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The 1950s promised new social and technological developments. Economic growth made automobiles more affordable, and the romance with the car flourished. The victory during the War transformed returning soldiers into a newly confident workforce. Workers formed and joined unions, had fought for and won better wages, and more vacation time, and began buying houses, appliances and cars. Canadians were now having more babies—launching "The Baby Boom" era. The spread of new suburban communities and highways increased reliance on the car. For car design, it was the era of tail fins and heavy chrome. For teenagers, the birth of rock and roll. Politically, international tensions continued with the Korean War (1950-1953), the rise of communism in China and a socialist revolution in Cuba. In 1957, the Soviets launched the first orbiting satellite – the Sputnik 1 – taking the lead in the "Space Race." Fuelled by Cold War rivalries, the United States responded by engaging in frenzied research and development.


An ad for the Kaiser automobile emphasizing easy manoeuvrability thanks to the new power-steering system


Chrysler introduces the first power-steering system.

Power-steering allowed heavy, bulky vehicles to be manoeuvred more easily. It was invented by Francis W. Davis and George Jessup in the 1920s but made its commercial debut in Chrysler's 1951 Imperial. Most vehicles today have power-steering.

Illustration: Saturday Evening Post
May 16, 1953
Kaiser-Frazer Corporation
Canada Science and Technology Museum, deBondt Collection

The 1953 Pontiac Pathfinder from the Reynolds-Alberta Museum Collection


General Motors starts producing Canadian Pontiacs like the 1953 Pathfinder.

The Pathfinder had distinctive features not found on American Pontiacs, and the name was unique to those made in Canada. The car was built on a Chevrolet chassis but used a Pontiac engine and drive train.

Photo: Reynolds-Alberta Museum IC92.014

Oldsmobile Super 88 of General Motors of Canada Ltd., Oshawa, Ontario


The Oldsmobile Super 88 Deluxe is the single largest series produced in Canada.

There were over 2,700 Super 88 deluxe models and over 5,200 88 series models built in Oshawa for the 1956 model year.

Photo: Canada Science and Technology Museum 1993.0258

The 1958 Volkswagen Beetle from the collection of the Canada Science and Technology Museum.


The Volkswagen Beetle—Canadians love their "bugs".

The Beetle was first sold in Canada in 1952. Canadians loved it for its reliability, simplicity and low gas consumption. They also liked its low price. By 1960, the Beetle was Canada's third best-selling car.

Photo: Canada Science and Technology Museum 1983.0425

In The News

Crew at CBC TV Vancouver are about to film the title roll for the show “Cuisine 30”.


The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Societé Radio Canada transmits its first television broadcast from its Montreal, Quebec, station in September.

The CBC/SRC television network was created to serve a function similar to that of CBC Radio—to inform Canadians about their country and the world, to promote Canadian culture and achievements and to enhance national unity. A secondary goal was to counter the increasing cultural influences emanating from south of the border. In 1952, television was available to only 26% of Canadians. By 1954, that figure had skyrocketed to 60%, making Canada second in the world for live television production.

Photo: 1952
CBC/Alvin Armstrong

Front Street in Toronto being excavated to make way for the new subway


On March 31, 1954, the City of Toronto opens Canada's first subway system.

Built in anticipation of massive traffic jams in the downtown core from the looming post-war car boom, the first line was built under Yonge Street and included only 12 stops. The Toronto Transit Commission, or TTC, has expanded to become Canada's largest subway network. It has four lines and 69 stations that stretch over 68.3 kilometres of track. In 2008, the TTC had the largest ridership in Canada, averaging 2.4 million passengers a day across the system.

Photo: 1950
National Film Board of Canada – Photothèque / Library and Archives Canada / PA-111572

Lester Bowles Pearson, ca. 1965


Lester B. Pearson, a Canadian diplomat, wins the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to resolve the Suez Canal Crisis.

In the summer of 1956, the President of Egypt, Gamal Abdul Nasser, nationalized the Suez Canal Company, which had been run by the French with the British as its largest stakeholders. The Suez was a vital conduit for oil and was essential to the British economy. The rise of a new "car culture" in the western world had significantly increased the demand for oil and made nations like Britain dependent on oil producing countries. By the end of October of 1956, Israel, followed by British and French troops, entered Egypt in an attempt to seize control of the Suez Canal from Nasser. Pearson proposed the creation of a UN Emergency Force to supervise the end of hostilities, and the withdrawal of foreign troops. The first UN troops, led by Canadian forces, went to the area in November 1956.

Photo: ca. 1965
Ashley and Crippen/National Archives of Canada PA-126393

Nils Bohn, inventor of the three-point safety belt


Volvo is the first automaker to introduce seatbelts.

Edward J. Claghorn held the first U.S. Patent for his seatbelt invention in 1885, but the life-saving device was not perfected or sold commercially until the late 1950s. The modern "three-point" seatbelt was designed by Swedish inventor Nils Bohn and was introduced in the 1960 Volvo Amazon. The new seatbelt increased survival rates in accidents by 50 to 60%. Volvo quickly realized the life-saving importance of this invention, and released the patent to all automobile manufacturers.

Photo: ca. 1959
Volvo Personavagnar AB

Pop Culture

Canada's first covered park-and-shop mall, Park Royal Shopping Centre in Vancouver, British Columbia


Park Royal Shopping Centre, in Vancouver, British Columbia, is Canada's first park-and-shop mall.

British Properties, owned by Vancouver's wealthy Guiness family, designed and built an exclusive housing development in West Vancouver. British Properties believed that the addition of a shopping centre would serve existing residents as well as attract new ones, and so they built the Park Royal Shopping Centre. Shopping malls, designed with cars in mind, quickly became a staple of urban living in Canada. In 1956 there were 64 shopping centres in Canada. By 1960 that number had grown to 231.

Photo: 1952
Art Jones, Vancouver Public Library,

Suburbs along Maitland Avenue in west-end Ottawa


William Levitt builds Levittown, New York – North America's first post-war suburban community.

William Levitt is considered the father of modern suburban development, and Levittown became a model for future housing developments. Levittown initially consisted of 17,400 homes with 82,000 residents. The homes were mass-produced using an "assembly line" approach which also kept the costs relatively low for tenants and home buyers. Due to their distance from city centres, suburbs required that residents drive to work, thus increasing dependence on the automobile.

Photo: Alex Onoszko, City of Ottawa Archives (COA), 18-D 86, CA-8153

Sergeant Rick Weiler, of the Wellington County OPP, uses a radar gun to catch speeding drivers.


Radar guns are used to trap speeding motorists by police in Chicago, Illinois, for the first time.

As automakers designed cars to go faster and faster, the enforcing of speed limits as a safety measure became more important. The radar gun or "speed gun" was invented by Bryce K. Brown of Decatur Electronics as a means for police to track the speed of vehicles. The technology used to catch speeding cars is now also used to clock times during sporting events, such as measuring the speed of a thrown baseball.

Photo: 2007
Dave Carter, Guelph Mercury

Photo of the Elgin Street theatre ca. 1975.


Canada becomes the first country in the world to have a two screen theatre where patrons could choose from two different movies in the same theatre.

The Elgin Street Theatre in Ottawa was converted to a two-screen venue by Canadian theatre owner Nat Taylor, who went on to invent the "Cineplex" or "multiplex" theatres.

Photo: ca. 1975
City of Ottawa Archives, 18926