birth of an automotive industry in Michigan; and the decline of the wagon works following William McGregor’s death in 1903. Unable as president to sustain production, Gordon watched its debt climb and work stop in July 1904. As early as January apparently, under pressure from Curry to reduce obligations, he had been thinking of reusing the factory as a branch of an automotive firm. He gambled on Henry Ford of Detroit, who faced a patent lawsuit but had achieved startling success with gasoline-powered runabouts. Initially uninterested, Ford, who likely came to admire McGregor’s underlying hardness, soon saw his overture as an opportunity to expand and exploit Canada’s access to imperial markets. He had already tested the waters. In 1903 Canada Cycle and Motor in Toronto began selling his first model and in the spring of 1904 he made a promotional trip into Ontario. Though McGregor was confident that a branch would enjoy support from the federal Liberal government, which raised the tariff on automobiles, his plan was risky: the market was unformed and finding capital was a huge challenge. Still, bolstered with promises of extra stock he had shrewdly demanded as compensation, McGregor raised $125,000. On 10 August, an agreement was concluded; in a key exchange, Ford would share his patents and plans. At the inaugural meeting of the Ford Motor Company of Canada Limited on the 29th, McGregor was made managing secretary.
By year’s end 25 Model Cs had been assembled in Walkerville from chassis made in Michigan and advertising was appearing in Canadian sources. At the Madison Square Garden car show in New York in January 1905, McGregor witnessed the power of bold displays; he would have recognized too the modesty of his own operation. He exhibited at CCM’s little show in February, he held a second job, and finding sales agents and producers for parts in Ontario was a slow process. At the same time, the Windsor Evening Record started to champion both the fledgling industry and McGregor.
In 1906 he dutifully backed Ford’s venture into the luxury car field, but it was with the overlapping production of the Model N that the organization returned to its originator’s quest for a “light, low-priced car.” There were sales from Vancouver to Fredericton. Sent to Walkerville that year to manage production, George Dickert would remember McGregor as a pleasant, persuasive man bent on “peddling.” The atmosphere at Walkerville struck visitors as casual, but groundwork was being laid. Production climbed to 327 vehicles in 1907. That year, at the Toronto Industrial Exhibition (later the Canadian National Exhibition), McGregor showed for the first time apart from CCM, which Thomas Alexander Russell* had taken over to make a purely Canadian automobile. McGregor understood that his firm had a dual identity: it was promoted as Canadian within the dominion, while in the United States and some British territories, where American consuls were big boosters, the Detroit affiliation was highlighted. When he began exporting in 1906, to Australia, New Zealand, and Natal (South Africa), he utilized Ford Detroit’s shippers.
By 1907–8 his gamble was succeeding. His salary was increased, he bought in stock from nervous investors, payments to the old wagon company were met, and he ventured further into public life. With others he tried in 1906 to revive Windsor’s defunct board of trade; in 1908 he chaired the board formed to build First Presbyterian Church in Walkerville. Most satisfying was the maturation of the automobile industry, including the emergence of a trade press and show entrepreneurs, notably Robert Miller Jaffray. McGregor, who saw Canada’s regions taking to the automobile in different ways, was most troubled by the trend among provinces and municipalities to regulate its use. Like his testers, with their upsetting noise and fumes, he liked to drive fast. In 1908 he joined other automakers and officials of the newly formed Ontario Motor League – possibly the earliest such lobby in Canada – to ask a committee of the legislature to curtail regulatory amendments. Their worries were unfounded: controls were routinely violated as the public came to terms with the “devil wagon.” Moreover, regulation tended to lead to calls for better roads, a movement supported by McGregor. At the end of September he reported annual profits of more than $18,500.
