The backbone of public transportation in Ottawa, Ontario, capital of the Dominion of Canada, consists of 127 trolley cars operated by the Ottawa Transportation Commission over fifty miles of main routes. Like the other national capitals of North AmericaWashington, D.C. and Mexico City, D.F.Ottawa boasts a modern up-to-date electric railway system that includes a number of post-war lightweight cars. Ottawa, capital of the Dominion, is one of the few municipalities in eastern Canada still served by streetcars.
This center, with a population of well over 150,000, was chosen by Queen Victoria in 1857 to be the future seat of Canada’s federal government. Known then as Bytown, it was but a small village nestling beside the Ottawa River, close to where the Rideau River joins it.
At that time its citizens found little need for public transit, as it was not difficult to walk from one end of the village to the other. But subsequent to its appointment as the premier city of Canada, the municipality and its surrounding area grew rapidly. By 1870 the district had expanded to such a size that some form of local transportation was a necessity; consequently, in that year the Ottawa City Passenger Railway Company was incorporated to operate a horse-car line in the capital.
Between 1870 and 1890 the horse was undisputed king of local transportation, plodding along faithfully with small wooden cars in summer and with sleighs in the winter. In the latter year, however, an electrified system was planned, and in 1891 the Ottawa Electric Street Railway Company commenced operations. It was the second electric railway in Canada to operate successfully year ’round. The horse-car system and the electric lines were amalgamated in 1893 and a new company, the Ottawa Electric Railway Company, served the community from that time until 1948 when its assets passed to the control of the city of Ottawa, and the Ottawa Transportation Commission took over transit services in the district.
Growth of the Ottawa Electric system during the first decade of its existence was spectacular. By 1905 the company was operating 115 passenger vehicles, a number exceeded only by the lines in Montreal and Toronto. Expansion continued until 1915 when there were 176 passenger cars operating over 44 miles of track.
In addition to regular transportation of passengers, Ottawa Electric performed a number of other duties not ordinarily associated with electric lines. A private car was operated for the Governor General and visiting royalty. The “Duchess of Cornwall and York”, as it was known, was built in 1901 especially for the visit of the Prince of Wales and his wife (later King George V and Queen Mary). It was luxuriously furnished and was the first of many heavy wooden cars built by the Ottawa Car Company. Ottawa Electric also operated mail cars from the railway stations to the post office. Cars used in this service were converted horse-cars and they ran to the post office on a special set of tracks. When the government purchased trucks to perform these duties, the electric cars were returned to the railway and are still used as work and service cars.
Between 1910 and 1920 many improvements to the passenger equipment were carried out. The first double-truck, pay-as-you-enter streetcars in Ontario were placed in service on Sparks Street in 1911, and number 600, the first all-metal car in the province, was built in 1914. Services were improved continually and equipment was modernised during the following decade.
In the depression year 1933 the company received permission from the city to operate one-man cars exclusively. A number of cars previously had been equipped for one-man operation, but during the following year the rest were remodeled, and by the end of 1934 the company’s roster consisted of 118 one-man passenger cars and 25 work and miscellaneous units. At the time of conversion to one-man service, the color of the trams was changed from green to the present scheme of red and cream.
The 1934 equipment figures remained constant until 1942, when ten second-hand cars were acquired from the Toronto Transportation Commission to handle the increase in traffic during the war years. With the exception of these ten Toronto cars, all equipment of the Ottawa Electric Railway since the turn of the century had been built by the Ottawa Car Company. The last units of rolling stock acquired by the Ottawa system were four cars of the 1000 series; these trams, incidentally, were also the last cars constructed by the Ottawa builders before they went out of business. The 1000s are the only Ottawa cars with arch roofs, although otherwise similar to the 800 series.
No Ottawa passenger car bears the digit 7. The reason, according to the company, is that when Ottawa streetcars were still in their infancy, a child was killed at the corner of Albert and Kent Streets by car 37. Thomas Ahern, president of the company and a man of superstition, forbade the use of the number 7 on any of his cars thereafter. Although the system has a snow sweeper numbered 7, his decree has been adhered to strictly in the numbering of passenger cars and buses.
Present services in Ottawa [in 1951] consist of seven rail lines and three bus routes. Fares in the city are four for 25 cents with transfer privileges, an additional five cents being charged on the four-mile private right-of-way line to Britannia Park. On a pleasant Sunday afternoon in summer it is not uncommon to see two-minute service on this route, carrying throngs of picnickers to the park, which is owned and operated by the street railway.
Of interest also is the inter-provincial line across the Ottawa River to the city of Hull, Québec. At one time, local cars of the Hull Electric Company also connected these cites over another route. The Rockcliffe line includes a section of private right-of-way through Rockcliffe Park. All lines operate through the beautiful Plaza in downtown Ottawa and pass many of the majestic government buildings, including the Parliament building and the Confederation building, both of which in the opinion of many are among the most impressive in the world. The modern streetcars of the OTC fit very well into these surroundings.
The OTC now has a number of trolley buses on order, delivery of which is expected this autumn. Very likely these will replace cars on the Bronson route, now handicapped by two awkward gantlets and not carrying a very heavy volume of traffic. Other routes in the capital city will continue to be operated by the present efficient electric car system. Cars and track are maintained to a very high standard, and the Commission has demonstrated that it intends to continue giving Ottawa the best in public transit.