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Category: Transit History

From Rails to Rubber: A look back at the region’s transition from streetcars to buses

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April 20, 1955 Print Buzzer

Today marks the 62nd year since the last streetcar ride in Vancouver! We’re definitely a bus region nowadays whether they be conventional diesel, hybrids or trolleybuses, but it wasn’t always that way.

Metro Vancouver used to have interurban rail and urban streetcars connecting and moving the Lower Mainland until April 24, 1955 when we said goodbye to Vancouver streetcars with a fitting send-off at the PNE.

To know where you are, is to know where you’ve been. So, let’s take a quick look at the major milestones that transitioned our region from rails to rubber!

Transit Timeline

1889 – Laying Vancouver’s streetcar rails

laying tracks

Constructing streetcar tracks on Powell St.

1890 – First electric streetcar in Vancouver

The beginning of transit in Metro Vancouver

The beginning of transit in Metro Vancouver

First streetcars quick facts!

  • 4 wheeled
  • open sides and front
  • Bench seating
  • Ran at 6 m.p.h
  • Originally made to be horse-drawn

Two lines:

1. Down Westminster Avenue (now Main St) from 1st Ave to Powell.
2. Along Powell and Cordova from Campbell Ave to Granville St.

1891 – Interurban tram line opens connecting New Westminster and Vancouver
1905 – Construction of North Vancouver tracks
1922 – Rebuilding of doors on streetcars when the rule-of-the-road switch from left to right.
1923 – First BCER bus on Grandview Highway route

first bcer bus 1923
1927 – Two-car “trains” were introduced on major routes

Two-car streetcar "trains" ran on main Vancouver routes from 1927 to the late 1940s

Two-car streetcar “trains” ran on main Vancouver routes from 1927 to the late 1940s

1945 to 1955 – Streetcar rails removed

rail removal

Removing streetcar tracks on Broadway near Cambie

1946 – Streetcars start to be replaced with buses
April 22, 1955, 3:30 am – The last official revenue streetcar went out of service
April 22, 1955 – Last streetcar route replaced with trolley bus
April 24, 1955 –
Last streetcar (free!) ride and No. 53 display at the PNE
1958 – The end of interurban service

“If the next 65 years are anything like the last, there will be lots to keep us busy – whether it’s streetcars or helicopters!”

– The Buzzer, April 20, 1955

Although the vehicles have changed, the impact of public transit and transportation continue to mould our present and future!

Thanks for coming along for the ride down the tracks of our transit history.

Have a hankering to see a streetcar today? Just head to the Old Spaghetti Factory in Gastown to see the No. 53 or cruise by East Broadway at the Kingsway and….. tada a lovely little streetcar replica!

No 21 Mount Pleasant

A nod to transit years gone by

You can also view the special Rails to Rubber 1955 edition of the Buzzer and read more about our streetcar past here.

Author: Adrienne Coling

Burnaby Transit Centre turns 30!

First bus
On November 3, 1986 at 4:35 a.m. bus #5101 was the very first to pass through the gates of the brand new Burnaby Transit Centre.

Who knew that 30 years later, BTC would still be such a hub for our bus fleet?!

This transit centre is made up of a north and south campus and holds fleet overhaul as well as the paint and fabric services for all of CMBC’s buses plus the sign, fare box and bus stop maintenance shops.

Some notable bus routes coming out of BTC are the ever-popular 99 B-line, 43 Joyce/UBC, 135 SFU/Burrard Station and 236 Grouse Mountain/Lonsdale Quay – just to name a few!

BTC is a highlight for I Love Transit week each year as transit ‘campers’ get to explore buses behind the scenes.

To BTC, we wish you a happy 30th birthday and thank all of hard working employees that keep it running and in turn, keep our buses running and serving the transit network!

Author: Adrienne Coling

BC Law Enforcement Memorial adds Special Constable to Honour Roll

Cst Walker at W 6th Ave & Moberly (2)

Constable Walker who, at 34 years of age, is the same age as Charles Painter at the time of his death, standing near the location of the shooting.

Transit Police as an organization is relatively new. Policing the transit network, however, dates back to the turn of the 20th century.

There have been thousands of men and women who have protected and supported the riders of transit and this is the story of one named Charles Painter. Special Constable Charles Painter, officer with the British Columbia Electric Railway Company, who was shot and killed in the line of duty in 1915.

