May 122014
 
Calgary Trolley Bus Elbow Dr

In the first picture it’s 1974 and a Calgary Transit trolley bus travels down Elbow Drive just south of downtown. Forty years later, we return to that location to see what’s changed…and a lot has. The city’s skyline, if it were not for a few buildings connecting the two images, is almost unrecognizable today when compared to then. The buses still run, as you can see, but they are diesel now. The trolleys are long gone.

Calgary is in many ways a young city and most of the downtown core is comprised of buildings constructed after the original picture was captured. The iconic Calgary Tower is quite prominent in that old photo but in ours it seems to get lost in the clutter. How things have changed…

Some elements however are as they were and these include a number of towers in back and the bridge over the Elbow River, the one with the green railings.

The trolley bus seen, CTS #455, was built in 1948, one of thirty delivered that year, and one of an eventual seventy seven on the roster, constructed in the years 1947-1950. It’s a model T44 (trolley – 44 seats) and was made in Fort William Ontario (now Thunder Bay) by a firm called Canadian Car and Foundry (CC&F). These buses were built under license of the JG Brill company in the US and so were often refereed to simply as “Brills”. The CTS also rostered eight otherwise similar looking but slightly larger T48A models, acquired in the years 1950-1953.

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The company that built these buses has quite an interesting history. The factory was originally constructed to build aircraft and associated components in the 1930s. Starting in 1945 they produced buses of many types and did so until 1962 (Trolleys: 1945-1954). Aircraft related work seemed to dry up after the late 1950s. Later the factory was used to build railway passenger cars and tracked transit vehicles, which it still does to this day. When railways orders were slow, they also built truck trailers, military vehicles and logging skidders (quite an eclectic mix). Today the factory is owned by transportation conglomerate Bombardier.

Calgary’s trolley bus network was established in 1947 and closed in 1975. Think of it as an offshoot of the old streetcar network. Trolley buses allowed a transit agency to reuse much of the old infrastructure – substations, power lines, poles – while replacing the old and worn out trams, which were seen as old fashioned anyway, with new efficient buses. It was win/win – use what you had while modernizing the system.

Trolley buses, aka trolley coaches, trackless trolleys or simply trolleys, may seem like an odd choice, and indeed they had a number of down sides – route inflexibly and visual pollution (the wires) being two that come to mind. Indeed, especially in respects to the former, this could be a problem, say if road construction took place along the route. The line would in essence be severed and diesel buses would have to be substituted for part of or all the run. This sort of problem today is a moot point and modern trolleys typically have a battery pack or an axillary power unit, allowing them to run “off wire” for a time. The old buses did not have this feature.

When the trolleys first came out, equivalent diesel buses were still not entirely proven and were looked on as unreliable and underpowered. This, for a short time anyway, allowed the trolley bus to dominate. Diesel technology would soon mature and in no time this form of propulsion would go on to become that of choice. Even during the trolley bus period, CTS and other cities who had TB network rostered some diesel (or gas) buses to work the routes not under wire.

The trolley bus boom in Canada lasted only a few years. The first networks were established in the 1920s and 30s but these were rather small scale and in some ways experimental in nature. It was not until the end of World War Two before things took off and most networks were established in the years right after. At the peak there were fourteen trolley bus systems in Canada, most of which closed by 1970s. Today there is one left, in Vancouver BC. It’s huge, well utilized, modern and efficient and has a solid future.

There are about a half dozen trolley bus systems still operating in the US and many more across the world.

Seen in our photo is bus #7928, a New Flyer D40LF built in 2005. This model bus is the most common on the CTS roster. The fleets numbers in the hundreds (like around 600) and were built in the years 1993-2008. They were made in Winnipeg Manitoba. This model is popular with other transit systems, both in Canada and the US. New Flyer, formerly just plain old Flyer, was established over eighty years ago and is the largest bus maker in North America. They also have a satellite factory in Minnesota.

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Both buses are on the #3 route, a very heavily utilized, long distance trunk line run. From the city centre it travels directly south down its namesake street, before turning around and heading back to the core. Continuing on it goes directly north now, heading up Centre Street, before turning around again and doing it all over. The #3 route today is the same as it was when the trolleys ran, only that each end has been extended out as the city has grown. When heading southbound the destination sign is to read Elbow Drive and when northbound, Thorncliffe (trolley bus era) or today, Sandstone.

Of interest to car buffs is the 1963 Ford Fairlane seen beside the trolley bus. Note the small slanted tail fins, which are sort of a subtle hold over from huge and outrageous examples seen on cars in the late 1950s.

