The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan

 

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Automobiles

In the early 1900s automobiles quickly appeared in Saskatchewan and brought profound changes to the social and economic conditions of the province: they improved access to rural areas, provided relief from rural isolation, facilitated the movement of agricultural commodities, eased access to medical services, and generated new businesses and recreational choices for Saskatchewan residents. Early demand for automobiles was greatest in the frontier regions of Canada, and in particular Saskatchewan, where agriculture and resource development drew large numbers of immigrants. Official automobile registration in Saskatchewan dates back to 1906; twenty-two motor vehicles were registered that year under the new provincial legislation. Automobiles and drivers were initially registered by the Provincial Secretary’s Department; but as the number of motor vehicles in the province grew, additional government agencies assisted in administering this new form of Transportation. After 1910, vehicle registrations increased dramatically, exceeding 10,000 by 1915. During World War I, extraordinary growth in automobile ownership continued, with annual registrations climbing to 60,000 by 1920. Automobile use sustained rising popularity until the Great Depression, when vehicle registrations declined from 128,000 in 1929 to 91,000 in 1934. It was not until the end of World War II that motor vehicle registrations would rebound to the level witnessed in 1929.

The large-scale adoption of automobile use in Saskatchewan after World War I can be attributed to mass production and promotion, falling automobile prices, improvements to the safety and reliability of vehicles, and rising farm incomes (in 1926, nearly 60% of all motor vehicles registered in Saskatchewan were farm vehicles). From 1915 to 1923, Saskatchewan ranked second only to Ontario in its number of registered automobiles. By the early 1930s a tremendous growth in vehicle ownership had begun in small towns, villages, and rural areas across the province, as trucks were fast replacing horse-drawn wagons for hauling agricultural commodities from farms to railheads. Beyond the obvious benefits to rural Farming and freight delivery, automobiles were prized in cities by business people, police and fire departments, and pleasure drivers of the urban middle class. The most common make of motor vehicle in Saskatchewan prior to World War II was Ford (the only real competitor on the provincial market was General Motors). Following World War II, gas rationing ended, roads improved, farm incomes rose, automobiles were modernized and weather-proofed, and society as a whole became more affluent: these conditions ushered a continued rise in vehicle ownership for decades to come. In 1964, nearly 400,000 vehicles were registered in the province, a figure that doubled to more than 800,000 by the 1990s. The number of registered motor vehicles in Saskatchewan has remained relatively steady since the 1990s.

Iain Stewart

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Further Reading

Bantjes, R. 1992. “Improved Earth: Travel on the Canadian Prairies, 1920-1950,” Journal of Transport History 13 (2): 115–40; Bloomfield, G.T. 1984. “‘I Can See a Car in That Crop’: Motorization in Saskatchewan 1906–1934,” Saskatchewan History 37 (1): 3–24.
This web site was produced with financial assistance
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University of Regina Government of Canada Government of Saskatchewan Canadian Plains Research Center
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Diversification de l'économie de l'Ouest Canada et le gouvernement de la Saskatchewan.