One hundred and one years after this tragic event, Painter was recently added to the Honour Roll of the British Columbia Law Enforcement Memorial in Stanley Park.

Read on about this interesting piece of transit and transit police history!

In the early hours of Friday, March 19, 1915, while on duty in the area of the railway tracks at 6th Avenue and Willow Street, Vancouver, Special Constable Charles Painter spotted a man carrying a bundle of wire he believed to be stolen. While handcuffing the suspect following his arrest, a struggle took place during which the suspect grabbed Special Constable Painter’s revolver and shot him in the abdomen. The suspect ran from the area leaving the officer gravely wounded.

Special Constable Painter died several days later after providing a statement to police. Media reports at that time connected a man, later brought to trial in Seattle for a double murder, to the Vancouver shooting, but charges were never laid. Charles Painter was born in Ireland in 1881 and had served in the British Army before coming to Vancouver. He was single and had no known family at the time of his death so was laid to rest in an unmarked grave in Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver. memorial_ribbon_lg

Constable Graham Walker of the Metro Vancouver Transit Police was curious about the history of transit policing in British Columbia and while conducting research, uncovered the murder of Special Constable Painter. Further research showed that his death was not recorded on the BC Law Enforcement Memorial Honour Roll although he qualified for inclusion. Discussions are underway with the Metro Vancouver Transit Police union to fund the engraving of a suitable headstone for Special Constable Painter’s grave.

While Metro Vancouver Transit Police may be only just over a decade old, it can trace its roots back to the turn of the 20th century. Research has unearthed a great deal of information about how policing of the hydro lines and transit in those early days of the last century evolved into our modern day police service. Thanks to Constable Walker and his research, we are learning more about the evolution of the transit police organization.

The British Columbia Law Enforcement Memorial was held on September 25, 2016 at Brockton Oval in Stanley Park.

We honour Special Constable Painter and all of the law enforcement officers who keep us safe on and around transit and in our communities.

Some cool photos from a friend at TRAMS

Angus next to a 1957 GMC bus

Angus next to a 1957 GMC bus

If you follow the blog, you’ve met Angus before and TRAMS is old hat – but oh, so awesome!

However, if this is your first foray into the transit enthusiast world, you might be unaware that old transit vehicles are HUGE for fans here in Metro Vancouver, across Canada and the world!

Angus recently sent us some great pictures (captioned by the man, himself) of an old streetcar, refurbished and being used in service on Sundays all this summer in Toronto.

He rode this streetcar as a part of a chartered tour and shared some shots from his ride PLUS some way-back-play-back pictures of transit vehicles in 1970s Toronto.

Take a look!

Thanks for thinking of us on your travels, Angus!

Do you have some interesting transit photos from around Canada and beyond?
Email us with your photos – we’d love to share them on our social channels!

Author: Adrienne Coling

February 22, 1890 – the beginning of transit in B.C.

streetcar Fort St Victoria 1890s

Streetcar on Fort St., Victoria – 1890s Courtesy of BC Archives

“Let’s go back, let’s go back, let’s go way on way back when…” – Aretha Franklin

To February 22, 1890.

This is such an important date for the province because this day in history marks the launch of public transit in British Columbia!

It all started in Victoria with four small electric streetcars, two routes and nine kilometres of track laid down the centre of the city by The National Electric Tramway and Light Company.

Streetcar No. 5 Victoria - 1898 Courtesy of BC Archives

Streetcar No. 5 Victoria – 1898
Courtesy of BC Archives

This was only the third electric streetcar system in Canada at the time.

Vancouver wasn’t far behind! Four months later on June 26th, the first car went for a ride all the way down Main St. and on June 28th, the whole 9.6 kilometre system was in service.

We celebrated the region’s 125 years of transit milestone this past summer!

The next major transit launch was in New Westminster a year later with interurban trams connecting to downtown Vancouver through Burnaby which created easy travel for residents of different cities to explore the region.

These first benchmarks in B.C.’s transit history began over a century of transit expansion in the province.

It is so valuable to know where we’ve come from to see where transit can go in the future!

We salute those early transit pioneers that paved the way (sometimes literally) for BC Transit and TransLink to be here today and provide transit service to British Columbia!

