‘Cause I’m leavin’ on the Terra-Yacht

The Prévost Terra-Yacht corporate vehicle, Sainte-Claire de Dorchester, Québec. Anon., “Montréal – Actualités : Maison ambulante.” Photo-Journal, 9 December 1948, 7.

Greetings, my reading friend, yours truly who has worked very hard salutes you. To my great shame, I must confess to having once again strayed from the righteous aeronautical and spatial right that leads to a happy and carefree retirement. Our topic for this week has indeed nothing to do with the fields of activity of my employer, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum of Ottawa, Ontario. Verily I say to you, I must confess to have been intrigued by the photo above, as fuzzy as it is, which appeared in the 9 December 1948 issue of a weekly newspaper from Montréal, Québec, Photo-Journal.

Here is the legend of said photo:

Here is an interior view of the luxurious “Terra Yacht,” a bus with kitchen, fireplace lounge, work desk and all the amenities of a modern home. This traveling house was made by the Prévost factories of Ste-Claire de Dorchester. On the left, Mr. R. Cottons, the owner of this house, talks with Mr. Allard about the post office of Dupuis Frères house. This reception room also serves as an office or, if necessary, a bedroom.

Recognizing that you seem a little bit annoyed by the poor quality of the photo of the Terra-Yacht, yes, yes, you are, do not deny it, I scanned the ether for hours, what am I saying, months, to find other illustrations. I found the following.

Two additional views of the Prévost Terra-Yacht, Sainte-Claire de Dorchester, Québec.

Two additional views of the Prévost Terra-Yacht, Sainte-Claire de Dorchester, Québec. Anon., “Une maison roulante.” Le Soleil, 25 September 1948, 3.

I am again pleased to offer you the caption of these photos:

It looks like a big bus; in reality, it is a “house on wheels,” christened “Terra-Yacht", that the “Ateliers Prévost” of Ste-Claire de Dorchester have just completed building on behalf of an individual. This true traveling home, the first of its kind ever built in Canada, is 37 feet [11.3 metres] long, weighs more than 15,000 pounds [6 800 kilogrammes], and includes five rooms, equipped with all modern conveniences: electric lighting, refrigerator, stove, radio, telephone, shower, etc. Six people can live inside comfortably while traveling across Canada or the Americas. The two photos [above] give us a glimpse of the interior of this extraordinary carriage, the ideal vehicle of the important and progressive businessman. On the left, the “living room,” located at the back, and provided, among other things, with two couches that can be converted into double beds; on the right, the kitchen, overlooking the driver’s cabin, where four people can sit comfortably.

Even before you ask the question, I must admit having been forced to scrutinize the ether a second time to find out what a fireplace lounge was / is. According to some sources, it is a living room fitted with a fireplace, which is quite logical. This definition makes no sense in the case that concerns us, however. I shall therefore continue my research.

I must also admit that I cannot explain the presence of Mr. Allard in the Terra-Yacht when the photo published in Photo-Journal was taken. As you probably know, my clever reading friend that you are, Dupuis Frères Limitée was a Montréal department store; what am I saying, it was an institution. In turn, I think I know who R. Cottons or, apparently, Cotton was: this person was the owner of a Québec, Québec, store. Again, however, a certain mystery still surrounds this matter. Let me explain.

Before going any further, however, please note that I do not intend to pontificate on the manufacturer of the Terra-Yacht, Prevost Coach Company, today’s Prevost Car Incorporé of Sainte-Claire, Québec, the largest coach manufacturer in Canada and a subsidiary of the Swedish multinational Aktiebolaget Volvo. I understand how much this unilateral decision disappoints you but you have Christmas shopping to complete, my reading friend, do not forget that. Regarding the gifts you intend to offer me, please submit your list. I will be checking it twice, but let’s get back to our story.

If yours truly may be allowed a comment of a personal nature, my father spent a good part of his youth in Saint-Malachie, a Québec village located near Sainte-Claire de Dorchester. Small world, isn’t it?

The Terra-Yacht apparently owed its origin to discussions held in 1948 between Joseph Eugene Prévost, founder of the company that bore his name, and one of the owners of Laurentides Automobile Incorporée of Québec, a dealer of Ford Motor Company Limited, the British subsidiary of American giant Ford Motor Company. Léopold Champoux reported that an American bus manufacturer, Flxible Company, was preparing to build motor homes for vacationers on the chassis of vehicles produced in its workshops. Known as the Land Cruiser, this vehicle was one of the first motor homes to be produced in North America. In fact, Flxible created a division in 1948 whose sole objective was the production of the Land Cruiser. Custom Coach Corporation still existed as of 2018. It was a division of a well-known and respected company, Farber Specialty Vehicles Incorporated. And yes, my reading friend, Flxible was mentioned in a March 2018 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee.

