Opinion Editorial

Car company made 35 units

John Rhodes

At the spot where the Cinema Six now stands on Adelaide St. there was once an old factory. An early tenant, if not the first occupant of this building, was the firm of Hyslop and Ronald, which made a number of products including steam fire engines. One of the fire engines manufactured in this plant still exists and is on display in front of the Chatham Civic Centre.

Another occupant of this two-storey factory was the Chatham Motor Car Company Limited. The company was organized in 1906 by T.K. Holmes, who served as president. W.J. Taylor was vice president, Thomas Dillon was secretary-treasurer, and J.F. Dillon was general manager.

These men had seen the potential of the automobile where others had, as yet, not.

The firm had 40 employees and could produce up to 50 Chathams per year, with the bodies and interiors being produced by the William Gray and Sons carriage factory.

The Chatham was a right-hand drive, five-passenger touring car which was powered by a 20 horsepower, air-cooled engine. Later on the power would be supplied by a water-cooled motor of 25 horsepower.

The Chatham was in the luxury car class, and with a retail price of $2,500 it was substantially out of the reach of most of the population - which explains why it ultimately failed.

In all, 35 Chathams were produced at the Adelaide St. plant between 1907 and 1909, with most sold to prominent citizens in Chatham.

Regarding the Chatham automobile, there survives a series of photos taken in 1908 during one of the first "automobile vacations" ever originating from Chatham. Two of the participants were young Dr. Shirley Morell Holmes and James Innes of the Sutherland-Innes Company of Chatham. The trip extended along the shore of lake Huron as far as Goderich and possibly to the Owen Sound area.

It was probable that Holmes had borrowed or rented this car from his father's company.

A photo taken at a later date has Holmes sitting behind the wheel of an Anhut, which was the successor company to the Chatham Motor Car Company but did not produce any vehicles on its own, so that the Anhut Dr. Holmes is seen driving would be a re-badged Chatham. It is also possible that, impressed with the Chatham, Holmes later bought one of the unsold units from Anhut.

The Adelaide St. factory survived until at least the mid-1960s, as an aerial photo taken at that time shows the plant still standing.

Holmes was what we would refer to today as a "car guy," and owned several exotic vehicles during his life, including a late 1930s Cord Westchester and a 1956 or '57 Lincoln Mark II. These would readily be among the most beautiful automobiles ever built.

Holmes will be featured in a future biography, while this one will concern James Innes.

Innes was born at Liverpool, England on July 8, 1864, and after completing his education he went to New York to manage the American operations of his father's business, which was known as the Sutherland Innes Company.

He came to Chatham in 1889 to run the Chatham branch of the firm, which manufactured wooden barrels and related products in a plant just east of Chatham at Pikeville in Chatham Township.

James Innes died at Detroit on Dec. 13, 1926. He was 62.

John Rhodes is the author of nine books on local history and can be reached at jrhodes2@sympatico.ca

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