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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  • Originally made to be horse-drawn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


3 Comments

  • By Ian S., April 25, 2017 @ 4:33 am

    Actually, the last rides on April 24, 1955, were all free and those were on the modern PCC-type cars used on the No. 14 route, running along Hastings from Main Street to Kootenay Loop (where it was snowing!).

    Old No. 53, which by then was owned by two railfans, was just for display at the PNE. The railfans sold it in 1970 and it became the centrepiece of the Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant in Gastown.

  • By Adrienne Coling, April 25, 2017 @ 8:24 am

    Wow! Thanks for the extra insider knowledge, Ian!!

  • By M, September 2, 2018 @ 7:56 pm

    I’m wondering, what was the specific reason that streetcar service was replaced by trolley buses?

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