When P.E.I. was the last holdout against the motorcar

Soon after some of the roads on Prince Edward Island were opened up to automobiles in 1913, this 1912 Hudson was out and about. Unfortunately, no information regarding owner or exact location exists.

Douglas MacDonald Collection


Despite having the first car in Canada, Islanders voted to ban them outright for five years

by  GREG WILLIAMS  | AUGUST 22, 2017

At the turn of the last century, automobiles were busy reshaping North American cities and making travel more convenient. That is, all except in one Canadian province. In the early 1900s, automobiles were banned from the roads of Prince Edward Island.

“When I first heard that, I thought it was ridiculous,” says author Rudy Croken, whose book Ban the Automobile: Instrument of Death, released earlier this summer, shines a light on a little known aspect of P.E.I.’s past.

“When I was growing up, my dad told me about the ban, but I thought it might have been for a month or so,” Croken says. “I had no idea (it was more than a decade-long struggle) to get cars on the road.”

Croken, born and raised on P.E.I., currently lives in the town of Kensington there. Now retired, he spent 32 years as an educator and 23 of those years in administration. With a passion for vintage vehicles, he is also the president of the Prince Edward Island Antique Car Club. In 2010, he thought it might be interesting to take a deeper look at the roots of the automobile on the Island and planned to write a book about 100 years of vehicle history.

Rudy Croken, author of Ban the Automobile: Instrument of Death, with his 1991 Cadillac Brougham d’Elegance. He and his wife, Ruth, just drove the Cadillac across Canada as part of the 2017 edition of the Canadian Coasters Coast to Coast Anniversary Tour.

Instead, when he first began digging into newspapers and other journals from the early 1900s, he discovered a much more intriguing story. Essentially, cars weren’t allowed on Island roads from 1908 to 1913. Even when the ban was repealed, autos could only be driven three days a week, and, “In districts and on roads where 75 per cent of the people signed a petition asking for (vehicles),” Croken says.

But there’s also an ironic twist. “Canadian automobile history started on Prince Edward Island back in December, 1866, with the first horseless carriage brought to the Island by Georges-Antoine Belcourt, parish priest of Rustico,” says Croken. “This was the first car in British North America, now Canada.

“Why would the province that had the first car in Canada turn its back on it 40 years later, and pass a law to ban it from its roads? Why would an invention accepted all over the civilized world not be welcomed on Prince Edward Island?”

Those are questions Croken set out to answer by spending hundreds of hours reviewing all of the Island newspapers. On a microfilm reader, he perused every paper from 1905 to 1919 and also dug into legislative assembly journals.

He wound up with more than 800 pages of research; it took him just over a year, with the help of Clint Morrison of Crescent Isle Publishing, to pare down the information for a 240-page book, which Croken had published this year by Taylor Printing Group in Fredricton, N.B.

“This was a horse culture,” Croken says of the Island in the early 1900s. “We exported horses all across Canada. A lot of the concern about the automobile was about it frightening horses, and many rural islanders felt it would force women and children off the roads.”

By 1907 there were seven cars on the Island, and that was enough to cause trouble. There were no regulations in place governing the automobile, and instead of setting down some rules, in 1908 a bill was brought forward that would completely ban the car from Island roads.

After automobiles were allowed on some of the roads on Prince Edward Island in 1913, this 1911 McKay car was the fifth to be legally

Croken notes, automobiles were routinely referred to in the newspapers as, “Terror Wagons, Instruments of Death and Death Dealing Machines, or worse.

“There was such widespread opposition to the automobile that for any politician to vote in favour of the automobile would mean almost certain defeat in the upcoming election. The vote was 28-0 to have it banned. Thus, while the automobile was accepted by the rest of North America and most of the civilized world, the brakes were applied to it on the Island.”

While rural Islanders felt cars would scare horses, Croken adds that those opposed to the automobile also felt P.E.I.’s roads were too narrow and the car was a ‘foolish fad’.

“Those in favour argued that everyone had equal rights to the roads, horses would soon get over their fright and the automobile would result in improved transportation and roads,” Croken says.

Croken’s Ban the Automobile is packed with information about the 12-year-long struggle that would, in 1919, eventually see cars given unlimited access to the roads of P.E.I.. The book is available directly from the author for $25 a copy, plus shipping. Email Croken at rcroken@pei.sympatico.ca  or call him at 902-836-3897.

Rudy Croken is a longtime supporter and a past Director of the (NAACC) National Association of Automobile Clubs of Canada www.naacc.ca

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