Skip to content
Join our Newsletter
Join our Newsletter

Did you know the first B.C. gas station used a garden hose?

We look back at the rise of gas station infrastructure as we watch EV charging stations grow.

With more and more locals turning — or thinking about turning — to electric vehicles, there's been much chatter about the infrastructure to support them

Are there enough charging stations to get everyone from point A to point B? When will the network be seamless throughout North America? 

They are big questions with plenty of folks weighing in to answer them

It is often useful to look back for perspective to see where we are going. 

This isn't the first time we have seen transportation infrastructure grow. 

When motor cars rose in popularity, it isn't like gas stations popped up the night before. 

The car arrived before the station, in other words. 

Fill 'er up!

The first gas station in Squamish arrived in the 1920s at Howe Sound Motors, which was located approximately on the site of today's Scotiabank on Cleveland Avenue, according to local historian Eric Andersen. 

The Brackendale Store also had a Shell gas pump from the 1950s, he said.

"As transportation in and out of Squamish was by ferry, there weren't that many cars around, but definitely bus and taxi services from way back," Andersen said. 

The early Howe Sound pump appears to be operated by a hand crank attached to a pump, according to Jim Sandoro, who founded the Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum.

The Brackendale pump looks electric as all pumps are now, Sandoro said after viewing the Squamish photos.

First in Canada

According to Chuck Davis' History of Metropolitan Vancouver, the first gasoline-powered car arrived in 1904.

Before stations, car owners would have to purchase their gas from oil distribution terminals on the outskirts of communities, says an article on early gas stations in the Canadian Encyclopedia.

Originally, gas got into the vehicle by someone carrying a bucket full of gasoline up to the vehicle and pouring it through a funnel into the tank. 

Vancouver was the first spot in the nation to get a gas station. Imperial Oil opened up on the corner of Cambie and Smithe in June 1907, according to the Places That Matter Community History Resource website

According to Imperial Oil, gas got into vehicles' tanks through a garden hose.

Word eventually spread about the station and it grew in popularity. 

The most likely solution for early motorists who wanted to travel with gasoline cars when there were few gas stations was a jerry can of gas stored in the car, said Angus McIntyre, an amateur transportation historian who was a Vancouver bus driver for 40 years.

The Canadian Encyclopedia says that there were 123,464 vehicles registered in Canada in 1904.

"As car ownership increased, oil companies began investing heavily in neighbourhood stations," reads the Encyclopedia article.

Everything old is new again

While we think of the electric car as the wave of the future, it is actually a thing of the past. 

As auto journalist Jil McIntosh noted in her piece for AutoTrader, by 1900, the best-selling car in the U.S. was powered by batteries.

While electric vehicles first appeared in Europe, the first electric car in the U.S. — a six-passenger wagon capable of reaching a speed of 23 kilometres per hour — was developed in 1890 by William Morrison of Des Moines, Iowa, according to the site RareHistoricalPhotos.com, which shows a picture of Thomas Edison posing beside his first electric car in 1895.

McIntyre remembers an electric car from when he was a boy living in Australia.

"We lived in Australia for five years when I was growing up between the ages of 11 and 16. And we lived in a city near Melbourne, Geelong," he said. 

"There was a battery-powered car from the '20s...They were kind of high and boxy. And we used to see it humming around the neighbourhood, silently."

Closer to home, as reported in the Times Colonist, there was a wealthy woman who lived much of her life in Victoria's Empress Hotel, who could be seen bebopping around the capital city in her electric car from the 1920s. 

"There were some well-to-do people that actually lived in the hotel as apartments," noted McIntyre.

Florence Ffrench, who lived in the hotel from 1929 to 1962, parked her car in the basement and it was brought around to the front door whenever she wanted to go for a ride.

The vehicle reportedly had a 24-kilometre, or 15-mile, range.

"The early electric cars right into the '20s were aimed at women," McIntyre said. Not only were they easier to start — they didn't have the laborious hand crank — but they also required less maintenance, he added. 

"Not that many women drove cars back then. But they aimed the early electric cars at women for shopping and social things. Because they were much easier to maintain. If they didn't run on gas, with the oil or all the other things with a gasoline engine, all you had to do is plug it in and recharge the batteries. There's not much to do to with an electric motor. They would have been a very efficient vehicle."

With files from Pedro Arrais/Times Colonist