We could use some more documentaries on the rich history of Canada’s auto industry.
For many people, social distancing over the last few months has meant spending a lot more time sitting on the couch and watching TV and movies. I’m certainly no exception. Much of my free time since the pandemic began has been spent catching up on the latest Netflix shows or rewatching old favourites such as “Breaking Bad” or “Parks and Recreation.”
And as an avid sports fan, one of the very few ways to get my fix since COVID-19 forced professional leagues to suspend their seasons was to feast on the 10-part ESPN and Netflix documentary series “The Last Dance,” which chronicles Michael Jordan’s legendary run with the Chicago Bulls. The series has won praise for its scope and its ability to shine a new light on one of the most well-known players and teams in the history of sports.
The series has sparked discussion online about what other subjects deserve their own documentary series, from other sports to pop culture to even the auto industry.
Autoweek in May published its own list of figures in the auto sector that deserve their own “Last Dance”-style series, including Carlos Ghosn, Elon Musk and Henry Ford.
All would be excellent, but it got me thinking: Which figures in the history of the Canadian auto sector would have stories that call for a major docuseries? There has been no shortage of characters in the history of Canada’s auto industry, and stories from throughout its history call for that kind of riveting documentary series.
I would begin with the 1984 contract negotiations between the Detroit automakers and the United Auto Workers (UAW), which ultimately birthed the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union and was a pivotal moment in the history of the North American auto industry. That rift between the two unions, which began with the UAW’s decision to accept profit-sharing payments in lieu of guaranteed wage increases, is evident even today.
“Final Offer,” a 1985 documentary chronicling the negotiations, remains available on the web and is critically acclaimed in its own right. But 35 years later and with the knowledge of what would ensue in the coming decades for Canadian auto manufacturing, it could be illuminating to take another deep dive into those contentious negotiations. For better or worse, the Canadian auto industry would not be what it is today without the UAW-CAW split.
And why not a deep dive into the history of Oshawa, Ont., as Canada’s Motor City? From the industry’s roots in the McLaughlin Motor Car Co. to its status as a midcentury manufacturing powerhouse to the present day, it could provide a fascinating look not only at the history of the city but of the history of Canadian manufacturing and the trends that led to its decline.
And it could provide a glimpse into the future of the industry. General Motors’ plans to test vehicles there and continue to work on advanced technology at its Oshawa technical centre point to a Canadian industry driven by research and development moving forward. “The Last Dance” successfully shone a new light on an important era of basketball, introducing younger fans to those teams and personalities and allowing older ones to reconnect with them. A documentary series or two chronicling Canada’s auto industry could give Canadians a chance to understand just how important it has been over the course of the country’s modern history.