Thu. May 26th, 2022

Interurban trams were an integral part of life in the lower mainland from the 1890s to the 1950s.

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One hundred and thirty years ago, Vancouver and New Westminster were connected by a tram line.

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“The Westminster and Vancouver Electric Tramway line is now so nearly complete that today a full-length car was driven from Westminster to the corner of Carrall and Hasting streets,” read a story in Vancouver World on October 8, 1891.

Full service began Oct. 28 with four runs each way each day. Tram expert Henry Ewert says it was a game-changer.

“Traveling by road between the two cities was a trauma to be avoided,” he said. CPR operated a service twice a day except Sunday between New Westminster and Vancouver, but it was via Coquitlam.

“This was the longest city line in Canada, 14 miles, and just opened everything up. It was a furious success. It ran right on the “pig’s back” in Burnaby … the highlights. “

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The tram was owned by the same company that owned New West’s tram system, but was not allied with the Vancouver Electric Street Railway, which had begun running a tram in Vancouver on June 28, 1890.

Both trams and trams ran on rails and were powered by electric motors that pulled electricity via car poles connected to overhead lines. It was groundbreaking technology back then.

“The tram, electric traction, had almost been invented in the late 1890s, and we were right on top of it,” Ewert said. “In February 1890, Victoria had the second tram company in all of Canada. Here we were out in the woods, but we were doing amazing things. ”

The difference between a tram and a tram was size.

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“(Trams) were longer,” Ewert explains. “The trams had four wheels, the interurbans had eight – two pairs of four.”

A map of lowland city railroads on a 'Guide to Vancouver' by the BC Electric Railway Company, around 1930s to 40s.
A map of lowland city railroads on a ‘Guide to Vancouver’ by the BC Electric Railway Company, around 1930s to 40s. Vancouver Sun.

Much of the original Westminster and Vancouver Electric Tramway line ran along its own road through Burnaby, but at Park Avenue (Commercial Drive today) it turned north to run along Vancouver streets.

“The tramway should enter Park Avenue to Venables Street, along Venables to Boundary Avenue (now Glen Drive), thence along Campbell Avenue to Hastings Street and from Hastings to Carrall Street,” read a story on August 14, 1891, The World .

The city charges the company $ 1 a year to put its rails on the city streets. Costs were to be renegotiated after five years, but there was an economic depression in 1893 and everything changed.

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“The Vancouver Tram Company, the Victoria Tram Company and the Westminster and Vancouver Tram all went bankrupt in the fall of 1893,” said Ewert, who has written several books on local trams. “They were taken over by a company called Consolidated, and eventually in 1897 everything was put together … in April in the BC Electric Railway Company.”

Vancouver boomed in the late 1890s and early 1900s, and interurban lines were laid across the lower mainland. At its highest, there was a city network line from Vancouver to Steveston (the Lulu Island line) and two lines through Burnaby (the Central Park and Burnaby Lake lines).

The longest line was in Fraser Valley, which ran from the New West to Chilliwack, with stops in Cloverdale, Langley, Abbotsford, Huntingdon, Vedder Mountain and Sardis.

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“New Westminster to Chilliwack was 64 miles, built in 1910,” said Ewert, who can roll details like this from the top of his head. “It is the longest urban railway ever built in Canada. It provided good service- it had toilets, a water cooler. ”

Postcard from BC Electric Passenger Depot in Vancouver.  This is where interurban trains will arrive at the southwest corner of Carrall and Hasting streets.
Postcard from BC Electric Passenger Depot in Vancouver. This is where interurban trains will arrive at the southwest corner of Carrall and Hasting streets. Vancouver Sun.

The interurban lines were the key to the commercial success of New West and Vancouver. The Fraser Valley line brought the masses into Columbia Street and the New West public market, while the Vancouver lines ended at Carrall and Hastings streets, bringing thousands of shoppers and commuters every day to Vancouver Downtown Eastside.

But the car’s popularity and the introduction of buses spelled the end of the line for the interurban. The Chilliwack intercity line stopped in 1950, the Burnaby Lake and Central Park lines stopped running in 1953, and the last subway tram ran on the Steveston line on February 27, 1958.

There have been hopes of reviving the light rail lines for a new tram system. But when Vancouver’s Vision Council bought the old Steveston line, now known as the Arbutus Corridor, it chose to tear up the rail and turn it into a bike path.

jmackie@postmedia.com

October 1892 photo of Westminster and Vancouver Tramway Co.  Ltd.  the interurban leaves the streets of Carrall and Hastings in Vancouver.
October 1892 photo of Westminster and Vancouver Tramway Co. Ltd. the interurban leaves the streets of Carrall and Hastings in Vancouver. PROVINCE
BC Electric tram map of Vancouver, probably 1930s to 40s.
BC Electric tram map of Vancouver, probably 1930s to 40s. PROVINCE

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