When I first heard that I would be visiting the Horseless Carriage Museum as part of my tour of the Kawarthas, to say that I was skeptical of the excursion would be an understatement. After all, how exciting could horseless carriages really be?
I can tell you with certainty that after having visited the place that is located between Fenelon Falls and Bobcaygeon, the museum (1427 County Road 8 RR#3, Fenelon Falls ON) is one of the most historical representations of Canada that I have ever seen and certainly a pitstop that any highschool history class should make as a mandatory field trip.
The non-for-profit museum is the best representation of early transportation vehicles in the world and is the lifelong passion of its owner Ross Bennett. Bennett started collecting as a kid and his affinity for the preservation of memorabilia has only intensified as he has grown older.
Perhaps the biggest misconception that I found with the museum is its name as it certainly features artifacts that are not transport-related. Visitors will be surprised to see a barn-like structure that is filled to the brim with old gas station signs, antique housewares, old mechanical music boxes, computing scales and even a rare 1870s Victorian baby carriage.
This is in addition to the vehicles that it is known for, which include:
- 1907 Reo Model A Touring Car
- 1905 Cadillac Model F Touring Car
- 1878 Penny Farthing Bicycle
- 1923 TT Ford 1 Ton Truck
- 1910 Reo Model H Truck
Perhaps the most impressive showcase at Horseless Carriage is its original 1895 Sawyer & Massey Traction Engine which is the oldest traction engine in the country. The Sawyer & Massey is one of the rarest tandem compound steam engines that will undoubtedly render the most ardent of automobile fans completely speechless.
During my private tour of the facility, while I was impressed by the plethora of displays and the smell of rustic Canadian that wafted through the walls of the Horseless Carriage, what was I was most impressed by was the man behind it all.
Ross Bennett eagerly regaled me with stories about how he managed to secure each item in the collection and stressed that he solely did it for his love of the early modern time period. He was happy to share a story about how The Tonight Show’s Jay Leno took a ride in one of his cars or the lengths he went to, to obtain a certain carriage. He couldn’t help taking a couple of charming pot shots at other museums featuring Edison phonographs but not let visitors listen to them. This was in stark contract to Bennett’s philosophy of allowing his visitors to fully immerse themselves in the history around them, going so far as to even holding up one youngster right up to the phonograph to get a better listen. This of course added to the honesty that is a prevailing trait of the Kawartha Lakes region.
The lesson I learned is that you do not need to like or even know about old-school carriages to appreciate the Horseless Carriage. You just need to be willing to listen, learn and absorb one of Canada’s most important institutions.
Here’s a quick video to see Bennett in action:
To visit the Horseless Carriage, advance appointments are necessary. For more information, please visit HorselessCarriage.ca
Next stop on the Kickin’ it in Kawarthas Tour: Wine and Dine at Pane Vino