By Dave S. Clark
For years, I drove past the Manitoba Antique Automobile Museum in Elkhorn but never stopped to go in. Perhaps it was because I was always making good time and I know how long it can take me to go through a great antique car museum when I get sucked in. On my last time through, I made the wise move to get a glimpse of the Hupmobiles, Overlands and other pre-war cars on display.
On my way home to Edmonton from my annual retreat in the Whiteshell Provincial Park, I decided to finally commit the time and check it out. Besides, I was driving 1500 kilometres that day and this would be a good chance to get out and stretch my legs.
Elkhorn was a town that I would slow down in as I passed through, so I could rubberneck at all of the vintage cars that were always parked at or near the museum. The other town that I always eased off the throttle for was Wapella, Saskatchewan, which had an old shop with a dozen or so cars or carcasses of cars from the 50s sitting right along the highway. However, the newly twinned section of TransCanada now bypasses the village of 350 people.
The museum in Elkhorn started as the personal collection of local farmer Isaac Clarkson back in 1946. He started collecting antique cars nearly 70 years ago, so it’s no surprise that this museum has one of the finest collections of pre-Second World War cars that I’ve ever seen. The car that started it all was a 1909 Hupmobile that used to pass by Clarkson’s home when he was a child. In 1946, he bought the car and started the restoration. The car is still on display today.
The Hupmobile also sparked an obsession in Clarkson, who began bringing more cars and parts back to his farm, which is a few kilometres from where the museum stands today. After collecting about 60 cars, he started the museum as a non-profit organization in 1967.
The best thing about this museum for me was that I didn’t know what the vast majority of cars were. I had never heard of Overland, a manufacturer that started in Detroit before moving to Canada to build their cars. They don’t just have one of this now-forgotten marque – they have eight! I was pretty impressed by that.
The collection is in various states of restoration. Some are pristine, others are in need of a lot of work. But I appreciate that even though the cars aren’t perfect, they are put on display for everyone to see. I enjoy seeing rare and unique cars up close and the state of their restoration isn’t that important.
A favourite of mine was the 1909 Metz, again another car I had no idea existed before walking into the museum. It’s beauty was in its simplicity. I tried to imagine the experience of sitting in the bench seat, grasping the steering wheel mounted to the car with an incredibly long column and rumbling down the primitive gravel roads of the Canadian prairies in the early 20th century. The history of the car is pretty cool too. It is believed to only have 500 miles on it, which, in today’s terms, is only a couple of weeks of daily driving. It was in a show room in Virden for many years and later went into storage in a shed, which burned down, damaging the car. Clarkson bought the car in 1970 and gave it a full restoration.
I was appreciative of the history that was tagged on many of the cars. There were some very interesting factoids, like the the 1912 Flanders Model 20 (another marque I don’t think I had ever heard of) sold new for $1,100. In today’s money, that’s about $23,000.
The museum likely has one of the largest collection of Hupmobiles, a Detroit-based manufacturer that closed their doors in 1939. The museum has five, the newest being from 1916. The also have six examples of McLaughlins, a company which later became known as McLaughlin-Buick then just Buick.
The rest of the museum’s pieces read like obscure car trivia. They other makes include Briscoe, EMF, Federal, Gray-Dort, Holsman, Jackson, Jeffery, JI Case, LeFrance, Marmon, Massey Harris, Master, Maxwell, Regal, Reo, Russel Knight and Saxon.
While the museum is made up mostly of pre-war cars from the 1920s or prior, but there are a few newer cars – a ‘39 Hudson, a ’68 Mercury Meteor, an English-built ’55 Ford Consul – sprinkled in as well.
I’d guess there are very few people who just happen to find themselves in Elkhorn, but it’s definitely worth the trip from Winnipeg or Regina and definitely worth the $7 entry if you’re passing through. It’s right off the Trans Canada, so you can’t miss it. The museum is also smack dab in the longest, dullest stretch of highway in the prairies, so it’s a good opportunity to break up that section of the drive.