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The first motor vehicle ever in Vancouver was essentially a homemade minivan and only ever driven once

"It was never taken out again."
The first car in Vancouver was built by a group of men, driven once, and then scrapped.

While encountering cars in Vancouver is as every day as leaving your home or complaining about housing costs, 125 years ago you wouldn't have spotted a single motor vehicle on the city's streets.

The first 'horseless carriage' (as it was called at the time) didn't drive into town, partly because in 1899 that wasn't possible. The technology and infrastructure wasn't there.

Instead, it was created here.

An ironworks company called Armstrong and Morrison decided to build their own before a Stanley Steamer (a proper car, at the time) made it's way to the city later that year.

They decided to convert a charabanc (a type of bus or wagon) they bought out east. The huge, four-wheeled structure had three benches on top, with people sitting four or five feet above the ground.

"We converted this into a motor vehicle, designing and building the boiler at our own works," W.C. Ditmars told Vancouver archivist J.S. Matthews in 1935. "The boiler was a very heavy multi-tubular affair heated with a gasoline burner."

The vehicle was rear-wheel drive, with a steering wheel on the right-hand side (this was before Canada switched sides).

"It made one trip down to the city from our works," Ditmars said. "One trip served to show the car was not practical, being too heavy and clumsy, and it was never taken out again."

While it was apparently frustrating to drive, it did carry eight men on that one drive, like a minivan with no roof. Or windows. Or doors. And a windshield that sat around the height of people's knees.

However, it appears it was so annoying to use, it wasn't worth keeping around.

"It was eventually scrapped, the engine and boiler being sold," said Ditmars, noting those parts were added to a boat.

He adds that there was curiosity about how the vehicle would turn out from a man who thought it could be useful on the Cariboo Road into B.C.'s interior. He adds that had it been a success, it might have turned into a business opportunity linking Vancouver to the interior in a new way.

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