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70 Years Since the Streetcar

Seventy years ago — on September 8, 1947 — streetcars stopped being part of Lethbridge’s public transit system.

 Corner of 5 Street and 2 Avenue South, looking north, on inauguration day of streetcars in Lethbridge, August, 1912.  (Photo: Lethbridge Historical Society)
Corner of 5 Street and 2 Avenue South, looking north, on inauguration day of streetcars in Lethbridge, August, 1912.  (Photo: Lethbridge Historical Society)

The cars started in Lethbridge in August, 1912, just in time for the Dry Farming Congress that October. During the Congress, 5,000 visitors came to Lethbridge over the week-long event. Considering that Lethbridge was a city of approximately 8,000 residents, this was a huge event. The city brought in many new improvements and spent a great deal of money. One of the highlights was the streetcar system.

The system had an initial cost of over $250,000 and began with 17 kilometres of track. The city first purchased five double-track streetcars, followed by five smaller single-track cars. The cars were amber and cream in colour and displayed the sign “Lethbridge Municipal Railway.”

Initially there were fives lines serving north Lethbridge, Henderson Lake Park, the southside residential district, and a small downtown area. The various lines were known by a mixture of names and colours. They were downtown, orange, white, red, and blue.

 5 Street, circa 1912, looking north between 3 and 4 Avenues South.  (Photo: Lethbridge Historical Society)
5 Street, circa 1912, looking north between 3 and 4 Avenues South.  (Photo: Lethbridge Historical Society)
 Lethbridge Streetcar No. 3, 1930.  (Photo: Lethbridge Historical Society)
Lethbridge Streetcar No. 3, 1930.  (Photo: Lethbridge Historical Society)
 3 Avenue South in the 1920s, between 7 and 8 Streets.  (Photo: Lethbridge Historical Society)
3 Avenue South in the 1920s, between 7 and 8 Streets.  (Photo: Lethbridge Historical Society)

Things were looking bright in 1912. But then the real estate bust of 1913 brought reality back. And then there was the economic recession during the First World War.

The economic bust and Lethbridge’s small population size meant the system as originally built wasn’t sustainable. The downtown line was discontinued soon after. In 1914 there were cutbacks to staff. The cutbacks weren’t enough, so the entire staff was dismissed and rehired at lower wages.

 

 James Lawrence Davis in front of a streetcar between 1915 and 1920.  (Photo: Lethbridge Historical Society)
James Lawrence Davis in front of a streetcar between 1915 and 1920.  (Photo: Lethbridge Historical Society)

 

But still more cost cutting was needed. When the system started, every car was operated by two men. In 1917, all cars were reduced to single operators. That same year, one of the southside residential lines was discontinued.

In the 1930s, the streetcar was joined on the roads by buses, and slowly more buses were added to the Lethbridge transit system until, finally, buses replaced the streetcars. The streetcar system was ended on September 8, 1947. Some of the tracks were taken up; others were asphalted over (and eventually taken out).

For the average Lethbian who had to get to and from work and to and from the shops, the streetcar system and the advent of public transportation was incredibly useful as many couldn’t afford a carriage or automobile. And the system was well-used over its 35 years.

Source: Lethbridge Historical Society

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