Car Life Museum still running smoothly after 50 years

The Car Life Museum, along the Trans-Canada Highway near Bonshaw, P.E.I., has been a family business since its beginnings 50 years ago.

Newton MacKay's family keeping his dream alive

The Car Life Museum has been in operation for 50 years. (Sarah Keaveny-Vos/CBC)

The Car Life Museum, along the Trans-Canada Highway near Bonshaw, P.E.I., has been a family business since its beginnings 50 years ago.

The long, brown building that is nestled into the woods was opened in 1966 by Newton MacKay, a car buff who loved to restore antique and classic cars to their former glory.

MacKay passed away in 1979, and the museum is now run by his son Kevin MacKay — who inherited a love of restoring and collecting cars — and his wife Shirlene.

"He had a great passion for this hobby and we are very proud to show his accomplishments," said Shirlene. "I'm pretty sure that he would be pretty happy that is it continuing."

Doris MacKay still occasionally works the desk at the Car Life Museum. (Sarah Keaveny-Vos/CBC)

"Oh, he would be some surprised and some happy. He would not believe that it's the same place," said said Newton's wife Doris MacKay, who is now 88 years old and said she's happy to see her son and daughter-in-law step in.

"It's wonderful because of my health. I wouldn't be able to keep it. I don't know what would have happened to it, but to see them take such an interest in it gives you a good feeling."

'It started only as a hobby'

"It started only as a hobby but then he got more and more cars and he got more and more interested," said Doris MacKay.

She said Newton's prize car was a McLaughlin-Buick.

It was the first antique car he ever acquired and according to Doris, it was the car that gave him the incentive to keep going.

Harry Benjamin says this McLaughlin-Buick was the first antique car MacKay acquired. (Sarah Keaveny-Vos/CBC)

Newton bought the McLaughin-Buick from an old gentlemen fox farmer who had been very wealthy but had lost all his money after the fox industry went bust, according to Newton's lifelong friend, 92-year-old Harry Benjamin

The old gentleman was broke and feeling pretty low, until Mackay came along.

"Newton paid the gentleman in cash for the car and the old gentleman's whole personality changed. When Newton and Doris went to Summerside with the gentlemen to change the title on the car, he insisted on buying them all lunch. He had money in his pocket again," said Benjamin.

Bringing the past back to life

The museum includes antique and classic cars and historic tractors and farm equipment.

There is also an exhibit featuring a car owned by the legendary musician Don Messer. MacKay was once a driver for Don Messer and his Islanders and the two became friends.

Touring the museum, Don Messer's music wafts through the rafters, bringing the past back to life.

Newton MacKay's family believe he would be happy to know the museum is still running. (Sarah Keaveny-Vos/CBC)

The show stopper at the museum is a 1959 pink Cadillac Deville once owned by Elvis Presley himself. Along with the car, visitors can see photos Elvis and hear the king crooning some of his biggest hits.

It all adds to the atmosphere and the history of The Car Life Museum. Part of the magic and charm of museum is the way it brings back memories to those who take the time to stop in.

'They see the passion that Newton had'

"I love meeting the people. Everyone that comes in here is on vacation, so they are happy. When they come through here and they see the history and they see the passion that Newton had, it brings back a lot of memories to them. Maybe they went for a drive with an old girlfriend? Or they owned one of these cars? It's great," said Shirlene MacKay.

Shirlene MacKay holds the museum's first guest book. The family has every single guest book from the past 50 years. (Sarah Keaveny-Vos/CBC)

Newton MacKay passed away on the evening June 9, 1979. He'd been pushing himself hard, cutting the grass and shining up the cars to prepare the museum for an open house to be held the very next day.

The open house was in celebration of Islander Day and the museum was offering free admission to all Islanders. Newton was excited share his passion with anyone who wanted to come — for free.

The MacKay family made the decision to go ahead with the open house on June 10th, in honour of Newton, and they have kept that tradition going ever since.

After 50 years in operation, it seems there's still lots of gas left in the tank for the Car Life Museum.

"We don't really look at it completely as a business. It's more of a hobby. It's more of an interest in the cars. Both our children are very much interested in the museum as well and we hope that eventually they carry on the tradition," said Shirlene Mackay.

The museum is open for the 2016 season until Sept. 18.