If you think the War On The Car is a new thing, or exclusive to Toronto tree-huggers, but there was a time when Prince Edward Island took the unimaginable step of banning motors vehicles from road.
Before the turn of the century, P.E.I. was one of the first provinces in Canada where motor cars first hit the roads, but by 1908, cars were banned. At the time, there were only seven cars on the Island, yet the conservative island residents did not like the new-fangled contraptions. The cars had no mufflers, were very loud, and locals were concerned that cars would scare the horses. There was plenty of propaganda predicting accidents between cars and horses, which raised fears in the public.
Enough public anger was stoked that sneaky politicians brought the ‘burning issue’ up in the provincial legislature, initially suggesting cars only be allowed on the roads three days a week. But shrewd PEI premier decided that if cars were a problem for four days of the week, why wouldn’t they be a problem all seven days of the week?
It was an election year,and since so many small-minded people weere against the automobile, politicians feared losing re-election if they supported the rights of motorists. When a bill banning the automobile was brought to a vote, every member of the legislature voted to ban the automobile. At the time, it gave P.E.I. the shameful title of the only place in the world to ban the automobile.
Progress cannot be stopped, and as cars became popular in the rest of Canada, a movement to restore cars to their rightful place on the roads of P.E.I. grew. By 1913, a new premier’s party passed a resolution to let cars back on the road, but only three days a week (Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays) but even then, individual districts could vote whether to allow cars in their communities.
There were only 26 cars and trucks registered in PEI at the time, navigating the checkerboard of narrow Island roads. When drivers reached a community where the car ban was still in place, they’d have to hire a local farmer to tow their vehicle through the distict using his horses. Cars were finally given unlimited access to all P.E.I. roads seven day a week in 1919.
Most of this information is from a 2017 book called “Ban the Automobile: Instrument of Death” by Rudy Croken of the PEI Antique Car Club. The back cover of Croken’s book lists terms used to describe cars at the turn of the century, including public nuisances, source of danger to life and property, and devil wagons!
Croken’s book tells stories of enthusiastic motorists such as Frank Tuplin of Summerside, PEI, who would transport his car via train to downtown Charlottetown just to drive around, circumventing the ban. But he also shares tales of the anti-car community sabotaging cars and roads by putting old lawn-mower blades, planks with spikes, or even barbed wire on the roads where vehicles were allowed. Hopefully the Car Free High Park Coalition doesn’t adopt these tactics!