The Hiram Walker distillery has a strong connection to the car industry dating back to 1904.
The first Ford of Canada factory was built in Walkerville, Ont., a town that was built, named and run by Hiram Walker. In 1910, Studebaker set up a plant there and produced all of the right-hand drive vehicles that were exported to the United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth Countries. Soon, General Motors and Chrysler set up their Canadian plants in Walkerville.
When Hiram Walker decided to move to the West Coast, they picked Winfield in the Okanagan. Construction began in 1969 and by the time it was completed the Winfield distillery was one of the largest in the country.
During the 1960s and 1970s if a business was located more than 24 km from a hospital it was a requirement that business facilities with a certain number of employees had an ambulance on site.
The pictured, beautifully restored GMC Suburban ambulance is the one ordered by the distillery to meet the requirements. A total of 76 special order ambulances were built in 1970 at GM’s Flint, Mich., plant for the Canadian market. This particular example was shipped on May 15, 1970, to be delivered by Carter Motors in Kelowna.
The ambulance was used at the Winfield distillery until it closed in 1995, during which time it covered a total distance of 62,000 km. I doubt that all of those kilometres were used for emergency trips to Kelowna General, since if they were, that would amount to 1,083 round trips or once every 11 days.
The ambulance was purchased in 2001, requiring a sympathetic restoration and a fresh coat of paint to bring it back to its almost-as-new condition.
I spotted it for sale in January as I walked the rows of vehicles offered for sale at the Russo and Steele auction in Scottsdale, Ariz. It was the name Winfield painted in gold on the door which immediately caught my eye.
I thought the sale price of this piece of Canadian history was very reasonable at a mere $15,400. It came with a Canadian Club Texas Mickey, a full service history, GM of Canada build certificate, service manuals, a pictorial history of its service life and a letter of authorization from Hiram Walker to display the company logo on the front doors.