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Shanahan Carriage Works, Penetanguishene Carriage Co. Ltd., Wilson Motor Body Co., The Wilson Motor Bodies Ltd.
Shanahan Carriage Works, 1885-1911; Penetanguishene Carriage Co. Ltd., 1911-1922; Penetanguishene, Ontario, Canada; Wilson Motor Body Co. 1919-1923; The Wilson Motor Bodies Ltd., 1923-1942; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; 1942-1965, Long Branch, Ontario, Canada; 1965-1980, Burlington, Ontario, Canada
Associated Firms

Toronto's Wilson Motor Body / The Wilson Motor Bodies (1919-1980) are remembered today as the builders of streamlined delivery vans and tractor-trailers that were used by Ontario brewers, distillers and dept. stores during the late 1930s, and 40s. Although most Canadian Provinces repealed Prohibition during the mid-twenties, Canadian brewers, vintners and distillers were prohibited from advertising their beverages in the Province of Ontario into the 1950s. The brightly colored aerodynamic delivery trucks provided publicity for the beverage manufacturers during a time when the advertising of beer, wine and spirits was banned.

For most of its history (1923-1965) the firm was headed Wilfrid M. Shanahan, the son of David J. Shanahan, one of Ontario's best-known carriage and waggon builders.

David Joseph Shanahan was born in 1854 in Medonte Twp., Simcoe County, Ontario, Canada to two Scottish immigrants; Thomas (b.1814-d.1878) and Elizabeth (Jamieson – b. 1824) Shanahan. His father was listed as a farmer, Medonte Twp., Simcoe Co., Ontario in the 1871 Canadian Census and the family included Edmund (b.1844); John (b.1846); Bridget (b. 1847); Thomas J. (b.1849); Patrick (b.1851); David (b.1853) Cornelius (b.1855); Mary Anne (b.1857); Joseph (b. 1859); Walter (b.1864) and James (b.1867) Shanahan.

David learned the trade of blacksmith carriage and sleigh-building, taking positions in various Ontario villages (1883 in Artemesia Township, Grey, Ontario ) before settling down in Penetanguishene, Simcoe East, Ontario where he went to work for Michael Mundy’s Carriage Works.

Prior to his arrival in Penetanguishene he had married Catherine (Kate) Malone (daughter of Michael and Ann [Sullivan] Malone) on Oct 29, 1876 and to the blessed union were born four children: Edmund Joseph (b. 03 Sep 3, 1877); John M. (b.1880); Josephine Maria (Mar 26, 1883 in Artemesia Township, Grey, Ontario); Ethel Elizabeth (b. Jun. 4, 1889 in Penetanguishene); Wilfrid Michael (b. Dec. 17, 1891 in Penetanguishene); Andrew Martin (b. Oct. 23, 1898 in Penetanguishene) Shanahan.

Eventually, Mundy passed more and more of the business’s daily management to Shanahan. Around 1885, Shanahan made the transition official when he purchased the factory and renamed it Shanahan Carriage Works. During his term at the helm Shanahan introduced modern manufacturing equipment to the plant which resulted in significantly increased profits.

Shanahan was well-known in the community and served as Reeve of Penetanguishene (president of the town council) for a two-year term.

Despite the fact the Shanahan works utilized a separate paint shop, fire struck the plant on September 20, 1900, the October 1900 issue of the Hub reporting:

“PENETANGUISHENE, ONT. — A fire destroyed the shops of D. J. Shanahan, carriage builder and blacksmith, on September 20, consuming all the buildings, and a lot of lumber, tools and vehicles. The loss is about $6,000, with only $2,000 insurance.”

Shanahan rebuilt the factory at the present site of the Brule Inn (118 Main St., Penetanguishene) installing all the modern equipment available at the time, and production soon exceeded pre-blaze levels and the firm was listed as the Shanahan Carriage Co. in the 1906 Ontario Commercial Yearbook and Gazetteer under Carriagemakers.

