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So Times Have Changed

Manitoba Pageant, January 1961, Volume 6, Number 2

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

The following is a newspaper report of a speech in the Legislative Assembly in 1908 when the first bill for licensing automobiles in Manitoba was introduced. While the attitude of farmers toward the automobile has changed it is interesting to note that some of the sentiments and fears expressed remain with us even today.

Bill Respecting Motor Vehicles

A. H. Carroll (South Brandon) moved the second reading of a bill respecting motor vehicles, and his motion was seconded by George Steele (Cypress).

Mr. Carroll said he did not think he need say very much as he felt satisfied the House would see the necessity for enacting some law for the protection of the public from the recklessness of the people who owned motors and those who ran them, and he had brought in that bill for the purpose of amending the law and letting the motorists know others had rights on the highway as well as themselves. He looked upon the automobile as a valuable means of locomotion, so much so that as soon as he could afford At he purposed getting one. It could not, therefore, be said he was bringing in the bill as an antagonist to motors. Motorists had their rights, and they were recognized. The pioneers of the country, who had made the roads and developed the country also had rights and objected to being driven off the roads by some more fortunate newcomer with his automobile. He gave instances of damage done in his own vicinity by motorists. In one instance a farmer was drawing his wheat to the elevator when one of those cars came along and frightened his horses. The best part of his load was spilled on to the road through the running away of the horses. The people did not stop to help him but just haw-hawed and went away.

A scene on the Curtis Road, Portage la Prairie - 1916.
Source: Archives of Manitoba

A short time ago the Ontario motor league sent to every motorist in that province a circular letter bristling with good advice. It contained official admissions of the truth in some cases, of charges which are commonly hurled at the gods in the car by the man in the street. It further advised motorists, one and all, to placate public opinion. It admitted that some drivers were reckless, that some do not display their license numbers so as to be readily visible, and admitted that an automobile which a motorist believed to be in perfect control, and which is in perfect control, barring accidents, may appear unsafe and reckless to pedestrians or other drivers, and may, therefore, be an evil. The member then quoted a letter from a constituent:

"Learning that you intended introducing a bill at the present session of the legislature for the protection of the public from the danger of motor cars as they are now operated, I am taking the liberty of writing you giving you my opinion as to the necessity of such a bill. I maintain it is a subject which must be considered as most vitally affecting the people of Manitoba — the provision of easy laws for motorists is so much in fashion and I ask why it should be allowed to be so easy; why should they literally ride rough-shod over all who stand in their path? How is it we find it so necessary that great attention should be paid to our train service men, engineers, firemen and conductors, who have the iron rails, the beaten track, which we all understand means danger, and consequently avoid. Is it reasonable that these men should be compelled to spend months and years of study and hard work to fit them for the responsibility of caring for the lives of the general public, when we allow incapable persons to attempt to run machines so menacing to public safety on the roads and streets, endangering countless lives — persons whose previous knowledge of machinery is often confined to the useful, but at the same time perfectly safe fast treadle sewing machines, persons who have no conception whatever of the speed they travel, who have only one idea, which is travelling top notch and having the centre of the road, bearing out:

"The good old rule, the simple plan
That those should take who have the power
And those should keep who can."

Am I not right in saying that there are few who have not suffered wrong at the hands of such incompetent individuals — people who no doubt see enormous pleasure in learning to run the motor in spite of such trifles as telephone poles or horses and buggies, getting purposely in the way, not to mention old people and little children who they insist should keep off the street forgetting that streets belong to the public, not to the individual.

Many Accidents

So many accidents have occurred that the mothers of little children live in daily dread of having their wee sons or daughters brought home hurt or perhaps lifeless — through the carelessness, stupidity or even common brutality of the men who shrug their shoulders and say, "Pity, but the child ran in my way crossing the corner and I had difficulty in guiding. the machine" — forgetting that they are "Pro tem" experienced engineers. Many no doubt soon gain experience and, are skilful threading with care and consideration in and out doing not the slightest harm even in the most crowded thoroughfare treating both horse and man with equal thoughtfulness.

A group of motoring enthusiasts of Souris, Manitoba in 1909. The original of this picture was loaned to the Archives of Manitoba by Mrs. Waller Callinson of Souris.

Farmers' Views

Now, I go beyond the crowded streets to leave the city and town, and what do I find? How do the farmers regard the growing influx of motors? Being a farmer myself, and living as I do in a wholly farming community, no one is in a better position to assert that motors and their chauffeurs are cordially disliked, perhaps I am safe in saying hated. Who, I ask, has the greater right to the narrow, black winding belt which constitutes our country road? The trail we made in the days when our slow plodding oxen (Buck and Bright) were our joy, the pride and the hope of our existence as far as means of transit were concerned, when flour, sugar, tea and sometimes tobacco were needed from the distant town, when our lives and perchance the lives of our families depended on the fact that these same plodding oxen had the instinct for finding the winding trail under many inches or even feet of snow, through storms so severe and blinding, that if left to ourselves and our own resources, we must certainly have perished. And yet the question of right dares to crop up, when now we are able to substitute for our oxen our handsome teams of greys or bays, who have the spirit and dash we know is ready to break out at the sight or sound of that terror that comes on us so suddenly, keeping the centre of the road. Not any longer can we put up with this grave offence. No longer will we have denied to our wives and daughters the freedom of the king's highway, the freedom our forefathers fought for. The time has come when we must have our rights adjusted, and I sincerely trust the bill you are bringing before the house will cover the situation, and that we will have protection from those crazy men's cars."

Page revised: 1 July 2009

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