Letter to the editor: In search of the history of Rolls-Royce in Westboro

Dear Editor:

That was an interesting article in October’s Kitchissippi Times by Dave Allston on Kitchissippi’s early automobile pioneers.

As a founding member of the local Rolls-Royce and Bentley club of the St. Lawrence Valley, I was then reading a book about the earliest Rolls-Royce cars and there was an advertisement reproduced about the 1905 models, including a list of agents which stated that Ketchum in Ottawa was one.

I tried to find out if there actually had been any sales by Ketchum, then located on Sparks St. I went to Ketchum industries that were still located about 20 years ago off Richmond Rd. near downtown Westboro, which was still producing agricultural fencing. I spoke to the Ketchum grandson who told me that while his mother was still alive, she unfortunately could not remember any details like this. So I drew a blank, as I did in the Ottawa Public Library Archives.

So if any of your readers or Dave Allston have any knowledge of whether the Ketchum Agency for Rolls-Royce ever sold any cars, it would be of great interest to us. Maybe there could also be a “barn find” or a wrecked chassis.

As readers may know, Henry Royce was an electric crane manufacturer who had come up from poverty. He bought a De Dion Bouton French car but thought it unreliable and made his own. Then he joined up with the Hon. C.S. Rolls, the son of an aristocrat and unusual for his background. Rolls had studied engineering and found that the Royce car was superior and with Henry Royce formed Rolls-Royce to produce and market them.  Rolls unfortunately was also an air pioneer and died in an early air crash.

The 1905 Rolls-Royce was a V8 produced to compete with electric cars, so maybe it would have competed with Ottawa pioneer Ahearn’s electric car. We have gone full circle now!

On a tangent regarding automobiles in Canada, the Wilson Carbide works in Gatineau were producing calcium carbide for acetylene gas which was used in car headlights before there were electric headlights.

Let’s hope that the Kitchissippi Times has more historical articles in future editions!

Ray Pearmain, 36-635 Richmond Rd.

 Dave Allston responds

We forwarded Ray Pearmain’s letter about Rolls-Royce in Ottawa to see if Dave Allston might be able to find something.

As usual, Dave didn’t disappoint. He was able to find 11 items of note in newspaper archives. This included a May 2, 1908, automotive article noting that a Rolls-Royces was on its way to Ketchum’s!

Short article related to Rolls-Royce from the Ottawa Citizen, Friday, November 3, 1911
Ottawa Citizen, Friday, November 3, 1911

“A pretty good find I’d say,” wrote Dave.

Some of his other finds included a March 27, 1909, ad for Ketchum’s that advertised Rolls-Royces for sale; a May 15, 1909, article that mentioned that the first 6-cylinder Rolls-Royce car in Canada would be arriving in Ottawa shortly, under a section devoted to updates from Ketchum’s; and a Nov. 3, 1911, article which mentioned that Ketchum will be acquiring more Rolls-Royces for sale.

Article from the Ottawa Journal, Saturday, May 15, 1909
Ottawa Journal, Saturday, May 15, 1909

Dave notes that “from 1909-1913, there were surprisingly few (almost no) mentions of Rolls-Royces in any Ottawa papers. In 1913 it picked up when the Ottawa Taxi and Auto Co. began advertising them for sale through their store (they had taken over Ketchum’s auto department, though Ketchum remained as manager; it seems like it was mainly a change in name only).”

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