Public Transit for a Growing City
For 35 years, the sound of the streetcar’s bell was both a familiar and important sound in Lethbridge, for it signified the streetcar.
In September 1908, Mayor William Henderson discussed constructing a streetcar system in the Lethbridge council meeting. He proposed that the city issue a franchise for a company to lay tracks during the planned paving of Lethbridge’s streets in exchange for a share of the company’s streetcar passage receipts coming to the city. The Lethbridge Herald’s September 23, 1908 issue noted that several council members were skeptical of corporate ownership of a public transportation utility.
Optimism for the future of the community kept the idea of a Lethbridge streetcar system in the public discourse. But the skepticism of a franchised system prevailed. Lethbridge voters defeated a bylaw to issue the streetcar franchise to a private company in the 1909 municipal election. Instead, new Mayor Elias Adams promised that city council would work to build the system as a public utility.
One of the motivations of council to build a streetcar system was to create permanent crossings and public transportation across the Canadian Pacific Railroad tracks that divided the Northside from the Southside. In 1911, a group of Northside residents threatened city council that they would incorporate the Northside as a separate municipality unless a streetcar system was built with a line to service the areas north of the train tracks. Council committed to have a streetcar system in operation by 1913. The threat of Northside secession as well as the privilege of hosting the Seventh International Dry Farming Congress at the end of August 1912 were both strong motivators. Municipal leaders were eager to impress the delegates.
The first 17 km of tracks opened on August 17, 1912.
You can visit the Galt Museum & Archives to find out more about the history of streetcars and the Lethbridge Municipal Railway.