You can learn lots more about transit history by visiting the BC Archives.

Author: Adrienne Coling

A history of the 14 Hastings in Vancouver: an interview with planner Peter Klitz about the iconic bus route

A Brill trolley with the BC Hydro colours, operating as the 14 Hastings in 1967.


Repost: Written by Jhenifer Pabillano and originally published April 7, 2011.

During our April 2011 service changes, we brought back the 14 Hastings trolley route—an iconic former bus route that ran through Vancouver’s downtown for many years!

The 14—which even had a famous play named after it—makes its triumphant return to the streets due to optimization changes for the 10 and 17 trolley routes.

Here to tell us more about the 14’s history and its current incarnation is Peter Klitz, one of TransLink’s planners involved in the project. Read on for more insights and some classic photos of the 14 through time!

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The conductorettes: the first women to drive transit in Vancouver

buzzer_banner_125_years

A group of conductorettes after finishing a training course in the 1940s. They were at first issued skirts as part of their uniform, but this image shows the transition to pants. Skirts were difficult to manage when climbing the trolley to reset the poles! Photo courtesy of the Coast Mountain Bus Company Archives.

A group of 33 conductorettes posing in front of the 16th Avenue streetcar at Prior Street barns in 1944. They were at first issued skirts as part of their uniform, but this image shows the transition to pants. Skirts were difficult to manage when climbing the trolley to reset the poles! Photo courtesy of the Coast Mountain Bus Company Archives. Click for a larger version.


Repost: Written by Jhenifer Pabillano and originally published November 9, 2009

Today, I’m pleased to present the story of the conductorettes, a group of 180 women who were the only women operating transit vehicles between 1943 and 1975.

And I’m especially pleased to tell you that this article includes an audio podcast containing interview excerpts from three former conductorettes.

Again, Lisa Codd, the curator at the Burnaby Village Museum, helped me put this article together, based on the research of Lynda Maeve Orr, the Museum’s Assistant Programmer. It’s a continued collaboration to explore transit history and Burnaby’s archival holdings!

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Trolley buses: a historical transit lesson

The 14 Hastings streetcar: looking north on Granville from Robson, 1950. Photo by Vic Sharman.

The 14 Hastings streetcar: looking north on Granville from Robson, 1950.
Photo by Vic Sharman.

When I moved out here from Toronto nearly two years ago now, one of the first things I did was explore the city. How, you ask? On the bus! So I hopped on a bus to adventure around my new city.

At least, I thought it was a bus. It had large, yellow tubes attached to wires overhead. It reminded me of my streetcars on the TTC… but no tracks. What a strange beast this was. I was informed by a fellow rider that the beast was, indeed, a trolley bus! Huh. Who knew?

But how long has it been around and why do we use it? Being a former journalist and the daughter of a history teacher, I needed to know the answers.

Trolley buses have been in operation in Metro Vancouver since 1948 and the first routes were replacements for the old streetcar routes in the region.

We actually have 188 40-foot conventional and 74 60-foot articulated New Flyer E40LFR low-floor trolleys operated by the Coast Mountain Bus Company. That means we have the second largest and most modern electric trolley fleet in all of North America!

Trolley buses in downtown Vancouver.

Trolley buses in downtown Vancouver.

Each trolley utilizes a network of overhead wires that span 315 kms through Vancouver and Burnaby. Because we’re using electricity, it’s a very environmentally friendly transit option. Yay for greener transportation!

You can still see a few of Vancouver’s first trolley buses manufactured by the Canadian Car and FoundryJ.G. Brill Company. They have been preserved by the Transit Museum Society out of CMBC’s Surrey transit centre. Namely, a 1947 T44 No. 2040 and a 1954 T48A Nos. 2414 and 2416.

If you’re as interested as I am in this cool vehicle hybrid, check out the Edmonton Trolley Coalition for pictures and information on trolley buses from around the world.

Feel free to impart this historical transit trivia to fellow riders the next time you take a trolleybus!

Author: Adrienne Coling

TransLink turns 15: Preparing for Y2K

BCRTC Control Room Circa 1999

BCRTC Control Room Circa 1999

Let’s go back in time. The year is 1999. Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time” was a global smash hit, the Blackberry 850 was blowing peoples minds by putting emails in the palms of your hands, and last, but definitely not least, TransLink was created!

