François lives on a farm. Today he’s going to one of the Montreal markets with his father and brother to sell the fruits and vegetables they grow. They’ve filled their cart to the brim and have hitched up their best horse. When they get to the city, the horse is startled by a loud, fast-moving vehicle: a horseless carriage! In 1905, automobiles were still rare; there were fewer than 200 of them in Quebec.

Bonsecours Market on Jacques Cartier Square, Montreal, QC, about 1910. Public Domain. McCord Museum

In 1899, Montreal newspapers announced that the first “horseless” carriage would be driving along the streets of the city. It was such an extraordinary event for the time that people gathered in huge numbers along the streets just to see it. The car was driven by its owner, Ucal-Henri Dandurand. In 1904, Mr. Dandurand obtained the very first license plate in Quebec… for his fifth car! It was most likely this car that François saw that day.

No sooner had the car passed when François’ horse was once again startled by another means of transportation: an electric streetcar! Do you know what this is? It’s a small train that runs through the city streets—much like city buses today—except it runs on rails in the middle of the street, and is connected to overhead electrical wires with a pole. François thinks that all these horses, automobiles and streetcars are creating too much traffic. And did you know that there weren’t any traffic lights back in those days? The first one installed in Montreal was in 1931!

Montreal no longer has streetcars today; nor does any other city in Quebec. But several cities around the world still have them, including Toronto and Los Angeles.

Author:  Service national du Récit de l’univers social

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