Announced by Ford Canada that fall, the utterly utilitarian Model T would make McGregor, and revolutionize transportation in Canada by breaking down time and distance. Specifications began arriving in February 1909 and chassis in March; Canadian-made bodies and other components were used from the start. Between August and January 1910, in concert with Ford Detroit’s development of its own foreign markets, McGregor went to Australia, New Zealand, India, and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) to consolidate his networks. At home the Border Cities (Windsor, Walkerville, Sandwich, and Ojibway) began blossoming as Canada’s centre of automotive and parts manufacture. In 1910 and 1911–12 McGregor undertook expansions in cutting-edge reinforced concrete; the large machine tools essential to mass production followed; the first “power conveyor” appeared about 1911. For the rest of his career he would be engaged in rounds of structural and mechanical change. During the surge in production from 1,280 in 1910 to 6,388 in 1912, his company was reincorporated in 1911 under a federal charter.
A photograph of a bespectacled McGregor taken about this time in Detroit exudes affluence. In 1910 he bought a cottage lot near Kingsville, a summer retreat on Lake Erie. The next year, he and some neighbours leaned on the town to annex their area and give it water and fire protection. Socially ambitious, he belonged to the Oak Ridge Golf Club, which was incorporated as the Essex Golf and Country Club in 1910. The reciprocity debate and election of 1911 tested his politics. Conscious of the tariff’s role in fostering industry, the Walkerville Board of Trade opposed reciprocity; so too did such Liberal automakers as Russell and Robert McLaughlin of Oshawa. McGregor, however, thought it the “best proposition” Canada ever faced, a partisan position he could afford to adopt: the tariff on cars would be reduced minimally and his markets would not be threatened. When Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier* visited in September, McGregor proudly chauffeured him in a parade and went on stage for the ensuing speeches. Even with the Liberals’ defeat, he came to master back-room politicking (with a reach that extended to the House of Commons) and he gained status. He purchased a stately house in Windsor in 1912, some commercial blocks, and a property for a showcase Ford dealership.
The real challenge facing McGregor’s company was the need for a national distribution network to absorb the ever-increasing numbers of new Ford automobiles (11,584 in 1912–13). He assigned the task to Augustin Neil Lawrence, the bright young sales manager who, in consultation with McGregor and assistant manager Wallace Ronald Campbell, devised a “formula for organized selling.” Representatives drove through every rural and urban section of the country, methodically charting their economic and physical condition and then calculating targets for sales and dealer recruitment. As part of this marketing tour de force, advertising was revamped (some of it quite unlike Ford Detroit’s) and in 1913 the assertive Ford Sales Bulletin (for dealers) and the Canadian Ford Times were launched.
Ever-faster assembly line production, which was at the core of Ford Canada’s drive to meet its targets and backlogs of orders, led to high turnover and new demands in labour relations. In a traditional manner, McGregor supported employee clubs and sports teams. Faced with a housing shortage, he applied to town council in 1912 for permission to house his workers in tents. A different test of his corporate sympathies came in April 1913 when, despite his opposition, Arsas Drouillard successfully applied for a licence to open a tavern near Ford’s gates. Unwilling to bend, McGregor had the licence vetoed by provincial secretary William John Hanna*, who was also a director of Imperial Oil, which supplied Ford Canada. He then proceeded confidently in May into litigation over the stock promised him in 1904, a case that would go to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in England. The Evening Record’s report of his initial testimony stressed his early struggle and manly “perseverance” – the start of fabricated legend.
McGregor was beginning to become known on the national scene. In September 1913 he attended the annual meeting of the Canadian Manufacturers’ Association in Halifax. Foundry and machine journals noted his achievements, but until after the war he received little personal attention in the daily press. The American Ford Times gave coverage to his markets – they held an exotic appeal – but in a “Ford family” way it grouped his operation with the American organization. He was highlighted in the Times’ poems and cartoons, wonderfully so, but never in the Canadian Ford Times, where deference to Henry Ford and his homespun philosophies was de rigueur. Locally he continued to make a name for himself. He backed the short-lived Ontario Border Development Bureau in 1913 and led the successful drive to bring Ontario Hydro to Walkerville.