Would you believe that Champoux also owned Champoux Automobile Incorporée of Québec, apparently a dealer of Ford Motor Company of Canada Limited and its parent company, the aforementioned Ford Motor? The presence in Québec of two dealers for Ford automobiles made in the United Kingdom and North America is surprising. Anyway, let’s move on, and ...

Alright, alright. Originally, Prévost was a cabinetmaker specializing in the fabrication of school furniture and pews. He entered the world of public transit in 1924, with the construction of a wooden coach body mounted on a truck chassis, but back to our story.

Champoux proposed to Prévost that he make a mobile office for businessmen that would include residential furnishings. The latter was quickly convinced of the usefulness of such a corporate vehicle – which was apparently not in his habits. Anxious to outstrip Flxible, a company whose activities he had been following closely for some time, Prévost designed the interior of the mobile office. As far as the mechanical parts of the vehicle were concerned, he used a modified version of the chassis of the brand new Prévost intercity bus that would leave the factory in 1949.

The staff of Prevost Coach made the luxurious furniture of the Terra-Yacht. Comfortable and functional, this vehicle easily compared to a luxury yacht, hence its name. Yours truly would like to confirm the statement of the Québec daily Le Soleil that the Terra-Yacht was the first motor home made in Canada. This being said (typed?), it was very likely one of the first vehicles of this type in the country.

Rather ahead of its time, the Terra-Yacht attracted a lot of attention during a provincial convention of transport companies, as well as during the Exposition provinciale held annually in Québec. An unidentified businessman rented the Terra-Yacht at an undetermined date. He used it to make a trip to Florida. Despite this success, the efforts of Prevost Coach and Champoux to sell the Terra-Yacht proved futile. A reduction in the selling price did not attract more customers. Prevost Coach transformed this magnificent white elephant into a school bus in 1951. This writer was not able to confirm its use for this purpose in the region of Lévis, Québec. Indeed, the Terra-Yacht ended its days in a recycling yard not far from Sainte-Claire de Dorchester.

This sad end contradicted the article in Photo-Journal according to which the aforementioned R. Cottons or, apparently, Cotton, was the owner of the Terre-Yacht. Yours truly must confess to being as perplexed as you, my reading friend. The solution of this mystery, mentioned above, you will remember, escapes me. I will continue research to this effect. Stay tuned.

Prevost Coach made 2 vehicles similar to the Terre-Yacht in the early 1950s. Both were sold at a loss. The lack of a market for such business / recreational vehicles forced the company to withdraw from this field of activity for many years.

This being said (typed?), a member of the important Montréal family which controlled a major Toronto, Ontario, newspaper, The Globe and Mail, contacted Prevost Coach in 1951. Eric Taylor Webster heard about the Terra-Yacht and its manufacturer. Some suggest that he approaches Prevost Coach after talking to Alphonse Laramée, the owner of an intercity bus company, Laramee Coach Limited. Be that as it may, the fact was that Webster wanted to order a motor home. And yes, my reading friend with elephantine memory, Webster was mentioned in a January 2018 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee. Small world, isn’t it? Interestingly, for many years, Laramée controlled the urban transportation network of Sherbrooke, Québec, yours truly’s hometown. Small world, isn’t it?

Designed for recreational use, Webster’s vehicle used the chassis of an intercity bus designed by Prevost Coach. The staff of the company made its furniture. The vehicle included a kitchenette with stove and refrigerator, a shower with skylight, a bedroom with closet, and a toilet. There was even a sound system with external speakers. Webster took delivery of this vehicle unique in Canada in November 1951.

Thomas Luff of Winnipeg, Manitoba, bought the motor home in 1969. In 1979, he turned it over to a garage to replace his engine and transmission. For one reason or other, the vehicle was still in the garage in 1992. Allan Hamer of Winnipeg, Manitoba, bought it that year. He and his spouse spent the next 4 years restoring the motor home from top to bottom. They then went to Sainte-Claire to show the fruits of their hard work to the staff and management of Prevost Car. These people were delighted and impressed. Hamer and his wife then undertook a trip across North America. Their vehicle aroused great curiosity no matter where they stopped. It was still in working order as of 2019.

If yours truly may be permitted a comment, this motor home should be preserved in a museum, ideally a Canadian museum. Just sayin'.

While it is true that yours truly could undoubtedly pontificate on Prevost Car and the motor homes that have been its pride for many years, it is equally true that you have better things to do, my reading friend. Who knows, you might be getting ready for a big and wonderful road trip in a motor home.

The author of these lines wishes to thank all the people who provided information. Any mistake contained in this article is my fault, not theirs.

See ya later.

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Rénald Fortier