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The early 20th century was a period of rapid change as technological advances were felt in industry and in the home. The Brownie camera and the phonograph appeared in the early 1900s, along with the first feature film. The first plastic for domestic use – Bakelite – was introduced in 1909 and used in casings and housings for small appliances, as well as dishware. Ford began the mass production of the Model T in 1909 and, soon after, it was available for purchase by the middle classes. Developments in electrical generation and distribution meant that Canadians could now have electricity. In this 10-year period, the world saw a series of remarkable firsts – the first successful powered flight, the beginning of construction on the Panama Canal, commercial colour photography, and the first windshield wipers.


The Reo Touring Car, Reo Motor Car Company, St. Catharines, Ontario


The Reo Motor Car Co. opens a division in St. Catharine's Ontario.

The Reo Motor Car Co was established by Ransom E. Olds (his initials form the name REO), after he left the Olds Motor Works in 1904. The company set up shop in the vacant Oldsmobile factory in St. Catharines, Ontario. The Reo touring was one of the first models built in the St. Catharines plant. The Canadian branch of the company switched to wartime production in 1914. The plant closed its doors in 1915.

Photo: Canada Science and Technology Museum 1975.0218

McLaughlin-Buick 33 5-Passenger Touring Car, McLaughlin Motor Car Company Ltd., Oshawa, Ontario


The McLaughlin-Buick Model 33 from the Canada Science and Technology Museum Collection.

The model 33 was only built for the 1911 model year.

It was a replacement for the model 10 of the previous year and had only one body style; the 5- passenger touring car.

Photo: Canada Science and Technology Museum 1968.0102

The Russell Model 14-28, 'Made up to standard not down to a price!' - Russell Motor Car Company, Toronto, Ontario


The Russell's body and engine are designed in Toronto until 1910.

Later models, designed for an upscale market, were equipped with quiet Knight engines, imported from the United States.

Photo: Canada Science and Technology Museum 1996.0569

Ford Model T- a “world car” built in Canada, Ford Motor Company of Canada Ltd, Walkerville, Ontario


The low price of the Model T makes car ownership a reality for many Canadian families.

Henry Ford wanted to "build a car for the great multitude," and he succeeded. The Model T was both reliable and affordable. The key to its low price was the system of assembly line mass production pioneered by Ford.

Photo: Ford Motor Company of Canada Ltd

Bartlett 5 Passenger Touring car,  Canadian Bartlett Automobile Co. Ltd., Stratford, Ontario


Bartlett automobiles have the first four-wheel brake and air suspension systems in Canada.

The brake system was so successful that while testing the first prototype in Toronto, company founder R.C. Bartlett caused a 26 car accident after stopping suddenly. It is believed to be the City's first multiple vehicle collision. At the beginning of WWI, the US government had taken over production shops in the US, cancelling most existing contracts. One of those firms affected was Bartlett's supplier leaving him without a source of engines, transmissions, or axles, all of which came from the US. The Canadian Bartlett Company went out of business in 1917.

Photo: Canada Science and Technology Museum 1977.0280

Willys-Overland Model 90, Willys-Overland Ltd.,Toronto, Ontario


Willys-Overland begins producing at their Toronto plant in 1915.

The model 90 was first introduced in the US in 1917, as an attempt to compete with Ford. Although designed in the US, this model has a Canadian-built custom body. By the time the depression hit in 1929, sales in Canada, and more generally in the US, had declined significantly. Despite attempts to recuperate sales, production in Canada stopped in 1933.

Photo: Canada Science and Technology Museum 1975.0719

In The News

Thomas W. Wilby, the “Pathfinder”, on his journey from Halifax to Victoria, Canada


Thomas Wilby and F.V. Haney make the first cross-Canada trip by car, travelling from Halifax to Victoria in 52 days in a Canadian-built Reo.

