In case you’ve

From Arrowheads / To Anvils



The Rise of the Automobile

Akshat Passi

Date / August 11, 2023

The history of automobiles in Alberta dates back to 1904 when the Ford Motor Company of Canada Limited set up shop in Ontario, where they constructed and sold vehicles throughout Canada. That year they produced a mere 117 cars1, but that was just the start. Slowly but inevitably, the motor vehicle would become an essential part of everyday life. In Alberta alone, vehicle registrations would reach new heights in the 1920s with 38,015(1920), 40,255(1921) 40,642(1922) 44,841(1923) and 51,148(1924)2. The increase in automobile ownership corresponded with work on major highways, such as in 1922 when the Banff-Windermere highway was completed. This opened access to the BC interior and allowed for long distances to be covered relatively quicker.

Many people began to champion the automobile as the future, as it transitioned from pleasure for the rich to everyday convenience. Vehicles began to be used by businessmen and farmers alike, becoming a regular sight. By 1931, 41,025 farms were reported in the Alberta Census of Agriculture to own an automobile up from 27,419 in 19263. The trends were clear, people wanted to own cars, and many manufacturers had been set up to offer competitive prices and value to many Albertans. As automobiles became more popular so did the motorist identity. In 1926, the Alberta Motor League was formed with the help of many motor clubs from Calgary to Edmonton. They focused on providing motorists with products, services, and lobbying for their interests in the legislature. This group would eventually become the Alberta Motor Association (AMA)4.

A major hurdle in the affordability of automobiles during this time was the onset of the Great Depression. Starting in 1929 it had an immediate effect on the ability of regular Albertans to afford vehicles. This caused the production of new vehicles to drop drastically, from a peak of 203,307 cars in 1929, to 121,337 in 1930 and 65,072 in 19315. It wouldn’t be until the post-war era that the passenger car would once again become within reach of regular Canadians. Additionally, the wartime industry would bring new innovative ideas to the civilian world as it moved on from military production.

Starting in the 60s-70s many large highways would be completed such as Highway #2/QEII and the Trans-Canada Highway. The automobile industry would continue to grow and develop into the 70s and 80s when the oil boom would transform Calgary, Edmonton and nearby towns like Airdrie into hotspots for people around the country. Airdrie saw a massive population boom in the late 70s when the population went from roughly 1000 people to over 12,000 6.

Here at the Museum, we can see many of the automobiles from throughout the decades, especially the earlier periods.

1914 Ford Model ‘T’ Roadster

The Model T was the best-selling automotive of its time. Known for its affordability, it sold over 15 million units 7








1964 Mercury Montclair 8,9

A sportier and larger car, the 1964 Mercury Montclair was fashionable in the 60s. It was the fourth Generation of the Montclair before being discontinued in 1968.




1913 Overland Model 69 Tour 10

Overland was known to build cars ahead of their time.  A great example was removable ignition plugs in early models to prevent theft of Automobiles!








1918 McLaughlin E-45 11

Mclaughlin was infamous in Alberta as Emilio Picariello, used McLaughlin’s-Buicks to transport illegal liquor from British Columbia into Alberta and Montana during the Prohibition of 1916/1917. This was also the last model year before McLaughlin was purchased by General Motors in 1918.






    a. The Automobile Industry in Canada – 1924, page 8, table 11
    a. Alberta Census of Agriculture 1931, page 22, table 18
    a. The Automobile Industry in Canada – 1940, page 5, table 1

Stories We Recommend