I was not able to line up our shot exactly like the old one. I just needed to go left a metre or two but the wall seen on our photo blocked me from doing so. Oh well, not every then and now can be perfect and sometimes there are circumstances which prevent us from hitting a bull’s eye.

The “then” photo was sent to us by a reader of this blog (thanks Mike). It’s an old slide from his collection that he purchased on eBay recently. The photographer is not known. If you have an old photo (your own or one in the public domain) that you’d like us to use in a then and now article, by all means send it to us. It can show a street scene like this one, or some other interesting subject. We’ll visit that spot to see what it looks like today and then posts the results here on this blog.

To see some other transit themed posts, go here…
Edmonton Transit then and now – Northlands Coliseum – Rexall Place.
Calgary Transit then and now – trolley buses and Devenish Apartments.
They Live! Calgary Transit GMC Fishbowls in 2013.

If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!

Date of adventure: May, 2014.
Location: Calgary, AB.

Calgary Trolley Bus Elbow Dr

It’s 1974 and we’re on Elbow Drive just south of downtown.

CTS #3 Route Elbow Drive

The same location today – the skyline sure has changed.

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44 Comments on "Calgary Transit then and now – Elbow Drive part 3"

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jp sullivan
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jp sullivan

AGAIN!!!!!! I ENVY YOU Chris Doering!!! LOL!

B Salmi
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B Salmi

Well, it has been FORTY years, cowpoke.

CthulhuCompanionDaCube
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CthulhuCompanionDaCube

I used to ride the bus past this spot! From 1969-71 I went to Western Canada High and rode the 3 in. Thanks for the memories.

Stewart
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Stewart

Great photos as always Chris.
I remember the Calgary Tower been so high when it was first built ,
Seems to have shrunk with age;)
The Trolley looks great,if you google calgary transit system bus 455 you will fine some other photos of it.

Dawn West
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Dawn West

Just can’t beat the landscape when there is a trolley in the scene..

Nikster Taylor
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Nikster Taylor

Nice pics! Love it, sure miss CGY, thanks for the nostalgia!

Shane Byciuk
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Shane Byciuk

Love Chris’s work. This is like porn to me!!

Jean Bota
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Jean Bota

Remember those days well… lived in the city, and love it… thanks for sharing these, wow ! what a difference and look at the Calgary tower in ’74 compared to 2014… my aunt and uncle lived on Belair Drive, just up and around the corner from where these photos were taken… lots of GREAT memories…. love how you lined these up…

Judy Vance Corkett
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Judy Vance Corkett

Nice job on the pics. lots of memories there …..I used to live on this bus line not far from that bridge.

Ryan Shanks
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Ryan Shanks

I don’t remember much of 74 seeing as I was going through my “being born” phase, but it sure looks good.

Kathleen Johnson
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Kathleen Johnson

This is one of the coolest Calgary anything I have seen in a while. Thanks for sharing!

Don Urquhart
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Don Urquhart

How times have changed before our eyes without us really noticing!

Lorie Lapinsky
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Lorie Lapinsky

Share this picture with yur grandkids and show them how the buses used to be.

Barb Komarnicki
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Barb Komarnicki

What a fascinating comparison. I keep going back to it.

John William Kinnear
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John William Kinnear

God I remember riding the Elbow Drive trolley! Turned around just past 82ave (heritage drive now)! I can hear those electric motors even now! Such power! Um, that was in 1960! I I Used to go down to the old Tivoli theater on Saturdays from Fairview! Can you hear the distinct thunk of the “I wanna get off bell”?

Lana Rennich
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Lana Rennich

Rode that route, and probably that trolley, every day to work in those years. Great pic!

Kaycee McDowell
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Kaycee McDowell

OMG, I actually remember the trolley buses.

Santo Jin
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Santo Jin

Great shot! Well done in getting the right composition.

Damon Heron
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Damon Heron

That is a great picture. It almost has an optical illusion quality to it when you look at the Bow Valley Square Tower in the dead centre. How tall it looks and then to see it dwarfed in the second photo.

Monic Creurer
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Monic Creurer

What a great post! Before moving here in 1985, we would drive from Hinton to visit Grandma in Calgary. There was always great celebration when we came over the rise and saw the Husky Tower! It was the tallest structure by far. How things change.

Jolene A Argent
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Jolene A Argent

That’s so neat!!! Even the route number is still the same on the busses. Great photos. Love our city.

Melanie Parsons Guglielmin
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Melanie Parsons Guglielmin

I wonder if it could be my grandpa driving that trolley… he did that route! Very cool photo… thanks!

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