Vancouver Electric Trolley, Unearthed

trolley1.jpgThe other night we were watching Global News and at the end of the hour, there’s always a cutesy, heartwarming, human interest story. That day, it was about some City of Vancouver construction workers who were digging a trench along Kingsway to put in a median. They had come across wood over a foot down, under the road and concrete. The human interest story dude shows up, says – WOW this is a part of the old Interurban route of the Lower Mainland, and a history lesson begins.

In 1891, Tramway Co. car #13 made the inaugural run between Vancouver and New Westminster on what is widely recognized as North America’s first true railway of this type. [VancouverHistory]. Until February, 1958 the BC Electric Railway had an inter-urban trolley that went from downtown Vancouver, South Vancouver, Richmond or through Burnaby, New Westminster, over to Surrey, Langley and all the way out to Chilliwack.

I thought, “How neat!” especially since they’ve revived part of the electric trolley system around False Creek. You can hop on during tourist season and get a lovely tour. There are plans to go ahead and extend the line further into downtown and Kitsilano as well. For now, if you’d like to try it out. For now, the seasonal demonstration line is currently operating on weekends and holidays between Science World Station and Granville Island Station, from 12:30-4:30, until October [TransitMuseumSociety].

So all is well. The construction workers unearthed a bit of local history and viewers of the News Hour got a brief lesson — or so I thought.

I started doing a little Googling and from what I found, the old Interurban went no where NEAR Kingsway in Vancouver. It just crossed it in Burnaby near Central Park and a bit in New Westminster.

I’ve seen maps before and I was able to find these online. You can clearly see that the rail lines, although they run almost parallel to Kingsway, do not run along it. Map 1, Map 2. Now cross reference that with the Kingsway construction on the City of Vancouver site, Map.

So although the lovely human interest story instigated this mini research and probably informed a lot of people about the trolley systems of yore, I believe it was historically inaccurate. From the images on the news, what they thought were wooden railroad ties (over a foot under the concrete) could have just been a part of the old road or perhaps another line (?)

I think it’s fairly obvious that I am not a historian nor do I even work for the City of Vancouver (in construction or otherwise). But I thought it would be neat to uncover this claim and discover a little more on my own about the efficient transit system we used to have, especially in comparison with the one today. Feel free to share any more info or let me know if I’m completely off base, I love this stuff, thanks!

Edit: Just looked up the historical area in which the road work is taking place, Kensington-Cedar Cottage did start to build up once the Interurban came out that way, but the stop was on 18th & Commercial, not along Kingsway.

5 Comments so far

  1. Wrenkin (unregistered) on October 29th, 2006 @ 12:53 pm

    I liked how the reporter referred to it as some sort of “old-timey” technology, when Toronto is still building streetcar lines. Sure, its interurbans (which also extended for ridiculous distances) are long gone, but they’re talking about putting more tracks down by the waterfront, and they’re pouring $100 million into refurbishing the St. Clair line.

  2. Anonymous (unregistered) on November 2nd, 2006 @ 12:39 am

    The SkyTrain Expo line generally follows the old inter-urban right of way. That is why it cuts through some residential and commercial areas.

  3. Ron (unregistered) on November 2nd, 2006 @ 1:03 pm

    Remember that Vancouver had two separate electric railway systems.

    One was a streetcar system in the roadway and the other was the interurban system which was largely in its own right-of-way (city to city express service more or less). The streetcar system used smaller vehicles, while the interurban system used larger vehicles. If there were track on Kingsway (in the roadway) they would have been streetcar tracks rather than interurban tracks. The Map 1 linked to above appears to show a streetcar line branching at Fraser & Kingsway, presumably the Kingsway branch went a few blocks further east to Knight Street.

    The City’s Kensington Cedar Cottage committee noted the possibility of streetcar tracks in the median along Kingsway (mind you the City could be wrong):

    “• Concern was raised regarding the option of constructing a median with trees along Kingsway at Knight, given the possibility of buried street car tracks and the prohibitive cost of removing them to construct a median. Other possibilities for greening the median were suggested that may not require the removal of the street car tracks.”

  4. Rebecca (unregistered) on November 2nd, 2006 @ 1:17 pm

    wow, thanks for the info, great discussion!

  5. Ron (unregistered) on November 2nd, 2006 @ 1:25 pm

    Also of note a couple of years ago when the City was replacing either water mains or sewer mains under Granville Street (in South Granville near 12th Ave.), they came upon the foundation for streetcar tracks – a thick pad of concrete (I seem to recall 18 inches or 24 inches thick) for the trackbed. Due to the high cost of removing the concrete, the City deferred the replacement of the mains along that stretch of roadway.

    This also indicates the reasons why in-street Light Rail Transit is not as cheap to construct as some people make it out to be – any existing infrastructure (sewer, water, gas, hydro, telephone, cable, data) under the proposed trackbed must be relocated away from right-of-way to allow future maintenance and repair of the infrastructure (i.e. you can’t shut down the transit system to repair a broken water main or phone line).

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