Canadians and their cars

(NC)-The Beach Boys had their Little Deuce Coupe and Bruce Springsteen loves that Pink Cadillac, yet Canadian songs about cars are almost impossible to find.

“I think Canadian musicians have sung more about trains, or even boats, than cars,” says Dean Ruffilli, a doctoral student studying Canadian automotive history at the University of Western Ontario. “People love their cars here, too, but it just never became the cultural phenomenon that it did in the United States.”

In fact, Canada’s relationship to the car has been downright nasty at times.

“In the early 20th century there was a lot of active hostility between urban car owners and farmers,” explains Ruffilli, who received a grant for his research from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). “It became a kind of petty warfare with farmers digging holes in the road and filling them with mud, or even stringing piano wire between trees at neck height.”

And while other countries, such as the United States and Britain, also saw resistance to the introduction of the car, Ruffilli says this Canadian reaction was unique.

“PEI actually banned the car until 1919,he says. And although Canadians, led by Ontario and the West, eventually embraced the car, grumblings against it continued to surface.

In the 1950s, as car owners began moving en masse to the suburbs, there was a rise in concern over the impact the car was having on downtown neighbourhoods. The 1970s saw outright rebellion as local governments debated and rejected Toronto’s “Spadina speedway” and similar downtown highway projects in Halifax, Vancouver and other Canadian cities.

“It was also in the 1970s that Canadians began rejecting the big American cars and really embraced the imports from Japan,” says Ruffilli.

Today, Canadians still prefer small, efficient vehicles over the gas-guzzling SUVs favoured south of the border.

“Canadians continue to be more socially-minded about their cars,” says Ruffilli. “In the United States the car is all about individual freedom and self-expression. Here we tend to rank safety, and community health way above our cars.”

A sentiment echoed in what is perhaps the only popular Canadian song about a car-Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi – with its chorus, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

You can learn about other SSHRC-funded research on the Council’s Web site (

– News Canada