It was in 1985 and newly married that I moved to the Collingwood area as the result of a corporate transfer. A lot has changed in our area since that time and more change is sure to come.
My career began with Canadian Tire and with the auto and tire knowledge I gained there I was hired by Goodyear Canada for their tire division. I’m a car enthusiast and while the tire business was interesting they subsequently offered me a great opportunity to move over into Goodyear’s industrial products division which had manufacturing plants in Quebec as well as in Bowmanville, Ontario, Owen Sound and Collingwood. While working at Goodyear’s head office in Toronto I had a chance to go for a flight in one of Goodyear’s blimps over downtown Toronto. It was the first time that one of Goodyear’s blimps had ever been to Canada and accompanying me on the flight was the then Mayor or Etobicoke. This was back before Toronto swallowed up the smaller municipalities to become the mega city it is today.
One day shortly after the blimp flight I was asked if I would relocate to the Collingwood hose plant. Being a skier and with a cottage north of here (Manitoulin Island) I jumped at the chance. Fortunately my wife needed little coaxing and saw the move as an adventure. The Goodyear plant in Collingwood opened in 1967 and with 200,000 square feet it manufactured various types of automotive and industrial hose products. Hose types included fuel, radiator, air brake and other hoses for the likes of General Motors, Ford, Kenworth/Peterbilt trucks and others. The plant also made gas pump hoses, high pressure hydraulic, propane and other hoses for the industrial market.
At that time the Collingwood Shipyard was still in operation as was Kaufman Furniture, Harding Carpet, Nacan’s starch plant and others. Collingwood was without question the manufacturing hub of central Ontario and employed hundreds. In subsequent years, the manufacturing sector of the economy changed not only in Collingwood and Canada but across North America. Plants were closed, businesses were swallowed up by competitors and work was either moved to the U.S. or offshore to China and elsewhere.
One of Goodyear Collingwood’s largest customers was a U.S. based company called Imperial Eastman located in Barrie. Goodyear manufactured and private branded various hydraulic and pneumatic hoses for several companies of which Imperial Eastman was one. A couple of years after my move to Collingwood, Imperial Eastman came knocking on my door and recruited me to run their entire Canadian business unit including sales, marketing, manufacturing, finance etc. It was another great opportunity and at that time, industry was starting to leave Collingwood beginning with the closure of the shipyards in 1986. On the way out of town to my grandmother’s funeral, I stopped to watch the last ship built in the shipyards an ice breaker, get launched as I knew there would never be another opportunity to see this unique event. Around that time, I began to doubt Goodyear’s long term future in Collingwood. As such, how could I say no to a better job offer and a more secure future for my family. I took the position but continued living in Collingwood, commuting to Barrie daily. The job also entailed extensive travel across Canada managing the sales force plus we had a warehouse and small manufacturing facility in Winnipeg that produced hydraulic hose assemblies for the numerous farm equipment manufacturers in western Canada.
In the ensuing five years my son and daughter were both born in Collingwood. My son has since returned while my daughter and her family live on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Opportunity knocked again in 1992 when based on my success running the Canadian business, the President of Imperial Eastman in the U.S. asked me to move to Chicago as Vice President where I would head up product engineering, marketing and sales. With 1,000 employees and $100 million U.S. plus in sales, it was a large and demanding job, but not one to turn shy away from challenges I accepted. I travelled across the entire U.S. so I have some first hand knowledge and appreciation for the political environment in the U.S. At that time, Bill Clinton was President so I lived through the whole Monica Lewinsky affair.
In 1996 I returned to Canada and was hired as Vice President by yet another large client of Goodyear’s with a manufacturing plant in Stratford. While I enjoyed the work I neither liked the culture of the company nor the business there were in so after two years I left. Further, my wife and I had separated and I found myself as a single parent with a 6 and 8 year old. The kids and I moved back to Collingwood, my parents had retired here and via coincidence my younger brother and his wife moved here as he was hired by Pilkington Glass for their quality assurance department.
Up until recently, the former Goodyear plant in Collingwood has been sitting vacant and deteriorating, Weeds had taken over the employee parking area and the now 50 year old building was a scant reminder of Collingwood’s strong manufacturing past. A week or so ago heavy equipment move in and very quickly the building was demolished and no longer exists.
The size of the excavators in the former interior of the building in the photo below looking south gives you a good perspective of the 200,000 square foot size of the plant which included office space for administrative and engineering staff, marketing personnel and a lab for running products through a variety of tests to ensure they met their required specifications.
So what’s the purpose of this story? Having lived in the area now for the better part of 30 years I share this to illustrate how things in life change. Whether it’s your job, personal life, finances, the economy, your community etc. things happen if not personally, then locally, nationally and globally all of which can affect your life. The current pandemic is a good example.
It’s not just a matter that companies in the area moved elsewhere. Most of the manufacturing businesses that were in Collingwood no longer exist. Either they were bought up by someone else or in some cases they just went out of business. Further, I believe that the rate of change we have experienced will accelerate even faster driven by technology, products and or services that have yet to be brought to market as well as other factors.
It will be interesting to see what happens with the former Goodyear site now that the building is essentially gone. At almost 60 acres it’s a valuable piece of real estate and last sold under power of sale in the fall of 2018. The property is currently zoned for a variety of manufacturing/industrial uses but that can change and I suspect it will. Only time will tell.
In the meantime hold on. Change(s) will happen, some good, some bad. How you manage and adapt to weather these changes is to some degree up to you. Think positive, stay safe and stay healthy, better days are ahead in 2021 and beyond.