From the sun-dappled forests of Vancouver Island to the towering granite cliffs of Newfoundland, this weekend Canadians will be celebrating the 150th birthday of this great nation.
As proud as I am of this anniversary, I would like to recognize another milestone that is worthy of celebration — the 150th anniversary of the first automobile built in Canada.
The first documented automobile built in Canada took place in the same year as Confederation, 1867, in Stanstead, Que. That’s where local jeweller and clockmaker, Henry Seth Taylor, designed and built a steam buggy.
Taylor exhibited his new invention at a local fair, where it raced against trotting horses. The Stanstead Journal wrote about this new invention: “This mechanical curiosity is the neatest thing of the kind yet invented.”
For several years afterward, Taylor toured the local countryside in his steam buggy, but he eventually lost interest in his invention and put it into storage. Taylor’s steam buggy survives to this day: it was displayed at the 2015 Canadian International AutoShow, and its permanent home is at the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa.
In 1893, William Still and Frederick B. Fetherstonhaugh designed and built Canada’s first electric vehicle in Toronto, and in 1896, George Foote Foss from Sherbrooke, Que., built the first successful gasoline-powered automobile in Canada.
Then, in 1904, Henry Ford established Ford of Canada in Walkerville, Ont., and began producing Model Ts in 1908. In 1907, Sam McLaughlin founded the McLaughlin Motor Car Company in Oshawa.
Since the early 20th century, the Canadian auto industry has become a major engine of our economy. Ontario is home to five of the world’s top automakers (Ford, Chrysler, General Motors, Honda and Toyota) and more than 350 parts manufacturers. The industry employs 90,000 skilled workers who produce 2.5 million vehicles per year.
Canada-wide, the auto industry is responsible for 440,000 high-skilled, high-paying Canadian jobs directly and indirectly, and contributes enormously to our economic prosperity.
When I think about the history of the automobile, I think about the freedoms and opportunities that this sector has afforded millions of Canadians. The automobile has allowed us to travel to and from work, to shuttle our children to their activities, discover incredible parks and natural wonders, and to do so in a level of comfort that would have been inconceivable a generation ago. The automobile is even more essential in rural communities, where public transportation is lacking and car ownership is a necessity.
Trains, telephones, radios, TVs and the Internet have done much to unite Canadians from coast to coast. However, the automobile has also been a huge contributor to Canadian unity over the last century — imagine how isolated our lives and communities would be without cars.
I couldn’t write a column about the 150th anniversary of the automobile in Canada without acknowledging the tremendous efforts of the men and women who work in the retail car sector. Approximately 150,000 people work at dealerships across Canada, in an industry that is thriving and ripe with career opportunities.
Registered car dealerships are equal opportunity employers. They conduct business in multiple languages and appeal to customers from many ethnic backgrounds. Dealerships are often a major employer in their towns and cities and contribute immensely to the prosperity of their communities.
This Canada Day, take a moment to appreciate the importance of the automobile in helping to shape our great nation. Indeed, automobiles have come a long way since Henry Seth Taylor drove his steam buggy in the Quebec countryside in 1867.
On behalf of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association, Happy Canada Day!
This column represents the views and values of the TADA. Write to [email protected] or go to tada.ca. Larry Lantz is president of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association and is a new-car dealer in Hanover, Ont.