1904 Ford Model C: Discovering My Family’s As Well As India’s First Ford

Images: Milne Family Archives, Wheelsage

This old family photo with my Great Grandmother Celinda Jane Milne (1873–1933) driving a vintage car in front of her family home in Essex, a small town 20km from Windsor, Ontario, prompted my interest in identifying the car and its year.

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My great grandmother, Celinda Jane Milne, driving a Ford Model C in Essex Ontario

I sent the photo to a number of the Antique Car Clubs in North America and received an enthusiastic response from the Ford Vintage Car Club that only deals with pre-1908 Fords, and after much heated discussions, determined it was a Canadian built 1904 Ford Model ‘C’. Their first year of production!

In 1898, my Great Grandfather Arthur Milne (1868–1945) went to the Klondike Gold Rush located in the Yukon 5600km away, returning in 1906. Celinda Jane and their two young children went to live with her parents. Dr James Brian, a prominent and progressive MD, purchased this Ford Model C which Celinda Jane enjoyed driving, referring to it as ‘her’ car, and my grandfather Carlyle aged 14, would drive Dr Brian to visit his patients.

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Various generations of the Milne family

In 1873 my great, great grandfather John Milne (1838–1931), was the first settler, and who became the first mayor in 1890, with Essex having become one of the most industrialized towns in the region. He spent his last 12 years in this home and I, being born and raised in Essex, also lived here in 1945 having many fond memories living in this family home.

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The first motorcycle built in Canada was in Essex, by the Hill brothers

I was also taken by our Model C being a right-hand-drive, which led me to research when the change to left-hand-drive occurred. Henry Ford probably was the most influential factor when he changed his Model T in 1908 to standard left-hand-drive and the other manufacturers followed shortly. I’ve been unable to determine when the Province of Ontario officially changed to left-hand-drive, but British Columbia and all the eastern Maritime Provinces didn’t change until early 1920, with the Maritimes referring to 1922 as the year of ‘Free Beef’ as many oxen were unable to switch to walking on the right side of the road.

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Another Ford Model C runabout

The book, ‘Ford City’ by Herb Colling, provides an in-depth history of The Ford Motor Company of Canada which was founded in 1904 by Gordon McGregor, owner of the Walkerville Wagon Works in Windsor, with the purpose of building and selling Ford cars in Canada and the British Empire, except England and Ireland. It was an independent Company with Henry Ford personally owning 13 percent of the stock. Many of the other major US car companies soon followed suit in order to avoid the 30 percent tariffs on US built cars being sold into the British Empire. Subsequently most of the American cars found in India were built in Windsor Ontario, just across the river from Detroit.

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A Ford Model C tonneau

The first Ford Model C rolled out of the small factory in September 1904, with a first year of production of 117 cars, of which 108 were Model Cs selling for $1,175. At that time around 185 cars were registered in all of Canada, with over 130 of them being Fords and making Celinda Jane a female automotive pioneer.

The first Canadian Ford car exported was to Calcutta, India, in the fall of 1905: a 1904 Model C—and the rest, they say, is history, with Model As eventually being assembled in India from the 1930s onwards.


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