Video above: This remarkable footage of 1907 Vancouver was shot by William Harbeck from the front platform of a streetcar as it made its way along Granville, Hastings, Carrall, Cordova, Cambie and Robson Street.
Ask a Vancouverite what the liveliest block in their neighbourhood is and chances are they’ll name a former streetcar route.
First installed in 1890 – only four years after the city’s incorporation – the streetcar system was critical to Vancouver’s early growth. Businesses, restaurants and cafes sprang up along the streetcar line and the mix of transit, foot traffic and commerce gave birth to distinct, liveable neighbourhoods that were easily accessible from the downtown core.
The city’s transit system took a hit after World War Two, due to the explosion of car culture and diminishing funds. Swept up in a wave of urban renewal thinking, Vancouver’s mid-century city planners strove to “modernize” the city by making it more car friendly, using Los Angeles as their inspiration. The streetcar and interurban systems were dismantled in the 1950s and replaced by an underfunded system of trolley buses (though thankfully, plans to install a series of freeways through the city that would have razed much of Chinatown, Strathcona and Gastown were axed after sustained public protests).
Today, in its bid to build a greener city and move away from the car-dominated thinking of earlier decades, Vancouver is seeking inspiration from its early transport model. Some policy analysts have even proposed revitalizing the electric streetcar system that they say promotes sustainable, walkable and accessible neighbourhoods.
Curious to learn more about the history and future of Vancouver’s transit system and how it shapes your neighbourhood? This month’s Vancouver Historical Society speaker series features Henry Ewert – the “undisputed expert of Vancouver’s transit history”. The talk starts at 7:30pm on Thursday March 24 at the Museum of Vancouver (1100 Chestnut Street).
The Vancouver Historical Society‘s speaker events take place on the fourth Thursday of the month at the Museum of Vancouver and entrance is by donation. Non members are very welcome.