The early 20th century was a period of rapid change as technological advances were felt in industry and in the home. The Brownie camera and the phonograph appeared in the early 1900s, along with the first feature film. The first plastic for domestic use – Bakelite – was introduced in 1909 and used in casings and housings for small appliances, as well as dishware. Ford began the mass production of the Model T in 1909 and, soon after, it was available for purchase by the middle classes. Developments in electrical generation and distribution meant that Canadians could now have electricity. In this 10-year period, the world saw a series of remarkable firsts – the first successful powered flight, the beginning of construction on the Panama Canal, commercial colour photography, and the first windshield wipers.
The 1903 Le Roy is Canada's first gasoline-powered car built in quantities for sale.
The Canadian-made Le Roy was actually a close copy of the popular American Oldsmobile—note the curved dash, which was a characteristic of the Oldsmobile.
Beacon Herald, Stratford, Ontario
The Chatham Motor Company is formed.
The solid and reliable Chatham automobile was built using an imported engine, and a graceful wooden body made by William Gray and Sons Ltd . Production at Chatham ceased in 1909 and the Grays later went on to found Gray-Dort Motors Ltd. and to manufacture cars with as many local materials and parts as possible.
Photo: ca. 1906
Archives of Ontario
Former bicycle racer, Lou D. Robertson, founds the Comet Motor Company in Montreal, QC.
The Comet automobile was described as having a 'national' style, even though it was built mostly from European parts. King George V rode in a Comet during his 1908 visit to Quebec.
Photo: Canada Science and Technology Museum 1975.0209
In The News
Henry Ford establishes Ford of Canada in Walkerville, Ontario in 1904. The plant begins to produce Model Ts in 1908.
Ford of Canada was not a branch plant of the American company – it was a distinct and independent operation. The company relied on American engineering and design, but retained control over production, pricing, sales, and trade.
Photo: ca. 1909
Ford Motor Company Ltd. Archives
Alberta and Saskatchewan join Confederation.
Between 1897 and 1911, two million people emigrated to the Canadian West. Enticed by the offer of free farmland, they created some 30,000 farms, and most grew wheat in an effort to meet increasing worldwide demand. Marquis wheat, with its short growing season, expanded the areas where wheat could be cultivated. The wheat economy fuelled the population growth that lead to the creation of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Illustration: Atlas of Canada
Sam McLaughlin founds the McLaughlin Motor Car Company in Oshawa, Ontario.
In 1908, when production was about to begin on the McLaughlin, the engineer working on it became seriously ill. Sam McLaughlin sent a telegram to his friend Billy Durant at Buick in the United States asking to borrow an engineer. The next day, Durant himself arrived in Oshawa with two Buick executives. From then on, McLaughlin produced cars using Buick engines.
Parkwood Estate and Heritage Garden
Members of the legislature in Charlottetown vote unanimously to ban all automobiles from Prince Edward Island.
Many islanders found automobiles too noisy and smoky, but ultimately the benefits of the new "automobile tourism" could not be ignored. The ban was partially lifted in 1913, allowing motoring on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. In 1918, the act was revoked altogether.
Public Archives and Records Office of PEI
Ontario is the first province to license motor vehicles.
The Ontario government issued the earliest licenses to protect the largely non-motoring public from the "dangers" of the automobile, which could move faster than the more common horse drawn traffic The first licenses were made of leather, with house numbers attached. The government issued only 713 of these before replacing them with rubber plates in 1906.
City of Toronto, Larry Becker Collection [2000.5.4611]
The Ouimetoscope, Canada's first theatre dedicated exclusively to moving pictures, opens its doors in Montreal, Quebec.
The Ouimetoscope was named for its owner, Léo-Ernest Ouimet, who correctly anticipated the public's growing fascination with moving pictures. The theatre presented films from Canada and the United States, including some of Ouimet's own short, documentary-style films.
Collection Cinémathèque québécoise.
Canada's first gas station opens in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Before the emergence of specialized gas stations, motorists would have to get their "fill-ups" at oil distribution terminals located on the outskirts of towns and cities. As demand increased, curb-side stations became more common. Oil companies, wanting to attract more customers, recognized the importance of creating a unique brand and style for their stations.
Glenbow Archives, IP-12-1-1
The Silver Dart flies nearly 800 metres in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, marking Canada's first powered flight.
The Silver Dart's flight took place on the ice of Baddeck Bay, Nova Scotia. It rose nine metres in the air, and flew at 65 km an hour, making Canadian aviation history.
Photo: Feb. 24, 1909
Parks Canada/ Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site of Canada