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History of a Chevrolet dealership in Thunder Bay

Badanai Motors is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

At the age of eighteen, Hubert Badanai persuaded his sister Chlorinda and husband, Joseph, to come Canada with them. He later recalled, "I was very intrigued by the vastness of the land, and on the ship crossing from Southampton, England, we met some people who travelling to Fort William, Ontario. Looking at a map, there I saw the name situated in the centre of Canada, and that’s where we decided to go.”

Arriving at the Lakehead in 1911, they found two bustling communities, Fort William and Port Arthur, with a combined population of nearly 28,000. Immigrants were coming from Europe almost every day anxious to start a new life. With a thriving grain transportation industry, railroading, shipping and mining developments, the region was soon being called the 'Chicago of the North'.

In 1920 he arrived in Toronto finding employment with Nielson’s Chocolates and later landing a job with the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) as a foreman building bridges on the rail lines of Northern Ontario. After a few months he was finally back in Fort William hiring on as a shop foreman for a local car dealership. Hubert worked there for two years and then decided to get into the motor car business for himself.

Hubert Badanai was born in Azzano Decimo, in the province of Udine, in northern Italy on Jan. 11, 1893, the second child of three children born to Luigi and Anna Santin Badanai. At the turn of Twentieth Century, Luigi and Anna ventured to South America with the young family — daughter Clorinda and sons Hubert and Pompeo — to start a coffee plantation. Tragically, Pompeo contracted malaria and died. The family returned to Italy, fearing the same thing might happen to Clorinda and Hubert.

Having $5,000 in savings and a $5,000 bank loan, Hubert established his motor car business in 1924 naming it Kam Motors Limited, after the Kaministiquia River. At the time there were fewer than 400 vehicles in the twin cities and in the first year of operation he lost several hundred dollars, but Hubert held fast to the belief that more people were becoming motor car conscious. 

Car buyers then, had higher paying-paying jobs and were mainly businessmen, professionals such as doctors and lawyers. Kam Motors sold the Huppmobile and the Hudson-Essex, and briefly Fords, until 1932 when Hubert took on the General Motors line which they still have today.


After the Second World War demand for motor vehicles sky-rocketed as the economy grew. Jobs at the Lakehead were plentiful and people were hungry for cars and willing to pay whatever it took to buy one. Business was good and eventually Hubert established another car dealership in Port Arthur called Port Arthur Motors Limited.

In 1951 Hubert’s son Bert became involved in the family business and essential took it over in 1957, when his father became “full time” as one of Canada’s first Italian born Member of Parliament. A position he held until his retirement of federal politics in 1972 (undefeated).

Hubert Badanai passed away September 19, 1986 at the age of 96. 

Bert Badanai ran the two dealerships in Thunder Bay until November of 1991 when his son George Badanai purchased Kam Motors in the south side of Thunder Bay, and with GM’s new Dealership 2000 Vision the plan called for one Chevrolet Cadillac store in the area they were amalgamated in 1996, changed the name to Badanai Motors Ltd. and moved to a new GM imaged store centrally located, in May 2000.

George had left the family business, shortly after working there for six months, to pursue a career with General Motors as a Dealer Rep in the field. He worked at General Motors for nine years before returning to the family business.

He is now the third Badanai to run the family business since it started in 1924.


My family has made this business successful through many changes, economically, family leadership and structurally. In the 100 years, the three generations has probably experienced all the things one could (or maybe not), ever imagine that could happen. From world wars, great and not so great recessions, strikes, both here and at GM, GMs corporate bankruptcy now well behind us, their successful re-restructuring and the many changes in direction at GM itself, some successful, some not so successful.

The next Chapter? The evolution of the Electric Vehicle. Badanai Motors has invested over $600,000.00 to meet this transformation with the installation of 11 charging stations, (with six available to the public), special equipment and training of our staff and technicians. GM has introduced four EVs to date, the Cadillac Lyriq, E-Blazer, E-Equinox, and E-Silverado, the later two are on order and are expected to arrive soon. Other models are still being developed to transition into the electric world. We are well prepared for the next 100 years.

It has been fun for the better part, and we hope a fourth family member may prevail in the end!

George Badanai

President Badanai Motors Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

P.S.: Bert Badanai passed two years ago at the age of 96, he had a office upstairs at the dealership where he surfed the internet each day, enjoying world politics, economics, and health ideas, when he was not golfing or downhill skiing.

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