Those of you who remember the transition to this new millennium will remember the tension that was building as the 90s wound down. Not only did we not know what to call the next decade (I don’t think we ever did land on a good term to define 2000-2009 or our current decade either), there was widespread panic over what our computers would do once the “99” in 1999 rolled over to “00” of 2000 (Wikipedia explains this and more better than I can).

The fear for many was palpable. Whether or not you believed that we were heading for digital/analogue/world armageddon, the newly formed TransLink didn’t take things for granted. Someone needed to be on standby in case the world’s worst estimates came true. For the SkyTrain system, that person was Michael Carmichael, IT Network Supervisor for BCRTC.

Michael was a Network Administrator working at SkyTrain Operations and Maintenance Centre (OMC) in 1999. He looked after the IT side of the Y2K bug at SkyTrain. That included desktop computers, servers, networks, and office software. The computers that run the trains were handled by SkyTrain Control.

In the months leading up to Y2K, management at BCRTC were not too concerned that it was going to be a major problem that would cripple SkyTrain. Mike took some precautions, and some computers and software were updated and replaced prior to the “big event”.  All computers were tested three to five months in advance for potential issues by setting the clock forward to see what happened. Three months ahead of Y2K, it was evident that everything was going to be fine.

Mike came to the office on New Year’s eve as a precautionary measure to ensure all the computers and software were up and running when people came back to work. Computers that run SkyTrain are rebooted at 2 or 3:30 a.m., so the plan was for them to check for problems at that time, but the system had already been tested with no issue. If there had been an issue, SkyTrain attendants and Control Operators would have been there to take care of it.

What happened?

“It was just me alone from 10:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. It was actually quite boring, but I did hear some celebrating and screaming in the control room at midnight. I didn’t go up there, though,” says Michael. What was happening was an impromptu New Year’s celebration that broke out in SkyTrain Control at midnight.

Michael reflects on that time, “We actually have more issues with Daylight Savings Time than we ever did with Y2K. Y2K was basically a non-event.”

Yes it was Michael, but I, for one, am glad he was there, just in case.

A shot of what things looked like around 1999 in SkyTrain control

A shot of what things looked like around 1999 in SkyTrain control

 

TransLink turns 15!

Happy birthday TransLink!

Happy birthday TransLink!

It’s birthday time here at TransLink. Yup, it was 15 years ago this month that TransLink was formed as a  multi-tiered governance structure responsible for a fully integrated transportation system across land, rail and sea!

At lot has happened over these 15 years and below are 15 interesting facts you may not know about your transit authority of Greater Vancouver.

15 fun facts about TransLink

1) At its founding, TransLink was unique among North American transportation agencies by being responsible for a fully integrated transportation system across land, rail and sea.

As the first North American transportation authority responsible for both roads and transit, TransLink is responsible for 2,400 lane kilometres of the major road network and five bridges (Pattullo, Knight, Westham Island, Golden Ears, and the Canada Line bike and pedestrian bridge).

 

2) Since 1999, the numbers of people using our transit network has grown dramatically – annual passenger trips have increased by 127 million. In context, the population of Metro Vancouver grew by 15 per cent while passenger trips increased by 56 per cent during the same period.

 

3) People board our buses, trains and ferries about 1.2 million times each weekday, making a total of 970,000 trips each day.

 

4) Geographically, we cover the huge region that is Metro Vancouver – there are over 2,800 square kilometers  in TransLink’s service region! Our transit network includes more than 8,200 bus stops, 200 bus routes, 57 SkyTrain Stations and eight West Coast Express Stations.

 

5) Our buses, trains and ferries stay busy moving our customers – to work, school, medical centres, friends and family. Our transit fleet provides approximately seven million service hours in a year, and our vehicles travel about 167 million service kilometres per year.

 

6) Our rapid transit system was the first fully automated, driverless and unattended rail system in the world. When the Expo Line was completed in 1986, it became the longest automated driverless system globally, a title only recently surpassed by Dubai in 2011.


7) Our bridges help move goods and people across the region. Over 300,000 crossings of trucks, cars and buses cross the Fraser River on TransLink bridges each day. 

