There was no shortage of auto contractors in the East

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Even the most casual observer of the auto manufacturing industry knows that Ontario is the hub of production in the country. Its proximity to the large American market, easy access to rail transportation, and simply a larger population from which to attract workers help the region keep its production lines buzzing.


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But did you know that there were several auto manufacturers in Atlantic Canada over the past century? The area is best known these days for other activities such as advanced shipbuilding, a world-class food manufacturing sub-sector, and in a fun fact related to cars, producing a large percentage. of North American license plates from a factory in the border town of Amherst.

While vehicle assembly is no longer an ongoing affair in the East, it would be grossly unfair to characterize all closed efforts as failures. While some fit this description (including a certain gull-winged car that will kick off our list), there are companies on this list that have had success but simply fell through the cracks because of bad timing or world events.


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Canadian automobile museum
1975 Bricklin at the Canadian Automobile Museum. Photo from the Canadian Automobile Museum

Here’s the one most people are familiar with. In the mid-1970s, New Brunswick government officials provided millions of dollars in funding to a business run by Malcolm Bricklin. The intention was to build a front-engine, rear-wheel drive car with butterfly doors at an industrial facility in one of the largest cities in the province. Called SV-1 (which stands for “Safety Vehicle One”), the vehicle was first designed as an affordable small sports car with an efficient four-cylinder engine. The production versions ended up with an American Motors V8 or Ford V8 mill.


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It is alleged that the $ 4.5 million ($ 27 million in today’s money) was intended to be used for setting up production facilities, but was in fact funneled6 into the R&D of the car, suggesting that the project was not as advanced as the executives of the company could have represented it in the government. The decision to make the Bricklin from a composite material instead of metal caused many problems, with bonding and quality control issues being constant headaches. It didn’t help that the thing also looked like it was eating an 8 track tape. About 3000 Brickins were made, and it’s estimated that about half of that number survives today.


Volvo Assembly, Halifax [reddit]
Volvo Assembly, Halifax [reddit] Photo from Reddit

Yes, the famous Swedish manufacturer had a production plant in Atlantic Canada. This is one of the examples from this list which has most certainly been


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a failure, despite the plant closing in 1998. The first assembly line opened in 1963 and moved to the Halifax waterfront in 1967. The vehicles manufactured here were the first Volvo cars ever produced in outside of Europe. In the late 1980s, a factory in the region’s industrial park was in full swing, producing 740 and 940 models and all kinds of modern S70 / V70 models.

Although the plant was very successful, Volvo decided to close the Halifax plant in 1998, citing “globalization” and NAFTA as two reasons for doing so. The over-manufacturing capacity of the company’s international network was not helping matters. The plant – which was producing around 8,000 cars a year when production stopped – on Chain Lake Drive is still in place, used by other companies, and is now surrounded by a typical consumer business park like a Chrysler dealership and retail outlets. The last Volvo was built there in December of the same year.


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Finally, there is a perennial urban legend that around two dozen Volvos were summarily dumped in Bedford Basin after the ship carrying them failed to put its papers in order. Others say the cars got wet and washed overboard in a storm. Whatever the reason, recent dive crews have confirmed their presence and are marked on Seaway charts so ships don’t accidentally snag on them when they drop anchor in the area.

McKay Passenger Cars

According to the Provincial History Museum, Daniel and John McKay took over the Nova Scotia Carriage Company in 1908 and began producing cars a few years later. Aiming for the stars instead of satisfying everyday shoppers, the McKay Touring Car was marketed as a luxury vehicle and priced accordingly. The machines would have been on par with the Packards of the time in terms of quality. The purchase costs were easily double that of a T-model.


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Things changed when the company was asked to relocate to Amherst, a town less than 100 km in a straight line but, thanks to a quirk of Nova Scotia geography, about a 250 km drive. . Building a production plant in the then flourishing railway town proved too costly to bear, and, combined with an economic downturn the following year, the McKays closed their business in 1914. An example of their work is on display. in a local museum, configured for seven passengers and powered by a 40 horsepower engine.

Victorian carriage without horses

Victoria Horseless Car [image credit: Museum of Industry]
Victoria Horseless Car [image credit: Museum of Industry] Photo from the Industry Museum

Acting as a sort of bridge between horse-drawn carriages and the latest generation automobiles, the Victorian was the brainchild of a Nova Scotia entrepreneur and would have been the first gasoline-powered car ever built in the Maritimes. Following the cart’s plans and using an engine of American origin, a certain John MacArthur used thick, heavy pipes and oversized buggy wheels to create the platform.

Driven by a chain and piloted by a tiller, it had characteristics common to cars built in Detroit of the time, including the 1900 Curved Dash Olds. However, power was allegedly low, with a top speed barely exceeding the pace of walking and an inability to climb even slight slopes. Still, it was an innovative effort in what was then a booming industry, and makes for a great pub party anecdote.


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