The advent of the automobile age, in the early years of the twentieth century, heralded the dawn of a new era in transportation and signalled the slow but steady decline of horse-drawn business and pleasure vehicles.
The arrival of automobiles was an historic event. On page 59 of “The History of Ellison District 1858 – 1958”, it records that “In July, 1905 the first automobile to pass through the [Ellison] district and the first to enter Kelowna was driven by Mr. Wm. Scott and caused great excitement. While he found it very useful in summer he had to revert to horses during the winter months….”
Automobiles were generally faster and more comfortable than horse-dependant transportation, but they had their own challenges, including the potential for lethal accidents.
An early local automobile accident occurred in May 1911. This accident involved Central Okanagan resident William Scott’s McLaughlin car. Scott did not have this impressive vehicle for his own pleasure, but instead drove it as the Kelowna-Vernon stage, transporting passengers and freight between the two Okanagan towns. He had earlier used a team of horses and a covered top democrat wagon, but the lure of the automobile proved too much – horses were soon replaced by a motor car.
Scott’s McLaughlin car was involved in a serious accident on Thursday, May 11, 1911. This accident was reported in “Kelowna – Vernon Stage Accident / Automobile Plunges Down Steep Bank”, which appeared on page one of the Thursday, May 18, 1911 edition of “The Orchard City Record”, an early Kelowna newspaper:
“The automobile stage which carries the mail and passengers between Vernon and Kelowna, met with disaster last Thursday afternoon, on the outward journey from Kelowna.
The car had reached a point about nine miles from Vernon where a steep incline drops sheer away from the road side for a considerable distance. On attempting to round a dangerous curve the heavy car cut into the soft sand and failed to answer the steering gear, running off the road and toppling over down the hill.
There were eight people in the car at the time, Scott, the stage driver, Mr. and Mrs. Homuth and three children who were passengers to Vernon, and two men who were riding for a short distance on the foot board [running board].
Mr. [Aaron] Homuth, with admirable presence of mind, as soon as he saw that the car must go over, threw his little boy out on to the road, where he fell uninjured. The two on the foot board also jumped off and were unhurt, except a slightly sprained ankle. The rest went down with the car which rolled completely over the steep slope.
Mr. and Mrs. Homuth and their two daughters although not seriously injured were badly shaken. Scott himself fared the worst, and it was feared for some time that he was fatally injured.
Help was soon at hand from Monford’s camp which is close by and, Mrs. Hume, the cook, rendering every assistance until Dr. Morris who had been summoned from Vernon arrived in his automobile. Mr. Scott, Mrs. [Agnes] Homuth and her eldest daughter were then removed to the Vernon hospital, which the two latter, happily, were able to leave a few hours later.
Scott’s injuries were found to be serious. He was badly bruised about the head and shoulder, and his shoulder blade fractured. His lip was badly torn, and several other minor injuries. Latest reports from the hospital state that owing to his advanced years his condition is looked upon with considerable anxiety.
The greatest sympathy is felt in the district at the misfortune which has overtaken the genial old stage driver, and a subscription has been going round during the week to render him assistance. A sum of about $500 was raised in a few days.”
Despite his “advanced years” – about 68 years old when his car plunged off of the road – William Scott survived. On page one of the Thursday, June 1, 1911 edition of “The Orchard City Record”, it reported that “W. Scott, the stage driver who was hurt in the automobile accident a few weeks back, is progressing favorably. In a short time, it is stated, he will be able to get around again.”
William Scott recovered from his serious automobile accident. He lived for seven more years and died at Vernon on May 28, 1918, age 75 years.
Aaron Homuth also made a complete recovery. However, fate later caught up with him; he drowned in Okanagan Lake, while fishing near Okanagan Landing, on October 23, 1936. His body was never recovered.
Agnes Homuth died in Ontario, in 1919. The three Homuth children – Wilhelmina, Mary Lois, and Ernest – lived for many years following the 1911 automobile accident. Wilhelmina Homuth died at Summerland on November 22, 1979, age 80 years.
But what about the “two men who were riding for a short distance on the foot board”? On page 39 of “The Vernon – Kelowna Stage Half-way House”, appearing in the “Twenty-First Report” of the Okanagan Historical Society, pioneer Winfield resident Wilton R. Powley wrote about William Scott’s automobile: “…Scott changed over to a bright red, brass-trimmed McLaughlin motor stage. This car had a varied life and was a mixed blessing. It was at one time badly smashed in an upset…my wife’s father being one of the passengers….”
Wilton R. Powley’s wife’s father – passenger in the May 11, 1911 automobile accident – was Oyama pioneer Alfred F. Adams. The identity of the other “foot board” passenger is unknown.
Automobile accidents are part of our daily news. Loss of life and property, due to these accidents, continues to rise. The 1911 Kelowna – Vernon stage accident is a poignant reminder of the heavy toll exacted by our automobiles.
By Robert M. (Bob) Hayes
Previously published in The Daily Courier, April 10, 2017, p. B4.
Photo source: Powley Family
Robert Michael Hayes is a life-long resident of Kelowna and a descendant of the pioneer Clement and Whelan families. He is a life member of the Okanagan Historical Society and the Kelowna Branch of the Okanagan Historical Society. This article is part of a series, submitted by the Kelowna Branch, Okanagan Historical Society. Additional information would be welcome at P.O. Box 22105, Capri P.O., Kelowna, B.C., V1Y 9N9.