Fight Over the “Restaurant on Wheels” 1899 — The First Food Truck Fight

Fight Over the “Restaurant on Wheels” 1899 — The First Food Truck Fight


13920768_1145327608899795_5025737435801496596_n.jpgRideau and Sussex in the summer of 1909, featuring several cabs and wagons, and an Ottawa Electric Railway streetcar heading for Sparks Street. The wall on the right was to prevent you from walking or driving off the road into the vast empty space between the Dufferin and Sapper’s Bridges (and into the canal below).(PA-009483) Lost Ottawa


The first food trucks were lunch wagons and pushcarts that were very popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s because of the nocturnal hours diners kept. In February of 1899 a little restaurant on wheels was open for business on Senator Clemow’s vacant lot on Rideau Street near Sapper Bridge.  Francis Clemow (May 4, 1821 – May 28, 1902) was a merchant and political figure and sat for the Rideau division in the Senate of Canada from 1885 to 1902. No one knew that this restaurant on wheels was bound to create more stir than any concern should in the ordinary run of things.




The Palace Car Company, who existed somewhere in the United States,  asked the city for permission to have a restaurant car stand on the Ottawa public streets during the night hours. The City of Ottawa did not grant the request and the next thing the city knew the car was up and doing business without the city’s permission. The business man had rented ground room on Mr. Clemow’s vacant lot and had snapped his fingers in retaliation at the city.

Of course the city of Ottawa was not going to take that lying down. They were most certainly going to contest it and they also had to reckon with their angry tax-paying restaurant neighbours. Similar to today the restaurateurs considered the American running the car stand was hurting their trade, so they began a petition to give to the city council requesting that the nuisance be removed.

The petition was presented to the committee and nearly all the merchants on Rideau Street as far down as Nicholas  street had signed it. The American was also prepared and he too had a petition signed by a large number of customers who had eaten sandwiches at his car during the midnight hours.  The Ottawa Journal reported that both petitions were formidable.

While “the stranger” spoke fluently on how the benefits of the car was to the locals who are out late at night, or very early in the morning. He also mentioned that he would like to have a license to have his car stand legally on the street between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. and would be willing to pay a fair amount for the privilege. He repeated that he was not competing seriously with the restaurateurs by selling only sandwiches and coffee.

“How much do you take in per day?” asked Alderman Morris.

“About six or seven dollars a night,”  the businessman said.

What was he paying Senator Clemow for the privilege to use the lot, and what space did he occupy they asked? The car man said he paid the senator $30 per month and used a space of about 8 feet by 16 feet.

In the end the city insisted that keeping a cart like that open all night would encourage immorality in the area. In a city of the size of Ottawa there should be no reason for anyone young or old to be out all night retorted Alderman Roger. Roger also thought this vendor should be treated like a transient and make him pay a $250 for a license. It was doubted that they could charge him that amount and nothing else was reported in the newspaper.

One has to wonder how far we have come in 119 years?  Have things changed?




Jaan Kolk added: Thomas Lindsay’s department store (later known as the Daly building) was constructed on Clemow Estate property which Lindsay subsequently purchased in 1906. From the Journal, July 20, 1906:



and he added:)

There is more, Linda. The meeting reported in the Journal Feb. 17, 1899 concluded with the matter left in the hands of City Solicitor McVeity, who had some doubt as to whether the business would fall under the Transient Traders’ Bylaw. Here is a clip from the Journal, Feb. 23., 1899. The following day the Journal reported that the Palace Cafe Co. would be given an ordinary restaurant license in accordance with the City Solicitors’ advice.

About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

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