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Tuesday, 07 July 2015 00:00

Motorcycling in Canada - A Ride Through Our History - Part 2

mc history2.3In the 1890's bicycles were the most affordable and popular form of transportation and bicycle clubs had sprung up all over. Many a bicycle club eventually evolved into motorcycle clubs.


The bicycle itself is largely responsible for the emancipation of women. Not only did women find a new found freedom with regards to transportation but there was a sense of self reliance that the bicycle offered. Because of the dress of the day; voluminous skirts and dresses, the bicycle is also somewhat responsible for the fashion revolution of bloomers - the precursor to women's pants.

A motorcycle was considered to be an appropriate and acceptable form of transportation for women. 

You see, it was expected that, because women had taken so avidly to riding bicycles, that they would naturally gravitate towards motorcycles. In fact, in the book "Harley-Davidson - A History of the World's Most Famous Motorcycle" by Margie Siegal, there is a passage wherein the author discusses women's dress and what measures manufacturers took to ensure that women's skirts did not get caught up in the motor or final drive.

mc history2.1

It appears that it wasn't until after World War II, that riding a motorcycle somehow became frowned upon for women, at least in some circles.

Motorcyclists played key roles in World War I & II

The Canadian Signal Corps was using Indian Motorcycles in 1917.

mc history2.2.jpg A group of despatch riders of the Canadian Signal Corps on Hendee motorcycles (Indian Powerplus) , Camp Valcartier, Quebec, ca 1917.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3336987) 


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Motorcycles were used not just for communications in the military, but also for transporting ammunition, medications and extracting the wounded and the dead from the battlefield  and taking them to medical facilities.

Many women rode "despatch" during both World Wars, albeit rarely on the front lines.

mc history2.4The British Wrens

Outside of the roles the motorcycle played in competitive sports and military use, this economical means of transportation became a transportation staple in many regions in Canada.

The motorcycle could take you where cars, early trucks and often horse and wagon couldn't. 
It could haul things and it sprouted all kinds of small empires.
It was affordable and had a very long range for fuel, which was important as filling stations were few and far between in rural Canada.

And back in the day, the fuel range could be made very long!

In fact, American racing legend, Smokin Joe Petrali was 14 years old in 1918 when he got 176 miles to a gallon of fuel by riding his bike at an idle and won the national economy class for 30.50-cubic-inch motorcycles in the US. 

His bike? A 1914 30.50-inch (500cc) Indian Standard that cost him $35.00

I discussed in my previous article, some of the contributions to motorcycling that the Deeley family brought to British Columbia and Canada in 1914 and on into modern times, but BC was not the only place in Canada where enterprising men were impacting the Canadian motorcycling scene.

Far from it. 

All across the country there were people who impacted our community, sport, industry and country.

Let's move on to Alberta in the early 1930's...where the motorcycle, anger and determination to do the right thing started an empire.

In 1931 a very angry young Walt Healy became the Indian dealer in Calgary Alberta.

Why was 18 year old Walt so angry?

mc history2.5Walt Healy: www.walthealy.com

Well you see this enterprising young man had started running a delivery service at 13 years of age. 

He started first with bicycles and once he earned enough money he purchased a 1914 Douglas for $15. 

That Douglas allowed him to earn money faster and soon he owned both a Harley and and Indian side car outfit. 

So the story goes, Walt had gone to then Harley-Davidson dealer Clyde Paul and put a deposit down on the next Harley Police bike to come in. 

When he went in to collect the motorcycle he was told by the dealer, that he had sold it to someone else.  Well, young Walt said, "I want the next police rig that comes in", and again the story repeated itself. This time Clyde, had decided he was going to make the rig into a hill climber instead of selling it to young Walt. To Walt's way of thinking, this was a poor way to do business.


Walt ended up buying a 101 Indian Scout engine from Clyde for the $20 he had on deposit, and then he bought an Indian from a friend for $10. He built that motorcycle to be a hill eating, Harley eating, Clyde's pride eating machine and made sure to enter every race that Clyde did.  

Reportedly Clyde never did beat Walt.

In the meantime, Walt had gone to the Indian Dealer to buy two bikes and ended up buying the Calgary Indian dealership for $100 thanks to a friend who co-signed the note.

Between his dealership and delivery service Walt managed to eek out a living, eventually hiring his dad to wrench on bikes. The hard work and long hours paid off. Over the years Walt Healy's not only became a dealership to be reckoned with but the man himself was a force to be reckoned with.  

He was behind the motorcycle mechanics trade being officially recognized by the Alberta government.

It took him 18 years and he saw four ministers of transport go through their terms as he sought to have motorcycle mechanics recognized as a licensed trade in Alberta. 

In 1986, he received his own motorcycle mechanics licence. 

As a young man of 14, Walt had subsidize his income from the delivery service by allowing other young people to ride his motorcycle.  He'd charge them 5 cents, teach them the basics and let them ride his motorcycle up and down the block but if they turned the corner and went out of sight, he'd charge them 10 cents.  

We'll that desire to teach others to ride culminated in his ‘Learn to Ride’ program.

Eventually the program turned into the Calgary Safety Council, and that evolved into what is now known as the Canada Safety Council.

Walt Healy passed away in 2002 and sadlyon March 31, 2014 Walt Healy Motorsports closed for good, closing a chapter on Alberta and Canadian motorcycling history.

Walt Healy's contributions to motorcycling are many and whether you have ever heard his name or not, his influence, determination, work ethic, persistence, passion and knowledge of the motorcycle forever changed the face of motorcycling in Canada.

Interesting historical tidbits:

1911: The Toronto Police Service, Canada's first police service was also the first police service to put motorcycles into use.

1920: British Columbia became the third province to start driving on the right hand side of the road.
Ontario and Quebec were the first provinces to adopt this practise. New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and PEI followed suit shortly thereafter.

1926: The Calgary Motorcycle Club was founded by Walt Healy in 1926, and still exists today.

1937:  The first intercity, divided highway in North America opens featuring the longest stretch of consistently illuminated road in the world at that time. The Queen Elizabeth Way, named after the Queen Mum, is 139.1 kilometres in length.

1940: The Red Devils MC is founded in Hamilton Ontario
1949: Parliament passes the Trans Canada Highway Act to build a highway that would connect all of Canada, the act ensured cost sharing between federal and provincial governments. Today the Trans Canada highway is 8,030 KM's long, construction started in 1950 and the highway officially opened in 1962 and was completed in 1971 making it one of the longest national highways in the world.

1949: The Motor Maids of the Eastern Canadian District was founded, in 2007 their district became known as the Atlantic Canada District.

1949:Olds Motorcycle Sales opened on a farm near Olds AB, today we know the dealership as Turple Brothers located in Red Deer.

I hope you enjoyed this little ride down memory lane!

There is more in store for you as next time we look at Saskatchewan and it's involvement in the early days of motorcycling.

I hope you will join us in our quest to find Canada's MOST Rider Friendly Community.
It is a truly a contest of exploration, discovery and community pride. 12 communities will share in over $60,000 in marketing! 
mc history2.6

Visit www.riderfriendlycontest.ca to find out more and start thinking of the Canadian community that you think is worthy of the title, Canada's MOST Rider Friendly Community.

If you are blessed enough to be riding today, please remember to ride like everyone around you is blind and cannot see you!

Belt Drive Betty,
Editor & Rider

Last modified on Thursday, 09 July 2015 07:07

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