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That time gas was 18 cents a gallon in the Sault

There was a great outcry of indignation when it nearly doubled to 30 cents a gallon in 1916

If 2020 and 2021 were the years that the words ‘corona’ and ‘restriction’ seemed to be on everyone’s lips, then ‘gas prices’ will likely go down in history as 2022’s most uttered phrase. As prices continue to rise at the pumps, one could make a case for replacing the word ‘uttered’ with cursed.

Historically, gasoline prices in Sault Ste. Marie are legendary for being notably higher than that of our fellow Ontarians in the southern reaches of the province. The pre-pandemic, southbound, Thursday evening lineups on the International Bridge of Canadians headed ‘across the ditch’ to fill up vehicles and red jerry cans of petrol were as predictable as sunrise and sunset.

A perusal of the Sault Star newspaper microfilm reels features some interesting highlights of local gas stations and gas prices in the Sault’s early years.

On Jan. 14 of 1916, the Imperial Oil Company is reported as saying that “the Sault gas prices were regulated by Toronto prices”, a phrase that continues to echo long into the city’s present. The article goes on to state that in the previous summer of 1915, gas retailed for 18 cents per gallon but by this publication date, had almost doubled and was currently selling for 30 to 35 cents per gallon.

Today’s motorists can only dream of those prices from bygone days.

A June 5, 1916 advertisement in the Sault Star for the Miami Powerbicycle was a gas-powered bike that averaged a whopping 125 miles to the gallon! In essence, then a person could drive almost the distance between Sault Ste. Marie and Wawa for 35 cents. Retailed by Frank Curran at 374 Queen Street, this miracle machine must have been a hot commodity at the time.

A social news story on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 1957, highlights the 50th wedding anniversary celebrations of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur M. Brooks, who are credited with having operated the first privately owned gas station in Sault Ste. Marie.

Their business was located at the corners of Edinburgh and Gore Streets in 1924. Prior to this, Saultites were provided petrol by the Canadian Oil Company located on Bruce Street. The Brooks’ venture was soon followed by a gas station on East Street operated by Mr. J. Whitby and another by a Mr. Marshall Wade.

Did you know our city’s fascination with airplanes predates the Bushplane Museum?

The BA Service Station, an airplane-shaped station mentioned by well-known Star columnist Oliver Lehto on Nov. 15, 2002, quotes “Lloyd Gray, who operated gas stations of his own in the 1950s and 1960s, worked at the airplane gas station as a teenager in the 1930’s. It was owned by the British American Oil Co., and Ernie Halliday was the lessee at the time Lloyd worked at the station, now the site of Jerry’s Gore Street Automotive.”

The station’s aeronautical design was a nod to Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 solo air voyage from New York to Paris.

It is worth mentioning, if only for humour’s sake, that a much later column from Jan. 23, 1960 called Kar-Tawk by Sheik & Bill sheds some quaint history on the first gas station in Canadian history.

The article states that “Canada’s first gas station was opened (by) Mr. C. M. Rolston of Vancouver who took a kitchen water tank and garden hose, set the tank on a cement pillar and with this primitive set up served any car that might chance by at the curb” in front of his home.

One can only imagine that if there was a Mrs. Rolston to this inventor, having your front yard rigged up as a filling station must have made for some explosive marital discussions!

To read more about the prices of gasoline and a myriad of other goods sold in our city over the years come down to the James L. McIntyre Centennial Library at 50 East Street and scroll through a reel of the Sault Star’s back issues.

You’ll be glad you did and we’ll be glad to see you!