In a manner that would become standard, McGregor carefully orchestrated the shareholders’ meeting of October 1913. The disappointing decision to withhold a dividend, he explained with mock gravity, was due to the company’s “financial situation.” The Evening Record was led to suggest that, as in 1904, he was hard-pressed. In fact, he needed to conserve funds to institute the shorter nine-hour day and pay raises and bonuses already implemented at Ford Detroit to curb turnover and early signs of labour militancy. Nonetheless, business boomed and, following the “American policy,” final assembly and costs were shifted to the branches, relieving pressure on the main plant at Ford City, which had been carved out of Walkerville. Dealers were forced to take early deliveries. Similar pressure was exerted overseas; in the instance of British Honduras (Belize), Lawrence lambasted the federal Department of Trade and Commerce in 1914 (even after the outbreak of war) for failing to provide adequate information on roads and market potential. Against this backdrop of growth – 38 per cent of the cars registered in Canada in 1914 were Fords – McGregor and his wife enjoyed social and golfing engagements, corporate gatherings, and vacations at American resorts; the loss of a young son in January 1914 was stoically endured.
In the opening months of World War I, he was positioned to become the most important cog in the Border Cities’ civilian war effort. Adhering to America’s neutrality (until 1917) and Henry Ford’s personal anti-war stance, Ford Detroit initially made no war materials. McGregor followed suit. Instead, he built the “Made in Canada” theme, which had been in play in industry for years, into a brilliant marketing tool that linked greater production, the T’s growing Canadian content, and patriotic conviction. Between October 1914 and March 1915 his plant was “practically at a shut down” but only because another addition was being built. The ethos of “efficiency” in production and sales had moral as well as patriotic implications. In April, after talks with Ford and Ford’s secretary-manager, James Joseph Couzens (a native of Chatham, Ont.), McGregor introduced a $4/eight-hour day. This “profit-sharing” plan came laden not with formulations for future profits but with qualifying conditions for upright lifestyles supervised by new “sociological” and centralized employment departments. A range of authorities, especially the National Civic Federation in New York, categorized the plan as a blatant wage hike.
In June 1915 the Border Cities were rocked by a detonation of planted explosives at a garment shop that was making uniforms. Fearful of similar sabotage, McGregor said nothing of the Pinkerton detectives he privately hired between July and January to investigate “suspected depredations” at his factory. Just as problematic was Henry Ford’s cavalier treatment of his Canadian company. His unfulfilled promise to build a tractor plant locally left McGregor vulnerable to poaching of the Ford name for tractors and forced him to solicit legal opinion on whether his 1904 agreement allowed him to manufacture them – it did not. It was over the war, however, that Ford emerged as a publicist’s nightmare. His half-baked pronouncements struck raw nerves in Ontario. Embarrassed and threatened with boycotts by municipal buyers, McGregor, who would never adapt easily to negative publicity, replied that his 78-per-cent-Canadian-owned company was “absolutely with the allies.” He persuaded Ford to make conciliatory noises and donate to the Red Cross, though Ford was not one to be coerced. “All the boycotts that Canadian politicians are threatening will have nothing to do with the public demand for Ford cars,” he told the Toronto Globe. Fortunately for McGregor, reaction to Ford’s “peace ship” and dream of a peace conference did not focus on Ford Canada. Moreover, dominated by Ford personnel, the Ford City branch of the Canadian Patriotic Fund that McGregor had helped organize was one of several successes for him. He had an alderman lobby Toronto’s board of control, he generously funded the enlargement of the Essex golf club, a stunning 100-per-cent dividend was declared, and the JCPC confirmed his claim to the Ford shares, now worth some $200,000. In December he felt able to shake off his parent company’s disinclination for philanthropy and ask Couzens, who had parted ways with Ford in an ugly separation in October, to help the Essex Health Association, which needed money for its sanatorium. Couzens turned him down, bluntly.
