For this then and now, we first go back to 1978 and see an Edmonton Transit Flyer trolley bus passing by what was then the Northlands Coliseum. Fast forward to 2014 and Connie and myself visit that same spot to see what has changed in the thirty five years since the first image was photographed. In the time that has passed, almost everything, save for the trolley buses network itself, is still there. Northlands is now called Rexall Place.
In the first photo, contributed by a reader of this blog, we see ETS #249 heading west on 118th Avenue north of downtown. This bus was manufactured by Flyer Industries (now New Flyer) of Winnipeg Manitoba and was built only a couple years before that image was captured. A model E800, it was the trolley variant of the diesel powered D800 model. Edmonton Transit owned thirty six of these trolleys, numbered #213-#249, built in the years 1974-76. They supplemented a larger fleet of Canadian Car & Foundry Brill buses from the late 1940s and early 1950s, which were getting long in the tooth and close to or even past retirement age.
It appears these buses were not highly regarded, at least we make that assumption based upon how few ETS ordered and short their service life. They were only on the roster for just over a decade before being sold to Mexico City’s transit system in 1987. Some lasted well into the 2000s in that service by the way. Hmmm, a hard life in a hot climate, maybe they weren’t so bad after all? Anyone experts care to chime in?
Major operators of the E800 model include transit systems in San Francisco and Boston. Hamilton Ontario was the only other Canadian customer and they had a small fleet. Toronto had some older but somewhat similar looking E700 models however, as did Hamilton. Production of the E700 and E800 series spanned the years 1968-1978. Some (both models) were built using recycled motors and controls from older donor buses (CC&F Brills), but it appears that Edmonton’s were not.
By the time these Flyers came on the scene, most trolley networks were old, expensive to maintain and in decline and so few of these buses, when compared to their diesel equivalents, were produced. By 1978, when the first photo was snapped, Edmonton was one on four cities in Canada operating buses under wire. Also included were Vancouver, Hamilton and Toronto. There was once over a dozen operators in Canada and today, only Vancouver still has a such network. It’s modern and efficient by the way and it’s future looks assured. Edmonton only got rid of theirs in 2009.
Several US cities still operate trolleybuses (or trolley coaches, trackless trolleys or simply trolleys) including San Francisco, Seattle and Philadelphia. There are five US systems in total plus a couple in Mexico and many more all over the world. These types of buses are particularly popular in the former USSR.
The decline of the trolleybus in Canada and even the US is a long and complicated story, well beyond the scope of this article. One day perhaps I’ll tackle it. Or not.
Edmonton’s E800 fleet was supplemented by a hundred Brown Boveri trolleys produced using GMC Canada Fishbowl (aka New Look) bus shells in the early 80s. By then the old CC&F Brills were retired. As mentioned, the Flyers did not last long and coexisted with the BB/GMC buses for only a few years before heading south, way south.
The bus is carded as a #5. This was originally a tacked trolley route, the BW line, before being converted to trolleybus service in the late 1940s. When the wires came down, the #5 reverted to diesel and all the while the route it travelled remained pretty much the same as it always did. At some point however, exact date unknown but after the original picture was taken, the #5 was cut back to the coliseum station seen in behind in both images. A trolley loop was built here and the old line, which travelled some blocks east, was pulled down. The #5 still end its journey here even today. In the original picture the Flyer bus is actually on that yet to be truncated section just mentioned.
From the coliseum station, the #5 route makes its way into downtown then heads roughly north west from there before turning around and retracing its steps.
Seen in behind in the original picture are two unidentified GMC Fishbowl buses. At the time, these were the most common transit bus is all of North America, and Edmonton, like most cities, had a large fleet. In fact, Calgary, until recently, operated some. They were built in huge quantities from the 1960s-1980s.
Seen in both pictures, on the right side, is the edge of an ETS light rail transit platform. That rail line was almost brand new when the original picture was taken.
The round building seen in behind, at least in 1978, was known as Northlands Coliseum, home to the Edmonton Oilers hockey team (Boooo). It also a venue for concerts and the like – I saw Van Halen there in 1995 give or take a year – memories of that wild night are a little hazy. Built in 1974, it was at various times also known as the Edmonton Coliseum (1994) and the Skyreach Centre (1998).
By the time of our visit in early 2014, it’s known as Rexall Place and has been so known for about a decade. The building is due to be replaced by a new coliseum (closer to downtown) in a couple years. It’s not known if the current building will continue to see use afterwards as a lesser venue, or if it will be torn down. Hopefully it’ll be the former. It’s a cool building and it would be nice if saved.
On our visit we quickly see that nearly everything from the original picture is still there and this made lining up the shot easy. Only the lack of trolley wires and the newer cars passing told us it was not 1978. There were lots of buses in the station in behind, all of them the ubiquitous DLF40 model from New Flyer. Like the GMC Fishbowls mentioned earlier, they are one of the the most common buses seen today, both in Edmonton and in many cities across Canada (and even the US).
We waited for a bus to pass in hopes we could include it in our image, as in the old one, but none showed. They never come when you need them it seems.
The old image is courtesy of the Stephen Scalzo Collection and is used with permission.
To see some other transit then and now posts, go here…
Edmonton Transit then and now – 115th Ave.
Edmonton Transit then and now – 95th St.
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.