In this then and now post we compare a 1969 picture showing a Calgary Transit trolley bus on the South Calgary run, to what the same location looks like today. In spite of the forty plus years that have passed since the first was taken, the immediate background has remained remarkably static. The building seen behind is still there, and while the trolley buses no longer run, the diesel equivalent of the same route passes this very spot.
The bus seen in the first image is Calgary Transit #420. It has just crested the very steep and challenging 14th St hill and is dropping down the other side, which has a more gentle demeanour. This hill was at times (even today) an operating nightmare for the transit system.
This bus, a model T44, was built in 1947 by Canadian Car and Foundry (CC&F) at their Fort William Ontario works (now Thunder Bay). This plant made not only trolley buses (1945-54), but also those powered by gas (1945-55) and diesel (1950-1962) as well. Many of the designs produced were built under license from the JG Brill division of American Car and Foundry in the US.
This factory is currently owned by transportation giant, Bombardier and they make transit and rail passenger cars there.
This vehicle was one of roughly 100 trolley buses (or trackless trolleys) that once called Calgary home. The fleet included many model T44s, a few T48As and some TC44s, all from CC&F, except for a few US built Brills bought second hand (the TCs).
Formerly known as the South Calgary run, today it’s the #7 bus, which travels much the same route as its trolley bus predecessor. Prior to 1950, this was a pure trolley run – meaning tracks in the pavement.
The bus got its power from the two wires strung above the road (hard to see in all the clutter). Calgary’s system lasted from 1947-1975. This bus seen here, #420 as you recall, was listed as non-operational when the system closed and was later sold to an unknown buyer for $500. Some of her sisters have been saved and exist as various museums and such around Western Canada. We’ll have to visit them!
One one time there were over a dozen trolley bus networks in Canada. Today, Vancouver, traditionally the largest system, is also the last. Edmonton held on to theirs for a long time too, shutting theirs down in 2009 (what a loss).
The trolley bus came about due to a number of reasons. For one, an electric bus was much more powerful and reliable than (for the time), its diesel equivalent. Also since many cities already had trolley infrastructure in place, it was easy to use some it for the bus network – for example overheard wiring and power stations. There are however some shortcomings to a trolley bus system, obviously, especially in respects to route flexibility (road construction for example could block a route) and infrastructure costs. Some see the wires as unsightly. I love them!
In places like Vancouver where cheap hydro power is available, the routes are heavily patronized and the infrastructure costs long amortized, the advantages of the outweigh the problems mentioned earlier. That network is assured a promising future and in fact they recently took delivery of some new buses.
Several US cities, San Francisco for one, still have trolley bus systems as well. Modern examples, like those in Vancouver can operate for a time off the wire, allowing them to easily bypass construction or accidents. Calgary’s buses were built before that technology was in place, and if the wire broke for example the bus was dead in the water and had to be towed or pushed until it was back under a powered line.
A trolley bus has pivoting poles which allowed it to run off centre of the wires by as much as a lane or perhaps even two, on either side of centre.
The building seen in back of both pictures is known as the Summers Block. Built in 1913 it houses businesses on the main floor with apartments upstairs. It appears to be recently renovated, although I sure don’t like the ugly siding added.
As you can see, in 1969 it housed the European Sausage Shop, but in the late 1970s and perhaps later, it was also home to a place I liked to visit, a model train store. I have memories of many a good afternoons at that place. Today one half of the lower floor is presentation centre for a nearby condo complex and the other, a doggie boutique.
The city department that assess heritage buildings sums up the Summers Block thusly – “Its importance is primarily architectural, although it is rated low in significance.” Hmmm, not exactly a glowing recommendation. Given the recent work done on it however, ugly siding and all, I assume its future is assured for now.
In the old picture one can barely make out two old gas stations signs in back, one a Texaco and the other a Royalite. Talk about nostalgia. The former no longer operates stations in this part of the world and the latter was bought out by Gulf about the time the original picture was taken. Later Gulf also left the area. Today there is an Esso station at the same intersection where both used to be.
Of interest to car buffs is the 1960 Chevrolet Bel-Air heading away from the photographer. Love those wings or fins or what ever you call them.
The first image, from a scanned slide, is courtesy the Stephen Scalzo Collection and is used with permission.
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: December, 2013.
Location: Calgary, AB.