Canada's First Gas Station
The first gasoline station in Canada opened
in June 1907
on Smythe Street, Vancouver
[Photo courtesy of Imperial Oil]
There used to be a plaque at the southeast corner
of Cambie and Smythe in Vancouver that marked the location of Canadas
first gas station. The plaque was installed in September of 1955
to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Imperial Oil Company.
The station opened in Vancouver, said the plaque, in or before
(A brief note: the first car to appear in Vancouver
was a Stanley Steamer, in 1899. The first gasoline-powered car arrived
James S. Matthews, in his late 20s at the time the
station opened, was an employee of Imperial Oil, under local manager
C. M. Rolston. In a 1955 speech, Matthews, who was by then the city's
archivist, recalled the birth of that station:
There had arrived in Vancouver a queer-looking
vehicle called an automobile. We had read about them in magazines.
One day, the telephone rang. The call came from the Hastings Sawmill
and the speaker asked me if we had any gasoline which could be used
The office boy replied that we had three kinds:
One was 74-brand Baume gasoline and was supplied to
drug stores, who sold it to ladies for cleaning their gloves; the
second kind was deodorized stove gasoline, used in plumber's firepots
for heating soldering irons, and the third kind was benzine, used
for dissolving lacquer in the salmon canneries along the Fraser
to prevent the salmon cans from rusting.
The office boy went to the warehouse and told
the foreman to send a four-gallon can of '74' down to John Hendry,
manager of the mill.
That can was the first gasoline ever sold
in British Columbia for motorcar use.
Some time later, when the number of automobiles
in Vancouver had skyrocketed (Matthews: Ultimately automobiles
became more numerous and the number in Vancouver grew to seven or
eight . . .), it was decided that the method of fueling themusing
pails dipped into a large wooden barrel of gasolinewas inefficient
and dangerous. So a 13-gallon (59-litre) kitchen hot-water tank
was procured and a length of rubber garden-hose was attached to
That was the equipment. Now an attendant was needed.
The company's night watchman, J. C. Rollston, had been in poor health
and his cohorts believed he would improve in the sun and open air.
We got a barroom chair, Matthews recalled,
and my wife made a cushion. A corrugated tin shed was
built for shelter and Rollston was installed as attendant.
The service station was ready for business.
(In the past, weve followed the lead of earlier writers on
this subject and called it a service station, but since
all it offered was a fill-up of gas, we think gas station
is more accurate.)
The fresh air and the sunshine soon banished
the pallor from Mr. Rollston's cheeks, Matthews recalled.
and, ofttimes as I passed and waved good morning, he would
call out, "I've been busy this morning!
How many? I would call, and he
would answer back, Three cars this morning! Two local
bicycle shops began selling gasoline, which they bought from Imperial
for 20 cents a gallon and sold for 40.
Word of this new way of delivering gasoline to cars
spread. A dealer in Florida, says Matthews, wrote
asking details. (The Florida people had been using garden
Some have claimed that Imperials station was
the first in the world. Not by a long shot. There's no doubt, however,
that Vancouver's first service station was also Canada's first.
Advertisement for a 1907 car
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