Ford or Mercury? Or both? Or neither?

What is that? Car-spotting tourists from the U.S. were no doubt scratching their heads over what they saw on the streets of Toronto or Montreal in the 1950s and ’60s. The cars and trucks were familiar enough in shape, yet something was amiss in the trim; the model names, which should have delivered clarity in chrome script, only added to the mystery.

The confusion was a side effect of marketing decisions, not cross-border intrigue. In an era when Detroit’s annual model changes brought wholesale styling makeovers, it was unexceptional for the market to the north to be given a distinct Canadian identity, including unique brand names, different running gear and revised design details. And while General Motors, Chrysler and Ford all played this game, Ford Motor Company of Canada may have done it best.

Canada and the United States are, for the most part, kissing cousins, with many things spilling across the porous border and assimilating on the other side. Poutine, a Canadian gastronomic adventure comprising French fries, cheese curds and gravy, is available in New England and Michigan. Ice hockey came of age in Montreal and skated south. In the opposite direction, automobiles conceived in the U.S. have been sold in Canada since the industry’s birth. But for many years, they differed from U.S. versions – just as Detroit poutine isn’t as sinfully delicious as the Canadian original.

Ford began production in Canada early on, but it wasn’t Henry’s Ford, at least not at first. Walkerville Wagon Works, a company founded by Gordon McGregor, who had secured Ford patent rights, started building its own versions of Ford vehicles in Ontario in 1904. The wagon works soon became Ford Motor Company of Canada, with Henry Ford as a minority shareholder.

After World War II, with the Canadian company now an integral part of the Dearborn-based Ford Motor Company, efforts to tailor offerings to the northern market increased. Due to both tariff restrictions and economic differences, Ford and Mercury vehicles for Canada were soon branded differently than those for the U.S., and their appearance varied, too.

The Mercury 114 was one of the first efforts to produce a unique car for Canada. It was a Ford with a Mercury-style grille, taillights and trim.  The “114” designation referred to the car’s wheelbase, and the car was meant to give Canada’s Mercury dealers a low-priced entry. Larger Mercury models were branded Mercury 118.

The brand-name game produced odd twists. While some Ford models like the 1956 pickup truck were branded Mercury, other Mercury vehicles became Monarchs or Meteors. Meteors, introduced for the ‘49 model year, were a continuation of the Mercury 114 concept. The Meteor Rideau combined a 1956 Ford convertible body with Mercury trim.

Monarch, a Mercury with a Ford grille, was another attempt to level the playing field by providing Canada’s Ford dealers with a premium car. (It was unrelated to the Mercury Monarch sold in the ‘70s.) Both Monarchs and Meteors were available with two-tone paint beginning in 1949. At the time, that option wasn’t offered in the U.S. because plants in the States weren’t yet capable of spraying two colors.

Some Canadian products had a brief run. For 1960, Mercury dealers were given the Frontenac, a Ford Falcon with revised styling. In 2012, R. Perry Zavitz, author of “Canadian Cars, 1946-1984,” told The New York Times that Frontenac styling may have been based on a concept car design that had been rejected for the U.S. market. Frontenac was neither Mercury nor Meteor, but rather a standalone brand. Ford dealers in Canada, like their U.S. counterparts, sold a similar car, branded Falcon. Despite healthy sales, Frontenac lasted only one year because Ford changed plans. It became redundant when Mercury dealers got the Falcon-based Comet, in 1961.

Ford’s tailoring of models for the Canadian market in the postwar era created some unique machines, a fact that collectors on both sides of the border are beginning to appreciate.