A week at the Coliseum: The 1910 Montréal Motor Show and the first aeroplanes displayed in Québec / Canada

A few aspects of the fourth Montréal Motor Show. Anon., “Ouverture de l’exposition d’automobiles et de yachts.” La Presse, 28 March 1910, 1.

My reading friend, let me welcome you to the wonderful world of science, technology and innovation. I would like to titillate your little gray cells with a short, yes, yes, short examination of a motor show which was held in the metropolis of Canada, Montréal, Québec, from 26 March to 3 April 1910, at the Coliseum, the largest ice rink in said metropolis, and…

What is it, my reading friend? A veil of perplexity is blanketing you. You want to know more about the content of the above drawing, published in the 28 March 1910 issue of the daily newspaper La Presse of Montréal? Your wish is my comma, sorry, command. Here are the explanations requested:
1 - the mayor of Montréal, John James Edmund Guerin, declaring the Motor Show open;
2 - one of the canoes on display;
3 - Montrealers in evening dress examining automobiles as well as a Blériot Type XI aeroplane; and
4 - the Michelin Man / Bibendum, the mascot of the French tire manufacturer Michelin et Compagnie.

You will remember that said Michelin Man was mentioned in a December 2019 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee, but back to our story.

Yours truly must admit that I did not find much information concerning the preparation of the aforementioned Motor Show. The little that I found concerned the presence of aeroplanes during this event. You will understand, my reading friend, that I did not complain.

Maxime Daoust, a well-known Montréal real estate agent and founding president of Daoust Realty Limited, arrived in Paris, no, not in Texas, in France, towards the end of January or the beginning of February 1910 to negotiate the arrival of at least 1 aeroplane in Montréal so that it / they could be put on display at the Motor Show. This wingnut succeeded in convincing 2 manufacturers and / or aviators to lend their flying machines. Daoust sent a telegram to this effect to the manager of the Montréal Motor Show shortly before the end of February, without specifying what types of aeroplanes were involved. This being said (typed?), the latter indicated to press representatives that he believed that said aeroplanes were a Blériot Type XI and a Santos Dumont No 20 Demoiselle.

If I may digress for a few moments, these types of flying machines were mentioned in October and November 2018 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee in the first case, and in a November 2018 issue in the second. Would you believe that the stunning collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa, Ontario, includes a Type XI? Would I lie to you?

The museum’s Type XI was built, from plans or components, by California Aero Manufacturing and Supply Company, in 1911, for a certain John W. Hamilton. It was / is one of the first aeroplanes flown in the great state of California. Following a series of incidents / accidents, the aeroplane was stored before the end of the year. Two Californians, James M. “Jim” Nissen and James Mathiesen, bought it in 1953. Between 1953 and 1971, the Type XI was partially restored and exhibited during a few air meets across southern California. The Canada Aviation and Space Museum acquired it in 1971.

If I may be permitted a deeply personal and potentially controversial thought, I find it a bit sad that this aeroplane finds itself so far away from home.

The Swiss aviator Oskar Bider at the controls of a typical Blériot Type XI, Berne, Switzerland, April 1913. Anon., “Bider à Berne – Mars-avril 1913." La Suisse sportive, 3 May 1913, 3033.

The Swiss aviator Oskar Bider at the controls of a typical Blériot Type XI, Berne, Switzerland, April 1913. Anon., “Bider à Berne – Mars-avril 1913." La Suisse sportive, 3 May 1913, 3033.

As we both know, the Type XI was / is one of the most famous and important aeroplanes of the early 20th century. Let’s not forget that Louis Charles Joseph Blériot crossed the English Channel in July 1909 at the controls of an aeroplane of this type – a world first. The news had the effect of a bomb, arousing the enthusiasm of a great many wingnuts around the world, including Québec / Canada. Some / many of them started to build an unknown number of Type XI and very similar aeroplanes. I would have no objection to digressing on this, but the expression on your face, and the torch you are holding, suggest that your priorities are elsewhere.

This being said (typed?), before the First World War, a group of employees of the National Automatic Fire Alarm Company of New Orleans, Louisiana, built a Type XI, using plans they had found in a book or magazine. So what, you ask? Well, keep on reading. The group, say I, drew lots to see who would test the aeroplane. The “happy” winner tried his luck, but claimed that the tail of the Type XI would not lift. Another member of the group had doubts. He boarded the aeroplane, took off but quickly came back down. The designated pilot, white as a sheet, made a second attempt. He may have traveled more than 100 metres (350 feet) before losing control. The Type XI crashed, losing a wing in the accident. The pilot walked away more or less without injury. 

