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How Automobiles Hitting Granite In 1906 Launched The Auto Show In Canada

1904 Curved Dash Oldsmobile at Cobble Beach Display at 2020 CIAS
Photo Credit: Chris Nagy/Car FYI Canada



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As February passed this year Toronto’s auto show, a mainstay of the winter entertainment calendar, was one of many events forced into cancellation as we deal with our fight to conquer COVID-19. Missing out on occasions and interactions we have almost taken for granted has hopefully presented the thoughts to us all realizing just how precious those moments are. Reflecting on the past of the Canadian International AutoShow drove me to the event’s deepest origin. Though the current iteration of the exhibition dates back to 1974, the show that first acquainted Canada with the automobile in a large scale occurred 115 years ago.  


In 1906, Toronto was growing rapidly on numerous fronts. The population in the direct city area exploded from 208,000 in 1901 to 376,500 by 1911. In addition to newcomers calling Toronto home in that first decade of the 20th century, city limits expanded through several annexations since 1883. As an epicentre of growth, a world of new technologies would enable residents to unite better than ever before. The innovation of the automobile was initially appreciated as novelty for the rich and affluent was on the brink of becoming an all-too familiar part of the good city.


On a cold Saturday afternoon where the mercury barely pushed above the freezing point on the Celsius scale, the first organized display of automobiles and motor boats in Canada. A monumental gathering organized by the Toronto Automobile Club held at the Granite Rink located at the time on Church Street between Gloucester Street and Wellesley Street, the coolness of an early spring day could not hold the heat of a blossoming culture surrounding the motorized machines.


Granite Rink Area on 1903 City of Toronto Fire Insurance Plans Map




As the crowd convened for the major exhibition, president of the Toronto Automobile Club M.C. Ellis opened the show by addressing the 9th Lieutenant Government of Ontario Sir William Mortimer Clark. In the address commemorating the occasion, Ellis commented in part, “At present in its infancy, it is developing so fast that no man can foretell the greatness of tis future or predict with certainty the extent of the revolution it will work in transit and traffic, and in agricultural operations.”


A total of 20 automakers represented the best of motoring in 1906 at the first show of its kind in Canada with some emerging into titans and others fading into obscurity in a strife for early automobile customers. A few of the marques appearing at the Toronto show that would be the earliest to lose the battle in the auto market was Marion and Royal Tourist. Operating from 1904 to 1914, Marion built an automobile powered by an air-cooled four-cylinder engine. Royal Tourist was a Cleveland, Ohio automaker also founded in 1904 that arrived at the 1906 auto show with a 40-horsepower Model G. Pope-Toledo, Stevens-Duryea, Stoddard-Dayton and Winton were other brands on display at the Granite Rink that never rose to became household names. Other names such as Pierce-Arrow, Packard, Peerless and Thomas (who presented one their famed Flyer Touring Car at the car show) would make a bigger impact in the early 20th century but eventually closed.  


While American auto companies made up the majority of the 1906 Toronto auto show, there were also vehicles representing the European continent. Star and Humber (a brand that would run until 1976) came from the United Kingdom while Darracq was a French-founded, London-based auto maker producing the Type R 10/12 in 1906. This first Canadian auto show also featured a new local automaker. Russell Motor Car Company was established in 1905 by the Canadian Cycle and Motor Company and began production of the 12-horsepower Model A that sold for $1,300 Canadian in 1906 (the equivalent of roughly $38,000 in 2021). More powerful and larger Model B and Model C models were also introduced by Russell by the time of the exhibition.


Postcard capturing Russell Model A on University of Toronto Property




The reality of an automobile marketplace depending on fully electric vehicles has been the key focus of modern auto shows as many automakers cement intentions of producing multiple electrified models in addition to existing options in 2021 such as the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Bolt EV, Ford Mustang Mach-E and the lineup from Tesla Motors. This came after years of car shows where an electric vehicle from a major auto company was relegated to the stage of a flashy concept car. In 1906, the Pope Motor Car Company of Indianapolis, Indiana offered a fully electric range of Waverley horseless carriages with open cabin and enclosed models available. In the later years of Waverley, Canadian customers could buy the electric car through the T. Eaton Company catalogue. The Waverley name would disappear after 1916 as gasoline-powered automobiles won the public relations fight at the beginning of the last century.

  

At the time of the auto show, Henry Ford was still working his way through the alphabet towards the Model T that would arrive in 1908. By 1906, Ford Motor Company of Canada concluded production of their first product, the Model C, and was swapping the assembly lines to the Model N that would be produced for two years. Though greatly eclipsed by the Model T, total global production for the affordable Ford Model N was respectable amounting to roughly 7,000 vehicles.

 

Part of the committee that organized the first auto show in Toronto, William Hyslop would be a major fixture in mobilizing the city in the early decades of the 20th century as part of the Hyslop Brothers. Established for the sale of bicycles, Hyslop Brothers emerged as a name in auto parts and equipment as well as the agents for the sale of Cadillac and Oldsmobile. By 1906, customers of Cadillac were first offered a choice of a closed-body configuration inspired by the 1905 Osceola prototype.


Picture of Cadillac founder Henry M. Leland with 1905 Osceola (Photo Credit: Cadillac/General Motors)




In addition to the automobiles at the Granite Rink, the space contained several accessory suppliers for cars and motor boats. Dunlop Tire and Rubber Company, Canadian General Electric, Jones Speedometer and Canada Lock Nut Company and Toronto Gas and Gasoline Engine Company were among the exhibitors on the grounds. Also present at the 1906 auto show was the mighty T. Eaton Company tempting prospective automotive customers with their array of driving apparel such as coats, gloves, hats as well as goggles for men and women.

 

As the first auto show in Canada generated fanfare, the platform for displaying the potential of motoring quickly expanded beyond the gathering on Church Street (today Barbara Hall Park stands on the former site of the Granite Rink. From April 9th to April 14th, the Mutual Street Rink (soon to be the site of Arena Gardens, the first home to the Toronto Maple Leafs) would hold the Canada Automobile and Motor Exhibition. Before the end of the month of April, the auto show craze would reach Montreal.


Reflecting on the story of how rapidly the seed of the first auto show in Canada 115 years ago grew to such a vast, lush automotive world, there should be great optimism momentum will shift back to finding the automobile as a source of fascination entering deeper into its second century of existence.




Special thanks to City of Toronto Archives for assistance in locating the fire insurance plans maps

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