“Aemilius Jarvis driving a car” – Famous Photo Explained

“Aemilius Jarvis driving a car," May 1912. "Photograph taken at the (Toronto) Armouries during a horse show." [Toronto Archives]

The above photo, titled “Aemilius Jarvis driving a car,” pops up regularly online, and it's a great representation of Toronto high society at it's pre-WWI peak. It also captures early auto history, and I quite naturally got to wondering, exactly what kind of car is it?!

The photo was taken during a five-day horse show at Toronto’s Armouries at the beginning of May 1912. The month prior, Jarvis had narrowly avoided boarding the Titanic, switching his ticket at the last minute for an earlier departure on sister ship, the Olympic.

Aemilius Jarvis [1860-1940] was a seven-time Commodore of Toronto’s Royal Canadian Yacht Club and one of Canada's greatest yachtsmen of all-time. In 1896, he won the inaugural Canada's Cup off Toledo, OH, returning home to a hero’s welcome reminiscent of Ned Hanlan’s. Jarvis repeated in 1901, that time defeating Chicago skipper William Hale Thompson, who'd go on to infamy as the corrupt Prohibition-era Mayor of Chicago.

Aemilius Jarvis [Maclean's – Jan. 1913]

Jarvis was a successful financier, having co-founded Toronto's King Edward Hotel, and having helped launch the Steel Co. of Canada (i.e., Hamilton's Stelco), amongst countless other ventures. (He was also an early part-owner and Managing Director of Toronto’s Arena Gardens, forerunner to Maple Leaf Gardens.)

And so, the answer to the question posed, as to the exact make (and model!) of the car Jarvis is ‘driving’ (even though it’s clearly parked)? Why, it’s a Canadian-made Russell Torpedo!

Russell Torpedo [Canadian Courier – March 9, 1912]

This mystery was solved via the pages of Canadian Courier Magazine, an early rival to Maclean’s. The Russell Torpedo sold for $2475 in 1912, upwards of $60K in today's money! The straight/unrounded fenders, both front and back, make this specific model highly distinctive, and quite possibly entirely unique.

The Russell Motor Car Co. was a subsidiary of the Canada Cycle & Motor Co., better-known as C.C.M. The company was founded by Sir Joseph Flavelle, who’d sought to cash in on the bike craze at the end of the 19th century. To help promote his luxury car brand, he'd get his more famous pals (such as Aemilius and Sir John Eaton) to drive around in Russells. The car co. was named for young corporate phenom T.A. Russell, who headed it, and who rose to prominence within C.C.M. when he saved the co. (after the bike craze faded) by, er, steering them into ice-skate manufacturing.

“Sir John Craig Eaton (right) and Sir Joseph Flavelle,” btwn 1910-14. [Toronto Archives]

Jarvis also bred horses/hunter-jumpers and competed in horse shows, including the one at which he was photographed 'driving' his car.

Aemilius Jarvis horse-jumping. [Maclean’s – Jan. 1913]

"Hercules, winner [of] high jump, 7'4". Photo shows top bar left on as jumped." Owner Aemilius Jarvis on right. (June 10, 1910) [Vancouver Archives]

(Incidentally, when the photo of Jarvis driving was reprinted in the Globe in 1914, it was captioned, “Mr. Aemilius Jarvis is as at home at the wheel as in the saddle.”)

But wait, there’s more! The Russell episode wasn’t the only time Jarvis made the news with regards to driving cars. During WWI, he was the subject of a (1917) newspaper advertorial (disguised as an article) for the Willys-Knight Coupe. At this juncture, he was most prominent as Ontario's leading Navy recruiter, recruiting men both from his Bay St. "Jarvis Building" as well as via speaking tours around the province.

Willys-Knight Coupe advert, 1916. [Life Magazine]

In the article/advertorial, Jarvis sings the praises of his Willys-Knight Coupe: "We go from place to place with dispatch. We can spend as much time as is required en route without thinking of railway connections. It was no fun to make an address and then jump up at four a.m. to catch a train for the next place. When we would reach it we would be more tired and fatigued by the hot stuffy trains.

Canadian Statesman newspaper, Bowmanville, ON. (Feb. 8, 1917)

“Now after a speech we get into the Coupe, where fully protected from the weather, we are carried swiftly and reliably to our next stopping point. There entirely refreshed we are able to repeat our address.

“Too much praise cannot be extended to our Willys-Knight car for the part it is playing in our recruiting campaign."

Willys-Knight Coupe advert, 1916.

Commodore Jarvis was the Navy League of Ontario's first President in 1917, and two years later became President of the Navy League of Canada. Further, he also recruited ships for both the Canadian and British navies in WWI and was ultimately awarded a British Special Service Decoration (S.S.D.) by the Royal Navy's Admiral Jellicoe. Jarvis was one of only two Canadians to receive the award. And the second? Why, none other than fellow Russell owner/promoter Sir John Eaton.

By Ashley Newall

My new article on Black yachting history feat. Aemilius recently published in Scuttlebutt Sailing News.

New book on Jarvis by Toronto author/lawyer Ian Kyer coming soon: “The Ontario Bond Scandal of 1924 Re-examined.”

Photo essay continues below…

Russell Torpedo advert. (March 1912)

Russell Torpedo Roadster (i.e., 2-seat version), 1912. Note the same distinctive straight fenders as on the 5-seater.

Horse show at the Armouries, 1912.[Canadian Courier – May 11, 1912]

"Horse show at the Armouries," 1912. [Toronto Archives]

Jarvis Building, 103 Bay St. (just north of King St.). [Toronto of To-Day, 1913]

“Bay Street looking north” from King St., 1912. Jarvis Bldg. on right. (Photo from roof of Union Bank Bldg.) [Toronto Archives]

The “Russell” Automobile, 1906.

C.C.M. skates, 1929-30. [Toronto Archives]

Publicity stunt: Russell car vs. ice boat on Toronto Bay. The car won by a length. [Canadian Courier – April 6, 1907]

Willys-Knight Model 88-4, 1916.

Willys-Knight limousine, 1917. [Life Magazine]

Willys-Knight, likely "The Fours" model, 1917.

Portrait of Aemilius Jarvis by Archibald Barnes, titled “Ontario Sportsman” (1934).

Aemilius Jarvis driving... a dogsled. [Maclean’s – Jan. 1913]

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