From the top of this seat, 30 years are watching you

The mystery car at the heart of this article, Montréal, Québec, late 1937. Its owners, R. Gélinas and G. Duhamel, are standing beside it. Anon., “Voici une cadillac [sic] d’il y a près de 40 ans!” Photo-Journal, 9 December 1937, 3.

Hello there, my reading friend, and welcome to the merry, merry month of December. Our topic this time around will be brief, yes brief. You do not believe me, now do you? Well, read on.

Our story, say I, comes to us courtesy of a weekly from Montréal, Québec, Photo-Journal. And yes, there is a typo in the title of the article published 80 years ago this month. The word Cadillac should be spelled with a C, not a c. That, of course, is not the reason yours truly chose this story for our blog / bulletin / thingee. And no, this story is not about an airplane, a pilot or anything aeronautical. Shocking, isn’t it?

This being said (typed?), by an odd coincidence, yours truly spent part of this week travelling in a four wheel drive Cadillac XT5 crossover, with a “powerpuff girl” of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, in Ottawa, Ontario, on a super-secret mission at the Canadian Space Agency, in Saint-Hubert, Québec. The car rental company upgraded the vehicle we used. And yes, the expression “powerpuff girl” is highly complimentary, but back to our story.

What we have here, my reading friend, are four people and an automobile. As was typed above, the gentlemen standing beside this automobile were R. Gélinas and G. Duhamel. What were their full names, you ask? I wish I knew. This writer came across a Montréal-based Chevrolet and Oldsmobile dealer by the name of Gélinas Automobile Limitée, founded around 1939-40 perhaps, but its owner was Jean Gélinas, not R. Gélinas.

The other individuals in the photo, by the way, were J.E. Labrecque and Gérald Villeneuve, owner and foreman at Park Garage (Limitée? Incorporée?), a business on du Parc Avenue in Montréal. But back to our story.

It so happens that Gélinas and Duhamel had a dream. They wanted to drive across Canada in an automobile, the very automobile in the photo above to be more precise. This vehicle does not look like a typical 1937 automobile, you say? May I be the first to congratulate you for your keen sense of observation, my reading friend? The caption of the photo stated that the vehicle present therein was an 1898 Cadillac. Like any good historian worth her / his / its / their salt, yours truly checked that statement, and found it wanting. You see, Cadillac Automobile Company came into existence in 1902, in the footsteps of the commemoration of the bicentennial of the founding of Detroit, Michigan. Apologies for the many “of” by the way.

Cadillac was a slightly unusual car maker in that it was not named after its founder. French adventurer and explorer Antoine de Lamothe-Cadillac founded Fort Pontchartrain, which later became Detroit, in July 1701. I find it slightly amusing, if somewhat annoying, that people like de Lamothe-Cadillac became famous for founding some place or other even though it was the people around them who did the actual work, but I digress. This fascinating character, say I, may have come to New France under an assumed name, as a result of some as yet unidentified (embarrassing? illegal?) matter. Antoine Laumet, his real name, recreated himself in the new world and became quite successful, but back to our story.

So, you ask, what type of automobile can we see in the photo published by Photo-Journal? This writer searched far and wide. Actually, I contacted various people who were kind enough to do the far and wide searching. Thus, like English physicist, mathematician and alchemist Sir Isaac Newton, I saw further only by standing on the shoulders of giants. Sadly, these automobile history experts were unable to fully identify the vehicle in our photo. While the large wheel under the seat is similar to that of an early Cadillac, the body work of the automobile is unlike that of any known model made by that company. Thus, what we have here could well be an early (1905-06?) Cadillac fitted with some sort of homemade body. In any event, the trans-Canada trip planned by Gélinas and Duhamel, presumably for the year 1938, never took place. The automobile itself was presumably scrapped at a later date, which is unfortunate.

Incidentally, Newton was not the first person who stood on the shoulders of giants. Back in the 12th Century, a philosopher by the name of Bernardus Carnotensis, in other words Bernard of Chartres, was writing pretty much the same thing. And no, Napoléon Bonaparte, born Napoleone di Buonaparte, apparently did not speak the words paraphrased by yours truly in the title of this article, that is “From the top of these pyramids, 40 centuries are watching you.”

Was this article brief, you ask? Well, not that much, and so our story ends. Farewell, au revoir, auf wiedersehen.

The author of these lines wishes to thank all the people who provided information. Any mistake contained in this article is their fault, not mine. Sorry, it’s the other way around, not mine, theirs.

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Rénald Fortier