Canada’s oldest Ford dealership nears milestone

Next year, there will be a big celebration at Watkin Motors in Vernon as the dealership celebrates its 100th year in business as Canada’s oldest Ford dealership.

Not far behind, in 2017, Maclin Ford in Calgary will celebrate its centenary as the country’s oldest Ford dealership still operated by the same family.

In 1915, Vernon’s Joe Watkin founded the dealership that still bears his name, specializing in cars, trucks and tractors. As the company legend goes, he and his three sales people did whatever they could to put deals together in those early years.

It wasn’t uncommon for a salesperson to drive a new truck out to a farm or a ranch and come back with the trade-in truck carrying a cow in the back as the down payment.

A photo history shows a 1915 Ford Model T touring car that was sold new at the dealership, the arrival in 1925 of the first Ford touring car to be driven coast to coast in Canada and the much heralded introduction of the new 1932 Ford in the Watkin Motors showroom, marking the first car with a V8 engine offered by Ford. It was an instant hit.

As ranching and fruit growing increased in the Okanagan Valley, so did sales and service at the dealership until Joe’s death in the late 1950s. His family tried to run the dealership but were unsuccessful and the Ford Motor Company of Canada sought a new owner.

That would be Jack Blankley. He began working at the Vernon Garage in 1931 as a 14-year-old. He swept the floors, pumped gas and repaired tires. He earned $28 a day with $7.50 of that going for room and board.

He stayed with the Vernon Garage for 30 years gaining experience as partsman, salesman and sales manager. In 1962, Jack purchased Watkin Motors. His son, Bud Blankley joined the business in 1966 and his brother Bruce, who would later become the dealer principal, in 1976.

Today, the dealership has passed to the third generation of Blankleys with Bud’s son Ross as the dealer principal.

Watkin Motors holds an annual anniversary sale and planning for the 100th birthday celebrations are now underway.

When Watkin Motors opened in 1915, Ontario resident Ernest Arlington McCullough was Ford’s top selling salesman in Canada. As a result, Ford offered him the opportunity to open a dealership in Calgary.
Maclin Motors opened its doors at the southeast corner of 15th Avenue and 1st St. in downtown Calgary on August 8, 1917. E.A. McCullough had a brief partnership with T.W. Lines and they chose the dealership name using the beginningof their surnames.

Mr. McCullough left his own dealership with his employees after the first year to join the Royal Flying Corps. He returned to operate his business at the end of 1919.

His two sons, Ernest J. and Danny McCullough, joined Maclin Ford in the mid-50s with Danny becoming general manager in 1960 and taking over the dealership in 1965.

In the first half-century of operation, the dealership moved three times. In 1987, Danny McCullough was instrumental in starting the Calgary Auto Mall and moved the business there after building one of the country’s most modern Ford dealerships.

The McCullough family has operated the business for nearly 100 years with Danny’s widow Shelley McCullough taking over as the dealer principal in 2006.

“The legacy of this dealership is very important,” she says. “We have generations of customers with grandparents bringing grandchildren in to buy vehicles just as they did.”

She says Maclin Ford has been very involved in the community with her husband running the annual Miles for Millions campaign and the dealership continuously supporting minor league sports and other local initiatives over its many years in business. “We often talk about our history in our advertising; First with Ford in Calgary since 1917.”

And what about employee pride? Lucy Sullivan was the secretary for three successive McCullough family members who operated the business. During that time, Maclin Ford sent her on a trip to Italy to thank her for her long service. She retired three years ago after 62 years with the dealership.

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

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