Historical Plaque Properties


Robert N Cossey - Machinist - Brooks Steam Motors Co.
236 West Gore Street
Stratford, ON

In Petrolia, Ontario on December 30, 1895, William Cossey, a conductor on the Grand Trunk Railway and his wife, Lydia Rothermel, already the parents of two daughters, welcomed their first son whom they named Robert Norman. In the coming years a third daughter and two more sons completed their family of six. When the 1911 census of Canada was taken Robert was working in Petrolia as a message boy but three years later he was recruited, as were so many young Canadian men in those days, to serve in the First World War.


When he came home from the war, industries in Stratford and across Canada, which had interrupted their regular production to supply munitions and other items needed for the war effort, were struggling to re-establish their regular business. Robert was fortunate to find a position as a machinist with the Grand Trunk Railway. The GTR was experiencing serious financial difficulties and would shortly be taken over by the Canadian National Railway. In 1922 Robert married a Stratford girl, Vera Margaret Nunns, age 19. Shortly after the young couple began their life together Robert left the railway to join a company that had just opened for business on an Ontario Street property that is now the location of the Bruce Hotel.


That company, which was the Brooks Steam Motors Company producing cars powered by steam, opened its only Canadian operation in Stratford in March 1923. Perhaps intrigued by the concept Robert became one of their first employees, beginning as a foreman and later working as a machinist. The company owner, Oland J. Brooks, an  American entrepreneur who apparently believed that a steam-powered vehicle was the answer for smooth, silent operation, convinced the city council to purchase the empty plant formerly occupied by the MacDonald Thresher Company and make it available to him while holding the mortgage — which would, in the end, not be fully repaid.


By 1926, three years later, after experiencing a variety of start-up problems, cars were slowly rolling off the assembly line. While only available in one plain, boxy, four-door door sedan model, they attracted interest but were very expensive — about $3000 as compared to $400 for a Ford Model T. Production halted in July 1927 and the company was finally wrapped up in 1931 after years of dissent from disgruntled shareholders. The company's assets, including 40 new cars, were sold by auction.


As a result of successful fundraising efforts by the Perth County Historical Foundation, a 1926 model is on display at the Stratford-Perth Museum. The Foundation purchased it from the Orillia Heritage Centre in 2009 and in 2014 transferred ownership to the museum. A few other models still survive including three in the United Kingdom.


In 1927 two Stratford businessmen, the Knechtel brothers, Aaron, a shoe merchant, and Ezra, an insurance agent, built a new house at 236 West Gore Street. Robert and Vera Cossey moved in as their first tenants and lived there until 1929. Robert had returned to his work as a railway machinist, this time at the Canadian National Railway, remaining there until his retirement. A son, also named Robert, followed in his footsteps as a machinist. Robert died in 1970 while his widow Vera lived on in Stratford until 1998. Both are buried in Avondale Cemetery.