In February 1916 McGregor went to Ottawa to talk to officials about the federal budget, specifically the proposed tax on excess business profits. Initially supportive (compliance looked good), he came to dislike this tax intensely and greedily. More troublesome, as his firm struggled to move 18,771 autos in 1915 and 32,646 in 1916, was the wartime congestion on Canada’s railways. Amazingly, McGregor did not back off. Production was boosted; in 1917 Ford was Canada’s only exporter of cars. Company-sponsored newsreels and travelogues (many with Model Ts in imperial settings) took Ford into the culture of popular film across Canada and heralded Windsor as its automotive hub. An unusual puff in the Canadian Motorist (Toronto) in 1916 focused on “McGregor of Ford.” In 1917 his office would take over all newspaper advertising from the dealers.
McGregor’s industrial activities precluded military involvement, but he fully supported the martial efforts of his brother Walter Leishman, who in 1916 became lieutenant-colonel of the 241st Infantry Battalion (the Canadian Scottish Borderers), a unit the family wanted to attire in McGregor tartan. He was also restrained by increasing civic involvement. In 1916 he became the elected member for Ford City in the new Essex Border Utilities Commission, which was authorized by provincial statute to create a regional water and sewage system. The following year he became its chair. Almost immediately, common cause fell victim to opposing interests among the existing municipal commissions and councillors resentful of regional oversight, cost apportionments, and McGregor’s corporate manner. Support came from the like-minded Border Chamber of Commerce, formed in January from the Windsor Board of Trade. McGregor was made a director in March and named to the labour committee.
These civic initiatives and squabbles faded in importance before gloomy war news and the unrestrained spread locally of manufacturers, including such new branches as Champion Spark Plug. Reports of revolutionary Russia sowed fears of Bolshevism and intensified antagonisms toward European workers, concerns shared by Ford Canada. In the fall of 1917 another phase of national fund-raising for the war, the Victory Loans, took McGregor to a new level of engagement. He was the natural choice to head the campaign in Essex: he had the connections, the organizational skills, and corporate resources. Ford accountants handled the finances, McGregor’s film crews were everywhere, and employees were expected to subscribe. The drive included mass meetings, fireworks, John Philip Sousa’s Marine Band from the United States, vaudevillian entertainments, and constantly elevated targets. McGregor raised $4,915,000, a figure exceeded only by the amounts raised in Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, and London.
The much-lauded campaign added to his civic weight. Within the EBUC, in early 1918 he moved debate forward slowly, in part by underlining the pollution found by the International Joint Commission. His private assets were bolstered by his purchase and reorganization, with others, of National Spring and Wire, which made fencing and seats for Fords. In April, on the question of adopting the federally initiated daylight saving, many factories, labour groups, and municipal councils followed Ford Canada’s resistance, but when the tone-setting McGregor inexplicably reversed its position, all fell into line. In July the governor general, the Duke of Devonshire, marvelled at his plant, as all visitors did.
Watching for spillover into Canada, McGregor monitored the war’s impact on the American automotive industry. In 1917 the powerful National Automobile Chamber of Commerce had resisted attempts to reduce the production of passenger cars and supplies of steel. Worried that the Canadian government would impose restrictions, in January 1918 McGregor brought together, for “co-operative action,” 34 automotive, parts, and tire producers to form the Automotive Industries of Canada, of which he became first president. It weakly emulated the NACC model; some effort went into cancelling automobile shows (except for the CNE) as a gesture of restraint. McGregor could be more effective on his own. In February he successfully lobbied the new War Trade Board in Ottawa to forgo a tax on all motor cars and adopt instead, in June, a tax on imports alone and the stoppage of luxury imports. On steel, it was the Canadian Ford, Chalmers, and Studebaker firms in the Border Cities and branches of other heavy industries that persuaded the American War Industries Board to lift its embargo on exports. Supplies of steel nevertheless remained restricted and production at Ford Canada dropped, though its revenues were boosted by the start of manufacture of trucks, the sale of parts and Fordson tractors, and, in step with Ford Detroit in February, a price increase on Model Ts, which sparked consumer angst.
