Ladybird and the Eaton Family: A Window into the Toronto Elite

2017, Canadian Automotive Museum, History, Permanent Exhibit
automobiles, chauffeur, design drawing, Eaton Family, floor plan, history, Lady Eaton, status, Toronto, transportation
About This Project

Date: May 2017 – Ongoing

Partner: Canadian Automotive Museum

Venue: Canadian Automotive Museum – map

Project Members: Amanda Barbosa and Sarah Harrison


As Vice-President and pioneering restaurateur for the T. Eaton company, Lady Flora McCrea Eaton was a cultural icon in early 20th century Toronto. This exhibition highlights many facets of Lady Eaton’s personal life, including her time as both president and vice-president of the T. Eaton Company, her relationship with Herbert Coleman McEachern (one of the many chauffeurs in her employ) and the use of the car for social events, both in a private and public context. Most importantly, the 1912 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost limousine, the car in which she was frequently driven, reflected the importance of her position and embodied the elegant lifestyle of Toronto’s social elite.


This exhibition is aimed at several audiences. We hope that our exhibition will appeal to the following demographic groups: young adult visitors; children and family visitors to the CAM; persons who live in the Oshawa area; visitors who want to have unique programming experiences; and most importantly, to both car and history enthusiasts alike.


The Canadian Automotive Museum strives to preserve, interpret, and share the history of the Canadian automotive industry. Located in a 1920’s era Chevrolet-Oakland dealership, the museum was first founded in 1963 as part of a community effort to promote tourism in the area and showcase the history of the automobile, and officially became a museum in 1982. This museum has approximately 75 cars on display at any given time, while the rest are in offsite storage.


This exhibition would not have been made possible without the help of several interested individuals. We are indebted to Alexander Gates, the curator of the Canadian Automotive Museum, who was the one who pitched this idea to us and furnished us with help and advice during the entire exhibition process. Additionally, we were sponsored in a monetary capacity by the Eaton Families Association, the Faculty of Information Exhibition class, and all the people who gave money through our GoFundMe page in both an online and offline context.


Planning for Ladybird and the Eaton Family: A Window into the Toronto Elite began in early October 2016. The research process took approximately four months. As this exhibition revolves around one object, we did not have to engage in any collection process or review any loans. The installation will begin in the middle of May and should last one week. The exhibition will run from May 2017 and will be ongoing, until further notice.


To interpret “Ladybird,” we relied on photographs taken from the Canadian Automotive Museum’s personal library, the Archives of Ontario, the Toronto Public Library and the City of Toronto Archives. The back wall behind the vehicle will include two enlarged images: a Rolls-Royce Advertisement of the period in which it was most used, and Ardwold, the grand Toronto house that the Eaton’s used until Sir John’s death in 1922. Our text consists of one introductory hanging banner, one standing panel and two lengthwise panels. Another interpretive vehicle includes a digital photo frame, where we will be able to display some of the photographs that are unable to fit comfortably on the panels. Since we are limited by space, we felt that these interpretive mediums were the best way to communicate the key messages of the story that we are presenting. It will provide opportunities to those who are visual learners and those who prefer to read. Visitors should hopefully be inspired to further research Lady Eaton and the history of the Eaton family.


The Canadian Automotive Museum will be advertising our exhibition on their website, as well as in their newsletter. The iSchool at the University of Toronto has already begun promoting the exhibition in the “Exhibition Project Class 2016/2017” poster. We are also planning on sending out formal invitations to a number of different people, such as Eaton family members, persons with whom we have been working, and members of the Rolls-Royce Club of Canada. In terms of programming, there will be guided tours which will discuss other facts and stories about “Ladybird” not mentioned in the exhibition panels. Furthermore, Kelly Mathews, an author who wrote a book on Lady Eaton and Eaton Hall, is very open to giving a guest lecture on the day of our opening reception.


We’d like to thank all of our sponsors, particularly the Eaton Families Association and the Faculty of Information, as well as all those persons who donated to the project. We also want to thank the entire staff of the entire staff of the Canadian Automotive Museum, without whom this exhibition would not exist. Finally, thanks to all of those who supported us by volunteering their time and providing us with professional advice during the process of developing this exhibition. Special thanks to our Professor, Matthew Brower, and our teaching assistants, Hilary Walker Gugan and Rebecca Noone.