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Capturing History

Joseph Frederick Spalding: Photographer—Tourist—Visionary

Fernie and District Historical Society, British Columbia, Canada.

The Open Road

Men pose in a car Traveling by car to Fernie and into Alberta and Saskatchewan; leaving Oct. 07 in a McLaughlin-Buick.

cover of pamphlet reading Scenic Heart of the Canadian Rockies
The cover of a pamphlet compiled by Spalding on behalf of the Tourist Association of Southern Alberta and Southeastern British Columbia.

The Editor, Fernie Free Press
Fernie, BC [Spring 1919]:

Dear Sir: - My recent trip of well over 12,000 miles through the states of Idaho, Washington, Oregon and California as far south as Mexico, and my previous trip of 23,000 miles in which I covered the whole of Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia, have convinced me more firmly than ever of the correctness of my oft made assertion that in this district and within a radius of 50 miles from Fernie, we have absolutely the finest scenery there is in the whole of the North American continent.

- Excerpt from letter signed “Fred Spalding”

In the above letter, Spalding writes about a recent automobile road trip covering over 12,000 miles through the Western United States to Mexico. Considering his previous trip in the fall of 1913 over some 23,000 miles of roadways though Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia, it would be an understatement to say that Spalding was passionate about automobiles and road travel.

Car on a road along the shore of a lake The Trans-Continental Highway along the Okanagan Lake, BC
Spalding and a companion stop to enjoy the view. Though not visible here the license plate
number dates this image to his 1913 journey from Vancouver to Fernie.

In addition to recording personal impressions of his 1913 journey, Spalding diligently logged the miles with a speedometer, made detailed notes about garages and hotels, and highlighted places of interest and outdoor opportunities that might be found along the way. He published the first guidebook of his travels in 1918, titled Official Automobile Road Guide for British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. An excerpt documenting a portion of the journey from Hope to Lytton follows:

Owing to our failure in getting over Jones’s Bluff, we had to turn back to Rosedale from where we intended to take the ferry across to Agassiz, and from there ship the car by the CPR to Lytton. On the way back, we had two blow outs to our intense disgust, which made the third that day. The ferryman would not take us across that night as the river was low and the landing on the other side a poor one, so we had to stay the night. The only place was a kind of temperance hotel and fairly comfortable.

The success of the first automobile guide led to Spalding’s second journey noted above and the publication of another road guide, this time documenting 12,000 miles of road through the western United States to Mexico.

A significant photo that highlights the transition to automobile culture, as the horse and buggy is sandwiched between two "modern" cars.

The natural chasm of the Sinclair Canyon was widened via picks and dynamite. The position of the automobile in this photo emphasizes the highway's narrow path.

Even today, with fast, comfortable automobiles and well-maintained highways, a road trip of 23,000 miles, in winter conditions, is verging on extreme. An accounting by Spalding of his travels between BC and Saskatchewan in the Preface to his first publication offers insight into the arbitrariness of the project. Even though the automobile guide was a success, the entire undertaking was clearly a labour of love:

The actual time spent on the road was 346 days, average daily expenses at hotels, mechanics wages, $12 garage bills for repairs, storage, gasoline and oil $900.00 and two completer sets of tires, to which has to be added the cost of printing and binding, and other incidental expenses. The sale of a book of this kind is a limited one, consequently the returns are slow, so a careful consideration of the above facts by the reader will convince him that the price of this book ($3.00) is exceedingly moderate.

Spending almost an entire year on the road is bound to make a driver a little bit cranky and Spalding gently admonishes drivers in a document headed, "A Page of Don’ts for the Autoist in BC." Several of Spalding’s rules for the road truly represent a journey back through time:

Car being pulled by a horse while men watch Car Trouble at Osooyos – this mishap occurred on Spalding’s auto tour from Vancouver to Fernie in 1913 and is described in his Official Automobile Road Guide, in which he documented the journey.

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