Mar 202014
Vancouver Transit GMC bus cropped

The photos we’ll be showing you in this report date from 1989 and were taken in North Vancouver BC. I’m at the Lonsdale Quay terminal, having just arrived by the cross harbour passenger ferry, and before heading out, I take time to photograph some buses passing by. Both of those seen are Vancouver Transit GMC “Fishbowl” (aka “New Look”) models, quite senior examples in fact, built way back in the 1960s.

This model was the most commonly seen transit bus in the country throughout the 1970s and 1980s. It was produced right here in Canada from 1961 all the way until 1986 (some reports say 1987). Over 11,000 were made across many sub-models and nearly every transit system, big or small, rostered at least some of them. For many agencies the Fishbowl often dominated their fleet (Calgary Transit had hundreds, for example).

Long lasting, many could be seen running well into the 2000s and beyond. In fact, this author had seen Calgary Transit Fishbowls in service as late as November 2013. They were durable as hell and long lasting, a solid design that was superior in so many ways when compared to its competition.

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Canadian production prior to 1980 or so took place at the General Motors Diesel Division (GMDD) locomotive plant in London Ontario. Due to the cyclical nature of the railway industry, the plant needed something to produce when locomotive orders were slow, so they made buses. To keep busy, they also built military vehicles and large mining dump trucks. This plant, by the way, closed only a couple years ago.

Post 1980 (thereabouts) Fishbowl production took place at a new plant in Saint-Eustache, Quebec. This factory was sold by GM in 1987 to Motor Coach Industries (MCI of Greyhound bus fame) who in turn sold it to NovaBus in 1993. That company continues making buses to this day.

The successor to the Fishbowl was the GMC Classic (later MCI Classic and Nova Classic). Introduced in 1983, it was to replace the older model, but in the end, the two were produced concurrently for a few years, although Fishbowl production afterwards was at much reduced levels. Some transit operators liked the solid build and reliability of the older model that much and at their insistence, GM Canada was willing to keep it in production for a time. Interestingly most of the later Fishbowl orders were for US transit authorities – the last Canadian sold examples were from 1983 and were for the Toronto Transit Commission. Calgary’s last were from 1982.

This Fishbowl was also produced in the US, from 1959-1977, with over 33,000 of them being built.

The odd nickname given to the bus came about due to the multi-angle front window which produced a magnified fishbowl-like effect. This helped give the driver a clear view in front. The manufacturer never referred to it by the Fishbowl name, only bus fans did, and instead called it the New Look.

The fist bus seen in this report, #4755, was built in 1969 and was one of thirty six of that model delivered that year. The second, #4718, was from 1966 and was one of thirty.

It’s not known exactly when these two buses were retired – they were 20 and 23 years old respectively when I captured them. This author has seen other buses in the 4700 series that lasted well into the 1990s and even a few that made it into the twenty first century, so it’s conceivable these two could have lasted that long as well. It also possible they could have been retried not long after I saw them. In any case, they were still hard at work the day of my visit, earning their keep. In 1989, they were likely some of the oldest vehicles in the fleet.

Buses in the 4000 series, by the way, were all based out of North Vancouver. At the time, each region within the vast Vancouver Transit network, rostered buses of a specific number series (3000 for Vancouver proper, 5000 for Burnaby and so on). They now use a letter prefix instead to indicates the region (or garage) a bus operates from. Sort of similar.

Given the steep hills in North Van (as it’s known), many buses that operated here had special capabilities, most notably lower geared transmissions. They were known as “Hill Climbers”. Of the two seen, #4755 was so equipped.

At the time of my visit these buses they were operated by the Vancouver Regional Transit System. Today they are known Translink – officially South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority. Buses are run by subsidiary organization known as the Coast Mountain Bus Company. Confused yet? In the past the bus network was know as BC Hydro Transit and earleir still the BC Electric Railway (bus divison).

Vancouver’s transit system is huge, one of the largest in the country in terms of size and ridership. It’s far reaching and serves nearly every community in the lower mainland, save for West Vancouver which has its own semi-independent transit company. The Vancouver fleet comprises diesel and trolley buses, a light rail system (SkyTrain) a commuter rail system (West Coast Express) and even some transit ferries (SeaBus).

Lonsdale Quay, where my photos were shot, operates as a ferry to bus transfer point. I was there to explore the gritty industrial waterfront of North Vancouver on one of my few days off from work.

These photos were scanned from 35mm slides.

To see some other transit themed posts, follow these links…
Calgary Transit then and now – 14th St SW trolley bus.
Vancouver BC trolley bus – 1989.
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: Summer 1989.
Location: Vancouver, BC.

Vancouver Transit GMC bus

Vancouver Transit GMC “Fishbowl” bus #4755 leaves the Lonsdale Quay terminal.

GMC Fishbowl Vanvouver

Bus #4718 heads out shortly after.


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2 Comments on "GMC Fishbowl buses – North Vancouver BC"

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Lindsay McLeod
Lindsay McLeod

I know many 4700 series buses lasted until the mid to late ’90s. I have a picture of 4742 taken in 1995.