The Canadian Automotive Museum is relatively new to most people, so you are not alone if you are unaware of it. As a matter of fact, a large percentage of journalists who attended a test event at the museum a few years ago had never heard of the museum. The aging building was only visited by a few locals. Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that many Durham Region residents don’t know that Oshawa has an auto museum right in the downtown area, even those who are car enthusiasts.
It was a great pleasure for the museum to host the first-ever curator’s reception this week, where they showcased the many upgrades they have completed in recent years to bring the facility into the modern era. A few of them are surprisingly basic but are absolutely necessary. The museum is located in a building that once housed the Jackson Motor Company in 1921. It is located at 99 Simcoe Street South. In the years following, Ontario Motor Sales moved into the building, a dealership that operates to this day.
As a project of the local chamber of commerce, the Canadian Automotive Museum was established in the space in 1962 to celebrate Oshawa’s rich automotive history. Since its beginning in 1966, the collection has shared space with a Christian supplies store, a chamber of commerce, and a camera shop, but the building became exclusively devoted to the museum in 1986.
Canadian Automotive Museum was expanded when the Craven Foundation donated archival material in 1986, and the McDougald Collection donated 20 vehicles in 1995, yet the facility itself received very little, if any, renovations over the years. The hall turned into a dusty and dark garage full of old cars. After learning in 2015 that something had to be done, the board of directors took action. In order to maintain the space for years to come, curator Alex Gates was hired to implement a multi-year plan.
In preparation for Canada 150 in 2017, the CAM was able to receive funding from the government, which, combined with private donations, allowed for a number of renovations. For any museum, a stable environment is essential for keeping its collections safe and secure. During the cold months, some areas of the building required a winter jacket as the current HVAC system was insufficient. Since the system was updated, temperatures have remained stable.
The exterior was redesigned, along with new signage and exterior insulation, which has reduced heating costs. Originally installed in 1962, the building’s electrical systems have been fully overhauled to meet modern standards.
As well as physical improvements, Gates and his team have begun a solid marketing campaign that includes social media, email, and being a reliable presence in the downtown Oshawa community instead of just being there. The Museum, which has been attracting visitors year after year, welcomed 14,000 visitors last year, up from 4,000 five years ago. Kids represent a significant portion of these new visitors.
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