What McGregor could not control fully was the fundamental shifts among the autoworkers. The chamber of commerce, where he became vice-president and other Ford officers held sway, could address such recurring concerns as the cross-border taxation of commuting workers and gain popularity by jabbing immigrants. In the auto plants, declining work because of material shortages bred trouble; at the same time, governments in both countries relaxed limits on union activity. In the Border Cities before the era of lasting auto unions, it was the International Association of Machinists that had the strongest presence. On 28 June 1918 a delegation filed into McGregor’s office and, emboldened by a membership drive, strikes in Toronto and Detroit, and wage increases in Detroit, tabled a petition for a $5/eight-hour day. Dissatisfaction was voiced too, backed by employees returning from the war, over Ford’s use of Europeans, though few would do the work they did in the barely tolerable heat-treating shops. When McGregor locked out his workers on 6 July, both sides rushed to secure the support of federal labour minister Thomas Wilson Crothers. The IAM claimed, correctly, that the lockout was illegal and that McGregor, contrary to his professions and even as he rejected war production for Canada, had been turning out parts for the tanks and warships being made by Ford Detroit. Ottawa, however, refused to recognize the disruption as anything more than a lay-off. On 12 August – most suspected McGregor had been holding the Detroit-set wage increase in reserve – he calculatingly conceded.
McGregor’s public profile could not have been greater – in his golf club (where he was president in 1917–18), in the debate on water and sewers, as chair for the organization of a manufacturers’ section in the chamber of commerce, and in September 1918 in Toronto at the annual meeting of the AIC. Scant attention was paid to the Canadian Motorist’s complaints about his attempts to shut down shows for the duration of the war, which was winding down in any case, or to criticism in the press of Ford’s reversal on pricing. After the lockout, McGregor moved to restore Ford’s place in the war effort. Of the Ford-made films circulated by the Department of Trade and Commerce, one, dedicated to the Canada Food Board, merged footage on the Greater Production movement, the Border Manufacturers’ Farmers Association, Fordson tractors, and good roads.
In the Victory Loan drive of October–November, McGregor once again devised a campaign brimming with theatricality. Reports of him announcing the armistice at campaign headquarters, and then jumping on a chair to lead the crowd in singing “Praise God from whom all blessings flow,” present a stirring image. An outbreak of influenza produced only a temporary obstacle to the drive, and it would be some time before evidence of payment defaults and of embezzlement by a Ford accountant would surface. During the post-war years, McGregor had more serious problems. Both the EBUC and the chamber of commerce faced continued opposition. In January 1919 Windsor gained four labour councillors, including Archibald Hooper, a railway machinist and scrappy IAM mouthpiece who attacked the chamber over promotions that ensured neither housing nor jobs. McGregor and the EBUC attracted his particular ire. Bickering intensified as opposing technical plans were exchanged, though voter turnouts on related by-laws suggest low public concern. The commission, however, had the backing of the Ontario Railway and Municipal Board, and in July the province gave the EBUC additional power as a regional board of health.
As Ford Canada headed into an industry-wide post-war slump, McGregor, a master of corporate spin, remained optimistic. A wage increase in May and his initiation of an employees’ welfare and housing fund in September may have forestalled IAM action. He had been re-elected president of the AIC, where he got on well with vice-president Robert Samuel McLaughlin* of General Motors of Canada, which gained ground on Ford through its heavy manufacturing plant in Walkerville. In October, Ford Canada responded by taking over Dominion Forge and Stamping, an important supplier. The previous month McGregor had gone to Ottawa as an employers’ delegate to the National Industrial Conference, but he did not deem it important. Praise for Henry Ford, not criticism, came from labour. McGregor ran off statements about profit-sharing, said industry had done enough to improve living conditions, and complained about his troubles with labour in Australia.
