Susanna McLeod

Susanna McLeod

Glimpses of Canadian History : Email:

Canada’s Trucking Industry History

Simpson’s store and Parker’s Dye Works boldly used the new horseless vehicles to enhance their delivery services to customers. They were pioneers of the trucking industry

Parker's Dye Works truck, 1899 - Canada's Automotive Industry, by James Dykes (1)

There weren’t many roads, just dusty, dirt paths, mostly. There were a few paved city streets, but no such things as paved highways, let alone four-lane freeways. But goods were being rapidly manufactured, farm produce grown to be sold quickly, new inventions to be enjoyed. And all the items had to be delivered to customers.

The horse and wagon filled the need for carrier services for decades, but by the late 1890s, innovative horseless carriages were appearing along with cars like Ford’s Model C and Model T. The new commercial vehicle looked similar in shape to the usual carriage but something was missing: there were no horses out front to pull the wheels. Running on electric power, the new trucks could purr along at a steady 14 miles per hour without fuss.

The Number 2 Coach Delivery Wagon

In 1898, the first commercial truck in Ontario was used by the forward-thinking Robert Simpson Company Limited in Toronto, as a delivery wagon for the Canadian department store’s variety of goods. The Number 2 Coach Delivery Wagon was built in the United States by the Fischer Equipment Company in Chicago, Illinois. The electric battery-powered vehicle was “in keeping with Simpson’s leadership in delivery systems” since they were known for using “smart delivery wagons… drawn by matching grey horses,” notes the Ontario Trucking Association website. The truck’s maximum payload was 200 lbs. With the driver sitting out unprotected in all weather, steering the truck was stiff and difficult. The power system was four batteries mounted on trays in a connected series that produced a maximum of 80 volts. According to the OTA, it could travel a 35-mile distance on smooth roads – if there were any to be found.

(Simpson’s was founded in 1872 by Robert Simpson, instituting a catalogue division in 1894. The company established a separate division with the American retailer Sears, Roebuck and Co., called Simpson’s-Sears, and was purchased in 1978 by the Hudson’s Bay Company. The name is no longer in use.)

Still Motor Company built the first Canadian-made truck

Parker’s Dye Works, also in Toronto, was the next business name to be seen on the side of a delivery truck. Their van was constructed by electrician William Still in 1899. The Still Motor Company is credited with creating the first Canadian-made motor delivery wagon. The motor was mounted in the centre of the truck, allowing the driver to sit under the roof of the open cab. A belt to the larger back wheels permitted rear-wheel drive, and it had an easier steering system.

(Established in 1876 in Ottawa, the company was originally called R. Parker Dyeing and Scouring Works. Their main business was dying ostrich feathers and work gloves. The company later became a dry cleaning business.)

Parker’s Dye Works truck celebrated by Canada Post

The Parker’s Dye Works van was commemorated as the first Canadian commercial truck by Canada Post with a 45-cent stamp. It was included in the 1996 series of Historic Land Vehicle Stamps, Industrial and Commercial Vehicles, Scott #1604.

The transportation industry flourished with new and larger truck configurations as each year passed, hauling newer and larger items to customers. Gasoline trucks came into production in the early 1900s, paved roads were becoming more common, and provincial licencing was soon to follow. Even in those early days, the modern trucking slogan applied: “If you’ve got it, a truck brought it.”


Collections Canada

(1) Canada’s Automotive History, Canada at Work Series, by James Dykes, published by McGraw-Hill Company of Canada, 1970. Pg 14. (Photo from page 14.)

Photo of Parker’s Dye Works Truck

This article first appeared on in 2007.  Copyright Susanna McLeod

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