Official car of Hamilton-schooled ‘Father of the UN’ Lester Pearson to be restored in Oshawa
Published November 20, 2023 at 7:39 pm
Lester B. ‘Mike’ Pearson’s official state car during his time as Prime Minister of Canada from 1963-68 was a rather unassuming – like Pearson himself – automobile that he liked so much he bought it when he handed the reins of power to Pierre Trudeau in 1968.
And thanks to a $100,000 donation from General Motors of Canada to the Canadian Automotive Museum in Oshawa, charged with the restoration of the 1963 Buick limousine, the project will be expedited and is expected to be complete by the spring of 2024.
Pearson, who was Toronto-born, Hamilton-schooled (he graduated from Hamilton Collegiate Institute in 1913) and represented the northern Ontario riding of Algoma East, is considered to be Canada’s greatest-ever statesman and one of its greatest Prime Ministers.
Pearson brought in universal health care, the Canada Pension Plan, the country’s student loan program and was the official signee of the Auto Pact. He also introduced official bilingualism, the Order of Canada and Canada’s now internationally iconic Maple Leaf Flag.
His government also unified the armed forces, kept Canada out of the Vietnam War and brought in a points-based immigration system – the first country to do so.
All while running back-to-back minority governments.
Three politicians he recruited – Trudeau, Jean Chretien and John Turner – all went on to hold Canada’s top political position as well.
But his greatest accomplishment happened before his election as Prime Minister.
As a lifelong international diplomat – Pearson chaired the United Nation’s Special Committee on Palestine in 1947 that laid the groundwork for the creation of Israel, chaired the UN General Assembly in 1952-53 and is known as the ‘Father of the UN’ – Pearson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 for his efforts in ending a conflict in the mideast the previous year and potentially preventing a nuclear world war.
In 1956, Britain, France and Israel launched an attack on Egypt aimed at removing President Gamal Nasser. The U.S. were upset they were not invited and the Soviets had threatened a nuclear response to what became known as the ‘Suez Crisis.’ Pearson, who as External Affairs Minister for Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent at the time, came up with the solution: send in a UN peacekeeping force to the region to separate the warring parties and allow the invading nations to withdraw without losing too much face.
And the UN’s role as the world’s peacekeeper was born.
But about that car…
Pearson’s wheels suffered a great deal of rust damage over the years and will require substantial body work. The custom interior, which includes decorative Canadian coat of arms, is also in need of some TLC to be properly preserved.
The vehicle will also need to be brought up to current road safety standards so it can be driven and displayed at public events.
The donation from GM will also help to interpret the story of both the unique Oshawa-built car as well as Pearson’s legacy as Canada’s first Nobel Peace Prize winner.
“We are proud to support the restoration of Mr. Pearson’s one-of-a-kind Buick and our ongoing partnership with the Canadian Automotive Museum,” said Kristian Aquilina, GM Canada’s vice-president, sales, service and marketing. “This limousine was hand built in our Oshawa Assembly Plant, holding an important place in both GM and Canadian history, and we appreciate the museum’s efforts to ensure that story will be told for years to come.”
The donation is the largest corporate gift ever received by the Canadian Automotive Museum, noted Alexander Gates, the museum’s executive director and curator.
“We are thrilled to receive support from GM Canada,” Gates said. “Our world class collection of Canadian automobiles allow us to tell a wide range of stories from the origins of the Canadian automobile to that of Nobel Peace Prize winner and Canadian Prime Minister Lestor B. Pearson.”
Pearson was known for his diplomacy but he also had a competitive fire and was an exceptional all-round athlete who played rugby, basketball, hockey (he played on the Oxford University team that won the first Spengler Cup in 1923), baseball (he played semi-pro with Guelph and is a member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame), lacrosse and football.
Despite his athletic process his flight instructor in World War 1 didn’t believe ‘Lester’ was a suitable name for a rough and tough flyboy and gave him the nickname ‘Mike.’ Pearson went by his given name of Lester in all official documents but was called ‘Mike’ by his family and friends thereafter.
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