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.
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.
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.