Apr 032014
Trolley Bus Calgary

We present to you a photo, dated 1971, showing a street scene in Calgary Alberta. A trolley bus passes by and in behind we see various buildings, the most prominent one being the the Eaton’s Department Store. Fast Forward to today and we return to that same location to document what things looks like now. A lot has changed (change and Calgary are synonymous) and the the only constant to connect the two eras is the Eaton’s building (actually only its facade in the new picture), which is today part of the Core Shopping Centre.

Back when the original photo was shot, Calgary still had a trolley bus system, although by this point it only had a few years left. The first run was in 1947 and it managed to hang on until 1975. By the end date the whole system, the buses themselves and the infrastructure, was well worn out. They had to retire the fleet or spend large sums upgrading everything. They chose the former as did many cities in the 1970s, who also had an ageing trolley bus network.

As was the case with many cities that adopted trolley buses, the network was an offshoot of the old streetcar system. After World War Two many such systems were old and outdated, especially in regards to the cars and track. Rather than upgrade what was seen as old fashioned technology, a city could save some money and reuse some of the in-place electrical infrastructure and run modern trolley buses instead. This was a natural progression. Reuse what you had, stick with proven electrical technology and it would be win-win.

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Even the maintenance crews would have no trouble adapting – both forms of transport from an electrical and mechanical standpoint were similar. An internal combustion powered bus in comparison seemed foreign, at least that was the feeling at the time – even so many operators purchased some for use on lesser routes. The short lived trolley bus boom lasted in Canada from 1946-1950 and afterwards diesels quickly came to dominate the market.

The bus seen, #439, dates from 1948 and was one of 77 of this model on the roster built in the years 1947-1950. It was known as a T44 (trolley and 44 passengers). They also operated eight additional T48A models, built between 1950-1953 that were otherwise almost identical in appearance but slightly larger in size and capacity. The city also had some (20) secondhand trolleys bought in the US.

The entire TB fleet, at its peak, numbered just over a hundred buses. Trolley #439 was listed as being out of service by 1975, when the entire system was closed down. It was sold to Vancouver Transit, along with many other CT trolleys, some running, some not, for use as parts buses to keep its own fleet of CC&F Brill trolleys running.

All the new buses mentioned were built in Canada at the Canadian Car and Foundry (CC&F) plant in present day Thunder Bay Ontario (then Fort William). Know as “Brills”, they were built under license from the JG Brill company in the US.

The CC&F plant made buses from 1945-1962 (trolleys from 1946-1954), and at other times, aircraft, logging equipment, truck trailers and military vehicles. They also made passenger rail cars and tracked transit vehicles at various times, and still do to this day. The factory is now operated by Bombardier Transposition.

Calgary was one of just over a dozen cities in Canada who had a trolley bus network. Most were established in the 1940s and most were gone by the 70s. Today, only Vancouver is left. It’s a very modern and efficient system.

The old bus seen is on the #2 route which, via downtown, traveled along 17th Ave southwest and on the reverse trip 4th St in the northwest. Then it would turn around and do it all over again. For the most part the current #2 follows much the same route as did its trolley predecessor, except for the section seen here – there has been some minor changes and now it passes a couple blocks to the north.

The Eaton’s building seen in the original picture was constructed in 1929. Closed in 1988, when the company changed locations, the building save for some of its facade, was demolished at that time. In 1990 these remnants were incorporated into the structure we see today, the Core Shopping Centre. Eaton’s, by the way moved into the building seen in the left foreground, which later became a Sears and then a Holt Renfrew, which is what it is today.

Eaton’s, or correctly the T. Eaton Co. (or Timothy Eaton Company), was at one time Canada’s largest and most preeminent department store chain. It was founded in the 1860s and was bankrupt and gone by 1999. It’s main competitor was the Bay (Hudson’s Bay Company), which had and has a store a few blocks away from our position.

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The street seen is 8th Avenue. The section in front is still used for traffic but in behind, it’s a pedestrian mall and has been since the mid-1970s (or thereabouts). Know as Stephen Avenue (its old name) it starts at the Eaton’s building and extends for many blocks to the east, away from our position. Cars are allowed to use it only in the evenings.

The white metal tree looking sculptures seen in the background serve two purposes. They are of course art, and are pleasant enough to look at, but they also serve to deflect and counter wind gusts that whip up between the large towers here. They were erected in 2000.

Seen in the old picture, in the background behind Eaton’s, but not visible in ours due to various things obscuring it (those sculptures, a walkway) is the still extant Lancaster Building. It’s a survivor and is an interesting building in itself worthy of its own write up.

Comparing the two images, it’s clear that Calgary in the last few decades has not stood still. So much has changed and only the ghost of the Eaton’s Department Store tells us we are in the same spot as the original. Nearly everything seen in 1971 is long gone – all the close-in buildings, the trolley buses, it’s all history.

The original image was supplied by LindayBridge (thanks Lindsay) and was a scan from a 35mm slide

To see some other transit themed posts, follow these links…
Calgary Transit then and now – The Bay (not far away).
Vancouver BC Flyer trolley bus – 1989.
They live! Calgary Transit Fishbowls in 2013.

If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!

Date: March, 2014.
Location: Calgary, AB.

Trolley Bus Calgary

A Calgary Transit trolley bus has just passed the Eaton’s Department Store, circa 1971.

The Core Shopping Centre

The building is known today as the Core Shopping Centre.


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8 Comments on "Calgary Transit then and now – Eatons"

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My mom always preferred Hudsons Bay to Eatons but we’d always visit both on one of her downtown shopping sprees.

Keith Anthony Bowyer
Keith Anthony Bowyer

Yes my mom took us to the same stores as well,great memories mom xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx love you.


I’m trying to remember all the stores that were between Eatons and
the Bay on 8th ave. in Calgary in the early 60’s. I been trying to look at
pictures from that time period but none show all the stores.

Paul von Huene
Paul von Huene

The old Lancaster Building is still in 8th Ave. home to the Unicorn Pub, amongst others. It is hidden behind the new +15 and newer buildings.