 

8) Since 1999, TransLink has added 1,168 new conventional buses, 148 new SkyTrain vehicles, 17 West Coast Express trains and one SeaBus to make space for our growing numbers of riders. Our current fleet consists of 1,900 buses, 300 SkyTrain cars, 50 West Coast Express trains and 3 SeaBuses.

 

9) Since TransLink’s inception, we have expanded all modes in our transportation network. To name just a few, we have added the Millennium and Canada rapid transit lines, built the Golden Ears Bridge, launched the 24-kilometre Central Valley Greenway, and funded construction of the Coast Meridian Overpass in Port Coquitlam.  

 

10) The TransLink logo landed at its current form in 2007, reflecting TransLink’s evolution. At inception, the logo included a reference to the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority, TransLink’s original name, but was simplified when TransLink officially became the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority in 2007.

 

11) We manage a complex transportation network, with assets worth more than $11 billion – including roads, bridges, tracks, guideways, trolley wires, stations, vehicles and bus depots.

 

12) Our AA credit rating has enabled TransLink to raise $900 million from longer-term investors. These funds allow us to invest in the assets and infrastructure of the transportation system we operate. This includes buses, SkyTrain vehicles, road and bridge improvements, and many more physical assets and system upgrades which help us provide a safe and reliable transportation system for Metro Vancouver.

 

13) We introduced the U-Pass BC program in 2003 to 58,000 students. The popularity of the program grew from there and today 125,000 students are enrolled in the U-Pass BC Program.

 

14) The Buzzer blog was one of North America’s first transit agency blogs. Every month there are an average of between 15 – 35 000 page views!

 

15) On the social side, TransLink has over 43,000 Twitter followers, and nearly 10,000 Facebook followers. We work hard to deliver a world-class customer experience throughout our entire system, and our Customer Service Charter is our promise of quality service. We’re committed to giving our customers a service that is efficient, safe, reliable and comfortable.

Wanna know more about the last 15 years of transit and goods movement in Greater Vancouver? Take a read of our press release and follow the link to The Road Less Traveled, a look at TransLink’s journey from 1999 to 2008. We also included a short look back at the last 15 years in the March 2014 print Buzzer.

Podcast: Frank Jensen celebrates 41 years as a bus operator

Frank sitting one more time on his bus!

Frank sitting one more time on his bus!

Many people spend less than four years at a job. Not Frank Jensen. Yesterday, Frank took his last trip after 41 years of exemplary service as a bus operator!

It’s not everyday that someone retires after more than four decades at the same job. And last night, Frank’s accomplishments were featured on the CBC Evening News. As you’ll see from video, Frank will be missed by more than just his fellow employees.

I had the privilege of sitting down with Frank and his son and daughter after Frank’s last run on the #405. Take a listen to what Frank and his family had to say.

 

After I spoke to Frank, his fellow operators and other staff at the Richmond Transit Centre lined up to congratulate him on his accomplishment. Thanks for all the great years, Frank! You’ll be missed!

Enjoy your retirement Frank!

Enjoy your retirement, Frank!

Life on transit: talk Buzzer history in a Google Hangout today, March 27, 2013!

translinklifeontransit

For March/April 2013, we’re spotlighting Life on Transit—observing and illuminating the quirks and habits of daily transit rides around our region!

Update: our Google Hangout has wrapped and here’s the video above!

As we mentioned last week: today we’re talking about The Buzzer, our 96 year old transit newsletter!

Join us for a Google Hangout today for a video chat. The details:

  • Date and time: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 – noon to 1pm!
  • Where: Online! The Hangout can be viewed on our Google+ profile page. You don’t need a Google+ account to watch the stream!
  • Who: Jhenifer Pabillano and Robert Willis, Buzzer editors!
  • What: All about the history of the Buzzer, plus answers to any questions you might have.
  • Be aware that this is our first Hangout, so it won’t be perfect, though we’ll do our best!

We’ll post the Hangout here as it happens! Check back at noon or later today and you can see exactly how it all went down :)

Burnaby Village Museum interurban anniversary

B.C. Electric's interurban train 1223 circa 1930. Image 204-375 courtesy of the City of Burnaby Archives.

We’re very pleased to welcome Lisa Codd back to the blog. Lisa is the fantastic curator at the Burnaby Village Museum & Carousel. Readers of the blog will remember Lisa from her great help with the past posts on women in transit, interurbans and the history of the Pattullo Bridge.