Interestingly, the person who made the first and only successful flight of this Type XI was 76 years old when his story was told (written?) in a November 1962 issue of Dixie Roto Magazine, the Sunday supplement of the main newspaper in New Orleans, The Times-Picayune. His name was / is… Amilcar Ernest Fortier and no, we are not related.

Would you believe that one of the most famous aviation pioneers, Thomas Octave Murdoch Sopwith, caught a solid case of flight fever in September 1910, near Dover, England, when he saw a Type XI piloted by John Bevins Moisant, a well-known American son of one of the many Québec families who had gone south in search of a better future? By the way, Moisant’s mother was born Joséphine Fortier and no, I don’t know if we are related.

By the way, Sopwith came from a big happy family. He was not an only child but he was an only boy. In fact, our young friend had 7 older sisters, which is why he was named Octave. The sisters in question were in no way related to 7 much better known sisters, the 7 largest oil companies in the world as they existed a few decades ago, but I digress.

The manager of the Montréal Motor Show mentioned above was none other than E.M. Wilcox, secretary-treasurer of the Toronto Automobile Club of Toronto, Ontario, and editor of the Canadian monthly magazine Motoring. And yes, my reading friend, he was also the general manager of the Grande Semaine d’aviation de Montréal, the first air meet held on Québec / Canadian soil, from 25 June 25 to 5 July 1910, at Lakeside, also known as Pointe-Claire, about 25 kilometres (15 miles) of downtown Montréal, near the shores of Lake Saint-Louis.

Said Motor Show was organised under the auspices of the Aero and Automobile Club of Canada Incorporated, an organisation founded in the spring of 1904 and incorporated in July of that year under the name of Automobile Club of Canada Incorporated.

In March of 1910, Wilcox visited some American cities, including New York City, New York, and Boston, Massachusetts, to boost the content of the Motor Show. He also traveled to Hammondsport, New York, to meet Glenn Hammond Curtiss, a member of the late Aerial Experiment Association, an American and Canadian group of aviation pioneers mentioned in many issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee since October 2018. Wilcox may have visited the Unites States because he realised that no aeroplane from France would be coming to Montréal.

Back in Montréal just a few days before the opening of the Motor Show, Wilcox confirmed the presence of a Type XI belonging to the American Stanley Yale Beach, the son of the editor of the famous monthly Scientific American and the in-house aviation expert of said magazine. This aeroplane had just been exhibited at the First National Exhibition of Aerial Craft, the first exhibition of aeroplanes and other flying machines in the Americas, held from 16 to 23 February in Boston. Wilcox thus kept his promise to present a real aeroplane to Montrealers. He nonetheless acknowledged that this promise had just cost him more than $ 1,000 – a good sum in 1910. Let’s not forget, a typical Canadian industrial worker then earned about $ 417 a year.

The presence of a second French aeroplane, an Antoinette VII also belonging to Beach, was confirmed 1 or 2 days after Wilcox’s return. Said aeroplane had also been exhibited at the First National Exhibition of Aerial Craft. This Antoinette VII was the only aeroplane produced by the Société Antoinette present on the American continent.

And no, yours truly does not plan to present a history of this quite fascinating type of aeroplane, and ... Remain calm, my reading friend, what are the neighbors going to say – or think? Alright, alright. Calm down. Did you know that it was aboard another Antoinette that the Frenchman Hubert Latham attempted to cross the Channel, twice, in July 1909, without success it must be said, before and after the aforementioned historic flight by Blériot?

I am not going to say more, but please find a photo below that might lower your blood pressure a little bit.

A typical Antoinette VII (?) piloted in February 1910 by Jules Hauvette Michelin during the Grande semaine d’aviation d’Égypte, Heliopolis. Revue de l’aviation, 1 March 1910, 60.

A typical Antoinette VII (?) piloted in February 1910 by Jules Hauvette Michelin during the Grande semaine d’aviation d’Égypte, Heliopolis. Revue de l’aviation, 1 March 1910, 60.

Would you believe that neither the Type XI nor the Antoinette VII were in Montréal until the end of the day on 23 March or, worse still, 24 March. Wilcox, more and more nervous, contacted the railway company which was to transport them and learned that the cost of said transport had gone from 100 $ to 350 $. He immediately agreed to pay, without much joy one might think.

