In this then and now report, we look at two old photos showing Edmonton Transit trolley buses travelling along 115th Avenue and visit those same locations to see how things appear today. Like many from this series, we go in not knowing what if anything from the old photos remains. We are happy to find in this case that most of the buildings seen then are still with us.
In the first photo we see ETS trolley #152 passing the Shiloh Baptist Church in 1969. The building, with its distinctive battlement towers, stands out and makes lining up the shot easy. Constructed in the 1920s, it was earlier home to the Erskine United Church. When that congregation amalgamated with a second United Church in the mid 1960s, they moved out of the premisses.
The Shiloh Church was established by black settlers in the early parts of the twentieth century and they owned the building from 1966-1997. When they moved out, the Spanish Seventh Day Adventist Church took over the building and they own it to this day.
The bus seen was one of twenty one built in 1945 by the Fort William (now Thunder Bay) Ontario firm of Canadian Car and Foundry (CC&F). This company, which at various times made buses, rail cars, trailers for trucks, military vehicles, aircraft and logging equipment, is still going strong. Owned by transportation giant Bombardier, they made passenger rail cars and tracked transit vehicles.
These buses were known as Brills and were built under licence from the JG Brill division of the American Car and Foundry. This was Edmonton’s first order from CC&F and they would eventually buy just over seventy model T44, T48 and T48a buses between 1945-1954 – all these models were virtually indistinguishable and the number refers to how many seats there are. ETS placed six orders in that span of time. They also bought some surplus CC&F buses from other trolley networks in the 60s (Vancouver and Regina). In addition, they owned a couple US built Brills and some other older buses sourced from companies such as Mack, Pullman (of rail car fame), and some UK firms.
The Brills, until the arrival of Flyer and later GMC/Brown Boveri (Fishbowl trolleys) in the 1970s and 80s, were the most commonly seen model, by far, on the entire ETS TB roster. Most of the orphans were gone by the time the 1969 photos were snapped. This bus lasted until the 1970s but its exact date of retirement unknown.
A trolleybus system may seem odd in some ways, almost like they are a throw back to the old tracked trolley days. And that is the connection – a trolleybus network allowed a transit system to abandon tracked vehicles (track maintenance was expensive for one) but reuse most of the electrical infrastructure already in place. This made the transition cheap and easy.
Why not use diesel or gas buses instead? In the 1940s, when most trolleybus systems were established, internal combustion engines were considered underpowered and required lots of maintenance and upkeep. Electrical components in comparison were robust and the technology proven and familiar. A trolley bus traditionally has its disadvantages too and things like road work and accidents blocking a line can cause havoc. And if the poles de-wire the bus can not move until reconnected – modern trolleybuses have batteries allowing them to travel a few blocks negating those two disadvantages however.
In our first “now” picture, we have no trouble lining things ups. I hoped a bus would pass, but after waiting for half an hour, none showed. They never seem to show when you need it.
In the second old photo taken less than a block away from the first (but facing the other way), we see #187 pass. This bus was built in 1948 and was one ten from that order. Like #152 earlier. it’s not clear exactly when it was retired, but sometime in the mid to late 1970s is a good bet.
Edmonton’s trolleybus network, closed in 2009, was the most northerly such system in North America and was one of just over a dozen that once existed in Canada. Most were closed by the 1970s, although Edmonton’s hung on quite a bit after that. Today, only Vancouver is left. That system, always Canada’s largest TB network, appears to have a bright future. It’s modern and has the advantage of being powered by cheap hydro sourced electricity. Several US cites and countless others all over the world still operate trolley bus networks too.
Both of these buses are carded for the #3 route. The one passing the church is eastbound and will soon reach the end of the line and will turn around. The other is westbound and will head into downtown before leaving the core and travelling west. Then it will loop back and retrace its steps.
Passing by in our “now” picture is #4091 a New Flyer model DLF40 bus (diesel – low floor – 40ft). Currently this model is the most common bus on the ETS roster and they have hundreds of them. They are made in Winnipeg Manitoba and nearly every transit system in Canada, and many in the US, use them.
While the route sign on the new bus can’t be seen due to a reflection, it’s must be on the #3 route as that is the only bus that travels along 115th Avenue here. The current #3 bus follows the exact same route as the earlier trolleybus did.
Lining up our second shot was easy and the two buildings that stand out the most in the old picture are still there today. Not much has changed between the 1969 and 2014, except the trolleys are gone. As we got ready to call it a day, a curious cat came over to see what we were up too.
We have so much fun doing these then and now photos. We did a whole series of them this day, so expect more to come.
The old images are courtesy of the Stephen Scalzo Collection and are used with permission.
To see another ETS then and now report, go here…
Edmonton Transit then and now – 95th St.
We also did some CTS then and now shots…
Calgary Transit then and now – trolley buses and Devenish Apartments.
Calgary Transit then and now – 14th St SW trolley bus.
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: January, 2014.
Location: Edmonton, AB.