April 20, 1903
It was on April 20, 1903 that the first two cars were imported into Newfoundland by Robert G. and Harold D. Reid. The Reid family was one of the wealthiest in the colony. At the time they owned the Reid fleet of ships, the Newfoundland Railway and were the holders of large land, timber, and mineral concessions in the colony.
A few weeks later on May 4, 1903 , Robert G. Reid’s “Thomas Flyer” became the first gasoline driven automobile to be operated in Newfoundland, when a Mr. Stewart, one of the Reid staff, took the car for a short drive in St. John’s. The St. John’s newspaper the Evening Telegram reported that the car:
“made its trial trip in the West End this morning and was the object of curiosity to all who saw it speeding up the promenade and down the southside.”
The following week the Telegram, on the occasion of Harold D Reid’s initial operation of his vehicle, reported:
“It did not go fast through the city, but got up to a speed of about 12 miles an hour in some places on the road. The vehicle is a four wheeler and cost Mr. Reid landed here $1600.00. It is run by a gasoline motor. It is called a Locomobile…”
Not everyone wanted to share the road with these new “autos.” In the city cabmen and farmers complained about the noise of the ‘autos’ that tended to make their horses skittish. It was also true that many of the good citizens of St. John’s were also reluctant to share the streets with autos.
The editorial writer for the St. John’s newspaper, “The Workman”, on August 2, 1918 declared in a bold headline, “Reckless Autoists” that:
“The life of the average pedestrian in the City (St. John’s) these days is one of perpetual peril. Let him attempt to cross a street, in broad daylight, and he is lucky if some auto doesn’t come around the corner, at a rate of 15 miles an hour, and just miss him by a scant foot, while the chauffeur glowers at him as much to say “Get off the earth you lobster. What right have you to be on the street?”
The newspaper continued that the car was here to stay but that the police should be diligent in convicting those that exceeded eight miles an hour. He wrote:
“The auto has come to stay off course. But a lot of haughty daring drivers seem to forget that the pedestrian was here first. Even he has a right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” The police should take the number of any auto driver who goes around the corner faster than eight miles an hour, and the magistrate should soak him the limit every time.”
The number of cars imported into Newfoundland continued to increase; by 1925 there were 952 cars and 102 commercial vehicles. Upon joining Confederation Newfoundland boasted 9,022 cars and 4,743 commercial vehicles. Today in Newfoundland and Labrador there are more vehicles on the roads than there are people living in the province with almost 633,000 cars and trucks. There are about 500,000 people living in the province.
Recommended Archival Collection: The Rooms holds hundreds of photographs of cars go on line and take a look. Did you know that you can date your photographs based on the model of cars that appear in photograph.
Recommended Reading: Motor Vehicles, Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, Volume Three.