The 2 aeroplanes were not installed until 25 March, which happened to be Good Friday – a situation which made the task of the personnel even more difficult. They were certainly not presented in the same way. The Type XI hanged at one end of the space normally occupied by the rink. The Antoinette VII, on the other hand, appeared to be exhibited partially dismantled at the other end of the building, near the entrance. A drawing published in the 28 March 1910 edition of the Montréal daily La Patrie indeed showed an object placed on the floor of the Coliseum, near the fuselage of the aeroplane, which looked very much like a wing. The Antoinette VII was put on display very late and the somewhat insufficient lighting in the Coliseum did not allow the photographer from La Presse sent on location to take pictures.

If yours truly may be allowed a comment, the last minute (second?) work before the opening of the Motor Show reminds me of certain exhibition openings in a museum whose name I will not mention. (Hello, SB, EG and EP!) Anyway, let’s move on.

The Montréal press reported that visitors from Québec (Québec, Sherbrooke, etc.) and Ontario (Ottawa, etc.) cities planned to visit the Motor Show. It also mentioned the types of vehicles on display that would get the most attention from the crowds. The aeroplanes, for example, were undoubtedly the highlight of the show. And no, I am not the one who claimed that, it was La Presse.

This being said (typed?), there were many motor boats and almost 75 automobiles manufactured by no less than 35 Canadian, American and French firms to see and admire. There were obviously many accessories for boats and automobiles on display. In all and for all, there were around 60 exhibitors.

As for automobiles, the Peerless of Canadian millionaire businessman Douglas Lorne McGibbon, President of Canadian Consolidated Rubber Company Limited and Vice President / General Manager of Canadian Rubber Company, was / is worth mentioning. This extremely luxurious automobile cost more than $ 11 000 – more than 26 times (!) the annual salary of the typical industrial worker mentioned above. Other luxury automobiles offered by various manufacturers, including Russell Motor Car Company of Toronto, a subsidiary of Canada Cycle and Motor Company of Toronto, had sales prices ranging from $ 2 500 to $ 7 000. Other firms, such as Metzger Motor Car Company, Ford Motor Company and Hudson Motor Car Company, exhibited automobiles that sold for between $ 1 100 and $ 1 750.

If yours truly may be allowed a somewhat subversive digression, I thank central labour bodies for their work over the past 110 years because it would not have been fun to live in 1910 for a son of a worker like me. The Belle Époque was beautiful only for very few people.

If I may be allowed a much less subversive digression, the Montréal company Comet Motor Company represented the interests of the American firm Peerless Manufacturing Company and of at least one major Canadian firm, McLaughlin Motor Car Company Limited of Oshawa, Ontario, an ancestor of General Motors of Canada Limited (GMC), a subsidiary of an American automotive giant, General Motors Corporation (GM).

And yes, both GM and GMC were mentioned a few times in our you know what, and this since March and November 2018 respectively. McLaughlin Motor Car was mentioned in the aforementioned November 2018 issue.

The Motor Show, the largest of its type held so far in Montréal, opened its doors during the afternoon of 26 March. The official opening was however held in the evening. The Vice-President of the Automobile and Aero Club of Canada Incorporated and first Montréal owner / driver of an automobile, Ucal Henri Dandurand, welcomed Mayor Guerin as well as his wife and daughter. Guerin spoke a few words. He said he was very interested in motoring and the growing popularity of this sport since the end of the 19th century. He also said he was very interested in aviation, a new sport that he hoped to see grow just as much.

The owner of the Type XI and Antoinette VII exposed at the Coliseum, the aforementioned Beach, was in Montréal and rumors circulated to the effect that he could make a few flights over the metropolis before his aeroplanes were dismantled once the Motor Show was over.

The crowds which roamed the Coliseum said they were delighted with the spectacle offered by Wilcox and his team, even though some exhibitors may not have been fully prepared to welcome them. Some people mentioned that the lighting left something to be desired, which Wilcox readily acknowledged. Several additional electric lights were soon installed during the day on Monday, the day after Easter Sunday. Ahh, the lighting. The staff of many museums would have a lot to say on this question, given the fragility of many of the objects placed in exhibition for long periods of time (Hello again, SB, EG and EP!), but I digress.

Visitors of all ages who came to the Coliseum from 26 March onward appreciated the increasingly wacky antics of the Michelin Man / Bibendum, the mascot of the French tire manufacturer Michelin et Compagnie present at the booth of its Canadian representative, Franco-American Automobile Company of Montréal. Yours truly presumes that someone was inside said Bibendum whose body seemed to be covered with rubber tubes. If this was the case, the person in question must have sweated buckets. The scale models of aeroplanes distributed by staff at the Franco-American Automobile booth only added to its popularity.

A brief digression if I may be permitted. Franco-American Automobile had let it be known in March 1909 that it was ready to deliver French Voisin aeroplanes or American Chanute type gliders to anyone who wished it – and had the financial means to do so. The firm did not find any takers in Montréal, Québec or elsewhere.

