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Friday, April 10, 2015

Prince Edward Island bans automobiles 1908-1919

 McLaughlin built carriages and automobiles.  Prices for the 1908 models ranged from $1,050 to $2,750. The company turned out 154 automobiles that year.

Prince Edward Island entered the 20th Century as the most rural of the nine provinces in the Dominion of Canada. When noses were counted in the 1901 census, PEI boasted 103,259 residents, of whom 86 percent lived in the countryside.  The primary form of transportation was the horse--and the island was home to more than 30,000 of them.

Motor vehicles began to arrive on the island’s shores. In 1901 a group of businessmen in Charlottetown bought a ten-passenger conveyance.  A second vehicle arrived in 1902 and a third in 1905. By 1908, that total had reached the alarming number of seven.

Automobiles were loud and noisy. These fast-moving explosions on wheels frightened horses and were the cause of many accidents.  The automobile’s presence negatively impacted the Island’s economy, causing it to suffer significantly. Folks were afraid to travel to town on market days for fear of being injured when a car spooked their horses. Church attendance dropped dramatically and people stopped visiting each other. Outraged residents demanded that the legislature do something to stop the destruction of their traditional way of life. Because they were prohibitively expensive, automobiles were an easy target for angry people. Most viewed them as toys for the wealthy, far out of the reach of the average Islander.
Ford introduced the Model T to Canadians in October of 1908. The four-seat touring car cost $975, f.o.b., Ford, Ontario.

Ford introduced the Model T to Canadians in October of 1908. The four-seat touring car cost $975, f.o.b., Ford, Ontario.

Newspapers were filled with angry letters to editors in favour of a ban on automobiles.  When the issue came before the Legislative Assembly, The Liberal M.L.A. for Belfast, David  P. Irving, rose in Province House to speak. The farmer said, “There will be no hardship inflicted by suppressing them (automobiles). They are owned by men of wealth and leisure who force the public off the road.” The notion was so popular that on March 26, 1908 the Assembly passed a law banning automobiles from the province’s highways and byways.
It certainly seemed like a good solution at the time. The entire country was mired in a business depression. Few, if any PE Islanders were ever going to buy a fancy motorcar.  With the ban in place, life returned to normal and everyone heaved a sigh of relief.

However, cars were not a passing fad. Mass production lowered the cost considerably. Farmers in the rest of Canada were quick to recognize the value of motorized vehicles and modernized their businesses. Islanders continue to resist, despite the rapidly changing times.

Pressure was applied to repeal the law or to at least modify it. The fact driven home most often by business owners was the provincial economy was missing out on an estimated $90,000 of new tourist dollars the automobile had created. It was a fact that could no longer be ignored at Province House. MLAs voted to modify the ban in 1913. The new law permitted motoring on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.  Tourists were pleased and business owners delighted.

 Farmers and ordinary citizens felt betrayed, referring to Members of the Legislative Assembly as ‘Simon Peters and Judas Iscariots.’ They blockaded roads on ‘driving days.’

Obeying the new law was complicated. From Elmira to Tignish, each community, through its school districts, held jurisdiction over its own roads. Some permitted automobile travel while others upheld the old ban. Driving from one destination to another was challenging. Ingenuity was required on the part of early motorists. Where cars were not allowed, they had to be pulled by horses or loaded onto railway flatcars. 

Life continued to change. Automobile ownership proliferated as Islanders benefitted from new wealth, primarily from the additions of fox farming and mink ranching.  Ford opened an assembly plaint in Saint John, New Brunswick and announced it would ship vehicles to PEI by the Intercolonial Railway.

Canada went to war in 1914. Cars, trucks and tractors were the newest weapons of war and every farmer was enlisted as a home front soldier supplying food to the Empire.  They needed the mechanical helpers. One out of every four able-bodied men were serving overseas and farm labour was as scarce as hen’s teeth.

With time, people got used to automobiles. Horses were no longer frightened of them. By 1919 public opinion about the automobile had shifted significantly and the government revoked the law.

 Anne of Green Gables is published this year. The story of the little red-headed orphan who comes to live on Prince Edward Island will become a worldwide classic.

Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!

Copyright James C. Mays 2015 All rights reserved.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Good story, it reflects my research for Ban The Automobile-Instrument of Death. The only part that doesn't appear to be accurate is that it frightened horses and caused many accident. The research doesn't support this, only a couple of accidents were attributed to the automobile. Some people said the men were more afraid of the auto than the horses, and their action caused most of the accidents.

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