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EMS Classics is a feature column I write for Canadian Paramedicine.

It is my attempt at giving the younger generation who work in EMS today, a snapshot into the history of ambulance service.

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Smith's Ambulance, 1958

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Column 41 June/July 2013

Smith's Colours

In 1936 Sherman Maxwell Smith purchased all of the ambulances of MacNeil's Ambulance, Taxi, Storage and Moving business in Edmonton, AB and then used those ambulances to create Smith's Ambulance Service.

Ambulances of the era were typically operated by funeral homes and usually were painted black to match the rest of the funeral home's vehicles. Smith's was not a funeral home operated ambulance service yet their ambulances were painted black for more than 20 years. Then in 1958, in a radical departure from the past, Smith painted his fleet of ambulances white over yellow with red accent. This new distinctive colour scheme surely must have been effective in differentiating his ambulances from those of the competition - an important consideration in the era of competing ambulances companies.

In the accompanying photo the photographer's vantage point nicely reveals the large red cross on the roof of each of Smith's newly repainted ambulances. Painting a red cross on the roof was a novel concept - few ambulances of the time had this feature.

Their purpose of course, was for ready identification of the ambulance when viewed from an aircraft or a tall building. A red cross was also painted on the front and the back of each of Smith's ambulances and was also incorporated in the design of Smith's logo painted on the front doors.

At the time, the red cross was used worldwide as the universal emblem of first aid and appeared on ambulances, first aid equipment and to mark the emergency entrance to hospitals. (Years later, the International Red Cross Organization disallowed the unauthorized use of their emblem forcing the development of a new emblem for ambulances - the white on blue Star-of-Life).

Smith's ambulances shown in the photo included (from left to right) a 1954 Chevrolet station wagon; 1956 Pontiac which had been professionally built by the Superior Corporation in Kosciusko, Mississippi; 1952 Pontiac built by the shop of John Little in Ingersoll, Ontario; 1954 and 1951 Chrysler eight-passenger limousines that had been modified into side-loading ambulances; 1953 DeSoto limousine side-loader.

Sherman Smith sold his ambulance service to Ed Kalynchuk in 1962. Kalynchuk retained the Smith's name and operated the service under contract to the City until 1981 when the Edmonton Ambulance Authority was created. During all those years Smith's fleet colours remained white over yellow.

Copyright 2013 Peter Adsten