If you’re a Canadian car enthusiast looking for a break from all that cold and snow—and who in the Great White North isn’t right about now—the Gasoline Alley Museum in Calgary is just the thing for you.
The museum calls its immense collection of classic cars and automotive memorabilia “a celebration of industrial design illuminated by a storyline that follows the far-reaching social changes” that motor vehicles sparked through the 1950s. Visitors can spend hours exploring a hangar-sized exhibit of 60 vehicles rarely seen even in museums, thousands of automotive artifacts and the largest collection of antique gas pumps and globes—146 in all—in North America.
Local businessman Ron Carey donated the bulk of the collection after running out of room to store all the stuff he’d amassed after decades spent scouring the country for cool cars and memorabilia. Gasoline Alley is part of Heritage Park Historical Village, which at 127 acres is Canada’s largest living history park.
Of course the cavernous museum—the main space is three stories tall, with a soaring wood cathedral ceiling—features several vehicles built in Canada. The rarest might be a 1909 McIntyre Model M that could be the only surviving restored example. It features a handcrafted body, diamond-tufted leather seats, 36-inch wheels and an air-cooled four-cylinder engine, is a perfect example of the company’s heritage of fine carriage building.
You’ll also find a 1918 McLaughlin Buick, once billed as “Canada’s standard car” and popular with bootleggers who plied routes from British Columbia into Alberta and Montana during Canada’s brief experiment with wartime prohibition. No less impressive is the 1922 Gray-Dort Model 19-B Touring Car, created when the Canadian company Gray & Sons acquired the rights to build cars designed by Dort Motor Company of Flint, Michigan. The company built 26,000 vehicles during a decade of production.
A rare 1927 Star Grain truck was one of the last to ride on a chassis built at the Durant Motor Company plant in Leaside, Ontario, by the Canada Carriage & Body Company of Brantford, Ontario. (Or, as my museum guide Bill Jones said, “down east.”) Although designed for hard work, the meager engine limited the Star to light duty. This one sits alongside the only known surviving 1912 Mack Senior truck, a 1916 Coffin-Nosed International, and a 1920 Autocar truck with a scissor-lift dump box.
Alberta has a thriving agriculture industry, so of course the museum includes an exhibit of farm vehicles. One of the oldest is the 1911 Chase Auto Delivery Wagon that functioned as a simple motorized farm wagon. Given its workload, not many remain nowadays.
Carey and his crew have meticulously restored many of the vehicles, but a few retain their patina to show how they were used—and how solidly they were built. With its heavily rusted chassis and battered wood cab, the museum’s 1924 International truck looks like it might collapse, but you can’t help but be impressed by the quality of the workmanship.
Alberta’s long history as an oil producer is reflected in the museum’s expansive collection of signs and gasoline pumps. One sign, emblazoned with a maple leaf, celebrates Supertest Petroleum, “Canada’s All-Canadian Company.” Others advertise Derby, Tydol Flying A, and Beacon Oil, along with Imperial Marvelube, touted as the “Purest of Motor Oils.”
The Husky Gallery, which fills a perfect reproduction of a Husky service station, teems with artifacts and vintage auto parts in their original boxes. Antique gas pump globes bearing names like Koolmotor High Test Anti Knock Gasoline, White Rose Ethyl, and other brands line the shelves. The centerpiece of the display is a 1915 Cadillac that was converted into a tow truck in 1922. It sits alongside a 1905 Cadillac that remains just as rough as the day it was found.
Admission: Adults, $11; discounts for children and seniors. These are winter rates through mid-May while Heritage Park is closed.
Phone: (403) 268-8500
Hours: Gasoline Alley is open year-round, Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. The adjoining Heritage Park is open daily from the end of May until the first weekend of September, then on weekends until Canadian Thanksgiving, when special events are held. For detailed information, visit the park’s website at www.HeritagePark.ca.
Michael Milne is the author of the Roadster Guide to America’s Classic Car Museums & Attractions, available on Amazon.