A letter composed by William Keith Rogers was published on May 8th, 1934 in the Charlottetown Guardian. It tells of his efforts to have legislation reversed, during a period in which automobiles were banned on Prince Edward Island.
William Keir Rogers (1868-1937) was born in Summerside, PEI. He was nine days old when his mother, Rebecca Burrows (1845-1868) died on 23 Apr 1868, and was raised by his Aunt Kitty (Catherine Burrows) and his maternal grandfather Thomas Burrows Jr., at the Burrows home in New Annan, PEI.
Long known as W K, he also gained the name “Good Roads Rogers” from his efforts to improve the transportation system and more particularity to remove the motor vehicle ban on PEI. The automobile was called by one PEI resident, J. W. McNally as “Only a foolish fad of millionaires and fools.” While McNally was eventually proven wrong, his phrase like the automobile itself found longevity on PEI.
Rogers’ developed skills as a telegrapher and began work at sixteen as a clerk and operator with the Prince Edward Island Railway (1884-1887). At nineteen two years after the last spike had connecting Eastern Canada to the West he accepted a position as station agent and dispatcher in Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay) with Canadian Pacific serving there during 1887 and 1888.
In 1889 he married Margaret Sinclair (1868-1959), of Summerside when both were twenty-one, and the young couple moved to Sandpoint, Idaho where he had a similar role as station agent with the Northern Pacific Railway from 1889-1892. While part of a growing state, compared to the comforts of established communities on the East Coast it was a desolate wilderness location for his young wife, and thus they returned home after three years, bringing home souvenirs of their western adventures. A tomahawk with several notches (apparently indicating scalps taken by the original owner) and a stuffed caribou head trophy were reminders of their western experience. Their first child was born in 1892 in Summerside; eventually they had four children.
On Prince Edward Island again, he embarked on a business career, starting as a bookkeeper for a firm of merchants, and from there he moved into a role as insurance agent in Summerside.
1888 had brought the invention of the safety bicycle with equal sized wheels and the model on which all modern bicycles are based. The innovation produced a world wide boom in the 1890s in bicycle manufacturing and sales. When an opportunity arose in New Brunswick, W K Rogers accepted a position as manager of Canada Cycle & Motor Company (CCM) in Saint John. CCM was established in 1899 as an amalgamation of four major Canadian bicycle manufacturers. CCM also became involved with manufacturing motor vehicles. Rogers indicates that a CCM motor vehicle, a 1906 Russell was the first new motor vehicle ever purchased on PEI. Rogers was the purchaser, and he replaced it with a 1907 model the next year. Advertising materials from Prince Edward Island lists Rogers as the general agent for Saxon automobiles, when the vehicles sold for $ 665. The Saxon Motor Car Company existed in Detroit, Michigan from 1914 to 1922.
Perhaps best known for the insurance agency bearing his name, W K Rogers Co. Ltd., he established his long term role as a Charlottetown agent when he became provincial manager of Canada Life Assurance Company. After adding fire and accident insurance to his products, his business advertised Tickets from Anywhere to Anywhere when it was located on 84 Great George St., indicating he was offering steamship and train tickets, as well as insurance. The travel aspect of the business which drew on Rogers’ early experience, developed into a full service travel agency adding air tickets to their line and operating under the name W K Rogers Agencies. The business evolved since Rogers’ time as Morton Dew Travel, and contInues (2004), under newer ownership.
In 1913, he made his first move into the lucrative silver fox industry on PEI, when fur farming was establishing a world leadership position on the Island. Buying foundation stock in 1913 from fur pioneer, Jim Tuplin his original five pairs of foxes developed until he was credited as being the largest individual silver black fox rancher in the world. In 1924 his ranches had a population of 1,000 even after having sold 300 breeding pairs and 200 pelts the previous year. According to Silver Fox Odyssey, by 1925 Rogers owned nine ranches and was called the “Morgan of the Fur Farming Interests.” At the high point of the fox business, he travelled to Europe to personally supervise the sale of his furs and breeding stock, had a private chauffeur while home, and was known for his philanthropic efforts. His fox empire included a silver fox company in Des Moines, Iowa which he was president of. His home at 139 Euston street in Charlottetown, a imposing three story house, designed by architect William Critchlow Harris, reflected his position in the community as a successful businessman.
