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Canada's oldest car still on show

You can see this 1867 car today at the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa.

By Bill Roebuck

Henry Seth Taylor steam engine is Canada's oldest car, built in 1867.The first car ever built in Canada was constructed over a period of seven years, finally being completed the same year as the country's confederation, 1867.

Its creator was an jeweller and inventor, Henry Seth Taylor, who built it in the small English-speaking Eastern Townships village of Stanstead, Que.

Taylor first displayed his revamped horse-drawn carriage with its steam engine at a fall fair in Stanstead. But he didn't get off to a good start. During that first demonstration, a hose burst and engulfed the car -- and Taylor -- in steam. As a result, many who saw it dismissed the vehicle as just a mechanical curiosity.

After towing it back to his farm for repairs, Taylor continued to show his steam powered car at various fairs and events in Canada and the United States.

Henry Seth Taylor in about 1875.Taylor's car -- powered by a coal-fired boiler mounted on the rear, with a water tank located over the front axle for balance -- could travel at speeds up to 15 mph. The two-cylinder steam engine, which operated at a pressure of 60 lb, was connected to the rear wheels using crankshafts.

There was a single seat for the driver and a steering tiller for control. The total weight of the car was just 500 lb. The vehicle could be operated both forwards and backwards, but curiously, had no brakes installed.

The lack of brakes resulted in a big crash after Taylor lost control going down a hill. He then abandoned the car in his family's barn. It was rediscovered when the farm was sold in 1959 and it was sold the following year to Richard M. Stewart, at the time the president of the Anaconda American Brass Co. in Connecticut,

Only the original chassis was left as the wooden parts had rotted. Stewart restored the vehicle based on an 1867 photograph. That took four years, according to Suzanne Beauvais, interim curator of the Transportation Section of the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa, where the car now resides.

Henry Seth Taylor steam engine is Canada's oldest car, built in 1867.The Seth Taylor car came back to Canada a few years later, in 1967, when it was loaned by Stewart to the Ontario Centre of Science and Technology (now the Ontario Science Centre) in Toronto. Later still, it was acquired by the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa in 1983.

The Henry Seth Taylor steam buggy is today part of the Land Transportation collection of the museum, which also houses other early cars manufactured in Canada, including a Le Roy, a Comet, some McLaughlin Buick cars made for Royal visits, a Popemobile, and others.

Canada's first car was honoured in 1993 by being depicted on a Canada Post stamp and again in 2000 on a $20 sterling silver coin issued by the Royal Canadian Mint as part of its Land, Sea & Rail Coins collection.

Beauvais noted that the vehicle was loaned again, in October 2008, to be exhibited at an Art of the Automobile event in Odgen, Que., a short distance from Stanstead, where the car was originally built.

Bill Roebuck is the editor of CarTest!


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