Nash deal­er­ship opened on eve of Great De­pres­sion

Fire is last chap­ter of tragic tale that be­gan with high hopes writes Dale Johnson

Regina Leader-Post - - DRIVING -

The fire that de­stroyed the Trav­ellers Build­ing on Broad Street be­tween 11th and 12th Av­enues last month was the fi­nal chap­ter in a build­ing that once was the home of one of Regina’s posh­est — and short­est-lived — car deal­er­ships.

When the Trav­ellers Build­ing opened on Wed­nes­day, Oc­to­ber 9, 1929, the ground level was the new home to A.B.M. Motors. The grand open­ing was marked with a gala dance on the sec­ond floor in the Ar­ca­dia — called “Regina’s mag­nif­i­cent new ball­room.”

The Trav­ellers Build­ing cost $60,000 and was one of many build­ings con­structed in Regina dur­ing the late 1920s that were de­signed by the prom­i­nent ar­chi­tec­tural firm of Storey and Van Eg­mond. Other build­ings they de­signed in­clude the Bal­four Apart­ments, the Fron­tenac Apart­ment, Scott Col­le­giate, Bal­four Col­le­giate, and some build­ings along Col­lege Street that now are part of the Univer­sity of Regina.

A.B.M. Motors was Regina’s dealer for Nash au­to­mo­biles and Ste­wart trucks.

Nashes were beau­ti­ful, lux­u­ri­ous au­to­mo­biles. The firm was run by Charles Nash, who had risen from child­hood poverty to be­come pres­i­dent of Gen­eral Motors. But by 1916 he had a fall­ing out with GM boss Wil­liam Du­rant. So he quit, bought the Thomas Jef­fery Com­pany, and soon was build­ing a car with his own name on it. Pro­duc­tion in­creased from 10,000 in 1918 to 130,000 in 1928. Nashes in­cluded such fea­tures as dash­board starter but­tons and shat­ter­proof glass.

Ste­wart trucks were man­u­fac­tured in Buf­falo, N.Y., from 1912 to 1941, and for a time had a Cana­dian plant in nearby Fort Erie, Ont. Ste­wart trucks were known for their qual­ity, al­though they were never vol­ume sell­ers and never posed a threat to Ford, Chevy or Dodge. They were pop­u­lar with prairie farmers look­ing for a high-qual­ity truck.

The three peo­ple be­hind

A.B.M. Motors were Ge­orge H. Ar­mour, Robert J. Baird and S. Craw­ford Mur­ray.

Ge­orge Ar­mour, born in 1890, was the son of Hugh Ar­mour, one of Regina’s pi­o­neers and most prom­i­nent busi­ness peo­ple. Today, there is a street and a sub­di­vi­sion named af­ter Hugh Ar­mour. Ge­orge Ar­mour, who had been work­ing with the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment, signed up for mil­i­tary ser­vice with the out­break of the Great War in 1914. He served over­seas, was wounded three times and held as a pris­oner of war for 10 days. He re­turned home to Regina in 1919 and re­joined the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment. In early 1929, with the econ­omy boom­ing, he de­cided to get into the car busi­ness.

Robert Baird had been a fire­fighter in Regina be­fore join­ing the army dur­ing the First World War. He was se­ri­ously wounded and trans­ferred to Eng­land, where he spent time at a con­va­les­cent camp. He re­turned to Regina in 1919, and re­joined the fire depart­ment. In this po­si­tion, he pushed for get­ting mo­tor­ized fire trucks to re­place horse-drawn equip­ment. Baird be­came so fas­ci­nated with motor ve­hi­cles that he left his job with the Regina Fire Brigade to join Dun­can Motors, Regina’s Pon­tiac dealer in the late 1920s. He then de­cided to go into busi­ness with two other men and start A.B.M. Motors.

Samuel Craw­ford Mur­ray had been in the car busi­ness for sev­eral years in Regina. Most re­cently, he had been a dis­trict ser­vice man­ager with Ford in Saskatchewan. Mur­ray was pres­i­dent of A.B.M. Motors in ad­ver­tise­ments for the new deal­er­ship when it opened in tem­po­rary quar­ters at 1611 Broad Street a few months be­fore the Trav­ellers Build­ing opened on Oc­to­ber 9, 1929. But tragedy stuck on

Sept. 28, 1929 — just days be­fore the new deal­er­ship opened — when Mur­ray died at the age of 30, leav­ing a young fam­ily.

A.B.M. Motors was the new­est deal­er­ship in a city that al­ready boasted 19 other deal­er­ships.

On Oc­to­ber 29, “Black Tues­day” — less than three weeks af­ter A.B.M. Motors went into busi­ness — the stock mar­ket crashed.

A.B.M. Motors went out of busi­ness less than a year af­ter it opened. Ar­mour soon left Regina, while Baird stayed in the city and sold cars at var­i­ous deal­er­ships dur­ing the 1930s.

The build­ing be­came a GMC truck deal­er­ship for a cou­ple of years. Then it be­came Kerr Motors, which sold Gra­ham au­to­mo­biles. The build­ing saw a va­ri­ety of ten­ants over the years, in­clud­ing Auto Elec­tric, Group Med­i­cal Ser­vices, Rad­way’s Lum­ber, the Regina bus de­pot and the Saskatchewan Motor Club.

The Ar­ca­dia Ball Room sur­vived and con­tin­ued to oc­cupy the sec­ond floor through­out the De­pres­sion and Sec­ond World War. Then it was sub­di­vided into of­fices, in­clud­ing Dunn and Brad­street, and the Wartime Hous­ing Cor­po­ra­tion, which be­came Canada Mort­gage and Hous­ing Cor­po­ra­tion.

More re­cently, the Trav­ellers Build­ing had been va­cant for years. It had been boarded up and was de­te­ri­o­rat­ing, and be­came home for birds and an­i­mals.

It’s too bad that it had not been re­stored to its orig­i­nal beauty; and imag­ine if an au­to­mo­bile deal­er­ship had moved into the main floor. It’s a trend in other cities to have car deal­er­ships lo­cate in the down­town core. Usu­ally they are branches of ex­ist­ing deal­er­ships, so that stor­age and ser­vice is done in larger fa­cil­i­ties in sub­ur­ban ar­eas. But to have a small show­room with three or four ve­hi­cles down­town can make good busi­ness sense. For ex­am­ple, Fiat has a show­room in down­town Saska­toon, in a sec­tion of what was once the Bay store.

In down­town Regina, sev­eral former car deal­er­ships are still stand­ing and have been con­verted into other busi­nesses: the Wheat Pool Build­ing at Al­bert and Vic­to­ria; Vin­tage Vinyl on 11th Av­enue; the red brick build­ing at Rose and 12th, and the Don­ahue build­ing at 11th and Lorne.

Imag­ine if one of th­ese build­ings some­day again is a place to buy a car. As well, there are plenty of other build­ings in down­town Regina that could be con­verted into car deal­er­ships.

It’s too late for the Trav­ellers Build­ing — but per­haps some­day down­town Regina will be home to car deal­er­ships again.

The sad end­ing to the Trav­ellers Build­ing came on a cold March evening. Flames did most of the dam­age; the wreck­ing ball fin­ished it off. It was a quick and vi­o­lent end for the build­ing, in stark con­trast to its grand open­ing al­most 90 years ear­lier, with danc­ing and cel­e­brat­ing above the new home of a lux­ury car deal­er­ship dur­ing the pros­per­ity and optimism of the Roar­ing ’20s.


The end for the down­trod­den Trav­ellers Build­ing came af­ter last month’s fire.

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