His fortunes saw a decline as the industry lost its luster. While foxes might lose value, they still needed to be fed. Eventually Rogers began to hear rumblings from his bankers, and family members relate a story of an occasion when the bank manager in the Charlottetown branch of the Bank of Nova Scotia, required repayment of a loan securing a ranch operation, at a time when Rogers didn’t have the cash to repay the loan. While Rogers always had staff to run his operations, he knew what was involved to keep the operation going. He waited until it was near feeding time to arrive at the bank, with a huge ring of keys to the fox pens in hand. The keys were handed to the banker, informing him that feeding time was approaching, and that banker could “feed them if you want to”. As Rogers was prepared to make a rapid departure, the ploy worked and the banker quickly realized the responsibility that came with ownership of livestock, and had a change of mind about demanding the immediate repayment of the loan, as well as about accepting the ring of keys.
One of Rogers’ PEI ranches was the farm at the center of the current Fox Meadows Golf & Country Club in Stratford. Equipment used to grind food for foxes was still in evidence in a building on the property which was standing in the 1980's, as well as the remains of fox pen wire.
He was credited with realized the importance of providing essential knowledge along with the sale of foxes and the introduction of the training school concept for fox ranchers which was conducted in conjunction with the sale of live animals.
Ian Scott, Charlottetown, PEI
January 21, 2004
Sources of information include
January 21, 2004
Sources of information include
- Biographical sketch of W K Rogers, by Marianne (Rogers) Morrow - his granddaughter.
- Silver Fox Odyssey, The History of the Canadian Silver Fox Industry by Joseph E. Forester & Anne D. Forester - published by The Canadian Silver Fox Breeders Association
- The Machine in the Garden: A Glimpse at Early Automobile Ownership on Prince Edward Island, 1917 by Sasha Mullallay The Island Magazine No 54 Fall/Winter 2003
AUTOMOBILE HISTORY ON P. E. I.
"Good Roads Rogers"
Sir: A few weeks ago an editorial in The Guardian headed "Good Roads Rogers" recalled to my mind many incidents in connection with the introduction and use of the automobile in Prince Edward Island. It occurred to me that much of the history of this period is totally unknown to many of the younger generation who are driving cars today, and that a short sketch of what occurred might be both amusing and interesting. As for any reference to myself as "Good Roads Rogers", we can let that pass. We all know that the introduction of the automobile was responsible for the good roads movement everywhere, and perhaps more so in Prince Edward Island than elsewhere. What I am going to write is from memory only and it is possible some slight errors may creep in, but in the main this account of what happened is substantially correct.
I have heard something, of a vehicle propelled by steam power having been used by the Priest in charge of the Rustico parish many years ago, but I have been unable to obtain any reliable
information about this.
The first motor vehicle brought to the Island of which there is any authentic record was a steam car that carried about a dozen passengers. It was owned by a syndicate of Charlottetown men among whom were the late George E. Auld and the late Donald Nicholson, and was brought to Charlottetown in about 1900 and was used to carry passengers around the city and through the park, the fare for the round trip being ten cents. Several trips to the country were attempted but with little success.
The first automobile was brought here in 1905 , T. B. Grady and Frank Compton of Summerside importing a second hand Ford, and F. R. Jost a second hand single cylinder Cadillac. In 1906 the late George E. Auld and the late J. A. S. Bayer bought the Ford from Grady and Compton, Jimmie Offer imported a big Oldsmobile, Dr. Alley a three cylinder "Compound" and I brought in the first new car, viz. a two cylinder double opposed "Russell" made by Canada Cycle and Motor Company, this making a total of five automobiles in the Province. Five, however, was enough to start trouble. In 1907 I changed my 1906 Russell for a 1907 model but I do not remember that any other cars were brought here.
There was quite a lot of talk about frightened horses, narrow roads etc. in 1907 and, no doubt, many horses were nervous for it must be remembered that the 1907 models were not by any means noiseless. Agitation against the motor car continued through the latter part of 1907, and with the approach of the holding of the 1908 session of the Legislature the papers were flooded with testing against the use of the automobile. However, a few writers letters, some signed but mostly anonymous, and nearly all protesting against the use of the automobile. However, a few writers were far sighted enough to see that the automobile had come to stay and they suggested legislation providing proper regulation of their use, and also suggested the widening of the roads. As far as I can remember the late Mr. E. D. Sterns, in a letter to the Patriot March 1908, was the first one to point out the necessity of both regulation and widening the roads, and he ends his letter:
"Let the Government widen the roads to sufficient width for safety and comfort and I think very soon the fear will change from the man who drives the horse to the automobile owner, and soon harmony will reign and the automobile and horse will dwell together in safety and a little child may drive either."
