Canada's first, and one of the world's first (and much better than rivals) electric car on display at at Toronto auto show in 1912

Canada's first, and one of the world's first (and much better than rivals) electric car on display at at Toronto Arnouries auto show in 1912. it is ppictured alongside another vehcile possibly and early Ford electric.
Photo Credit: Toronto Archives onds 1244, Item 56.

History: Canada’s first electric car Dec 05 1893

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This one is a little harder to pin down to an exact date but some reports say that on this day back in 1893, the first electric car in Canada made its debut at the Dixon Carriage works in Toronto. (some records have the date as Dec 06 1896)

FB Fetherstonaugh, patent lawyer in Mimico (Toronto) circa 1891
FB Fetherstonaugh, patent lawyer in Mimico (Toronto) circa 1891 © wiki

While cars were still very much in their infancy, electric vehicles would be competing with steam and the new-fangled petroleum engines.

Frederick Fetherstonaugh, was a young patent lawyer in Toronto, Ontario, fascinated with technology, and I suppose influenced by the many patent applications for new inventions he was constantly seeing.

Electricity was in its infancy but growing rapidly in a variety of uses and new inventions.  Apparently the young lawyer had one of the first homes with electricity.

When William Still came in to talk about his invention of a improved battery, they began talking about a fascination with the horseless carriage.

Steam power was a bit dangerous with its high pressures, and gasoline was noisy and smelly, and both could be messy and not too reliable either.

Electricity, already powering the city tramway, was clean, quiet, and ..not messy.

U.S. Patent No. 517,668 submitted in Mar 1893 by WJ Still and drafted by FB Fetherstonaugh
U.S. Patent No. 517,668 submitted in Mar 1893 by WJ Still and drafted by FB Fetherstonaugh a perspctive of the motor © US Patent

Still was soon designing a motor for power and battery system for their car, with that completed, they contracted the highly reputed Dixon’s Carriage Works in Toronto to build a body around Still’s power plant, which was patented in Canada in 1893 and the US in 1894.

Fig. 2, is a plan one half being top plan and the other half sectional. Fig. 3, is an elevation one half being an end elevation and the other half a sectional elevation through the commutator.
Fig. 2, is a plan one half being top plan and the other half sectional. Fig. 3, is an elevation one half being an end elevation and the other half a sectional elevation through the commutator.
Schematic from the patent application 4:, is an enlarged diagrammatic view showing the commutator and brushes in section and the general arrangement and connection of the wires from the armatures to the commutator. Fig. 5, is a diagrammatic view showing by dotted lines the circle described by the armatures in reference to the ends of the magnets.
Fig 4:, is an enlarged diagrammatic view showing the commutator and brushes in section and the general arrangement and connection of the wires from the armatures to the commutator. Fig. 5, is a diagrammatic view showing by dotted lines the circle described by the armatures in reference to the ends of the magnets.

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It was lighter at less than 350 kilos, than almost any competitor, and possibly much faster with the approximately 4hp motor propelling the carriage up to a speed of about 25km/h.  Depending on versions, the batteries held out for anywhere from one to five hours of use, and could be recharged by attaching wires to the tramway power system overhead lines.

Soon investors were attracted and the first auto syndicate was created, but didn’t last long. It was followed by the Still Motor Company, taken over soon after by another, and when that failed, the building was occupied the the Canadian Cycle and Motor Company. It produced another Canadian car, the Russell, which lasted to about 1916. The CCM brand lived on in bicycles for decades, and is now known for hockey equipment.

A row of Russell motor cars in front of Toronto city hall in 1909. Tommy Russell is seated in the driver's seat of the first car.
A row of Russell motor cars in front of Toronto city hall in 1909. Tommy Russell is seated in the driver’s seat of the first car. © Toronto Reference Library No 966-1-6 Wiki

The young lawyer loved his Still car and continued driving it apparently for the next 15 years., with improvements along the way. The original model had a wagon-like steering from the central point of the front axle, The photo at top shows a later modification of a fixed axle and steering knuckles on each wheel, and added fenders to deflect splashes.

What eventually became of it is not known, but sadly it seems not to have survived.

It is a shame as it certainly seems more advanced than competitors at the time, and more than 120 years later, we are only now starting to realize the potential for electrical power for automobiles.

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One comment on “History: Canada’s first electric car Dec 05 1893
  1. Fabio Tagetti says:

    One just wonders what it could have been of electric cars if only they had been developed instead of switching to internal combustion engine: the first car to reach 100 kms/h was electric… in 1899!

    Fabio Tagetti – Legnago, Italy