Susanna McLeod

Susanna McLeod

Glimpses of Canadian History : Email: Scribbles@cogeco.ca

The Winton, Canada’s First Gasoline-Fuelled Car

The Winton Phaeton was a ‘horseless carriage’, the first automobile fuelled by gas in Canada. Colonel Moodie brought the car home to Hamilton, Ontario.

With the black bonnet up, perhaps the Winton looked all the part of a classic carriage for two as it drove along the streets of Hamilton, Ontario. But something was missing… the horse. There was no horse to provide power. And something was added… a rumbling, clattering noise was coming from the back of the carriage, a sound that might have sent tingles of excitement through a crowd of onlookers. The year was 1898 and the Winton was a horseless carriage, the first gasoline-fuelled automobile to grace the rough roads of Canada.

Gas-fuelled Winton Phaeton

The 1899 Winton Stanhope Automobile

In April 1898, Canadian Colonel John Moodie Jr. bought the Winton from the Winton Motor Carriage Company in Cleveland, Ohio for the hefty price of $1,000. Alexander Winton initially built quality bicycles at his Cleveland factory until the bottom dropped out of the market in the early 1890s. He built his first self-powered vehicle in 1893 and, said American Automobiles in “The Winton Automobile and the Winton Motor Carriage Co.”, moved on to his first automobile in 1896. Winton’s first horseless carriage was a boxy-looking model with back-to-back seating. Ready for new industry in automotive business, the Winton Motor Company was incorporated in 1897.

The initial 1898 models were made in Phaeton-style – doorless with four wheels. The automobile purchased by Colonel Moodie was the second Winton motor carriage of 22 produced by Alexander Winton’s company that year. (The first was bought by an American only two weeks earlier.) The next year, Winton production soared to over 100 horseless carriages.

Winton Chain-Drive Transmission

Fashioned with a sleek black padded seat with button detail, the 1898 Winton featured a large single lamp on the front and a convertible bonnet that could be raised or lowered as weather dictated. With two forward speeds and reverse, the transmission was a chain-drive, “connected to a small shaft that is geared directly to a differential unit on the rear axle,” said the Smithsonian Institute’s “America on the Move” Exhibition. The driver used levers and a knob to change gears. A tiller was used to steer the motor carriage.

Fuel economy was not bad for the six-horsepower, water-cooled one cylinder engine; its range was about 25 kilometres per gallon. According to the Winton Motor Carriage Company magazine ad in 1898, the cost was half a cent per mile. The price of gasoline at that time was 7 cents a gallon and the automobile reached top speeds of about 50 kilometres an hour.

Winton Sold to Dr. Perry Doolittle

Recognized as a founding member of the Hamilton Automobile Club, Moodie also helped found the Toronto Automobile Club and the Ontario Motor League. The early groups “drafted the first rules of the road, determined speed limits, posted directional signs and patched ruts. They promoted automobiles as a safer, cleaner alternative to horse-drawn vehicles,” said Donna Reid and Robin McKee, authors of “John Moodie Jr.” in The Hamiltonians: 100 Fascinating Lives, edited by Margaret Houghton, published by James Lorimer and Company 2003. Moodie sold his Winton to fellow Toronto auto enthusiast, Dr. Perry Doolittle, in 1899. (Dr. Doolittle earned the title of “Father of the TransCanada Highway” for making the first car trip across Canada in 1925 from Vancouver to Halifax. Ford Motor Company photographer, Ed Flickenger, accompanied Doolittle as co-driver. )

Dr. Perry Doolittle, regarded as the “Father of the TransCanada Highway” and founder of Canadian Automobile Association (CAA). ca 1920

Colonel Moodie Jr. a Connoisseur of Vehicles

Fascinated with the amazing developments in transportation, Colonel Moodie often surprised his fellow Hamilton residents with new equipment. The first bicycle in Canada was imported from Britain by Moodie in 1878; he then was credited with introducing the first low-rise bicycle. After purchasing his Winton, Moodie went on to earn a reputation as a connoisseur of vehicles, purchasing a large range of automobiles over the years. Also interested in motor boats, the Colonel owned the first motorized boat on the bay at Burlington. With Timothy Eaton (of Eaton’s store fame), Moodie was a supervising participant in the construction of a turbine steamboat in England. On arrival in Canada in 1904, the SS Turbinia was the first steamboat to ply the regular route between Toronto and Hamilton.

Colonel John Moodie Jr. was able to enjoy the thrills of owning the first gas-fuelled Winton in Canada and other inventions as the perquisites of being a wealthy businessman. Married and with children, he was president of the Eagle Knitting Company and participated in Dover Industries and the Royal Distillery, along with having interests in Robinson Industries. Another success was his investment in his father’s business, the Cataract Power Company of Hamilton, Ontario. Colonel Moodie died at age 85 in 1944.

This article first appeared on Suite101.com in 2010   Copyright Susanna McLeod

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