The satisfaction of the public who came to the Coliseum was due in part to the fact that Wilcox and his team did everything, or near it, to make their visit enjoyable. There was a room for smokers and another where refreshments were served, not to mention offices with telegraphs and telephones. Police and firefighters were on hand in the event of an emergency. Let us note also the special musical program offered in the afternoons and evenings.

In the end, many people went to the Coliseum to examine the automobiles and motorised boats. The men asked many questions. Indeed, several of them wanted to acquire an automobile and / or a motorised boat. One of these people was none other than Joseph Tremblay, chief of the Service d’incendie de Montréal. He chose a convertible Oldsmobile worth the modest sum of $ 3 200 – almost 8 times the annual salary of the typical industrial worker mentioned above. If I may allow myself a, oh, pretty subversive comment, he was rather cheeky the chief. The city’s Bureau des commissaires approved his decision, however, as did the Conseil municipal. Tremblay even got a chauffeur.

In a completely different vein, during the day of 30 March, Wilcox willingly granted permission to a lady, a certain Mrs. Normand, and to nurses from the Hôpital Sainte-Justine to sell in the Coliseum raffle tickets for the benefit of this pediatric hospital founded in 1907. The price of said raffle was a magnificent automobile. Normand submitted this request because ticket sales had certainly not been spectacular. Wilcox’s kindness turned out to be extremely helpful. People who visited the Motor Show indeed bought many tickets. As a result, Normand could both buy the automobile and give a nice sum to the young orphans of the hospital. The draw was held at the Coliseum on April 3. Yours truly does not know who won.

It should be noted that John C.B. Storrs, a member of the Aeronautical Society of New York who was taking care of Beach’s Type XI, gave a much appreciated conference on the history of aviation, in English, from the first Chinese miniature balloons to the Type XI, in one of the halls of the Coliseum during the evening of 31 March. Those present particularly appreciated the many images projected on a screen that Storrs commented on brilliantly.

Rumors were also circulating at the Coliseum and elsewhere, starting 29 March, that a director of the Automobile and Aero Club of Canada had acquired or would acquire the Type XI exhibited on the site. Some people, less discreet, mentioned the name of the person in question. Intrigued, a journalist from the daily Le Canada interviewed Wilcox and members of the club. The latter did not want to talk but ended up admitting that a director of the Automobile and Aero Club of Canada had virtually concluded a purchase agreement for a Type XI, apparently the one exposed at the Coliseum. The name of the buyer was soon mentioned in the press. This was William Carruthers, a well-known grain operator, horse race enthusiast and automobile patron living in Montréal. He gave Beach the modest sum of $ 3 750.

The Motor Show closed on 3 April. It had welcomed thousands and thousands of visitors from the Montréal region, as well as high society people from Québec (Québec and Sherbrooke) and elsewhere: New Brunswick (Moncton and St. John), Nova Scotia (Halifax), Ontario (London, Ottawa and Toronto), etc.

And no, Beach did not fly over Montréal. Do you seriously believe that yours truly would not have seized with both hands such an opportunity to pontificate on an aeronautical subject? Come on. But back to our story.

The various exhibitors present at the Coliseum declared themselves delighted. Motor boat manufacturers had signed contracts with people, obviously wealthy people, from Québec, Sherbrooke, Toronto and elsewhere, for example. Better yet, all but one of the automobiles on display found buyers and some firms sold additional vehicles. Better yet, there was a good chance that more sales would follow during the month of April. Many doctors and businessmen were among the customers of the automobile manufacturers present at the Coliseum. This type of vehicle indeed allowed them to comfortably go about their business within the increasingly vast territory of the metropolis of Canada.

If you don’t mind, yours truly will hereby and heretofore close this issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee. Have a good week and protect yourself against bad weather, my reading…

Uh, what is it I hear? You, my reading friend, wish to have some information on Carruthers’ Type XI? Wunderbar!

Know that said Type XI apparently returned to the United States after the Motor Show was over, for examination. It did not, however, return to Montréal. In fact, Carruthers eventually bought another Type XI but that’s another story. And yes, yours truly presumes that the latter was reimbursed by the aforementioned Beach, provided that the money of the sale actually changed hands.

If you don’t mind, yours truly will hereby and heretofore close this issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee. Have a good week and protect yourself against bad weather, my reading… Now what? Ahh, I see, boss lady. Duty calls, my reading friend. The work of a curator at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum is never done. Ciao. We have tribbles in the library.

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Rénald Fortier