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Meet Dr. Doolittle, Founder of CAA and an Innovator Who Was Driven by Good

EllisPark.co May 05, 2022
Vintage car and mountain
CAA is always innovating new ways and programs to anticipate Members’ needs and offer them real solutions, no matter where life takes them. This commitment to good can be traced back to CAA’s founder, an innovator who believed that safety for Canadians always came first.

CAA was founded in 1903 by Dr. Perry E. Doolittle, a surgeon who studied in Toronto. An avid cyclist, he was committed to promoting the building and maintenance of roads across the country. Their purpose was – and still is – to connect communities. 

After a trip to England, he was won over by the automobile and returned home to establish an association that would champion road safety and uniform laws – and it continues to do so to this day.
Car in mud

CAA’s founder revolutionized the way Canadians drive.

Much of Canada’s modern driving culture can be attributed to Dr. Doolittle’s actions as far back as a century ago. For example, he was one of the first physicians to use an automobile to make house calls. Here are just a few of the ways he revolutionized driving:

  • In 1913, CAA created Ontario’s first road signs, making it easier and safer for motorists to travel across the province.
  • In 1919, the Canada Highways Act was passed by the federal government, something Dr. Doolittle had urged the government to do so that drivers would have access to better roads.
  • He fought for uniform traffic and road rules across the country – at that time, municipalities were writing their own traffic laws, and some provinces, like Prince Edward Island, only allowed cars on certain days of the week.

The Canada Highways Act established a fund to provide financial assistance for provincial highway projects, with an emphasis on connections between provinces. Because he was passionate about linking communities across Canada, Dr. Doolittle lobbied the federal government to build a highway that stretched from coast to coast. In 1923, he set out on a lengthy road trip himself, taking the first cross-Canada journey by car to raise support for the ambitious highway.

When you think about how essential the Trans-Canada Highway is today for travel and transporting goods, it’s incredible that it started with one person. It wasn’t all work for him, though. He enjoyed plenty of cross-country road trips on this national connection of highways. In 1925, he famously spent 40 days driving a Ford Model T from Halifax to Vancouver.

Dr. Doolittle’s legacy is the DNA of CAA

Safety has always been one of CAA’s pillars, and under Dr. Doolittle’s guidance, the organization has been instrumental in promoting safety in school zones. In 1929, CAA launched its CAA School Safety Patrol® program, which continues with students keeping their classmates safe in school zones and on school buses every day.

Even after his death in 1933, Dr. Doolittle’s legacy continues in CAA’s work. Among the many initiatives the organization has championed, it advocated for mandatory seat-belt use, supported the launch of the RIDE program and asked Ontario’s provincial government to ban new drivers from using cellphones and other handheld devices when behind the wheel. 

The life work of Dr. Doolittle affects every road user in Ontario today, and everyone at CAA is honoured to continue his legacy and keep Members safe.

In 2023, CAA will celebrate its 120th year of advocating for the safety of Canadians and helping them feel confident on the road. And CAA continues to evolve – today the organization offers members insurance for home, travel, pets, Autopac services, CAA-curated vacation packages and roadside assistance for bicyclists. At the heart of all our offerings is CAA’s pledge to make life better and safer for Canadians every single day.