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The Industrial Revolution, which had begun in the United Kingdom and Europe in the latter half of the 18th century, was in full swing by the mid-19th century. The development of steam and electrical power meant that increasing numbers of industries could be automated and new forms of transportation developed. Steam ships and railways facilitated the movement of people and goods across and between continents. Populations moved away from rural areas to the cities, initiating mass migrations which saw urban areas increase dramatically in size. This was also a period of intense global migration as some Europeans sought to escape famine, poverty, oppression, and political instability at home–it is thought that some 70 million people left Europe during the 19th century, establishing themselves primarily in North America and Australasia.


Henry Seth Taylor and his Steam Buggy, Stanstead, Quebec


Seth Taylor unveils and drives his Steam Buggy, Canada's first automobile, at the Stanstead Fair.

Designed by Henry Seth Taylor, a jeweller and clockmaker from Stanstead, Quebec, the Steam Buggy took five years to design and two years to build. However, after a hose burst during a public event, and the Buggy crashed at another, Taylor abandoned automobile production altogether.

Photo: 1867
Stanstead Historical Society

First motorcycle by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach was built in 1885.


Karl Benz develops the first internal combustion, three- wheeled car (the Benz patent Motorwagen).

At the same time, Gottleib Daimler and Wilhem Maybach invented the first gas-powered engine with a spark ignition, the closest precursor to modern engines, and used it on a motorcycle.

Photo: 2006
Daimler AG, A90F350

Still's electric car sits to the right of another car.


William Still and Frederick B. Featherstonehaugh design and build Canada's first electric vehicle in Toronto.

Still designed the car's battery and motor for Featherstonehaugh, a lawyer and socialite who was also interested in automobiles. Dixon Carriage Works of Toronto was then commissioned to build the 700 lb. (317 kg) two-seater runabout that could reach speeds of 15 mph, approximately 25 km/h.

Photo: 1893
City of Toronto Archives

George Foss riding in his 'Fossmobile'


George Foote Foss from Sherbrooke, Quebec builds the first successful gasoline-powered automobile in Canada.

Foss, a prosperous mechanic and tradesmen, saw automobiles for the first time on a trip to Boston where he rented an electrically driven carriage for $4.00 an hour. He was disappointed when the ride lasted little more than half an hour but his interest was peaked in "gas-powered" automobiles.

Photo: 1896
Cars of Canada

In The News

Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada's Founding Prime Minister


The Dominion of Canada is created.

The British North America Act united the Province of Canada, divided into Lower Canada (Quebec) and Upper Canada (Ontario), with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, forming the new Dominion of Canada. The Act, which was given royal assent by Queen Victoria in March of 1867, came into effect on 1 July of that year. Sir John A. MacDonald, the dominant figure behind the new federal system, was chosen to be Canada's first Prime Minister.

Photo: 1869
McCord Museum

Canada in 1870.


Canada expands.

The Canadian Confederation expanded west and east during the early 1870s. Manitoba became a province of Canada in 1870, British Columbia in 1871, and Prince Edward Island in 1873.

Illustration: Library and Archives Canada

The signing of Treaty Number One at Lower Fort Garry


Beginning in 1871, the Government of Canada negotiates a series of eleven treaties with the First Nations. The last treaty is signed in 1921.

Vital to the realization of Sir John A. MacDonald's "National Dream," was control of territories in the western part of the continent – territories under the control of the Hudson's Bay Company. When the company gave sovereignty over the lands to the Dominion in 1869, the First Nations were granted smaller parcels of land, a yearly allowance, and the right to hunt, trap, and fish on the surrendered lands. By the time the last treaty was signed in 1921, the First Nations had been weakened by disease and by the loss of many cultural traditions through assimilation. The numbered treaties paved the way for the reserve system which still exists today.

Photo: August 1871
Archives of Manitoba, Events 243/1 (N11975)

Hon. Donald A. Smith driving the last spike to complete the Canadian Pacific Railway


Workers complete the Canadian Pacific Railway.

British Columbia joined Confederation in 1871 but only with the promise that the federal government would build a transcontinental railway to the west coast within ten years. The Canadian Pacific Railway was completed in 1885, becoming Canada's first major land transportation system.

Photo: Library and Archives Canada, C-003693

Pop Culture

The Little Wanzer automated sewing machine


Richard Mott Wanzer establishes Canada's first sewing machine factory in Hamilton, Ontario.

Wanzer moved to Hamilton from Buffalo, New York, where he manufactured Singer and Wheeler-Wilson machines. Wanzer also developed the "Little Wanzer," a machine that was compact, easy to use, and inexpensive to buy. During the period 1861 to 1881, 1.5 million sewing machines were produced at the Wanzer factory.

Illustration: 1870s
Canada Science and Technology Museum, L34935

Composer Calixa Lavallée illustrated on the cover of the first edition of O Canada


Calixa Lavallée writes the music of O Canada.

Professional musician and composer Calixa Lavallée was asked to write music to a poem by Judge Adolphe-Basil Routhier, on the occasion of the 'Congrès national des Canadiens-Français'. The first performance of O Canada was given on June 24th, 1880.

Though the lyrics have changed several times over the years, Calixa Lavallée's music has changed little from his original composition.

Illustration: ca. 1880
Musée de la civilisation, bibliothèque du Séminaire. Lavallée, Calixa, 1842-1891. Chant national. Quebec: Publié par A. Lavigne, (c1880). Couv. Loc. : 29.6 (loc. Temp.)

Calgary's first Hudson's Bay Company retail store.


The Hudson's Bay Company launches its first mail order catalogue.

The Hudson's Bay company had opened retail operations in larger urban centres; however reaching potential customers in rural Canada was more difficult. To address this problem, the company launched a mail order service which meant that people could choose items for purchase using the catalogue, then pay for them and receive them by mail.

Photo: 1884
HBCA 1987/363-C-211/2

Dispatcher at the CTC panel, Port Arthur, Ontario


Railways introduce time zones to coordinate and standardize their operations

Time zones, based on "Standard Time", were first proposed in 1879 by the Canadian railway planner and engineer Sir Sandford Fleming. Standard time continues to be used today to help coordinate work and travel schedules across provinces, territories, and states.

Photo: CN005142
CSTMC/CN Collection

Thomas Ahearn


Thomas Ahearn, President and Founder of the Ottawa Electric Railway Company, invents the first electric heater intended for use on street cars.

Needing to prove that his streetcars could run year-round, including during Ottawa's harsh winters, electric heaters were installed on street cars for customer comfort. Ahearn also designed and patented a high-speed sweeper for the front of the streetcars to clear snow away from the tracks.

Photo: 1903
William James Topley/Library and Archives Canada/PA-01222