Vernon & District Family History Society

SHARING GENEALOGY KNOWLEDGE SINCE 1982

SHAIDES OF GRAY by Vivian Elgie

William Murray Gray was born on July 16, 1891 in Chatham, Ontario. His parents were Robert Gray and Margaret Haldane McLaren, and he had one sister, a year older than him. The 1901 Canadian Census has nineteen year old William residing in Chatham with his parents and one older sister. William' father was in the manufacturing industry, building carriages. The family was of Scottish decent and their religion was Presbyterian.

Cora Gladys May (aka Gladys) Elgie was born on March 2, 1898 in Camden, Ontario. Her parents were George Albert Elgie and Margaret Elizabeth Corlett. She was their youngest child and the only girl growing up in a home with three brothers. The first son born to this union appears to have been a stillbirth.

The 1901 Canadian Census has three year old Gladys residing in Camden with her parents and three older brothers. Gladys' father appeared in this census as Albert. His occupation was a farmer. They were of English origin and their religion Methodist. The family all became well educated with Gladys' career being a teacher.

It is unclear when or how Gladys and William met but they were married on the 15th of September 1923 at Chatham, neither one having been married previously. At the time of their marriage William appeared to be a manufacturer.

William got his start in the manufacturing business in his Grandfather' Shop, William Gray and Son' Carriage Works in Chatham. The senior William Gray who immigrated to Chatham from Scotland in 1853 was a blacksmith and started this carriage business in 1855. He passed away in 1884 in a train accident at which time his son Robert took over the business.

Image - William Gray Sr. and Son' Carriage Works

William Gray Sr. and Son' Carriage Works

Just after the turn of the century the carriage works started to produce car bodies for the Ford factory in Walkerville, Ontario. They continued manufacturing bodies for Ford Canada until 1912.

The year 1915 saw a couple of new comers to the automotive industry. Dort Cars of Flint, Michigan began production under the management of Josiah Dallas Dort and across the border in Chatham; Gray-Dort was also being manufactured, with Robert Gray having the Canadian rights. Only two Gray-Dorts were manufactured the first year. Robert was president and William Murray Gray vice president.

Williams' mother Margaret, although both her husband and son were involved in the manufacture of the Gray-Dort, would only drive an electric car. Henry Ford' wife Clara also preferred electric cars over the gasoline-powered vehicles. It is said the electric car was quieter, easier to start and cleaner to operate. She owned a Detroit Electric from 1920 to 1952, only selling it when she turned 90 years of age.

Image - 1918 Gray-Dort

1918 Gray-Dort

The manufacturing industry was good to Gray-Dort. At one time Gray-Dort was the largest employer in Chatham. Between 1915 and 1925 approximately 26,000 cars came off their assembly line with 60% of the parts being manufactured in their Chatham facility.

By 1923 Josiah Dallas Dort wanted out of the automotive industry and he could not be dissuaded. This would be the beginning of the demise of Gray-Dort as they tried in desperation to locate an American partner but to no avail. Josiah Dallas Dort passed away March 17, 1925 on the golf course in Flint, Michigan and was buried in the Glenwood Cemetery in Flint. The last few years of Gray-Dorts' life were spent liquidating their assets.

It is unclear what Williams' occupation became after the demise of Gray-Dort. Cora Gladys Gray passed away on January 17, 1969 in Chatham. William passed away on October 27, 1971. They were both buried in the Maple Leaf Cemetery in Chatham, Ontario.

William and Gladys had three children, Robert, Margaret and Ronald.

On May 30, 2015 a celebration was held to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Gray-Dort in Chatham, Ontario. Gray-Dort owners attended from as far away as Australia, although the Auzzies didn't bring their car. There were 15 restored Gray-Dorts on display in front of the Chatham Museum.

One has to wonder what the Canadian Automotive Industry would have become if Josiah Dallas Dort had not pulled out.