The Brockville Briscoe Automobile, 1916 – 1921
The eastern Ontario city of Brockville was home to the Canadian Briscoe Automobile Company, t the sleek Briscoe featuring the choice of a 4 or 8-cylinder engine.
An automobile manufacturer in the United States, Benjamin Briscoe came to Canada in the autumn of 1915. He was expanding his business, the Briscoe Motor Corporation, established in Jackson, Michigan. Merging with the Brockville Atlas Automobile Company, the firm opened the Canadian Briscoe Motor Company. Holding rights to the American designed car “Everitt,” the Atlas plant operated by Tom Storey was already producing large five-to-seven-passenger cars with 40 horsepower engines. With experienced and capable men at the helm, the new Canadian company was ready for new business.
Carriages to Motor Cars
Tom Storey was also the vice-president of the Canada Carriage Company, a branch of Tudhope’s Carriage Company. Combining the strengths of the new Briscoe factory and the Carriage Company, the Carriage Company built the bodies for the Canadian Briscoe Automobile Company (while still providing services for other firms). Previous to taking on the modern business of motorized transportation, the large Carriage Company factory workers built high-quality horse-drawn vehicles such as wagons, sleighs, phaeton-style carriages and surreys. Their products were sold across Canada and the British Empire.
A glimpse of the possibilities ahead was observed when one of the company’s carriage bodies was used to build a test motor car in 1898. “An experimental automobile designed by William J. Still for the Canadian Motor Syndicate used a carriage built by the Canada Carriage Co. as a chassis, and added his engine and controls to it,” said the Brockville History Album in “Brockville’s Canada Carriage Company 1879 – 1930.” The future of the motorized vehicle had arrived.
33 Horsepower Engine Ran the First Brockville Briscoe
The first Brockville Briscoe automobile rolled out the factory doors in 1916, the body built by the
Canada Carriage Company and the engine parts from the Michigan ally. “By May of 1916 the Briscoe plant was turning out about five cars per day,” said “A Brief History of the Brockville Briscoe,” of The Frontenac Motor Company. “The 1916 Briscoe model 4-38 four cylinder car had 33 horsepower and a wheelbase of 114 inches.” The next year’s model had a wheelbase shortened to 105 inches and a smaller engine with 24 horsepower.
Offering 4 cylinder- or 8 cylinder-engines, the car also came with an electric starter and headlamps. The three-speed transmission was easy to shift, and the ride was smooth on comfortable leather seats. Elliptical springs helped smooth out the jolts from the rough roads. In 1917, the silky black automobile sold for $935 – almost twice the price of Henry Ford’s Model T, selling for just under $500. Five models of the Brockville Briscoe were produced, “including a three-seat clover-leaf roadster,” noted The Frontenac Motor Company.
End of the Briscoe Company Era in 1921
A devastating blow was delivered on October 27, 1918 when the Canada Carriage Company suffered a disastrous fire. While a number of car bodies were rescued from the flames, the company did not recover. The fire caused the loss of about 200 jobs in the town of Brockville. The Canadian Briscoe Automobile Company carried on the manufacture of motor cars until 1921. Production ended with the bankruptcy and closing of the American parent company, Briscoe Motor Corporation, in Jackson, Michigan that same year.
A small manufacturer compared with Henry Ford’s Model T production lines in southern Ontario, the Canadian Briscoe Automobile Company built approximately 1,000 vehicles per year, with an estimated 5,000 cars produced over the five years. The closing of the Briscoe plant was the end of automobile manufacture in Brockville, Ontario.
“Brockville’s Canada Carriage Company,” Brockville’s History Album. Accessed March 18, 2011
“A Brief History of the Brockville Briscoe,” The Frontenac Motor Company. Accessed March 18, 2011
Postovit, Mike, “Brock Auto Industry: This Year Marks 125th Anniversary of the Automobile,” News Clip, CKWS Television. Accessed March 19, 2011
This article first appeared on Suite101.com on March 19, 2011. Copyright Susanna McLeod