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The Erie Street Car

by Gordon C. Shaw

reprinted from Issue#15, May 2001

Born in Detroit, Dr. Gordon Shaw grew up in Walkerville and graduated from Walkerville Collegiate. A professor of mathematics and trasportation at York University in Toronto, Dr. Shaw now resides in Thornhill.

Walkerville was served by five street-car lines in the 1930’s, the most extensive was the Erie line running on Ottawa Street past King George Public School where I was a student. I was born interested in boats, trains and street cars, so it followed that I became fascinated with these cars.

My friend and I chose as our favourites #402 and #408, probably because they were freshly painted. We would record the number of times we saw each car, and the record was spotting #418 fifteen times in one day.

We were sad when the Erie Street Car line was replaced by buses in early 1939 and again when the last cross-town line on Wyandotte Street similarly died in June 1939. (The first tram lines to be replaced were those to Amherstburg and Tecumseh in Spring 1938.)

The Erie Line was served by five identical cars, drawn from a set of 11, operated by the Hydro Electric Railways in the Border Cities. The remaining six served the Ouellette Avenue and Parent lines, the latter serving "South Walkerville," operating on Tecumseh Road between Parent Avenue and Walker Road. These 11 were, in turn, part of an order of 19 cars built by the Ottawa Car Company in 1924 and 1925.

The 11 ‘Border Cities" cars were numbered 401, through to 408 and then 417, 418 and 419. These were fine cars for their time, the few modern "lightweight" cars built for urban service, at least prior to the PCC cars of 1938, the well-remembered "streamlined" cars of Toronto. They were 45 feet long, weighed only 44,000 pounds and had seats for 44, albeit with room for many more standees. When freshly painted, they presented a good appearance and were a credit to their designers and builders.

These "400 series" cars provided service northward on Ouellette Avenue to Sandwich Street (now Riverside Drive), west to Ferry Street, where there was a store-front street-car waiting room, north to Pitt, then back to Ouellette, south to Erie, east to Parent, then south to Ottawa and east to Monmouth, where it connected with the Seminole street cars. The Erie cars continued down Monmouth to Wyandotte, over to Devonshire to reach the end of line by the Walkerville Post Office.

In effect, the Erie street cars connected the Windsor and Walkerville ferry docks and the downtown CN station with the Walkerville Pere Marquette station. These cars were built with controls at both ends; at Devonshire the motorman simply moved to the controls to the other end of the car, reversing the seat backs as he proceeded.

All 11 "400 cars" were retired with the abandonment of street car service in Spring 1939 and their bodies were sold for non-rail purposes. (Two remained in a field at Walker Road near Pelton Junction for many years.) Unfortunately, the Sandwich, Windsor and Amherstburg Railway lacked sufficient funds to maintain them.

Fortunately, some years ago, the body of #416 was found in a farmer’s field near Guelph by some eager members of the Ontario Electric Railway Historical Association. This group, founded in 1954, established and operates an excellent street-car museum with about 20 operating cars, just north of Highway #401 east of Guelph. Thus the #416 body was acquired and moved to the museum site to be restored.

Restoration work has been slowed due to shortages of volunteer labour and money, but the Association has just announced plans to push forward and have #416 completely operational for their 50th Anniversary in 2004.

Thus, one of these "400 series" cars will remain to preserve, at least indirectly, the memory of the Erie Street Car into the 21st century.

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