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The Thoroughly Canadian Car
Made Up to a Standard, Not Down to a Price

By Collections Curator Ruth Bitner
January 2004

Family in a Russell car This is the 1907 Russell car bought by Fred Green, an organizer with the Saskatchewan Grain Growers' Association, in the early years of the 20th century.
- WDM Archives

In 1905, the Russell car made its debut. It was built by Canada Cycle and Motor Company (CCM) under the leadership of Thomas Russell. The Russell was the first truly successful Canadian automobile, designed and built in Toronto. A few years later, a subsidiary, the Russell Motor Car Company, was organized to build and sell the cars.

Unlike other car makers which grew out of the carriage industry, Russell evolved from a bicycle builder. The wave of bicycle popularity had crested by the early 20th century and CCM looked to the emerging automobile industry to revive its declining fortunes. The new cars produced by Russell were right-hand drive and featured a column-mounted gear shift, an innovation that was not adopted by other manufacturers until the late 1930s. Russell’s Model A sold for $1300. After acquisition of the Canadian rights to the Knight sleeve-valve engine in 1909, Russell concentrated on production of luxury cars. They ranged in price from $2000 to $5000. By 1915, Russell interests were taken over by Willys-Overland.

The Western Development Museum collection boasts a 1907 Russell Model L touring car acquired in 1948. Fred W. Green of Boharm, SK bought the car in Winnipeg and drove it throughout Saskatchewan during his work as an organizer with the Saskatchewan Grain Growers’ Association. Other SGGA officials, including E.A. Partridge and J.A. Maharg sometimes accompanied him, often holding three meetings a day in rural communities.

The Russell was owned by the Green family for some 40 years. Writing to the WDM in 1961, daughter Mary recalled the sensation the car caused in Moose Jaw in 1908. At the time, there were only 74 motor vehicles registered in the province. “The first few days the car was parked in front of the house in Moose Jaw various citizens would stop and look it over. We dreaded meeting horses with buggies or wagons on the road as the horses would rear and take to the ditch and we were considered a menace. This took some of the pleasure out of the trip. Instead of using a horn on the car, Dad would give a very piercing whistle like a steam engine to warn people we were coming.”

Eva, another daughter, remembered, “One of the big occasions was the cleaning of the headlights. There was a lot of energy used in polishing up these. Our three cousins, David, Walter and Henry were very good at putting a shine on these and making the brass really look like something.”

The Greens used the Russell for only about eight years. Fred died in 1915 and the car was put into storage. In 1947 it was traded to J. Sutherland, a tailor from Moose Jaw, for a suit of clothes.

Canada Post recognized the significance of the Russell in 1993 when it launched the Historic Land Vehicles series of stamps. The six personal vehicles pictured in the set included an image of the Russell Model L, based on the example in the WDM collection. Fred Green’s car is on exhibit in the Moose Jaw WDM. 

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