Article 40 April/May 2013

Death Through Misadventure

In 1890 the community of Vancouver (population 15,000) received their first horse-drawn ambulance. Prior to that, the ill and injured were transported by wheel barrow, express wagon, horse drawn cab or boat.

By 1909 Vancouver's population had grown to 120,000 and was being served by several undertaker firms operating horse-drawn ambulances. In that year the City contracted with Mr. Carus Cockling for the manufacture of a motorized ambulance for use by the Police Department. (this was to be the first motorized ambulance in Vancouver and one of the earliest in Canada). A Pope-Hartford chassis was imported from Hartford, Connecticut and manufactured into an ambulance at the Terminal City Garage, 824 West Pender Street. On October 6, 1909 Cockling and his assistant Mr. Scoville set out to conduct a test drive of their newly completed ambulance. They had only travelled one block distance from their shop when they met with tragedy. The Vancouver News-Advertiser reported of the incident: "Mr. C. F. Keiss, a wealthy American vistor from Bucyrus, Ohio, met death with tragic suddenness under the wheels of the new City auto ambulance at the corner of Pender and Granville Streets yesterday afternoon. The ambulance had not yet been formally taken over by the City, and yesterday was being driven out on a trial run by Mr. C. C. Cockling, an experienced automobile driver".

At the inquest the following day two witnesses swore the new police ambulance "was going fully fourteen or fifteen miles an hour and that the machine, while crossing Pender Street did not slacken pace notwithstanding that this is the busiest corner in the city and particularly more so at the time of the accident". Drive Cockling and his assistant Scoville contradicted this statement claiming they were not exceeding four or five miles per hour. They claimed that the new auto ambulance could not attain a speed of fourteen or fifteen miles per hour without a start of at least two blocks. In their finding the jury came to the conclusion that the deceased met his death through misadventure. The jury also added a rider to their report recommending police be given more powers to cope with the daily evil of speeding automobiles.

In spite of the tragic event involving the City's first motorized ambulance the Vancouver Police Department went on to provide ambulance service for Vancouver citizens from 1910 until August 1919 when the service was taken over by the undertaker firm T. J. Kearney & Co.

Copyright 2013 Peter Adsten

Photo Vancouver City Archive Column

1909 Pope-Hartford, Vancouver Police Ambulance