Characteristic of the correspondence appearing in the press at that time is the following letter from George W. McPhee, Dominion Parliament for a Saskatchewan constituency, which was in later Hon. George W. McPhee, and now a Liberal member of the reply to Mr. E. D. Sterns:
"Mr. E. D. Sterns in his letter in the "Patriot" last evening expressed a somewhat conciliatory opinion in regard to the question. His contention as therein expressed is that Government widen the roads to sufficient width for safety and comfort. Well, let us see. There are in this Province 3,500 miles of road. The cost of widening these would on an average be $10.00 per mile, and this calculation is based on the assumption that no extra land would have to be purchased. Here then is a capital expenditure of $35,000.00 involved. Further, the average annual expense of keeping our highways in repair is $24,000. Add to this the extra cost of repairing the widened roads and you would have an added expenditure of $32,000 in maintaining our public highways. Here then would be a capital expenditure of $35,000 and an extra annual expenditure of $8,000. Add to this the interest on the capital expenditure of $35,000 and you would have the extra yearly expense of maintaining the public roads in the vicinity of $10,000. For the benefit of whom would this extra annual expenditure be incurred? It sounds all right in theory to say, 'Place a heavy penalty on the auto driver who will not stop when he sees an approaching team.' Let us see how this would have automobile running at a high rate of speed along some sequestered to work in practice. A party of say half a dozen people in an country road meets a carriage containing a sole occupant whose horse is not accustomed to this strange machine. What is the result? The horse becomes unmanageable and the mutilated remains of his driver, after being collected, show that he has fallen a victim of wholesale legalized homicide. How then about evidence as to whether the auto driver was going at a regulated speed at the time the accident happened? An anatomist and an undertaker would take charge of the remains over which an inquest would be held, and the verdict of the jury would in all probability be that given in the case of the man kicked by the mule 'that the man came to his death by the visitations of God.' The whole business is almost too monstrous to contemplate. Automobiles must be prohibited otherwise a minority of five will rule a majority of 103,259.”
Regarding Mr. McPhee's estimate of the cost of widening 3,500 miles of road and the increase of yearly cost for upkeep it is sufficient to point out that for 1933 our ordinary expenditure
for upkeep was $170,000 and in addition $ 50,000 on capital account. On the other hand, however, automobile licenses amounted to $ 89,255 net, gasoline tax $164,313 net.
In addition to correspondence in the press a number of meetings were held throughout the province to debate the question and at all of these meetings, excepting Charlottetown and Summerside, unanimous resolutions were passed calling for the absolute prohibition of the automobile. Here are a few of the high lights in some of the letters:
"Total exclusion from the public highways." Signed Vernon Bridge.
"$500 tax." Late H. W. Turner, O'Leary.
"Autos must be hung up for all time to come." Pownal
"We have no right to allow such a nuisance on Prince Edward Island." Wm. Pound, Margate
"Only a foolish fad of millionaires and fools." Late J. W. McNally.
"It may be all right for an undertaker to support the unrestricted running of automobiles. Necessary as is the calling of undertakers, and respectable as it may be, the intelligent electors of this Province will not support this modern death producer even for their benefit." Signed George W. McPhee in reply to the late D. L. McKinnon of Montague.
"The proposition that the Government widen the roads for the convenience of autoists is too ridiculous to be seriously dealt with. As far as tourists are concerned we wish to encourage them in every way and for this very reason automobiles should be prohibited." Signed Late M. Trainor, Charlottetown.
"Editor Patriot, Sir: Might I be permitted to inquire whose interests the "Guardian" proposes to serve , that of the merchants of this City and the people throughout the province or the handful of automobile owners. We wish to know clearly on which side of the fence you are." Signed Merchant.
Editorial in Patriot: In yesterday's Patriot appeared a letter dealing with the automobile question and signed "Interested Spectator". The autoists were referred to as a small and upstart minority. This phrase escaped our notice in looking over the letter. We regret its insertion. The owners of automobiles here are among our most prominent and respectable citizens and do not deserve to be alluded to in this manner."
During the March 1908 session of the Legislature the late Mr. John Agnew introduced a resolution asking for legislation to prohibit the running of automobiles on the public roads of this Province. The resolution was seconded by the late D. P. Irving. Mr. Justice Haszard, then Premier, speaking on the resolution said this was a burning question that had been agitating the minds of the people of this Province for some time. He was disposed to think that the mover of the resolution had not gone far enough. Chief Justice Mathieson, then Mr. Mathieson - leader of the Opposition, supported Mr. Haszard. The resolution was supported by the Hon. George E. Hughes, Hon. Matthew Smith, Mr. McMillan West River, and opposed by Hon. John M. Clark of Summerside, Mr. McKinnon and Mr. McDonald. And so the famous Automobile Act which was to cost this Province at least several millions of dollars in tourist traffic was passed. It provided against the use of any motor vehicle on any public highway or street in the Province, and a motor vehicle was defined as all motors, automobile or vehicles propelled by any power other than muscular power except such vehicles as run only on rails and steam road rollers.
