Canadian Transportation Museum
Canadian Transportation Museum. Click image to enlarge

Story and photo by Bill Vance

One of the best kept Canadian automotive secrets is tucked away on one hundred peaceful acres of Southwestern Ontario’s Essex County flatland. It’s the Canadian Transportation Museum and Heritage Village located at 6155 Arner Townline between Kingsville and Harrow some 40 kilometres southeast of Windsor.

The museum is a labour of love, the realization of a dream for members of the Windsor Chapter of the Historic Vehicle Society of Ontario. A registered non-profit organization owned by the HVSO, it represents the club’s long held desire to establish a museum covering all modes of road transport.

The site and 20 buildings are administered and operated by a volunteer board of directors, along with a small paid staff. Financing comes from admissions, donations, craft shows, flea markets, gift shop, hall rentals and car shows, plus an annual sale of about 50 cords of firewood from its own woodlot. A 1950s style diner boosts revenue and there is some government assistance. Initial seed money of $1.6 million came from long time member Don Beneteau and his wife Eileen.

Its 22,000 square foot main building houses a collection as diverse as wheeled transportation itself. It includes an 1800s log wagon, an example of a Red River cart, which was Canada’s first successful two-wheeled vehicle, usually drawn by oxen, a horse-drawn 1914 Mitchell funeral coach/hearse (white horses for children, black for adults), right up to a mighty modern machine in the form of a 1992 10-cylinder, 400 horsepower Dodge Viper sports car.

In addition to its vehicles, the historic village has log cabins, a combination barber shop-cobbler shop, jail, general store, doctor’s office, one-room school, town hall, church and train station, all from the 1800 to 1930 period.

Among the significant structures is the Jack Miner homestead that was moved from Kingsville and restored to an exact representation of when the Miner family lived there in the late 19th and early 20th century.

“Wild Goose Jack” Miner was a skilful hunter until a hunting accident killed his brother. He turned to preservation and became a famous Canadian conservationist lecturing across North America and Europe. Miner was an early bird bander and anti-water pollution advocate, and in 1908 established one of the first bird sanctuaries in North America. Henry Ford was a friend and patron so it ties in nicely with the museum’s transportation mandate.

There is a Ford Model T on display, the “car that put the world on wheels.” With more than 15 million built over a 20 year span, it banished rural isolation, and its price fulfilled Henry Ford’s dream of bringing mobility to the masses. Model T production was second only to the Volkswagen Beetle’s 22 million.

There is also a 1923 Ford Model T truck that was owned by a local company, Moir Cartage, and said to be the first truck to carry a commercial load across the newly opened Windsor-Detroit Ambassador Bridge in 1929.

A 1921 Gray Dort is on display produced in nearby Chatham, Ontario. Gray Dort, was a spin-off of the Dort car built in Flint, Michigan. The Gray family, prominent carriage builders, built a popular Canadianized version of the Dort from 1915 to 1925.

Windsor and Walkerville, now combined, were important centres of automobile production from the early days. Prominent were Ford, Chrysler and Studebaker, and a Walkerville-built 1913 Studebaker is shown.

The Wardsville-built 1893 Shamrock is said to be the first car registered in south-western Ontario. Typical of so many early aspiring entrepreneurs, only one was produced.

International-Harvester is well known for its farm machinery and trucks. Not so well known is that it also produced high-wheeled cars for a few years in the early 1900s. A 1910 International Model A Auto Wagon is on display.

The more than 40 vehicles include a popular Ford 8N tractor, a model-T based auto-trac (car converted into a tractor), a 1975 Canadian-made Bricklin, 1950 Bentley Mark VI, a gigantic 1959 Cadillac Coupe deVille, a 1920 Dodge with a sliding “fat man” steering wheel, a 1922 Marmon and a 1925 LaFrance Windsor Fire Department fire engine. One example of how the museum gets its displays is a 1937 Ford two-door coach donated by William Conklin, a Kingsville lumber dealer. It was the only car he ever owned.

Another example is the donation of three beautiful delivery vehicles by Schneider Foods of Kitchener, Ontario: a 1913 Ford panel truck, a ’31 Ford panel and a ’50 Chevrolet sedan delivery. Some cars are loaned to the museum by owners for a period of time.

There is even a four-man, manually propelled railroad handcar used for track maintenance. To make it go the workers pumped up and down on a teeter-totter-like handle. Needless to say it was light enough for quick removal from the track when a train approached.

The museum and village are just what the owners wanted: a place to quietly and peacefully view interesting Canadian transportation and social history. It’s well worth a visit, and a relaxing meal or snack can be had in the diner. Admission is modest. To learn more go to www.ctmhv.com

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