A Century of Service: Four Metro Vancouver transit artifacts celebrate 100 years – by Lisa Codd

A century ago, in 1912, the B.C. Electric Railway Company placed an order with the St. Louis Car Company in St. Louis, Missouri to purchase 28 passenger cars for use in the Vancouver and Fraser Valley regions.

The BCER had been operating in this region since 1897, when it bought out a group of investors who owned streetcar lines in Vancouver and New Westminster, and an interurban line built in 1891 that connected the two cities. The BCER invested in expansion of the system, and by 1912, this region’s street railway was by far the largest in the country, with over 200 miles of track (Winnipeg was a distant second with 80 miles).

Up until 1912, the BCER had built their cars locally in a shop in New Westminster. But in 1912, they decided to purchase the cars rather than build them themselves, probably because their shop was not set up to build steel-framed cars, which provided more safety to passengers in the event of an accident.

The St. Louis Car Company was a major manufacturer of streetcars and interurban trams from 1887 to 1973. They built vehicles for some of the major transit systems in North America, including New York City and Chicago.

The cars entered service in 1913, and ran throughout the Lower Mainland for 45 years. In the 1950s, electric railway service was replaced by buses. The 1223 was retired from service in 1958. It was one of only ten B.C. Electric Railway cars that were saved from destruction. The 1223 became the property of the Burnaby Historical Society, who put it on display at Edmonds Loop. Today, the restored tram car is housed at the Burnaby Village Museum.

Sister cars to the 1223 include the 1225 owned by the Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society, the 1231 operated by the Transit Museum Society in Vancouver, and the 1220 currently being restored by the Richmond Museum.

To celebrate this anniversary, the Burnaby Village Museum has organized a programme of expert speakers who will provide fascinating looks into the history of electric railway transportation, as well as the possibilities of reviving the system for future use. It’s called “Going Electric” and it is scheduled for September 29 at the Burnaby Village Museum.

More information is available on the Museum’s website:

In addition to the lecture series, the Burnaby Village Museum will be open to the public on September 29th and 30th from 11:00 am to 4:30 pm, to celebrate Burnaby’s transportation heritage. The Museum’s exhibits will be open, including the Interurban 1223 tram barn, and activities, entertainment, and demonstrations will take place throughout the site.

 

Exhibit of Angus McIntyre’s historical transit photos starts on September 16, 2012

Photo by Angus McIntyre

Keith Daubenspeck (Seattle Transit driver), Angus McIntyre and Brian Kelly about to head out for a fan trip with Brill trolleybus 2031 at Oakridge Transit Centre. (Photo by Wally Young circa 1970.)

Friend of the blog and well known transit figure Angus McIntyre is exhibiting his photos from the late-night shift in East Vancouver.

The photos in Nite Owl were taken between the years of 1973-1976. They capture the time period before the streetcar tracks were removed as well as depict a Vancouver many are forgetting and some never knew.

Check out the Baron Gallery website for more info. Oh, and we’ve written a bunch of posts on Angus, many of which feature his photos. There’s also an interesting podcast Jhen did with Angus exactly 40 years after his first day of work with BC Hydro as a transit operator.

A southbound 8 Davie at Howe and Pender in 1969. Photo by Angus McIntyre!

Bus photos old and new from Angus McIntyre

An aerial view of Vancouver Transit Centre!

Angus McIntyre, dear Buzzer friend and retired trolley driver, sent in a few photos for us to share today. (He’s sent in vintage photos before!)

Angus is a member of the Transit Museum Society and drove trolleys for over 40 years in Vancouver. We’ve spoken to him before on the blog — see his terrific reminiscences of transit and more here, here, and here.

Here’s what Angus says about these photos:

I was on a trip back east for a month, and when I returned I made a point of paying an extra $10 to get a window seat on the right side of the ‘plane. I had tried before to get these shots but the ‘plane landed eastbound. This time the weather was perfect, and this is the result. Please feel free to use these images any way you wish.

I have included two shots of PNE Parade Day, August 1974, showing how things worked for the detour at Hastings and Commercial. I’m sure Worksafe BC would have issues with this now.

Switching wires at Hastings and Commercial in 1974 on PNE Parade Day.

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