Shanahan retired from active management of the firm in 1911, selling his share in the firm to Henry Gidley, who reorganized it as the Penetanguishene Carriage Co. (Gidley Carriage Co.?). The firm branched out into the automobile parts business and supplied chassis to the Ford Motor Co. of Canada Ltd.’s Toronto assembly plant during the teens. A satellite branch was managed by David’s eldest son, John M. Shanahan, at 740-742 Yonge St., Toronto. Its listing in the 1921 Toronto directory follows:

“Penetang Carriage Co, Ltd, John M. Shanahan mgr., auto truck bodies and carriages.”

The July 31, 1919 issue of Iron Age announced the formation of Wilson Motor Body Co., Ltd.:

“The Wilson Motor Body Co., Ltd., Toronto, Ont., has been incorporated with a capital stock of $40,000 by Henry H. Davis, room 25, 10 Adelaide Street East; John R. Rumhall, 65 Charles Street West; Edward H. Brower and others to manufacture automobile bodies, motor cars, engines, machinery, motors, tools, etc.”

Not mentioned was James Wilson, the vice-president, manager, founder and namesake of the enterprise, which according to the 1921 Toronto Directory was located at 295 College Street:

“Wilson Motor Body Co (bodies), 295 College Street.

“Wilson, Jas., vice-pres. and mgr. Wilson Motor Body Co, h 55 Somerset av.

“See, Geo. W. pres. Wilson Motor Body Co h 320 Rusholme rd.”

I could not locate any information on James Wilson , nor the exact relationship between ‘Wilson Motor Body Co.’ and ‘The Wilson Motor Bodies Ltd.’ outside of a statement Wilfrid M. Shanahan’s grandson, Michael Shanahan, made in a 2008 interview with the Toronto Sun’s Jack Kazmierski:

“My grandfather was one of eight children and upon closing of the buggy company he moved to Toronto and took over a small garage called Wilson’s Garage. He produced bumpers for the Durant Motor Company, which was the precursor to General Motors. From there he began designing and building motor bodies, and the company became Wilson Motor Bodies.”

The formation of Wilson Motor Bodies was announced in a 1923 issue of Iron Trade Review:

“The Wilson Motor Bodies, Ltd., has been incorporated to manufacture automobile bodies with $40,000 capital stock by Wilfrid M. Shanahan, Frederick H. Roberts and Glenn A. Sullivan.”

The firm’s early work remains unknown although like most other firms they likely handled whatever work came through the door. Business must have been good as on August 11, 1925 Shanahan married Inez Brazil (daughter of Frank Brazil) and to the blessed union was born 3 children: Wilfrid M (b. Nov. 25, 1930-d. Nov. 25, 1930); William J. (aka Paddy, b. October 19, 1931-d. May 26, 2009); and Irene (b.19??) Shanahan.

Wilson Motor Bodies eventually relocated to larger quarters located at 1153 Queen Street West (at Abell), and when Canada started preparing for Great Britain’s entry into the Second World War, they received numerous government contracts, of which several included the manufacture of truck cabs and service bodies for CMP military vehicles supplied to Britain within the Lend-Lease program.

(*CMP refers to Canadian Military Pattern vehicles, a class of Canadian-built military trucks built to British Army specifications for use by members of the British Commonwealth, of which Canada was the largest member.)

C.M.P. chassis manufacturers included Chevrolet, Ford and F.W.D. and the following Canadian firm’s supplied the coachwork:

W.D. Beath and Son Ltd, Toronto; Brantford Coach and Body Co. Ltd, Brantford; Canadian Top & Body Co., Tillbury; Dominion Truck Body Ltd., Kitchener; Gotfredson Truck Co. Ltd, Walkerville; Motor Coach Industries, Winnipeg; Preston Metal Products Ltd, Preston; Truck Engineering Ltd., Woodstock; and Wilson Motor Bodies Ltd., Toronto.

