Category: streetcars

Sunday Streetcars

Sunday Streetcars

Observance of the Sabbath Vs Leisure

By George Siamandas

Winnipeg streetcars were finally permitted to run on Sundays for the first time on July 8, 1906. Until then everyone walked or used a bicycle to get around on Sunday. Across Canada, excepting Quebec, there were few things one could do on Sundays. Churches that wanted to keep the Sabbath had always opposed Sunday operation of streetcars. They wanted to give the street railwaymen time to worship. After all they were already working 10 hours a day, six days a week.


The first Sunday operation had been a one-time-only special occasion. It was the funeral of carman Patrick Mullan held on March 13, 1904. The cortege required 10 streetcars and thousands attended the passing of the cars through the downtown.


There had been several proposals to City Council and the legislature to permit Sunday operation of streetcars since the turn of the century. The issue was debated in letters to the editor of the Free Press. Some argued that with places to go that there would fewer drunks. Others argued that where this had been introduced, such as in Toronto, church attendance went up 20%. Sabbatarians argued that those cities that had done this were rapidly on their way to degeneration and ruin. It was put to the public a number of times. In Dec 2, 1902 Sunday operation was narrowly defeated 2,370 to 2,166 in a civic vote.


Finally on June 28, 1906 it was put to another public vote. The Free Press was a staunch advocate and said that Sunday operation was a “humanitarian necessity in this city of magnificent distances.” And that “people interested in vice do not need to go into the country to gratify their inclination towards wickedness.” The results were 2,890 for and 1,647 against Sunday operation. Winnipeggers were jubilant and took their first chance to head to the parks, completely jamming the cars assigned to that first day.

The cars operated from 7:00am to midnight and the fare was 8 tickets for 25 cents. Out of respect for Sunday the speed would be held to 6 miles an hour near churches and the gong would only be sounded in emergencies. Streetcars rolled down a double track running down the middle of Broadway Avenue with its young elm saplings lining the edges of the wide centre Boulevard. Those that did not go to the parks delighted in joy riding around for hours, enjoying tours of the city.


It was just in time for newly opened Assiniboine Park. People enjoyed taking the open streetcars to other parks like River Park, and Elm Park. They also went to Happyland Park, which opened in spring 1906. Happyland was located on the south side of Portage Ave between Sherburn and Garfield. It lasted 14 years and then became Dominion and Aubrey streets. The old bus turn around remains on Aubrey St. In 1907, a special line ran into St Charles Golf Club. For many years the streetcar was the only way of getting there and to all the golf courses. And right into the 1940s, people would carry their clubs with them onto the streetcars.



by George Siamandas

The day of Winnipeg’s love affair with streetcars came to an end on Monday Sept 19, 1955, the last day streetcars operated in Winnipeg. The last car, car no 374 which had ben decorated with tearful eyes, began its last trip east along Portage Ave from Polo Park to its final stop at Portage and Main. It was piloted by Mrs Francis Daly one of three women still working on streetcars. The streets were jammed by spectators. Mayor Sharpe and 82 year old Transit Commission Chairman W H Carter lifted a section of the rail, forever severing a link to the past.

The man who introduced streetcars to Winnipeg was Albert Austin. Austin had come to Winnipeg in 1880 at age 23 from Toronto. He wanted to give citizens paved streets and sidewalks and an inexpensive way of getting around town. It was a struggle for Austin who initially could not get the city to let him do it until he got some local prominent citizens involved in his streetcar company. On October 20 1882 was able to initiate a local streetcar service.

For the first ten years streetcars which could carry up to 24 people were horse drawn. In winter, because the rails would freeze, they replaced the metal wheels with sleighs. In 1888 Austin travelled to Virginia to see the operation of an electric system. Electric was of course the buzz word. By September of 1892 streetcars had been electrified. But after feuding with city council Austin lost his exclusive franchise and saw competition from other streetcar operators. By 1894 all the horse drawn cars were gone. And Albert Austin sold out his business and instead concentrated on developing Elm Park.

In the early 1900s streetcars helped open up the city. In 1901 they carried 3.5 million passengers in a city of 52,443 people. Fares were 5 cents and the cars would run through all but the worst blizzards of 1902 and 1904. In 1905 they ran as far west as Headingley. And in 1906 they also began to operate on Sundays. And by the same year all new streetcars were being built right here in Winnipeg. By 1925 there were 340 cars in the fleet and they carried 60 million riders annually.

During the depression years and later World War 2, the cars and tracks had not been adequately maintained and the fleet was in bad shape. Little by little they added trolley buses in the 1930s and 1940s. All across North America communities were switching to diesel buses. So it was that the first major policy decisions that new Transit Commission made in 1953 was to purchase new diesel buses and to discontinue the streetcar system. September 19, 1955 was the last day they would run in Winnipeg.