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Memorable Manitobans: Arthur Coates “Ace” Emmett (1872-1959)

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Arthur Coates Emmett
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Journalist, lobbyist.

Known across Canada as “Mr. Highways,” he was connected with motoring and highways for most of his life. Born at Cambridge, England in 1872, 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. It was then that the Winnipeg Automobile Club (precursor to CAA Manitoba) was formed and he 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, of which he was managing director for more than 50 years. 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. His lifetime also included a period as a newspaper man. 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) at Winnipeg. They had three children: A. C. Emmett, Jr., Aileen Constance Emmett (wife of John F. “Jack” Gargett), and Muriel Florence Emmett (wife of Richard Philp). He was an honorary life member of the Carleton Club.

He died at the Grace Hospital on 11 May 1959 and was buried in the Garry Memorial Park. There is a scrapbook at the Archives of Manitoba.

See also:

A. C. Emmett and the Development of Good Roads in Manitoba byKaren Nicholson
Manitoba History, Number 27, Spring 1994

Historic Sites of Manitoba: A. C. Emmett and the Development of Manitoba’s Highways (Kirkella, RM of Wallace)

Sources:

Marriage registration, Manitoba Vital Statistics.

“Mr. and Mrs. John Gargett,” Winnipeg Tribune, 18 August 1941, page 8.

“Ace Emmett dies, west’s auto pioneer,” Winnipeg Free Press, 12 May 1959, page 5.

Western Municipal News, June 1959, page 190.

Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by J. M. Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 20 February 2016

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

This is a collection of noteworthy Manitobans from the past, compiled by the Manitoba Historical Society.

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