First Automobile Built in Prince Edward Island by Priest

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Submitted by Darlene DeMerchant -

NOTE: While this article is transcribed directly from its source, “The Maritime Advocate and Busy East”, it is most likely that Fr. Belcourt didn't build this automobile, and that it came from the US. However, there is little doubt that it was the first automobile on PEI.

The New Freeman, Saint John, N.B. Aug 23, 1941

Says World’s First Automobile Was Built in Prince Edward Island by Priest in 1866 ( From “The Maritime Advocate and Busy East”, Prince Edward Island Tourist Number)

When Lowell Thomas, the noted commentator and author, stated in a broadcast last year that the first automobile was built forty-six years ago in Indiana, he started something. Soon a lively controversy was raging, and claims for the honor of inventing the motor car came from everywhere.

In an article appearing in the Boston Herald of March 17, 1940, it was stated that a Mr. George A. Long made an automobile in 1875 and ran it on the streets of Northfield, Mass., at one o'clock in the morning before an audience of five hundred people! A year later Mr. Long received notice from the Selectmen of his town stating that he could run his “public nuisance” no more. But, believe it or not, in the year 1866, almost ten years before Mr. Long’s adventure, the first automobile wheezed its way over the streets of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island! The Charlottetown Herald described the fateful event thus:

“A single seated steam wagon passed through the city this week on its way to the owner, The Reverend Father Belcourt of Rustico. When we saw the wagon, it was drawn by horses, but it was furnished with a steam engine, et cetera, and can be propelled with steam. It is the first vehicle of its kind introduced into this Island”.

Though this historic news item does not so state, the owner of the vehicle was also its maker. Father Belcourt, the energetic, capable and beloved Parish Priest, was a mechanical genius whose life was a series of adventures as he moved from parish to parish.

The exact dates during which Father Belcourt was Parish Priest of Rustico are 1859 to 1869. In the Charlottetown Examiner of July 5, 1866, there is a report of a unique tea-party held at Rustico on June 24th of that year when the first automobile model was demonstrated to the amazed delight of some nine hundred guests. “ In the afternoon”, says The Examiner, “a steam carriage was put in motion and with great wonder and delight was observed steaming away for half a mile on the road and back again, at a fast speed, after which the meeting dispersed in good order, all appearing well pleased with the day’s proceedings”.

Many people feel strongly that the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, whose responsibility it is to mark historic spots, should erect a cairn or plaque at Rustico in commemoration of this truly historic event. The authenticity of the story of the first automobile cannot be doubted. On this page there appears a picture of Father Belcourt, and also the affidavit of Mr. Jerry Peters of Howlan, Prince Edward Island, made in August, 1940, to the effect that he himself as a child actually saw Father Belcourt’s automobile in operation. Seeing is believing.

Affidavit of An Eye-Witness

I, Jeremiah Peters, of Howlan in Prince County make oath and say:-
That I was born at Rustico Queens County Prince Edward Island on the 18th day of April 1855 as I am advised and verily believe.
That I quite distinctly remember Father George A. Belcourt, parish priest of Rustico from 1859 to 1869. That I remember seeing the steam carriage operated by Father Belcourt. This would be about the year 1866.
The carriage appeared to be an ordinary driving carriage propelled or powered with a small steam engine as a source of motive power.

Sworn to before me at O’Leary in Prince County Prince Edward Island, this 31st day of Aug, Jerry Peters {signature}1940.
Arthur J. Matheson {signature}
J.P. for Prince County

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