Jul 172014
Calgary Transit 17th Ave SW

In this then and now we look at two photos taken in Calgary at the exact same spot some forty plus years apart. The first shows a Calgary Transit trolleybus, the second something a bit more modern. Many things have changed in the time that has past since the original was captured, and at the same time other things have remained are much as they were.

The old image in undated. The car seen behind the bus appears to be a late 1960s model, so we can safely say that the photo is likely from around that era.

Let’s see what’s changed – in the far distance lots of new buildings have sprung up. The trolleybuses and their associated infrastructure are, of course, all gone. A lot is different. Even so, there are some constants, like the row buildings seen on the right. They appear much as they did way back then even if the businesses have all changed in that time.

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In the later part of the 1970s, this author lived not far from where this picture was taken and recall the Webber Hardware location was at that time called Gianako’s General Store (or perhaps Gianako’s Hardware). I think they still used the Webber clock. Today this spot is now an Indian Restaurant. In the old picture the business under the awning is a dry cleaner. It’s a used book store now.

Today of course, the view here is much less cluttered. The trolley wires are gone and the cable suspended traffic lights have been replace by those mounted on poles. Most would argue that all those wires were visually an eyesore. I am one of the few who don’t agree with that. Strangely, to me they don’t look that bad.

The trolleybus seen, #451, is a Canadian Car and Foundry “Brill” built under licence from the JG Brill company in the US. It’s a model T44 (trolley, 44 passengers) from 1948. It was one of 77 on the roster built in the years 1947-1950. The system also owned eight slight bigger but otherwise similar looking model T48a buses built in the years 1950-1953. Rounding out the fleet were some US built Brills (from 1948) bought second hand from a US transit agency in the late 1950s. They were visually somewhat different looking and appear to have had short lives in CTS service.

It’s not known when this bus was retired. It may have been when the system shut down in the mid-1970s or sometime sooner. These buses were well worn out by that time and on their last legs, so the latter is certainly possible.

Canadian Car and Foundry, (CC&F or CanCar for short), was not only a producer of buses (1945-1962) but also rail cars, both freight and passenger, aircraft and other things. They had a number of factories in the eastern provinces. CanCar as a company is long relegated to history. The Fort William Ontario (now Thunder Bay) factory that produced the buses we just spoke of, today is owned by Bombardier and makes passenger rail cars and tracked transit vehicles.

The CC&F company produced well over a thousand trolleybuses for use in Canada. At the peak there were fifteen TB networks in the country (later fourteen when two systems amalgamated). Today there is but one, in Vancouver. It’s modern and efficient and its future seems assured. Most TB systems closed down by the 1970s. Edmonton’s was the second last and was only closed in 2009. CC&F also made diesel and gas buses too, both for transit and highway use.

Trolleybuses were sometimes called trackless trolleys, trolley coaches, or simply trolleys.

Outside one network in Canada, there are a few other in the US. In other parts of the world, they seem to be quite popular.

The modern bus, #7948, was built in 2005 by New Flyer Industries of Winnipeg Manitoba. It’s a model D40LF (diesel, 40 feet long, low floor) and is today the most common bus on the CTS roster. They have hundreds and hundreds of them built in the years 1993-2008. They are also popular with other transit agencies in Canada and many in the US. The manufacturer of this bus recently discontinued this model, after a very long and successful run.

Low floor buses like this do not require one to step up to enter (most also kneel, so the floor lines up with the sidewalk). This is handy for the elderly and people with disabilities, and those with carts or baby carriages. New Flyer is one of two transit bus makers in Canada and all their output is comprised of low floor models..

Back to the trolley bus – it’s on the #2 route. It would travel east down 17th Ave SW before heading into downtown. It then pointed north and travelled up 4th St NW. Then it turned around and it did it all over again. In one direction it was and is known as the Mount Pleasant route. The opposite way, it was (and again, still is) called the Killarney 17th Ave route. The rollsign on this one says “city centre” which may suggest it was going out of service soon. Today the current #2 bus follows much the same route as its predecessor.

The newer bus is on the #6 run, which parallels the #2 route for much of its trip. Only it’s runs a few blocks to the south. It was and is known as the Killarney 26th Ave run and shuttles between downtown and it’s namesake neighbourhood.

You’ll notice a junction in the trolley wires above the bus. This is where the #7 run crossed the #2 route. These crossovers and switches are similar in function to those on railways. Only they’re upside down!

Calgary’s TB network lasted from 1947-1975. It was built during the brief trolleybus boom that followed World War Two. Most cities that adopted trolleybuses also once had a tracked trolley system. A TB network allowed a transit agency to rid itself of old fashioned (and often high maintenance) streetcars while retaining some of the serviceable infrastructure (substations and line poles for example). It was a good solution for the time. The transition was fairly easy and economical, so it all made sense. And anyway, diesel buses back then were not always up to the task. They were underpowered and seen as unreliable, That would all soon change and in a short few years their advantages would soon prove themselves.

No new trolley networks were built in Canada after 1951. None the less, those cities that operated them hung on to them for a time. Once the investment was made, they needed to wring every last dollar from them that they could.

We do not know who shot the original photo nor anything else about it. It was sent to us by a reader of this blog and appears to be the public domain. If you have an old photo (your own or one like this) 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, or some other interesting subject. We’ll visit that spot to see what it looks like today and then posts the results here in this blog.

For these then and now shots our images are not manipulated in post production outside some minor keystone adjustments and scaling. Sometimes we line things up very well, other times less so. Mostly we do pretty good. It’s doesn’t really matter anyway as the subject is always interesting and shooting these reports is always a ton of fun.

To see more transit then and now posts, follow these links…
Calgary Transit then and now – 33rd Ave SW.
Calgary Transit then and now – the Bay.
Edmonton Transit then and now – 115th Ave.

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

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

Calgary Trolleybus

An undated photo showing a CTS trolleybus on 17th Ave SW.

Calgary Transit 17th Ave SW

The same view in 2014.


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10 Comments on "Calgary Transit then and now – 17th Ave SW"

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jp sullivan
jp sullivan

You lined it up perfectly Chris, Good job, I envy you!

nick pearson
nick pearson

According to the book Calgary’s Electric Transit, 451 was listed as operational in 1975 when the system was shut down. It was subsequently sold to Vancouver Transit.


Very nice shots Chris ,
Your right the sky line was a busy place on that old photo,
Trolley lines,Power lines maybe even some phone or dare I say it Telegraph lines?

Todd Warnick
Todd Warnick

I heard that there was over 20 tons of trolley wire hanging at the intersection of 17 ave+14 st.

Dan McIntyre
Dan McIntyre

I bookmarked this blog yesterday! Love these then and now pictures, and not just for the transit vehicles. I’m a traffic light geek, too.