Feb 112015
Edmonton High Level Bridge

Welcome to another Edmonton Transit then and now post. For this one we station ourselves at the south end of the impressive High Level Bridge just opposite downtown. In the then picture, a trolley coach is seen negotiating the wicked s-curve at the end of that structure. Our goal, duplicate that shot as best we can. We hoped to include a bus in our photo too – the electric ones are gone now, replaced by diesel equivalents – but none showed, and we waited a long, long time, so we did without. You ever notice, buses never comes when you need them.

We don’t know when the first photo was captured, but looking at the cars sort of hidden in behind the bus, sometime in the 1990s seems like a responsible guess. Our photo is from early 2014.

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Even though at least two decades, or perhaps even more, separate the two images, not much seen has really changed. The bridge looks the same, save for some new style railings along the walkway, the downtown skyline is pretty much the same as it was – notice the Provincial Legislature in our shot, roughly mid-picture is being worked on – and of course the trolley lines are gone, having been pulled down about a half dozen years ago. From this angle the whole scene has remained rather static. Odd given Edmonton is a fairly dynamic place.

The High Level Bridge is just over a century old and was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in order to access downtown Edmonton and other railways located there. It’s a huge structure as you can see, and spans the mighty North Saskatchewan River. Trains used the upper deck above the roadway, and did so until the late 1980s. Today a tourist streetcar operates on this stretch of track in the summer. What a view it must be from up there!

The roadway underneath was almost an afterthought and it shows. Cramped, narrow, with low clearances and some nasty entry and exit corners at each end, it can be a challenge to drive even in a car. Buses almost don’t fit. It runs in one direction only, southbound.

The trolley bus seen is one of a hundred built for the ETS by the firm Brown Boveri Co, in the early 80s. The chassis and body shells were built by GMC Canada and are based on the familiar and very common Fishbowl, officially New Look, diesel buses. This one, #142, was retired in the mid-2000s a few years before the entire network was scrapped. By the 2000s attrition had reduced the fleet considerably and the network as a whole was badly underutilized.

These BBC/GMC trolley buses replaced a good number of older buses dating from the 1940s/50s and a few from the 70s.

Edmonton, like many cities that operated streetcars, found that by the 1940s (or thereabouts) certain parts of their system (particularly tracks, cars) were worn out and in need of replacement. Many communities made the transition to trolley buses since doing so was relatively cheap and easy. A good deal of the old infrastructure (power lines and substations for example) could be reused; trolley buses were proven technology, and anyway, diesel buses at the time were not often that reliable.

Edmonton’s TB network lasted from 1939-2009 and was the second one left in the country when it closed. At the peak there were well over a dozen systems in Canada with nearly every major city represented. Most were shut down by the 1970s. Today only Vancouver is left, but its system is doing good, is economical to run and seems to have a solid future.

There was a bit of an outcry when Edmonton’s TB network was closed. The fact was though, the system was worn out and in need of some major work (meaning $). Edmonton did test a new style of trolley bus a year or so before closing, which was a huge leap technology wise over the BBC/GMC buses then in operation, but decided not to bite.

The trolley bus is on route #42 which headed south from downtown across the bridge into the neighbourhood of Strathcona and a bit beyond. The #42 today follows some of that same route.

The then photo was sourced by this author and appears to be in the public domain. Who took it is unknown. If you have an old photo like this, that shows a street scene, or transit subject, your own or in the public domain, and would like us to use it as fodder for a then and now post, send it to us. We’ll visit the same spot, duplicate the angle and composition of the old image as best we can and then post the results on this website.

Our photo has not been cropped or manipulated to make it line up better. What you see is pretty much as it was shot, with nothing but a wee bit of tweaking. We’ve gotten pretty good at this and line things up free hand in camera. No post production wizardry here.

To see more transit themed then and now posts, go here…
Calgary Transit then and now – #7 South Calgary run.
Calgary Transit then and now – Elbow Drive part 2.
Edmonton Transit then and now – 95th St.

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

Date: January, 2014.
Location: Edmonton, AB.
All the places seen in this report are publicly accessible.

Edmonton trolley bus

An ETS trolley bus comes off the High Level Bridge, date unknown (1990s?).

Edmonton High Level Bridge

How things looked on our January 2014 visit.


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4 Comments on "Edmonton Transit then and now – High Level Bridge"

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ETS was running buses from three continents in the 1960s!

Nelson Sytles
Nelson Sytles

Rode that bus many times!