Arthur Clemes and the 1904 Wolseley No. 8209

This article first appeared in the August/September issue of The Vintage Car.  It is reprinted here with permission of the editor.

1904 Wolseley

The Wolseley automobile No. 8209 is thought to be the first and only vehicle of its make to have rounded Cape Horn.  It is a single cylinder 6 HP model that was bought new by Arthur Clemes.  This vehicle was the first gasoline powered vehicle to reach the interior of B.C.

Arthur Clemes was born in Cornwall, England in 1852.  When he was three years old, his parents emigrated to Canada.  They eventually settled in Manitoba where the large family grew up.  Arthur came to B.C. as a young man and lived in various parts of what would become Vancouver during the late 1870's.  During this time, he bought a great deal of “worthless” property which later became valuable developments as Vancouver grew.

He moved into the Interior about 1880 to run the B.C. Express stables near Nicomin falls, midway between Lytton and Spences Bridge.  This company ran stage coaches for the travelling public, pioneers, railway builders and prospectors in those early days in British Columbia.

A short time later he opened a hotel near the creek mouth and married the cook from the C.P.R. construction camp.  When his employer objected to his keeping pigs as a sideline, Arthur Clemes moved to Spences Bridge.  Meanwhile, a couple of blacksmiths living in Spences Bridge bought a good hotel in 1883.  They didn’t seem to have had the time nor the ability to run it and very soon Clemes took charge.

He continued his Vancouver practice of buying up property.  He also bought another hotel in Spences Bridge, a general store with adjoining orchards, and a local post office.

In 1892, Clemes built a large and handsome hotel.  In keeping with the dry, desert-like landscape, the new hotel had a strong Spanish-Mexican flavour, with hollow cement block walls and elaborate stone work.  He later added a poolroom and dance hall.

The Vancouver properties were still under development and included the lot at the corner of Georgia and Hamilton, the original Pantages Theatre, Billie’s Poolroom, the Hastings Rooms, and buildings on Columbia Street.

In 1898, Arthur Clemes was on a trip to Europe and visited the World Automotive Exposition in Paris.  There he saw on display a number of the new “horseless carriages” being developed in Europe.  He took a fancy to a little Wolseley  two-seater, single cylinder car from England and decided to order one for himself.  The car eventually arrived some years later after having first been shipped to B.C. by way of Cape Horn on a Blue Funnel Line steamer, accompanied by its owner, and then to Spences Bridge by rail.  The car was a 6HP single cylinder, chain driven, red, two-seater with red leather upholstery and was priced at 275 pounds sterling.  It featured a coiled copper radiator with the brake and gearshift on the outside and had two acetylene head lamps on the dash board.  Steering was by a wheel and not a tiller which many other vehicles of that era used.  At that time, there were no facilities nor personnel trained to maintain and repair the vehicle.  Spare parts had to be ordered from England.  The roads were in poor shape at the best of times and in many places and in many places non-existent.  The tiny car hadn’t the power to climb steep, rough grades and had to be pushed or pulled to get anywhere.

Nevertheless, Arthur Clemes was very pleased and proud of his car and so was the district.  It was featured in many May Day parades and special events.  Whenever Clemes drove his car through Spences Bridge it was bound to draw a crowd of fascinated on-lookers.  The honour was great to be asked to ride in Clemes’ car.  The Wolseley remained active for many years as a show piece and parade favourite.

1904 Wolseley
Arthur Clemes, date unknown

 Upon the death of Arthur Clemes in 1922, ownership of the car passed to his sister, Miss Dolly Clemes, then to his son Frank.  It was frequently put on display: for example, on the occasion in May 1936 when it was trucked to Vancouver on the instigation of one Richard Trodden of Merritt, B.C., who drove it in a special Jubilee Parade, on the 25th Anniversary of the reign of King George V.  Richard Trodden, then 81 years old, had been a renowned railway and bridge builder in the 1880's during the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and in the early gold rush days.  

1904 Wolseley
In 1936 Richard Trodden drove the Wolseley in Vancouver's Golden Jubilee celebration.  A special challenge run was held from Stanley Park to Fort Langley.  Notice the modified wheels that were fitted at a time when tires were impossible to find.  (Photo: Cliff Scroggie)

In 1951 the car had a new home in the Whalley area Surrey Municipality with one of the original owner’s sons, A. Douglas Clemes.  The car was put up for sale in 1954 with the asking price of $5,000.  (Or best offer).  It was acquired in 1964 and restored by Robert Beaton of Burnaby, a VCCC member at the time, and for many years was displayed and operated by “Cap” Hobbis of Caps Cycle Stores.  The car was acquired for the Provincial Museum in Cloverdale and was displayed there for many years.  When the Transportation Museum closed and before the vehicles were subsequently auctioned off, local museums throughout B.C. were first offered to have historically significant vehicles to their area to be donated to them.  The Kamloops Museum became the proud owner of the 1904 Wolseley.  There are very few of these early Wolseley automobiles still in existence today.  The serial number 8209 established the car to be one of the group built in the Wolseley factory in Crayford, London, from about 1904 to 1906.  No factory records have survived to establish the exact date of manufacture, nor is it known how many car were built in this 8000 series.  For lack of documentary evidence all survivors are nominally dated 1904.

On checking the internet for Wolseley vehicles, two of the 1902  models shown have very similar styling but both are 10HP twin cylinder touring cars with one on display at the British Motoring Heritage Trust Museum at Gaydon, England.  The other is privately owned and is shown to have taken part in 45 “Brighton Runs” plus many other rallies.

Wolseley #8209 had been stored for some time but now is the centre piece of the Kamloops Chapter’s heritage automotive display at the Kamloops Museum.  A story of the creation of this display will appear in a future issue of The Vintage Car.

1983: Okanagan pioneers Jud and Iva Findlay pose for a 69th wedding anniversary photo in the Wolseley     (photo: Lorne Findlay)


Story by Jack Woolard
Historical Data courtesy of the Kamloops Museum