A History of Transit Struggles

James Lawrence Davis in front of a Lethbridge streetcar.    Courtesy  Galt Museum & Archives: P19901009001

James Lawrence Davis in front of a Lethbridge streetcar.

Courtesy Galt Museum & Archives: P19901009001

Lethbridge city council, already carrying $1.45 million in debt in 1911, invested more than half a million dollars in the new streetcar system. Mayor George Hatch opened the first 17 km of tracks on August 17, 1912. Within days of opening, a temporary generator burned out and brought the entire system to a halt while they waited for the installation of the permanent generator.

The city first purchased five double-track streetcars, streetcar numbers 1–5, followed by five smaller single-track cars, numbered 6–10. The cars were amber and cream with the words “Lethbridge Municipal Railway” painted on the sides.

The initial system included five lines serving the Northside, Henderson Lake Park, the Southside residential district and a small downtown line. Estimates suggested that the Lethbridge Municipal Railway needed to sell 5,000 fares a day to meet the expenses of operating the system as it was originally designed. Lethbridge’s population was not large enough to support such an extensive public transportation network. The city’s growth rate and economy sagged after the boom period of 1907–1913 ended. The city discontinued the small line serving downtown soon after it was built. They also discontinued one of the Southside residential lines in 1917. Other cutbacks included removing the electric heating system and installing a coal stove in the brakeman’s cabin instead. Staff reductions in 1914 were soon followed by dismissal of the streetcar staff, and their re-hiring at lower wages.

Population growth did not occur at the anticipated rate for many years. Even as the growth rate increased after the Great Depression, so did the availability and popularity of personal automobiles. For three decades the Lethbridge Municipal Railway operated at a loss or only covered operating expenses for the service.

You can visit the Galt Museum & Archives to find out more about the history of streetcars and the Lethbridge Municipal Railway.