The call for him to head the final Victory campaign in October–November 1919 was predictable, but he begged off. Though he claimed to be busy with private business, which now included a hotel company, he knew that patriotic enthusiasms had been superseded by cost-of-living concerns and a collapse of charitable giving – he had tried unsuccessfully to mount a drive to fund a hospital for the Salvation Army. Always thrilled at the prospect of hosting aristocracy, however, he took on the social arrangements for the visit of the Prince of Wales in October, a task that included the contentious paring of guest lists. Back-to-back elections, provincial in October and municipal in January 1920, involved him in a political role, aggressively prominent but never a candidate save for the EBUC. Supported by his coterie, Windsor’s Liberal candidate (and McGregor’s former pastor) survived the sweep of the United Farmers of Ontario. McGregor declined to run for mayor of Windsor but readily agreed to serve as president of the new Municipal Electors’ Association, which briefly crystallized the progressive urge of businessmen to reform municipal politics based on experiments in the United States. Windsor’s labour councillors resented this heady, undemocratic challenge, which seemed like Ford on the hustings. McGregor took the lead in nominating aldermanic candidates; for the water boards he wanted sympathetic nominees. Sewage politics could be gritty. At a meeting he chaired on 30 December in a Jewish school, candidate Charles Robert Tuson (a former mayor and an adversary on the sewage issue) was sideswiped by the accusation that he had registered restrictions prohibiting the sale of properties to Jews. In 1920 McGregor was reappointed chair of the EBUC. In March he threw a “bombshell” into its proceedings when he took its secretary away to become advertising manager of Ford Canada. He expended more charitable effort on his wife’s campaign to rebuild the sanatorium of the Essex Health Association.
That fall, McGregor’s gang appeared in strength at the CNE along with Henry Ford and his secretary, Ernest Gustav Liebold. Ford Canada did not suffer as acutely as its parent in the slump of the early 1920s, but McGregor still had to be careful, if not manipulative. In 1919 and again the next year he had delayed expansion; publicly he blamed the burden of federal taxes. At the same time he took accounting steps to shield his firm’s true cash balances from the prying eyes of government and labour; he had his traffic manager challenge railway rates; and at a later point he probably took part in an arrangement between Canadian and American car makers to block the export of Canadian-made automobiles except for Fords. In 1920 he endured a number of personal difficulties. His mother and a sister died, and in November, after attending a directors’ meeting of the Merchants’ Bank of Canada in Montreal, he underwent surgery, reportedly for appendicitis.
While McGregor was recuperating, the hearings of the federal commission on tariffs re-opened debate on Ford Canada’s prices. With his imprimatur, on 30 November assistant manager W. R. Campbell stepped up to refute claims that Ford was taking advantage of protection to maintain prices that exceeded the cost of Fords in the United States. Smaller scales of manufacture dictated different costs, he contended, but this argument was offset by testimony from other automobile executives and representatives from farmers’ groups. Politically the Ford position changed no minds, and in perceptions of Ford there may have been other biases at work. Beyond the commission the Border Cities had a hard time explaining their affinity with Detroit: “It would almost seem that we are here in a little kingdom of our own and to some extent apart and away from the outer world,” industrial commissioner F. Maclure Sclanders speculated in Canadian Machinery and Manufacturing News (Toronto).
A weakened McGregor returned to Windsor in January 1921, only to witness a flare-up of utility politics and more attacks on the chamber of commerce and his own “dictatorial” interventions. His response is obscure, but Archibald Hooper, who headed Windsor’s campaign to withdraw from the EBUC, mysteriously lost his railway job and Queen’s Park rejected Windsor’s application. After offering some conciliation, McGregor, on his doctors’ advice, resigned from the EBUC in March. For almost five years he had pushed an agenda, unique in Ontario, on the important if lacklustre issues of regional planning. Business concerns were just as taxing. When he was not occupied with petty requests from Henry Ford – his information on the banking of Ford’s personal funds in Canada also shed light on Ford Canada’s own strategic use of banks – there were corporate problems to face. He authorized advertising in response to competition from GM and company resistance to actions by dealers over excise tax refunds and over price cuts on tires as a result of Ford’s pressure on suppliers. In April he began losing key personnel in reaction to the economy, Henry Ford’s purges, and a possible shift in the balance of control between McGregor and Campbell, whom Ford had tried to lure to Detroit.
