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Would you like to drive an automobile?

March 2, 2022

Camping at Coboconk with an Automobile and a Canoe

They could reach shocking speeds like 45 miles an hour!

From its start the automobile was a revolutionary technology—up to that point, most people walked or took horses (with a sleigh, waggon, or buggy) to travel. Steamships and railways were faster, but only went on a limited route—they were most commonly used for long distance travel. A Bury’s Green farmer recalled when his family needed something from Lindsay, walking all night to get there, making the purchase, then walking all day to get home. With an automobile the same trip might be accomplished in an hour or two—few people would be reckless enough to drive 40 miles an hour the whole way! An automobile could go almost anywhere, quickly.

Not everyone was sure about the new, loud machines chugging down the road—the Model-T Ford engine had a recognizable pulse to it. Signs were posted at bridges imploring “Motors Go Slow.” What could be more shocking than having an automobile racing across a one lane bridge? In 1909 only chauffeurs (people who drove cars owned by others) needed a permit, but by 1927 Ontario decided that all drivers should be licenced. In Fenelon Falls driver’s licences were issued at Burgoyne’s Store on Colborne Street.

Not everyone was so worried about the dangers of automobiles. For years, a favourite winter pastime for youth was to grab on to a sleigh as it passed, and slide behind it down the snowy street—it was kind of like waterskiing on snow. With automobiles, this sport became altogether more maniacally fun!

Early on, roads were not plowed in winter (the snow was helpful for sleighs), so automobiles could not travel once there had been a significant accumulation. Through the 1920s, many motorists put their vehicle away for winter.

Driving was not for everyone—to be a driver, you needed to be prepared to fix your car. There was a pretty good chance of having to stop and make a repair on a long journey, like Toronto to the Kawarthas. Up to the 1970s, when radial tires became the norm, blowing a tire was a regular occurrence, hence the custom of always carrying a spare. Service stations were actually service stations, because the car would frequently needed more than just gas. There were not networks of car part suppliers, the mechanics at a garage had to know how to fix malfunctioning parts. But even if you blew a tire, driving an automobile was still probably the fastest way to go from Toronto to the Kawarthas.

The popular Model T started with a crank, and it was a skill to get it running. With everything that was entailed, many people chose not to drive—in a famous example, Robert Moses, a designer who did so much to spread freeways in the United States, did not himself have a driver’s licence. Given the gender expectations of the day, female drivers were special indeed.

Check out Maryboro Lodge’s collection of driver’s and chauffeur’s permits. Your ancestor’s licence might be there:

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