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1912 electric car will help Victoria celebrate its birthday

As Victoria celebrates its 150th anniversary, a visit by a 1912 Detroit Electric car for the celebrations is a reminder of the old adage, "Some things never change.

As Victoria celebrates its 150th anniversary, a visit by a 1912 Detroit Electric car for the celebrations is a reminder of the old adage, "Some things never change."

Electric cars may be a novelty in Victoria today, but their history goes back more than 100 years. Back then, electric cars would share the road with horse and buggy, gasoline-and even steam-powered cars.

This particular car, brought over for the weekend by the Islands chapter of the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association, has a strong connection to the city: It spent most of its early years here.

The car was owned by Florence Ffrench, who lived in the Empress Hotel from 1929 to 1962. The car was parked in the basement and was brought around to the front door whenever Ffrench wanted to go for a ride.

According to Ffrench, the vehicle had a 24-kilometre, or 15-mile, range.

"My great-aunt once told me: 'The world is my oyster, as long as it is no more than seven and a half miles from the Empress garage.' " said Howard Smith, her great-nephew who still lives in Victoria.

"When she was on the road, the car was quite a tourist attraction back then."

The populace would have gotten a good look whenever Ffrench went for a ride, as the top speed was only 16 kilometres per hour. She apparently never exceeded 13 km/h.

It is perhaps for the better that it was so slow, as the vehicle has no steering wheel. Instead there are two tillers that an operator has to master. Unlike modern cars, the driver operates the vehicle from the back seat.

But there are some things that haven't changed.

"The electric motor shares similar characteristics as a modern electric car," said Cam Rawlinson, co-founder of the local chapter of the VEVA.

"Although semi-conductors weren't invented until after the war, the base technology is there."

The vehicle was a gift to the non-profit club after Expo 86 and spends most of its time as a static display at B.C. Hydro's Stave Falls visitor centre.

Apart from Thursday's attendance at the Victoria 150 Celebrations, appearances for the car include Saturday at Ship Point (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and Sunday at the Oak Bay Collector Car Festival (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.).

parrais@timescolonist.com