McGregor spent time that spring at a West Virginian resort and then at his cottage. A photograph shows him with a cane, overweight but nattily attired as always. Back at home, he worked on committees for a public golf course and the health association’s sanatorium. That fall he did more jobs for Henry Ford, catering to his interests in water-power in Ontario and railways, and, with threats of court action, protecting Ford’s Canadian dividends and salary from local assessment. In addition, he went along with the anti-Semitism espoused by Ford’s Dearborn Independent, had his staff distribute copies of extracts published as The international Jew: the world’s foremost problem (1920–21), and reported to Liebold on Jewish activity in Windsor. He was not alone in such condonation: the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, for one, reprinted anti-Jewish material from the Independent in its newspaper.
In late 1921 McGregor’s attention was again sidetracked by the price issue. Despite his company’s slashing of prices in September and a revival in demand, the question was taken up by William Edgar Raney*, Ontario’s pugnacious attorney general. In the campaign leading up to the federal election of December, Raney threw his weight behind the Progressives and their agrarian, anti-protection platform. In a speech on 18 November he lashed out at the tariff on automobiles, higher prices, and the presumed complicity of Ford Canada. The address spread rapidly among Canadian newspapers. Unable to resist, and in a strong performance for an ailing man, McGregor thrust himself into the campaigns in Essex North and South. Audiences were amused by his characteristic gibes and numbed by his convoluted economics. The Liberals won overwhelming majorities.
McGregor could still handle an appreciable workload, including complex planning for a major plant expansion. In January 1922 Ford Canada announced its return to full-time production and the launch of its “greatest sales campaign ever,” for its enclosed coupes and sedans – the company never treated the T as an unchanging model. After meetings in Montreal on a takeover of the Merchants’ Bank, McGregor fielded more menial requests from Ford and Liebold. The Border Cities Star, as the Evening Record had become, had long granted McGregor a revered place in “Motoropolis,” though this reputation could be at odds with the opinions of consumers, agrarian radicals, labour journals, and lesser auto executives with independent views. In January 1922, for example, the wife of a Walkerville plumber told Henry Ford in a blistering letter that she desperately wanted a used Ford, but resented their exorbitant price and the profiteering of such “millionars” as McGregor. On 4 March McGregor visited his oak-lined office for the last time. Feeling unwell, he was X-rayed and sent to Montreal’s Royal Victoria Hospital, where he died.
The Star announced his passing in headlines of a size rarely seen, even during the war. The cause of death was reported as intestinal trouble arising from an old injury suffered in a railway accident; the family believed it was cancer; pathological study points to a rare blood-vessel disorder. McGregor’s mammoth funeral was attended by the automotive elite; his canonization in the Star reached full definition. The bulk of his estate, which was valued at more than $1,235,500, went to his widow, whose social withdrawal ended when she returned to renovating St Andrew’s Church in Windsor, a project she and Gordon had planned. Not surprisingly, Ford Canada was identified as his “greatest work.” Campbell assumed direction there to complete the expansion planned to meet the hurtful “competition” of the parent company. Between April and June 1922 the Star published a series on the regional and national impact of Ford Canada, a summary, the timing suggests, of McGregor’s legacy. In the midst of this series, a blustery portrayal elevated him to an iconic level. In the search for a speedy form of road transportation to open up the country, “Henry Ford solved the problem for the world. The late Gordon McGregor solved it for Canada.” Even allowing for his company’s minimal technological contribution and the vital work of his department heads, there is some merit in this claim when one equates him with his cars.
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