The penalty for an infraction of this Act was a fine of $ 500 or six months in jail.
It is impossible to estimate in terms of dollars and cents what the passing of this Act cost the Province. The tourist trade was already looked upon as a great source of revenue by all countries that had sunshine, scenery, good fishing and good food to offer. Prince Edward Island had all these and more and we were already well advertised, and were getting the business. This legislation came just at the tie the automobile had become so developed as to be used as a safe and convenient method of transportation, and the wealthy tourists were leaving trains and steamboats and taking to their automobiles. We deliberately shut them out totally from 1908 to 1913 and really until 1919 for although the 1908 Act was repealed in 1913 autos were only allowed to operate on three days a week on certain roads until 1919, and tourists would not come here under these conditions. Placing an estimate of half a million dollars yearly on the tourist traffic turned away is, I believe, a most moderate estimate. Eleven years meant a loss of at least five millions of dollars. However, that’s that. And now the war began all over again, those in favor of the running of the automobile becoming the attacking party, the war to be continued until the motor car was allowed to operate on all roads and streets in the Province on every hour of every day of every week under proper regulations. The majority of those who took part in that war have passed away but it was a glorious eleven year war. Although the passing of the prohibitive legislation was an Act of the Liberal Government the Act was supported by as many Conservatives as Liberals, but once having passed the legislation the Liberal party appeared to feel it their duty, to support their child so the question soon became a political one.
The first act of the war took place on the evening of the day the legislature prorogued and the Governor signed the Bill. That morning I went to Mr. Nash of the "Patriot" and asked him for space on the front page for a small display ad. This was an unusual request but on explaining what I wanted he agreed, and in that evening's "Patriot" alongside the list of Bills the Governor
had assented to this ad appeared:
"This evening on the St. Peters Road and on the streets of Charlottetown at 6:30 I will operate my automobile. Signed W. K. Rogers".
I was called up and personally interviewed by parties who begged me to desist and by some who threatened me, but that evening we went out, five of us - Bruce Stewart, George E. Auld, James A. S. Bayer, Dr. Gordon Alley and myself. I have a photo of us taken at Johnston's Drugstore corner by R. M. Johnston. We ran out the St. Peters Road and around Charlottetown for about an hour and then put the automobile in my barn where it remained until the following Spring when I had it towed to the Steam Navigation Wharf and shipped it to Sydney.
Of course I expected to be arrested or served with papers that evening or the next day, but nothing happened and finally we were obliged to get someone to lay a complaint. I then came up before the City Magistrate, the late John MacDonald, and he fined me $ 500 or six months in jail. We then appealed it to the Supreme Court and Mr. A. A. MacLean was good enough to give his legal services without remuneration for himself. We knew the law was perfectly sound but we were obliged to keep the question before the public. The automobile was becoming popular and necessary as a means of transportation everywhere and someone had to keep up the agitation against this damaging and ridiculous legislation.
The decision of the Judges on the appeal was handed down at the June 1910 session of the Supreme Court. I was foreman of the Grand Jury that year and in our report on the condition of the public institutions I did unmercifully condemn the old jail, then on Jail Square. His Lordship, Chief Justice Sir W.W. Sullivan, was on the bench and he whispered to me, "Rogers, you cannot get clear that way; we are going to build a Jail." You see he had the decision of the appeal Judges in his pocket.
During the period from 1908 to 1912 the question whether the automobile should run or not run in Prince Edward Island was debated in the press and at meetings and it was undoubtedly the issue in the 1912 and 1916 elections. We had no difficulty in winning the 1912, and Chief Justice Mathieson came in as Premier, and at the first session in 1913 the old Act was repealed and an Act passed permitting the operation of motor vehicles on three days a week, viz. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday on the streets of Charlottetown and Summerside, and on such roads as might be declared open by order of the Governor in Council. Those who had been fighting the battle for the automobile strongly urged upon the Government at the 1913 session the wisdom of disposing of the question completely by passing a regulating act such as was working out successfully in the other Provinces and permitting their use on all days and on all roads. Our efforts, however, were unsuccessful, and the sore remained through the period from 1913 to 1919 when Mr. Justice Arsenault, then Premier, disposed of the question in a common sense manner and so ended the long dispute. In the 1915 election we realized that a return to power of a Liberal Administration would probably mean they would nurse their automobile child along. It was therefore up to us to win the election and return the Conservative party to power. In working out our plans we went over the different districts, found out the sure Conservative and the sure Liberal, and wasted no effort on them, but concentrated on five constituencies that were doubtful, but which we believed could be carried. We won the five of them and the Conservatives came back. I remember that a few days before polling, R. H. Sterns and myself started out to raise some more funds. We commenced at the lower end of Queen Street at about ten o'clock in the morning and finished at Jamieson's Drug Store about twelve o'clock with $ 500. cash. We had many amusing experiences on our trip up Queen Street.
