Top: Volvo Canadian, photo courtesy of the Museum of Industry. Middle, bottom: Taylor Steam Buggy, photo courtesy of the Canada Science and Technology Museum. Click image to enlarge
Article by Brendan McAleer
In 1912, Thomas Wilby and Jack Haney drove across Canada in a clattery four-cylinder REO. They were not friends at the beginning of the trip, and relations were even more strained after two months behind the wheel.
Moreover, their record doesn’t really count, as they had to take several trains and boats because there was no true Trans-Canada highway at the time. It took until 1946 before a pair of airmen, R.A. MacFarlane and K.A. MacGillivary, were able to traverse the entire length of this vast nation. Of course, they left out Newfoundland, so you could argue that one didn’t count either.
Let’s face it: if there’s one thing Canadians aren’t our usual polite and deferring selves about, it’s how proud we are of just how ridiculously huge our country is. There’s even a rather good song about it by the Arrogant Worms.
To get around the place, we use only the finest automobiles, great big cruisers fitted with powerful engines and luxurious suspensions. No, wait, that’s Americans. Canadians like small cars, possibly because we’re such a bunch of cheapskates, or maybe because we need to save our money for new goalie pads.
I love being a Canadian. I love having a flappy head and little beady eyes, and I love being able to swear at bad drivers in two official languages, and I love the fact that you can leave your driveway and drive for a week, and still be in the same dang country. It’s great.
So, on Canada Day, a look through some of our peculiar motoring history at some of the most Canadian cars ever made. To kick things off, we’re going to have to go even further back than Wilby and Haney’s rather grumpy road trip – flip the switch on the Tim Hortons time machine.
Taylor Steam Buggy
Built in Quebec in 1867, Henry Taylor’s steam buggy looks like most very early cars: it’s basically a wagon with a potbellied stove hanging off the back. Powered by a steam engine making an impressive 1.2 hp, it ran on coal and was capable of hitting 24 km/h.
By modern standards, these aren’t exactly thrilling numbers. However, there was one little timbit of information that made the Taylor Buggy quite a wild ride. It didn’t have brakes.
Naturally, it was crashed almost immediately. Happily though, someone thought to keep the parts stored, and the car was restored in the 1960s, and now resides in the Canadian Science and Technology museum. It’s the sort of thing Jasper from Road to Avonlea would have come up with.
Ford Model T
“Now hang on,” I hear you saying, “That’s not Canadian at all!” True, Henry Ford’s ubiquitous little buggy doesn’t seem especially Canuck-oriented, but they did build them here, and we loved them.
While the early part of the motoring century was filled with other popular machines like the Russell 14-28, which had CCM (the bicycle manufacturer) as a parent company, the Model T was a Canadian favourite.
If you pop the hood on a Canadian-built Tin Lizzie, you’ll also note “made in Canada” stamped right on the cylinder head. Also, many of the cars built here were shipped to the Australian market, so were set up to be switched over to right-hand drive – you can tell a Canadian Model T from a distance because it’ll have doors on both sides; for the most part American-built cars only have a passenger-side door.
Ford Model T; McLaughlin-Buick 28-496, photo by Jil McIntosh. Click image to enlarge
Not a commonly known car, the McLaughlin-Buick is the sort of machine you’ll likely only see at car shows. A luxurious vehicle, one was used by Prince Edward and Prince George to tour the country in 1927, as part of the Diamond Jubilee.
Custom built and shaped in Oshawa, the 28-496 came with a smooth, 77-hp straight-six engine sourced from Buick. General Motors had bought Samuel McLaughlin’s company in 1918, and he would go on to be president of GM’s Canadian division until just after WWII ended, and on its board right up until 1960.
When Prince Ed (can I call you Ed? Ted? Eddie baby? No?) became King Edward VIII, he ordered a McLaughlin as his personal limousine. Later, for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth’s 1939 tour, McLaughlin-Buicks were again used. It might not be a common car, but the 28-496 displays our curious Canadian connection to the British Royal family. Buy one and practice your funny wave.