Ottawa's original LRT: 68 years of streetcars in the capital

Ottawa's previous light rail line ran for nearly seven decades, from 1891 to 1959.
An open streetcar is seen c. 1900 heading down Wellington Street at Metcalfe Street, in front of what's now the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council. (City of Ottawa Archives)

Ottawa's new light rail line marks 75 days in service today.

Ottawa's old light rail line ran for 68 years, from 1891 to 1959.

Workers at the Ottawa Car Company plant on Slater Street pose with 'Lallah Rookh,' one of the first electric streetcars to ply the city's streets, in this 1893 photo. The company would go on to build 1,700 streetcars and rail vehicles before closing in 1947. (City of Ottawa Archives/CA001508)

Initially, the streetcars trundled down Bank and Elgin streets, and out to New Edinburgh.

'Workers preparing to lay streetcar tracks on Rideau Street' in 1916. (Bytown Museum/City of Ottawa Archives)
'The laying of streetcar tracks on Rideau Street,' also in 1916. The photographer appears to be pointing the camera west toward Sussex Drive. (Bytown Museum/City of Ottawa Archives)

At its peak, the system boasted 90.5 kilometres of track.

The O-Train has 20.5 kilometres, and will soon extend to about 55.

This map from 1909 depicts Ottawa's streetcar network at its peak, says city archivist Paul Henry. (City of Ottawa)

Snow has always been an issue.

'An electric street sweeper that removes the snow from the streetcar tracks with a large cylindrical brush' in the 1890s. (Bytown Museum/City of Ottawa Archives)
'A streetcar on the Bank Street Line, immobilized from snow and ice. Army men and Ottawa Electric Railway wrecking crew trying to free ice and snow built up between rails.' Taken Jan. 2, 1943. (City of Ottawa Archives)

Snowy scenes in the 1950s from the CBC archives.

The streetcar had to share the road with other vehicles...

'The scene of [a collision] between a car and streetcar on Hilson Avenue near Byron Avenue' in 1954. (City of Ottawa Archives)

...and occasionally with elephants.

A Ringling Bros. Circus parade on Sparks Street in 1903, with a streetcar partially in the frame on the right. Addresses suggest this is between what's now Metcalfe and O'Connor streets. (Bytown Museum/City of Ottawa Archives)

Eventually, the tracks extended to Gatineau, Britannia and Lansdowne Park.

Parliament Hill, as seen in 1927 from the Nepean Point area. (Bytown Museum/City of Ottawa Archives)
An undated photo showing 'the end of the Ottawa Electric Railway streetcar line to Britannia park, showing the open air car used during the summer months.' (City of Ottawa Archives)

There were parades to mark the good times…

'A street car with a 'Merry Xmas to All' banner on the side, as well as other Christmas decorations. Santa Claus is peering out of the front door, and an elf, sleigh and reindeer are on top.' This photo dates back to 1896. (Bytown Museum/City of Ottawa Archives)
'A photograph of the Santa Claus Trolley Car on Sparks Street' on Christmas Eve, 1896. (City of Ottawa Archives)

...and one final send-off.

'The Old Tram Parade passing by Confederation Square [in May 1959] with the Château Laurier in the background. Parade is celebrating the end of the streetcar era. Leading the procession was O'Keefe Majorettes and Brass Band. The parade consisted of a 17 unit procession, ranging from an 1870 horse-drawn car to a new 1959 bus.... Estimated 25,000 people were in attendance, lining a route which ran from Rideau and Cumberland Streets along Sparks, Bank and Somerset, Wellington and Holland to Byron.' (City of Ottawa Archives)

Volunteers are restoring this streetcar as a memento of a bygone era.

Volunteers working to restore the historic 696 streetcar from 1917, photographed a century later in 2017. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Here's a video tribute we made in 1989.

As Ottawa moves into a new generation of light rail, we go back to May 1, 1959, when the city's last trolley rumbled through the streets. 1:35


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