Postcards That Intrigue Me #1 – The First Car in Canada

While writing blog posts about historical motorcars (Click here for Parts One, Two, and Three) this summer, and preparing for my recent trip to archives in Alberta in July, I did a lot of searching and browsing through the University of Alberta’s extensive digitized collection of historical postcards on Peel’s Prairie Provinces. Here is but one of the intriguing images I found.

Cost $1700, Rate - 20 m.p.h., 8 miles per gallon of water. Driver needed, 2 assistants. 1 to go in front & warn people of the car's coming, 1 to go behind & extinguish the prairie fires started by the exhaust. Bought by Senator Cochrane Ranch, Calgary.

First Car in Canada (1898) Still Going Strong. Owned by Chas. Jackson, Calgary.  Courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces.

This transcription of the back of this postcard provides a tongue in cheek description of the vehicle’s capabilities:

Cost $1700, Rate – 20 m.p.h., 8 miles per gallon of water. Driver needed, 2 assistants. 1 to go in front & warn people of the car’s coming, 1 to go behind & extinguish the prairie fires started by the exhaust. Bought by Senator Cochrane Ranch, Calgary.”

Now, this postcard is undated, but let’s see what information we can tentatively identify about it:

  •  Judging by the “still going strong” caption on the front, one could assume that the vehicle was old even at the time that this postcard was made. I would guess that this picture maybe even dates to the mid- to late 1920s.
  • I would assume from the outfit of the matronly woman in the back that it would be at least the late 1910s. Furthermore, note the view of the girl in the front’s stockinged leg. Opaque stockings were still a thing in the 1920s – nude colour was still a bit racy, particularly in conservative Canada – but she is showing a lot of leg for the early 1900s. The posture of the girls and the flatness of their chests tells me that they aren’t wearing Edwardian corsets – their figures and slouching postures seem more 1920s than anything else. Their hats look more like bonnets, which were going out of style for young ladies even in the 1890s, but there is a strap chin strap, so perhaps they are special driving hats. (Edwardian hats had a tendency to fly off while motoring, due to their large size, resulting in many ladies securing them with scarves.)
  • The road is also paved, which was rare in many cities in the west until the 1930s. Or perhaps it is a cobblestone road?
  • The flags behind the heads of the two passengers in the back appear to be red ensigns, which were of course the official flag of Canada until the adoption of our current flag in the 1964, but we already knew that this photograph predated the 1960s.

Incidentally, the vehicle itself is fascinating. You can really see the influence of bicycles in the design of this automobile, particularly in the wheels. Look at those spokes! And the chain! The shocks also look like they come from a Victorian carriage.  Note, too, the dashboard – a little shield – and the fact that the steering wheel, strictly speaking, is more of a rudder than a wheel.

All in all, a fascinating glimpse into early motor history in Canada.

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2 Responses to Postcards That Intrigue Me #1 – The First Car in Canada

  1. Pingback: (Re)visiting Fort Edmonton Park Part I: 1920s Street | History Research Shenanigans

  2. Pingback: Postcards That Intrigue Me #3: Cattle Roping in Moose Jaw | History Research Shenanigans

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