Remembering the last ride on Vancouver’s Oak St. streetcar line, 1952

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On April 19, 1952, the Oak Street line of the BC Electric Railway streetcar system took its “last ride.”

Traveling around what we now call Metro Vancouver by streetcar had a 60-year legacy. Interuban lines first started up in 1891; an “interurban” is a street-level rail line that is larger and more powerful than a streetcar, and would serve for freight haul in addition to passenger transit.

A streetcar at the B.C. Electric Railway station on the west side near the north end of the Granville Street Bridge circa 1920 (Vancouver Archives)

There were five major lines in the lower mainland, and they moved people and goods between municipalities: Central Park Line, Burnaby Lake Line, Lulu Island Line, Westminster-Eburne Line, and the Chilliwack Line.

As the Buzzer points out, there are similarities in some of those lines with Vancouver’s current rail transit system; Central Park is like the Expo Line, Burnaby Lake like the Millennium Line, and the Lulu Island Line much like the Canada Line. The last interurban ran in 1958.

Meanwhile, the BCER was founded in 1897 and launched the following year. Their focus were the lighter, smaller, passenger-only streetcars. Demand is huge for the early part of the 20th century, but as vehicle travel increased, and infrastructure, like the Patullo Bridge in 1938, was created to facilitate car traffic, the demand saw a decline into the 1950s.

The Oak St. line was number 17. Ring any bells? Of course! The current bus route that uses Oak is also the number 17.

Check out these BCER maps from the 20s and 30s:

Map via History of the B.C. Electric Railway Company
Map via History of the B.C. Electric Railway Company

By the late 1940s, Vancouver was turning streetcar and interuban lines into bus routes, running trolley buses. Fraser-Cambie was the first trolley route. There was a widespread “rails to rubber” conversion program in place for public transit in the region.

The last streetcar went out of revenue service on April 22, 1955. The city was invited to celebrate a free “last ride” on April 24, 1955.

So, as part of the nearly decade-long plan, the Oak Street line had its last riders on April 19, 1952.

This video shows a ride on the Oak St. line. Recognize anything?

If you are curious to see an old Vancouver streetcar, you’ll have to ditch your foodie cred and embrace your inner child: There’s one on display at the Old Spaghetti Factory in Gastown.

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Lindsay is the Managing Editor of Vancouver Is Awesome, and the co-host and co-producer of the Vancouver Is Awesome Podcast. A fifth generation Vancouverite and life-long foodie, Lindsay also serves as a judge for the Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards. Previously the Food Editor of Daily Hive, Senior Editor of Vancity Buzz, and Editor-in-Chief of LAist.com, in her past life in L.A. she earned an MA in English, attended culinary school, and was an English professor. Lindsay's first published piece was December 1980 in The Province; it was her letter to Santa. E-mail: lindsay@vancouverisawesome.com // Twitter/Instagram: @squashblossom