Bring Back the Streetcar!

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Shocked faces of people riding the streetcar as they get their first look at the new Vancouver Brill (trolley) bus in 1949. Photo courtesy Angus McIntyre.

On September 3, 1906 the first North Vancouver streetcar began its journey at the ferry dock, travelled up Lonsdale and stopped at 12th Street. Jack Kelly was the conductor aboard that inaugural run. Everything went smoothly on the way up, but on the way back down, the brakes failed and Car 25 came crashing into another streetcar waiting at the bottom. Three years later, Kelly was at the controls of Car 62 when it headed down Lonsdale to meet the 4:00 p.m. ferry. Once again, the brakes failed. With 15 passengers screaming in fright, including the wife of the North Vancouver mayor, the car careened down the hill and off the end of the dock. Kelly leaped from the car, breaking his leg. The rest of the passengers were fished out of the harbour.

Streetcar #120 going south on Quebec Street into the car barn on Main Street. Photo courtesy Friends of the Olympic Line .

Dangers of early street cars aside, I’d love to see some return. At its height, there was a streetcar system that operated in Vancouver, New Westminster and North Vancouver where three lines operated up Lonsdale, Capilano and Grand Boulevard, later extending to Lynn Valley.

Streetcar #153 heads northbound on Lonsdale Avenue in 1946. Photo courtesy North Vancouver Museum & Archives

Car 153 was built by the J.G. Brill Company of Philadelphia and motored up and down Lonsdale Avenue for 35 years. Designed as a “double-ender,” when she reached the Windsor Road terminus at the top of Lonsdale the motorman and the conductor switched places for the return trip.

When streetcars were discontinued in 1947, most of their parts were sold off for scrap, while a few became summer cottages or farm buildings. Car 153 survived first as a motel cabin near Mission, then as a restaurant in Chilliwack, and, before she was rediscovered in 1982, a chicken coop on a Fraser Valley farm. Car 153, which was restored by the North Vancouver Museum & Archives in the early 1990s, and is I believe, still in storage at Mahon Park, where it’s likely to stay.

The interurban running southbound on Commercial at East 2nd in 1950. Photo courtesy Friends of the Olympic Line

Last June, councillor Don Bell’s appeal to bring back the streetcar got promptly flattened. One councillor called it: “pursuing a classic boondoggle,” telling the North Shore News: “Put yourself in Translink’s shoes: if they give this to us, how many municipalities in Metro Vancouver are going to be right at the door asking for exactly the same thing?”

Yes, god forbid Vancouver should have a transit system that makes sense. We called them trams in Melbourne where I grew up, and we took them everywhere. Now they are free in the city centre, and as well as being an amazing tourist attraction, they just make good sense from a transportation and clean energy point of view.

Photo courtesy Vancouver Archives

A group called Friends of the Olympic Line Vancouver Civic Railway is lobbying to bring back streetcars to Vancouver. Check out their Facebook page and their website,

Photo courtesy Vancouver Archives

For more about the streetcars and Interurbans of Vancouver:

http://evelazarus.com/may-1-1907-a-trip-across-vancouver/

http://evelazarus.com/the-train-that-ran-down-hastings-street/

 

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11 comments

  1. Interesting photo of the first bus circa 1949. It looks a lot like the buses I rode to school in the 60s.
    As far as using street cars for urban transit , it might make to much sense and not cost enough for translink to consider.

  2. Funny how North Van hasn’t latched on to the idea of a street car up the hill from the water. It may be distracted by the hare-brainers the city wants to inflict on the old shipyards. They almost had a clue when the mayor floated the idea of a bike lift up the steep part of Lonsdale. Let that idea grow and it might become a trolley.

      1. 100%. That’s what I was trying to say. North Van was going in the right direction so if they took the bike lift concept a few steps further they might see how a trolley (with a bike rack) makes far more sense.

  3. I believe the North Vancouver Museum has plans to display the refurbished Car 153 in the main lobby of its new facility on West Esplanade currently planned for a 2019 opening.

  4. For those who might think that streetcars with bike racks are a good idea, I should mention that streetcar tracks in a roadway and bicycles are disaster. Ask me how I know!

  5. Makes no sense to install the wires and tracks to only travel at the road speed. A $100k bus travelling up and down would be more affective. It is something the merchants of lonsdale or the city could run if they felt it is of benefit

  6. The other issue is trollys stop in the middle of the street and people dash from the curb on to the trolly. I’ll let you imagine how well that would work on Londale these days. At least the hospital is nearby.

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