The Right Stuff
At first glance, this 1921 photograph of Vancouver’s Granville Street seems typical of the era: Model Ts rumble along the road as men and women in period dress saunter along the sidewalks.
But look again. Something is … off. The cars are driving on the left side of the road.
Well, what’s wrong for central Canada was right — or is it left? — for British Columbia in the early years of the twentieth century. Along with the Maritime provinces, British Columbia was among the last holdouts in North America to give up the British tradition of driving on the left-hand side.
Originally, all British subjects in North America rode horses and carts on the left. However, the American colonies turned states quickly changed lanes in the late 1700s after winning their independence in the American Revolution. In New France, however, the French tradition of riding on the right prevailed, and it continued as the territory was conquered in 1760 by the British and evolved into modernday Quebec and Ontario.
In British Columbia, the decision to move to the right was hotly debated, and the switch was made in two phases: Most of the mainland changed from left- to right-hand driving on July 15, 1920, while a region comprised of Vancouver Island and southwest British Columbia (including the city of Vancouver) switched on January 1, 1922. The latter change came into effect at 6:00 a.m. on a Sunday — a deliberate choice by the province to reduce the potential for accidents. The Maritime provinces soon followed suit: New Brunswick in December 1922, Nova Scotia in April 1923, and Prince Edward Island in May 1924. Newfoundland, which did not join Canada until 1949, drove on the left until 1947.