The trip was intended to publicize the need for an “All-Red Route,” or highway, which would run through southern Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Photo: 1912
Patent and Copyright Office / Library and Archives Canada / PA-029915

Trench on the Canadian Front with Funk-Holes.


Britain declares war on Germany, and the first Canadian troops leave for England.

When Britain went to war, Canada, as a colony, did as well. The first division of Canadian troops travelled to England in late 1914, and saw combat for the first time in Ypres, Belgium, in April 1915. Canada's efforts throughout the war had earned it a new status as a nation with an identity separate from Britain. In fact, Canada lobbied for its own seat at the Paris Peace Conference where the terms of the German surrender were negotiated.

Photo: May 1917
W.I. Castle / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-001326

The Centre Block burns to the ground, despite firefighters' efforts to put the fire out with water.


The Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings is destroyed by fire.

The Parliamentary Library escaped destruction due to the actions of a quick-thinking employee who closed the doors, thus preventing the flames from reaching the library. Seven lives were lost in the blaze. Construction on the current Centre Block began almost immediately and was finished in 1927, along with the Peace Tower.

Photo: 1916
William James Topley / Library and Archives Canada / PA-009234

The National War Memorial with the Château Laurier in the background; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada


Germany signs an armistice at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, officially bringing an end to the First World War. Today, November 11 is known in Canada as Remembrance Day.

Some 65 million soldiers from 30 nations were involved in the war from the summer of 1914, to the Armistice of 1918. Roughly 10 million were killed, and a further 29 million were wounded, captured, or missing. Canada sent a total of 619,636 men and women to war. Of these, 66,655 were killed and another 172,950 were wounded.

Photo: Canada Science and Technology Museum, CN Collection, CN006012

Pop Culture

Kettering with a 1913 Buick


The first electric car starter is invented by Charles F. Kettering.

The "self starting ignition" system was first installed in a Cadillac on February 17, 1911. The invention meant that car owners no longer had to hand-crank their vehicles to start them, saving both time and effort.

Photo: ca. 1913
Kettering University Archives, Flint, Michigan

The Titanic preparing to depart Southampton on her maiden voyage, April 10, 1912.


The Titanic sinks off the coast of Newfoundland on April 12, after striking an iceberg.

In the hours and days following the sinking, ships, crews, and officials from Halifax were responsible for the recovery efforts. Of the 2,223 people on board, 1,517 lost their lives. Only 333 bodies were ever recovered, and many of these were buried in Halifax. The story of the Titanic, which has been portrayed in movies and books, has fascinated people for almost a century. The discovery of the wreckage in 1985, 4 km beneath the ocean's surface, helped to revive public interest.

Photo: Michael W. Pocock

Dr. Emily Stowe


Canadian suffragettes hold a mock parliament in Winnipeg to agitate for votes for women.

The Wartime Elections Act of 1917 gave voting rights to women serving in the military and those with relatives who were serving, but only as a means of gaining support for conscription. Through the dedicated activism of the suffragettes, the right to vote in federal elections was extended to all women 21 years of age and over, through the passing of the Canada Elections Act on May 24, 1918. Provincial elections were another matter. Manitoba was the first province to allow women to vote provincially in 1916, but by 1918, less than half of the provinces and territories had extended the vote to women. By 1951, the Northwest Territories joined the other regions of Canada by allowing women to vote.

Photo: Archives of Ontario

A page from the Waters-Genter Toastmaster pamphlet


Charles Strite invents one of the first pop-up toasters.

Strite was a mechanic at a plant in Minnesota who often ate toast in the company cafeteria. To ensure that the toast didn't burn, he invented a toaster, with springs and a variable timer. The variable timer allowed the toast to brown without burning. The machine did not need to be monitored while in use as the springs popped the toast up when it was done. Strite intended to sell his pop-up toaster in restaurants. By the mid 1920s, other makers were producing pop-up toasters for use in homes across North America.

Illustration: 1926
Henry Ford Museum