Meet Canada’s oldest car dealer

Gordon Williams of Smithers may be Canada’s oldest car dealer. Just talk to Gordon Williams to find out what it was like to unload new cars from box cars and sell them off the showroom floor in the 1930s.

The 90-year-old owner of Hoskins Ford in the north central British Columbia community of Smithers has been with the dealership since 1935.

Williams grew up on a farm outside Smithers and attended a one-room school. When his father died suddenly, the mechanically minded 14-year-old took a job to help support the family servicing cars and trucks at the local car garage.

Hoskins Garage was owned by Williams’ brother-in-law, Oswald Hoskins. Hoskins had opened it in 1933 at the peak of the depression at the main entrance to Smithers from Highway 16. Henry Motors, the Ford dealer in Smithers, had closed its doors in 1932. Andy Ruddy, the Ford dealer in Burns Lake, took over the Smithers area and Hoskins Garage was contracted to service the new Ford cars and trucks and deliver them to customers.

“There were quite a few cars around in those days,” Williams recalls. “But many of them were put up on blocks for the winter because cars were not as comfortable for winter driving then and most didn’t have block or interior heaters.”

Hoskins Garage sold two brands of gasoline, Home and Imperial, at 30 to 35 cents a gallon.

Williams has been with the dealership since 1935, except for wartime service lasting from 1941 to the end of the war in 1945. He returned to the position of service manager in 1946 and early in 1947 became a partner in the dealership that sold Ford and Monarch cars. As Canada returned to peacetime endeavours, there was an unprecedented demand for vehicles.

North America’s Big Three auto manufacturers had suspended domestic vehicle production after three months in 1942 to concentrate on supplying military vehicles for the war effort. When domestic production resumed in 1946, dealers couldn’t get enough new cars and trucks to supply the demand.

As a result, dealers went to great lengths to get new cars to sell.

In 1947, Williams travelled all the way to Vancouver to attend a Ford meeting. He then bought a new Hudson from a dealer on Burrard Street and drove it back to Smithers to sell to an eager customer.

“Ford wanted to talk to me about this and threatened to pull the dealership,” he says.

Williams took over full ownership of the business in 1964. He built a completely new dealership in 1970. The old dealership was destroyed by a deliberately set controlled fire.

These days, Mondays through Saturdays, you can find the 90-year-old greeting customers at his dealership, driving customers home who are having their vehicles serviced or showing off new Ford products with features like advanced communications technology and push-button automatic parallel parking assistance.

Today, three generations of the Williams clan work in the dealership with sons Colin and Gordon, Jr. managing the dealership, grandson Mark as the sales manager and granddaughter Leigh as the service manager. At age 90, Williams shows no sign of stepping away from a dealership that he has helped build for more than 75 years.

He attributes his longevity as a car dealer to support from his wife Betty of 63 years, his two sons, three daughters and several grandchildren and great grandchildren.

He also credits his former partners Oswald Hoskins, Al Ford, and Frank Parker who, at the age of 84, still visits the dealership several times a week to accommodate select previous customers by personally handling their vehicle needs.

Recently, one of Williams’ daughters asked him why he wanted to work. His answer: “Because I still love going in every day.”

Alyn Edwards is a classic car enthusiast and partner in Peak Communicators, a Vancouver-based public relations company.

Photograph by: handout, Alyn Edwards