Specifically Wilson constructed cabs for 3-ton FWD SU-COE (cab-over-engine) all-wheel-drive chassis which were manufactured by F.W.D. at their Clintonville, Wisconsin plant then transported to Wilson’s plant in Toronto. The F.W.D. SU-COE was supplied as a GS/MAT truck and a tractor for semi-trailers and its bodywork was similar in appearance to that found on British-built AEC Matador artillery prime movers.

War contracts soon exceeded the capacity of their Queen Street plant and a spacious new facility was constructed in Long Branch, Ontario just west of downtown Toronto at 1466 Lake Shore Rd. (now 3560 Lakeshore Blvd., W.).

A 1944 disagreement with Local 252, United Automobile Workers of America, mentions the firm employed 200 at the time.

An article in a 1945 issue of Roads and Bridges announced the firm’s plans for post-war production:

“Wilson Motor Bodies Ltd. Announce New Lines

“Announcement has been made by W. M. Shanahan, president and general manager of Wilson Motor Bodies Ltd., Toronto, Ont., that an agreement has just been completed with Hercules Steel Products Co., Gabon, Ohio, whereby Hercules hydraulic hoists will now be manufactured in Canada at the Wilson Motor Bodies plant at Long Branch, Ont.

“Mr. Shanahan at the same time announced that his company are now starting production for civilian use of the Lindsay Structure all-steel sectional bodies for truck and truck trailer chassis, and also the Snyder patented safety gasoline tanks for use on tractor chassis.

“During the past few years Wilson Motor Bodies Ltd. have manufactured a large number of Lindsay Structure bodies for army trucks, but are just completing the first units ever offered in Canada for civilian use. This body, says Mr. Shanahan, offers particular advantages for rapid and inexpensive repairs, as the panels ate bolted in place and can be easily removed or replaced.

“The Snyder safety tanks are in wide use in the United States, and in several states the use of some safety appliance is compulsory.”

An article in a 1956 issue of Modern Plastics describes the firm’s first FRP (Fiberglas Reinforced Plastic) van body:

“Wilson Motor Body's new Packette parcel delivery truck is described as the first plastic truck built in Canada.”

A small 1955 advertisement listed the firm’s main line of products at the time:

“The Wilson Motor Bodies Limited

“W.M. Shanahan President

“Manufacturers of Lindsay Van Bodies, Commercial Truck Bodies, Hydraulic Hoists and School Bus Bodies

“Long Branch, Ontario”

Wilfrid M. Shanahan’s son William J. (Paddy) worked alongside his father eventually serving as Wilson Motor Bodies General Manager. In 1965 the Shanahan family sold their interest in the firm to Robin-Nodwell Manufacturing Ltd. and William established Paddy Shanahan Ford at 3260 Sheppard Ave. E. in Toronto, the Canadian Diary and Ice Cream Journal reporting:

“W. J. 'Paddy' Shanahan Operates Ford Franchise

“W.J. ‘Paddy’ Shanahan has resigned his position as General Manager of Wilson Motor Bodies Limited, founded by his father Wilfrid M. Shanahan in 1921, to operate a Ford of Canada franchise in the North East end of Toronto.”

Robin-Nodwell sold off the former Wilson plant on Lakeshore Blvd., and relocated the operation to an existing facility on Howard Rd. in Burlington, Ontario.

Robin Nodwell became overextended and its assets liquidated in early 1968. The CP wire service reported on the firm’s difficulties on April 27, 1968:

“Approves Proposals

“CALGARY (CP) - Creditors of Robin-Nodwell Manufacturing Ltd. and its subsidiary, Van Wilson Ltd., unanimously approved liquidation proposals that will give them 25 cents on the dollar for their claims.

