Memorable Manitobans: Arthur Coates “Ace” Emmett (1872-1959)
Born at Cambridge, England in 1872, he was connected with motoring and highways for most of his life. He started his years of service to motorists as a youngster when he worked as a “flag boy,” carrying a red flag in front of the first coke-burning horseless carriages to warn pedestrians of their approach. He was one of the first men to drive a car in England and bought his first car there in 1896. As an employee of an early distributing firm, he shipped seven “road rollers” to Capetown, South Africa at the beginning of the Boer War, the first time the British Army used motor transport.
He came to Canada in 1902 and for a few years he farmed in the Brandon area. But he was unhappy as a farmer and soon joined the first firm to operate a garage in Winnipeg. He started working at the garage, at Ellice Avenue and Hargrave Street, in 1904, and started his life’s work.
He was one of the first 50 men to own a car in Winnipeg and the first to drive across the prairie. He was a founder of the old Winnipeg Motor Club and later the Manitoba Motor League. He was also the founder of the motor associations in British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. Emmett drew up the first road maps and motor guides in western Canada and was credited with originating the system of numbering highways, a system now used around the world. Before the First World War he was automobile editor of the Manitoba Free Press and wrote a column on cars and roads.
In 1921, Emmett drew up the plan for Manitoba’s trunk highway system. He travelled throughout the province for two years obtaining rural support after he had been told by the provincial government that if the Motor League wanted the system, it would have to sell the idea. He retired as Managing Director of the Motor League in 1953 and was succeeded by his son. During his lifetime he drove an estimated 2,500,000 miles without an accident. He was a life member and one of the founders of the Manitoba Good Roads Association and honorary life member of the Canadian Good Roads Association.
On 1 December 1917, he married Lillie Matthews (?-1960, daughter of Samuel Matthews) at Winnipeg. They had three children: Aileen Constance Emmett (1919-1998, wife of John Frederick “Jack” Gargett), Arthur Charles Emmett, and Muriel Florence Emmett (?-1999, wife of Richard Philp). He was an honorary life member of the Carleton Club.
Marriage registration [Arthur Coatee Emmett, Lillie Matthews], Manitoba Vital Statistics.
“Mr. and Mrs. John Gargett,” Winnipeg Tribune, 18 August 1941, page 8.
“Auto pioneer to retire,” Winnipeg Tribune, 22 July 1953.
“Ace Emmett dies, west’s auto pioneer,” Winnipeg Free Press, 12 May 1959, page 5.
Obituary, Western Municipal News, June 1959, page 190.
“Mrs. Emmett dies in hospital,” Winnipeg Free Press, 14 June 1960, page 4.
Obituary [Lillie Emmett], Winnipeg Tribune, 14 January 1960, page 21.
Obituary [John Frederick Gargett], Winnipeg Free Press, 21 May 1988, page 47.
Death registration [Aileen Constance Gargett], British Columbia Vital Statistics.
Obituary [Muriel Florence Philp], Calgary Herald, 28 August 1999.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 16 December 2022