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Happy Birthday, GM Canada, and thanks for the (many) ride(s)

Written by Norris McDonald

For most of my life, I’ve been a General Motors man. Like politics and religion, which are largely inherited,  my father, the late J.A. (Al) McDonald, loved GM cars and trucks and wouldn’t think of buying another brand.

So what was I gonna do? I adored my father and whatever he did was aces with me. My sister’s the same. She’s retired now (she owned and worked 100 acres in Nova Scotia), but when she was “on the farm,” she wanted nothing to do with vehicles that didn’t have GMC across the front of them.

I started thinking about this when I received a media release this morning from General Motors Canada announcing that today, Nov. 8, 2018, is their 100th anniversary.

How time flies.

My Dad drove Chevs and Pontiacs. He traded for a new one every two years,  like clockwork. When he died, in 1976, he was the proud owner of a ’76 Pontiac Grand Prix, which he’d had for about a year (in those years, the next-year’s new models always came out in the fall).

The first car I can remember him owning, though,  was a 1951 Chevrolet Deluxe and he was really proud of that car. I was between 8 and 9 years old

Norris McDonald hit a baseball that went through the driver’s side windshield of his father’s new 1951 Chevrolet DeLuxe.

when he got it that summer and about a week after he first drove it into our driveway, I broke the front windshield which, as you can imagine, did not go over all that well.

I was out behind our house – we lived in Kapuskasing at the time – and I was hitting a baseball into the air and then running to catch it. My summertime hero back then was Yogi Berra, the New York Yankees catcher, and I had decided I would replace him on that team when he retired. (Terry Sawchuk was my wintertime hero and I planned to replace him as goalie for the Detroit Red Wings. Playing baseball in summer and hockey all winter seemed like a good lifetime career plan, to me.)

In any event, big league catchers were – and remain, for the most part (Russell Martin excepted) – as quick as cats. So I would hit the baseball as high as I could, drop the bat, grab my catcher’s mitt and run under the ball and catch it before it hit the ground. I figured if I could catch 10 in a row that I would be ready to play for the Yankees.

When Dad arrived home with the new car – we had a garage behind the house, where the driveway was located, but he only put the car in it in winter, so the car sat outside in the nice weather – he saw what I was doing and warned me against letting the ball hit the car. He suggested I go up the street to the high school and practice catching pop flies and/or foul balls in the football field there. I remember telling him that I would do that. He went into the house and I decided one more ball-in-the-air exercise wouldn’t hurt because I was tired of practicing and planned to do something else anyway.

So I hit the ball up in the air as high as I could and then I could only stand and watch as it came down and hit the windshield of the car on the driver’s side.



Now, I was a goody two-shoes. I had a bad habit of snitching on everybody else back then, so the last thing I could do was pretend it hadn’t happened. (To clear this up right now, I can’t remember who it was but somebody punched me in the nose after I ratted him out to the school principal over something and I stopped telling on people right then and there. It was Elementary School Omerta from then on. But I digress . . .)

I went into the house and ‘fessed up. My parents were very upset, as you can imagine, but the lovely thing about my father and my mother, the late Grace Dorothy (Dottie) McDonald, was that they knew I was a kid who had just been a jerk but that I hadn’t done it on purpose and other than making me go to my room for an hour or so, didn’t make a Big Deal out of it.

I never again played baseball in our back yard, though.

We moved to Niagara Falls and I got my driver’s licence the day I turned 16 (you could do that in those days) and my Dad had a 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air. I loved cruising around in that car. The first time I ever parked  with a girl in the Dufferin Islands (a tourist area during the day but a Lover’s Lane after dark), it was in that car and that’s why I, to this very day, have a very special spot in my heart for ’56 Chevy Bel Airs.

My favourite vehicle of all time (until I got the one I drive now, which relegated this one to second place, although – if I have a few beers – I tend to move it back up to No. 1), was a 1982 Chevrolet Beauville van. This was when vans were vans, and anybody who knows and understands vans knows exactly what I am talking about.

The van had seatbelts for 11 people – two captain’s chairs for the driver

For years, a 1982 Chevrolet Beauville Van like this one was Norris McDonald’s all-time favourite vehicle.

and first mate and then three bench-seats through to the back that held three passengers apiece. The benches were a bit of a pain to get in and out – they were heavy and you needed strength in your hands to undo the clips that held them in and then even more strength to lift them down and out.

But once you got them unhooked and out the door, you could move furniture. I was racing at the time and I could take a 467 big-block Chevrolet engine (it was a gorilla!) from my garage to a manufacturer for a rebuild and the van handled that chore with ease.

Of course, one time with all the seats in, I remember driving down a main street in the winter and it was sleeting and it was a really nasty day out and I came across my oldest son, who was about 12 at the time, standing at a bus stop with nearly a dozen of his friends. I was able to pull over, tell them all to hop in,  and then drive them all home. How many cars can you do that with?

After the van – I drove it into the ground – I owned a 1992 Pontiac Grand Am (a wonderful, nimble little car), a 1998 Pontiac Trans Sport minivan (which I also drove into the ground), a 2005 Pontiac Torrent and a 2012 Chevrolet Equinox.

I loved ’em all.

I was so fortunate to have lived during this period when – as I’m prone to say –  cars were cars and not computers. But that’s what General Motors says the future holds.

Here is their release issued today. You’ll soon see where they – and the industry – are going.

“Today marks the 100th anniversary of General Motors Canada and we are celebrating this milestone by looking to the future. Our vision for the next 100 years starts with our bold “Triple Zero” vision – achieving a world with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion.

“We want all Canadians to be part of the next 100 years of electric vehicles, self-driving cars and a new world of shared mobility services.

“Our future will also be founded upon our efforts today to inspire young women, under-represented groups and teachers across Canada to embrace Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

“Earlier this year, GM Canada announced a $1.8 million commitment to support STEM and this year alone we will reach over 38,000 Canadian students.

“Our founder and first president, Col. Sam McLaughlin, was an innovator, entrepreneur and visionary. His spirit has carried our company forward for a century. Here’s to the next 100 years at GM Canada.”

I second that.