I watched this on the National Geographic channel recently, it’s a nice history of Streetcars, with Toronto as the backdrop, the first segment is below. It gives a good background into a city’s early development of transportation, and Winnipeg would have had the same progress, but of course we switched to buses in 1955.
Headline news, Sept 20 1955, Winnipeg Tribune. “Street Cars Silent after 73 Years of Noisy History”
If you have wondered, like I have, why a Streetcar was never preserved, I found a few answers. There was a ‘suggestion’ to put one of the last Streetcars at Assiniboine Park as a display, and it came from the Winnipeg Tribune. There are several references to a display Streetcar in other parks as well, and it was mentioned it would be something you visit with ‘your grandchildren”.
It seems the decision was with the city ‘Parks and Recreation” dept at the time, so I’m wondering if there are minutes etc at City Hall somewhere of these meetings in 1955. There was a also a comment about the Streetcar being of wood and perhaps not lasting long as a display, and I have a feeling that’s what may have happened. Stay tuned!
I thought it would be appropriate to mention with this ongoing cold spell, the first test of the Winnipeg Street Railway (WSR) with electric cars was January 27th, 1891 (118 yrs ago!) at 7.30pm. This test occurred on River Ave, or the “bush of Fort Rouge” as city council was fearful of electric wires overhanging the streets. This was the first electric commercial streetcar operation in Canada. Until then, the Streetcars where pulled by horses on the rails. I have yet to find pictures of this event, however we do have a despriction, from John Bakers book “Winnipeg’s Electric Transit” p. 15. I wonder how cold it was in that first Streetcar…..
“Punctually at 7:30pm, Acting Mayor Taylor raised the trolley pole to the wire and the car was brilliantly illuminated by the five incandescent lights mounted in the ceiling. Some of the awestruck crowd surged forward to give closer inspection to the interior. Austin explained the operation of the signal bells and the electric heater to his guests and then gave the order to proceed”.
This picture is for the new entrant, authorized by city council, and their opening Sept 5, 1892, for the “Winnipeg Electric Street Railway” in front of City Hall. The 2 firms did merge eventually in 1894 after some ‘fierce’ competition for fares and customers. Older pictures from this time actually show 4 separate sets of railway lines, 2 for each company, per City Council orders.
An anniversary for today: Sept 19, 1955, was the last Streetcar run in the city. An ad in the Winnipeg Free Press proclaimed “Winnipeg Runs on Rubber” by Goodyear of course. With an aging Streetcar fleet, the decision was made to go with a modern bus fleet. Trolley and Diesel buses were the choice, and Trolley Buses used the overhead electrical lines, lasting another 15 years to 1970.
I was informed of an obituary in the Free Press over the weekend, for Grace Cameron Chamberlain (nee McMurdy) and I quote from the FP “During the Second World War she drove a streetcar and was the first woman driver to achieve a one year safety record. She was proud of that accomplishment”.
Another reason to restore 356 I’m sure in those 2 sentences, there is a lifetime of stories, and more. The picture below is from the Winnipeg Tribune Archives, U of M Collection. Looking West on Portage Ave, Trolley Buses on the right.
Thanks to everyone who came out, visited the 2nd Floor Railway Museum, came by our booth, and asked about Winnipeg Streetcars. We even sold (more) than a few Winnipeg Electric Company T- Shirts! Wear them proudly. If you would like to purchase a T-shirt, drop by or contact the Heritage Winnipeg office at 509-63 Albert Street, they are $20ea. Or order from a wider selection at the Cafe Press link. For cash donations, also contact Heritage Winnipeg, and a Tax Receipt will be issued.
It was a great time to learn about Winnipeg’s Streetcar History, and on Saturday we had a “37 year Transit” operator with us, Brian Derragh. If you can believe it, he was hired in 1954, drove Streetcars for 17 months, then switched to Trolley Buses, and then drove the Deisel Buses right up until 1992. He also had the honor (or we did!) of being named “Bus Operator of the Year” in 1988. Maybe you rode a bus with Brian as the driver? I learned Winnipeg had 120 miles of rail/streetcar lines at its peak, you had to be at least 25yrs old to be Streetcar Trolley driver due to insurance, and your starting wage was less than $2. Below is a picture of Brian in the conductors spot in 356. He says he might have even drove it! But there were a lot of Streetcars available to work on, and “you didn’t always pay attention to the number.”
Also thanks to the Manitoba Transit Heritage Association (MTHA) who came by with their 1937 Vintage Twin Coach “Winnipeg Electric Company” bus 111 (aka Winnipeg Transit). They parked outside the Via Rail Station Sunday afternoon to answer questions about Transit Heritage, and assist with the Streetcar display.
Also thanks to CBC Radio for their great coverage, the broadcast was repeated again on Sunday, and I believe you might read about “Streetcar 356” in the Free Press shortly. Maybe even tomorrow.