The Diamond Arrow Motor Car Company

27 August 1910

For current residents of Ottawa, it’s hard to imagine that their green, smog-free city, populated by white-collar bureaucrats, high-tech. engineers and software designers was once a smoky, blue-collar, manufacturing centre. Back in 1910, 168 manufacturing firms operated in Ottawa/Hull, employing roughly 14,000 workers. This compared with 3,596 Federal public servants. In other words, manufacturing workers outnumbered Federal government workers by a ratio of almost three to one. In contrast, in 2012, Federal government employment in Ottawa accounted for 21 per cent of total jobs, with the manufacturing sector accounting for a mere 4 per cent.

Ottawa’s attraction as a manufacturing centre during the early twentieth century was principally due to the availability of cheap hydro-electricity generated by the power stations at the Chaudière Falls. There were, of course, other factors that helped, including a comparatively low cost of living, efficient rail and water transportation routes, and the city’s proximity to Eastern markets. One firm that was attracted to Ottawa by these factors was the Diamond Arrow Motor Car Company.

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The Diamond Arrow Motor Car Company of Ottawa’s 5-passenger Touring Car, billed as the “The Acme of Perfection,” The Ottawa Citizen, 15 February 1912.

In 1909, a group of five, well-connected businessmen came up with the idea of manufacturing automobiles in the nation’s capital. While the above list of city attractions must have factors in their decision, it probably helped that Ottawa was the home of metal workers, mechanics and other artificers. Indeed, the Ottawa Car Company owned by Thomas Ahearn and Warren Soper already produced streetcars and railway carriages in the city. The five businessmen felt that there was no reason why motor cars could not be made at a reasonable cost in Ottawa and help satisfy the burgeoning demand for automobiles throughout North America. To give a sense of scale of this rapidly expanding industry, the Ford Motor Company alone increased its U.S. automobile production from10,202 units in 1908, to 69,762 units in 1911 and to more than 500,000 vehicles in 1915. Initially, the Diamond Arrow factory was more of an assembly plant, using parts, including engines, made by others. However, the company had ambitious plans of manufacturing its automobiles in-house.

The president of the Diamond Arrow Motor Car Company of Ottawa was Thomas Cameron Bate, the son of Henry Newell Bate who had come to Ottawa in 1854 when the community was still called Bytown. Henry Newell Bate was the principal owner of the eponymous H.N. Bate & Company, an important wholesale grocery, which he had started with his older brother Charles in the mid-1850s. (The company was initially called C.T. Bate & Company after the brother.) Henry Bate was to become Sir Henry Bate in 1910, honouring his efforts as chairman of the Ottawa Improvement Commission.

While Thomas Bate was employed by the family firm, he began the Diamond Arrow Motor Car Company with Edward McMahon in 1909. McMahon was the secretary of the new start-up firm. The other principal members of the company were its Managing Director, T. Fleming, the firm’s Mechanical Superintendent, L.L. Finney, and its sales agent, Nelson Ker.

The car company’s base of operations was a factory at the corner of Lyon and Wellington Streets, now the location of the offices of Veterans Affairs Canada, just a five-minute walk from Parliament Hill. The company’s sales office was at 26 Sparks Street. Through 1909 and 1910, from 10 to 20 mechanics were employed at the factory with the first car turned out of the shop for road testing on Saturday, 27 August 1910. The automobile was complete except for its woodwork, and was test-driven over a couple of miles of city roads. Five other vehicles were almost assembled. The company’s management hoped that they would have between 75 and 100 vehicles ready for delivery by the time of the 1911 season. The chassis of the Diamond Arrow car went on display the following month at the 1910 Central Canada Exhibition in the Process Building at Lansdowne Park.

The fledgling firm produced two models—a 5-passenger Touring Car and a two-seater Roadster. The Touring Car was a 4-cylinder, 38-horse power vehicle with a 3-speed transmission plus reverse. It had a Bosch dual system magneto and battery ignition. The body, which was on a 116-inch wheel base, was constructed by L. Duhamel Ltd of Ottawa, a local carriage maker. The upholstery was made from the finest, hand buffed, French leather. The car boasted 34-inch, white hickory, artillery-style wheels with Goodrich tires and a 14-gallon gas tank. It was also equipped with 8-inch Rushmore headlights, oil side and tail lamps, a horn, tools, and a tire repair kit.