The late Os Hewitt refused to give us a cent. Sterns held him while I took his watch which he redeemed for twenty dollars when he overtook us further up the street. Jamieson refused to give anything: Sterns held him and I took twenty dollars out of the till.
After the house prorogued in 1913, we went to the Premier and asked him what roads the Government proposed to open, and we were informed that they had decided not to open any roads without a petition signed by at least 75 per cent of the voters on that road. We had in mind the restoration of the tourist trade and the first roads we attempted to open were from Charlottetown to the Cliff Hotel, St. Peters Road to Union Road Corner, Union Road to Guerney Road Corner, then to Stanhope. We had to wait until the roads dried up before we could do anything. Then we made up three teams of canvassers - George E. Auld and George McDonald, L. H. Beer (now Col. Beer) and Dr. Alley, Bruce Stewart and myself. We would meet on the market square about ten o'clock, three horses and wagons, and be back at night with at least eighty percent of the names from the districts we had canvassed. We soon opened that road and very shortly extensive work began improving this road until it was the best on the Island. This example set the ball rolling, and the roads were gradually opened up. We had a great automobiles drove all the people along the road from Charlottetown to the Cliff to the picnic. The night before the picnic the people on the Brackley Point road held an anti-auto meeting at picnic at the Cliff Hotel the summer the road was opened, and the Harrington, at which some violent speeches were made and an anti-association formed at which a gentleman residing on the Union Road beyond the Gurney Road turn was elected President.
On the day of the picnic after we had all the people transported to the Cliff. Auld said to me, "I see Mr.---- was elected president of the Anti-Auto Association at Harrington East last night. Suppose we bring him to the picnic?" So away we went, and after a very excellent lunch we had the newly-elected President making a very fine speech on the lawn of the Cliff Hotel in the favor of the running of automobiles. This picnic was an annual event for several summers. And so the feeling in favor of the automobile spread.
In 1914 war broke out and we did not pay much attention to days or roads when called upon to help in recruiting or war work, and I think in only two cases were complaints laid, both against myself. The first was when the late Col. S. R. Jenkins ordered me to take him to Tignish after a deserter. They fined me $ 200 or two months in jail. The second was for taking Lieut McLean to Georgetown to see his family before going overseas. Lieut McLean arrived. in Charlottetown from Val Cartier on the late train Saturday night and was sailing overseas from Halifax on Tuesday. Sunday morning he tried to get a team but could not do so, and after church the late Rev. Geo. C. Taylor called me up and asked me to take McLean home and I at once said that I would. They fined me $ 200 also for this. We got the case adjourned about a dozen times and had a lot of fun. I paid no fines in any of these cases in which I was convicted, and what was the use of sending me to jail at the expense of the Government.
When the Victory Loan campaign was started in 1917, Mr. C. H. B. Longworth was appointed general Executive Chairman for the Province and I was appointed Chairman and organizer for Queens and Kings Counties. This meant my travelling over every part of the two counties, and it is difficult to see how the work could have been done in the short time alloted to us. I used my automobile on every day of the week, sometimes speaking at four meetings a day at places many miles apart and scarcely ever getting home before midnight. The people everywhere were kind and considerate, and no one ever suggested that I was violating the automobile law every day. Especially do I remember the courtesy of Mr. J. A. Dewar of New Perth. Mr. Dewar had been one of the strongest opponents of the automobile, but after a night meeting held in the hall at New Perth he came out with me to my car and took great pains to explain to me that the best road to Charlottetown was such and such, totally ignoring the fact that I was violating the law by running my automobile on any road on that particular day.
I held the same position with the Victory Loan in 1918 and 1919 and did the work In the same way without any complaints. Of course in 1919 the new Automobile Act was in force and the trouble was all over.
As I said at the beginning this should be of some interest to the younger generation, possibly to some of the older. It makes me feel rather sad as I review this period and our fight, to find how few of us are left.