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From New Carlisle to Gaspé in a Motor Car, 1909

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The motor car and the coast! (Photo - Peter Burpee Collection)In the summer of 1909, a remarkable automobile journey was made from New Carlisle to Roche Percé. It would be considered ordinary today, hardly noteworthy even if travelling in an antique car. At the time, however, it was a different matter. The roads were gravel and sometimes degenerated into rough tracks, bridges were crude wood structures and at least one river required crossing by barge. And while no doubt horses and wagons had been along the route, this was the first motor car to attempt the journey along the coast.. Today, although the 115 km journey could be completed in less than two hours, it is more likely the party took an entire day to reach their destination. And for those who know the coast well, imagine it in 1909.

The car was a 1908 Maxwell HC Tourer. The intrepid party was led by Charles Scoles, an experienced railwayman from England who had previously worked as a civil engineer for several railways in New Brunswick and Ontario. Two years on, and now in his prime, he was to become the general manager of two linking Gaspesian railways, the Quebec Oriental Railway (Paspesiac to Gaspé), and the Atlantic Quebec Western Railway (Matapedia to Bonaventure). But in 1909, both railways were still at the planning and engineering stages. Charles Scoles clearly knew the route, the terrain and the challenge, and set out with confidence on this motoring adventure with wife and daughter.

It was a family group that included Marie, Scoles’ wife, Violet, his daughter and an unknown man who was possibly Herbert Grier whom she later married. There may have been someone else who took the photographs.

Fixing a flat. (Peter Burpee Collection)The car was large and for the times, comfortably appointed and as a car manufacturer, Maxwell was making a name for itself. In those days, motoring had nothing of the reliability we count on.

In the photographs, we see them posing for the camera, often in places where circumstances imposed a halt. Flat tires were a common occurrence, and Scoles seemed to have soon exhausted his supply of spare inner tubes, made of india-rubber. If you look carefully at some of the pictures, notice where the rim of the right front wheel has been wound with rope as a practical measure that would allow the journey to continue. A bumpy jolting ride must have been really uncomfortable for the driver and passengers who, given the choice of pursuing their journey to the end or returning back in a deflated state of mind to New Carlisle, chose to stay the course and keep driving. That would certainly say something about the force of Scoles’ personality!

One of the photos is especially fascinating. It was taken with members of a farm family standing by a car, possibly the first they had ever touched and having their photograph taken, probably with the strangeness of a camera they had also never seen before. Did they ever later get to view the photographs?

There are 17 photographs that record this remarkable trip. They have been passed down in a little album that sadly lacks any written annotations describing the scenes, places or the people in them. Only the cover has the title, “From New Carlisle to Gaspé in a Motorcar” and inside, written on a photograph is a date, 1908, that has been amended to 1909 by Scoles’ daughter some years ago.

Overlooking the cove. (Photo - Peter Burpee Collection)Stops were evidently made for repairs, but none of the photographs were taken of the towns or villages along the route. Two were taken of Roche Percé. There is no indication or record of how the return journey was made. If this was the first car, there could not have been any service stations. Where did they find fuel for the journey there and back? On arrival in Gaspé, did the party stay at a hotel? Perhaps the return was by boat. Was there any mention of this journey in the newspapers of the day? And who are the descendents of the farm family that posed alongside Charles Scoles and his intrepid motor party?

Charles Scoles died in 1916 and was buried at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in New Carlisle. A lengthy obituary attests to a large community turnout and a Guard of Honour numbering 100 soldiers. The church was apparently so crowded that “a large number of his friends could not get admittance”.

Today he is forgotten. An enquiry about Charles Scoles at the little museum in the village of Gaspé drew a blank. As for the two railways, they became part of the CNR in 1929 and have similarly passed out of public memory and into history. Sic transit Gloria.

See the photo gallery "New Carlisle to Gaspé in a Motor Car, 1909" for more pictures of
this remarkable drive.