The two-seat Roadster had a 4-cylinder engine, 45-horsepower vehicle with a 3-speed transmission plus reverse. Its 114-inches wheel base was marginally shorter than that of the Touring Car. Its body was also made by L. Duhamel, and ran on 34-inch, artillery-style wheels with Goodrich tires.

Both were clearly luxury vehicles, bearing a price tag of about $3,000, a huge sum of money in those days when a Ford sold for $775. Much was made of the fact that its engine was the same as the one used for several years by the Pierce-Arrow automobile made in Buffalo, New York. (Pierce-Arrow began using a six-cylinder engine in 1910.) Indeed, the name of the car, “Diamond Arrow,” may well have been an attempt to associate the Ottawa car with the very famous and successful Pierce-Arrow brand. The Diamond Arrow Roadster also looked very much like the 1909 Pierce-Arrow Roadster.

While a few Diamond Arrow automobiles may have been sold during the first half of 1911, the finished vehicle returned to the Central Canada Exhibition in September 1911, displayed in the Carriage and Automobile section under the grandstand at the Exhibition Grounds. The Ottawa Evening Journal enthused that it was “the ultimate achievement in motor car construction, a degree of perfection which leaves nothing to be added or desired in the way of improvement.” The Diamond Arrow Motor Car Company won an award for its entry in the Exhibition.

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The Diamond Arrow Radiator Emblem, American Auto Emblems by Mike Shears

Despite the praise, something went wrong, though what is not clear. In February 1912, there was a huge automobile show held at Lansdowne Park in Howick Hall, also known as the Coliseum. Almost forty motor cars of all major marques were on display. But one vehicle was conspicuous by its absence; there was no sign of Ottawa’s own Diamond Arrow. The Ottawa Citizen called this a “great misfortune” since the car was “an excellent piece of machinery and a special interest to Ottawans.” People were instead advised to go to the company’s showroom on Sparks Street to view the car. The unconvincing explanation given for its absence from the Motor Show was a lack of space. But how could there be no room in an Ottawa Motor Show for an Ottawa automobile produced by such well-connected Ottawa entrepreneurs?

At the same time as the Motor Show, the Diamond Arrow Motor Car Company paid for a huge advertisement in the Ottawa Citizen for its two models—described as the “acme of perfection”—complete with their specifications. After that, the company seemingly vanishes. There are no further references to the vehicle or the company in Ottawa newspapers. Apparently, the company was dissolved later that year. The reason is unknown. Perhaps the owners overestimated the local market for such an expensive car. Most small automobile start-ups succumbed during those early, heady years of the motor car industry, unable to compete owing to a lack of economies of scale, insufficient financing and other factors. How many cars the Diamond Arrow Motor Car Company produced during its short life is also unclear. What is known is that its two principal owners, President Thomas Cameron Bate and Secretary Edward McMahon, went in a different direction in 1912 with the formation of a new company called Bate, McMahon & Company, General Contractors. The new company was very successful in the construction business, building for the Canadian military Camp Valcartier in Quebec in 1914 and Camp Borden in Ontario in 1916. In 1917, the company was contracted to help rebuild Halifax after the great explosion. In Ottawa, the firm also built the Hunter Building on Albert Street in 1918 and the 1,000-seat Capitol Theatre on Queen Street in 1920. Both buildings have since been demolished.

Sources:

City of Ottawa 2019. Employment by Top Sectors, 2012, https://ottawa.ca/en/business/business-resources/economic-development-initiatives/economic-development-update/special-editions.

Coristine Cynthia & Ian Browness, 2014. The Bate Brothers of Ottawa, Booklet 3. Sir Henry Newell Bate & Family, A Civic Legacy, Bytown Pamphlet No. 93, Historical Society of Ottawa.

Ottawa Citizen, 1911. “Bright Future For Publicity,” 24 January.

——————, 1912. “The Diamond Arrow Car,” 15 February.

——————, 1912. “Before Buying an Auto See The Diamond Arrow,” 15 February.

Ottawa Evening Journal, 1910. “First Made In This City,” 29 September.

—————————–, 1911. “Diamond Arrow Motor Cars,” 14 September.

—————————–, 1910. “New Ottawa Industry,” 15 September.

Shears, Mike, 2016. American Auto Emblems, 24 December, http://www.americanautoemblems.com/2016/12/diamond-arrow.html.

Wikipedia, 2018. U.S. Auto Production Figures.

 

 

 

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