“The vote clears the way for the sale of the Calgary firm to Canadair Ltd. of Montreal. Canadair announced March 8 that it had made a $2,200,000 offer to purchase Robin-Nodwell's tracked vehicle division. The Montreal company also announced that an agreement had been reached to buy all shares of Flex-Track Equipment Ltd. of Calgary for $750,000.

“Claims by ordinary creditors against Robin Nodwell total $142,000 and against Van Wilson, $1,000,000. Under the liquidation agreement, secured creditors will exercise half of their first claim to funds and will operate a second Robin-Nodwell subsidiary, Wilson Motor Bodies Ltd. of Burlington, Ont.”

Toronto businessman John M. Boyd became the firm’s president and it remained in business into 1980 when it withdrew from business.

The Shanahan’s franchised automobile sales business fared significantly better.

The Toronto Sun’s Jack Kazmierski interviewed Paddy’s son Michael for its October 20, 2008 issue:

“Like Father Like Son, by Jack Kazmierski

“Few of us know what our grandfathers, let alone what our great-grandathers chose as a career. But Michael Shanahan, dealer principal, Shanahan Ford Lincoln Sales in Newmarket, has no problem remembering what his forefathers were doing more than a hundred years ago.

“The Shanahan family was in the auto business long ago before automobiles were even invented. “My great-grandfather manufactured sleighs and carriages in Penetanguishene, Ontario,’ Michale Shanahan says. ‘There was a fire in the factory and all the original records were destroyed so we don’t know exactly when he opened the business, but we do know that he closed the factory in 1922.’

“It’s a safe bet that the sleigh and carriage business was started well before the turn of the last century. ‘We know this because we have an original Shanahan buggy in the showroom which we believe was built in 1895.’ Shanahan says.

“Michael Shanahan’s grandfather led the family out of the sleigh business and into the car parts business. ‘My grandfather was one of eight children and upon closing of the buggy company he moved to Toronto and took over a small garage called Wilson’s Garage.’ Shanahan says. ‘He produced bumpers for the Durant Motor Company, which was the precursor to General Motors. From there he began designing and building motor bodies, and the company became Wilson Motor Bodies.’

“The Shanahan family got into the retail end of the automotive business in the latter half of the last century. ‘My dad opened Paddy Shanahan Ford in 1965. It was on Sheppard Avenue,’ Shanahan says.

“Paddy Shanahan (TADA president 1969/70) became Michael Shanahan’s boss in 1980. ‘I was working for my dad during the summers when I was in high school and university. In 1983 my dad got very sick. At the time I was the used car manager. I became the GM in 1984, and the dealer principal in 1987. I finally purchased the company from my dad in 1991.’”

William J. (Paddy) Shanahan passed away on May, 26, 2009, his obituary appearing in the July 6, 2009 issue of Automotive News:

“Paddy Shanahan

“TORONTO — Longtime auto dealer Paddy Shanahan died May 26. He was 77.

“He founded Paddy Shanahan Ford Sales in 1965, Shanahan Leasing Co. in 1968 and Sunrise Car and Truck Rentals in the mid-1970s.

“In 1980 he purchased Shanahan Ford-Lincoln-Mercury.

“Shanahan's son, Michael, purchased the businesses, all in Toronto, in 1991 as Shanahan Carriage Co. Ltd.

“In 1974, Paddy Shanahan was chairman of the inaugural Toronto Auto Show, now the Canadian International Auto Show. He was a past president of the Toronto Automobile Dealers Association and the Toronto Ford Dealers Association.”

© 2013 Mark Theobald for







Andrew F. Hunter - A History of Simcoe County, Volume II: The Pioneers, published 1909.

Hugh Durnford & Glenn Baechler - Cars of Canada, pub.1973

An eye for business, a vision for the future; 19th-century entrepreneur D.J. Shanahan saw potential of automobile industry; Barrie Advance, July 21, 2009 issue

Jack Kazmierski - Like Father Like Son, Toronto Sun, Oct. 20, 2008 issue

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