Downtown History of Public Transportation

DYK that the history of public transportation in #DowntownStCatharines goes all the way back to 1874?

The local public transportation system in the region was initially horse-drawn cars, which later evolved into electric railway services.

The origins of the Niagara, St. Catharines & Toronto (NS&T) railway trace back to December 1874 with the incorporation of the St. Catharines Street Railway company. The construction commenced gradually, with horse-drawn streetcars operating along Ontario Street, St. Paul Street, and Queenston Road from November 1, 1879. The service gained popularity, leading to an extension along Geneva Street shortly after.

During the initial stages of electric operation, St. Catharines’ street railways adopted a unique system established by Van Depoele, who also introduced electric railway operation in Toronto during the summer of 1884. St. Catharines’ system featured two overhead wires for electricity conduction. In 1896, this setup was upgraded which utilized a single overhead wire system that Toronto streetcar passengers recognize today.

The Downtown vehicles are actually interurbans and not streetcars. An interurban railway is an electric railway that links cities and towns in a particular area. These railways usually run at higher speeds and make fewer stops than streetcars. While interurbans were widely used in the early to mid-20th century, they have since been largely replaced by alternative modes of transportation.

On July 19th, 1900, new interurban cars started their journey from a new terminal constructed at the intersection of James and St. Paul Street.

With just a few track switches and additional track sections, it became possible to ride a St. Catharines streetcar directly to Niagara Falls. The network included approximately 32 km of tracks, connecting St. Catharines, Thorold, and Port Dalhousie through an elaborate system of local lines.

Between 1924 and 1928, new tracks were installed on King Street, while the tracks on St. Paul Street were doubled to enhance capacity.

The Great Depression led to the decline of many interurban networks. With fewer job opportunities and riders to pay for transportation, profits turned into losses. This resulted in cost reducing measures. During the 1930s, buses gradually replaced certain rail services.

On February 26, 1939, streetcar operations in St. Catharines ceased entirely, with buses taking control the following day.

Canada’s involvement in the Second World War came with shortages in rubber and gasoline so the structured use of public transportation was necessary. Buses were a cost that the country could no longer expense. In response, rush-hour interurban service between St. Catharines and Niagara Falls resumed on April 27, 1942, with full service restored on November 15, 1942. The wartime demand for transportation significantly boosted ridership from 1943-1945.

During the war, there was a shortage of parts and labour for maintenance, requiring a high level of service to support the war effort. Similar to other streetcar and interurban companies, the NS&T faced deteriorating infrastructure after World War II. When restrictions on rubber and gasoline were lifted post-war, and ridership declined due to competition from cars, the transition from railcars to buses was once again prioritized.

Canada’s final interurban system was the St. Catharines route and it ended in 1959 with the full transition to buses. Afterwards in 1961, the St. Catharines Transit Commission took over the city’s transit services from Canadian National Transportation.

The Transit Operations Facility was established in 1991. The Downtown Terminal we know and love today opened in 1996 on Carlisle Street. This bus terminal serves as a hub for intercity bus service as well as coach service to Toronto, offering connections to various major cities across Canada and the United States.

Currently, the Niagara Region transit has merged once again. Niagara Region Transit is a collaborative initiative between the Niagara Region and 12 local municipalities. The goal is to unify Niagara by merging the current Niagara Region Transit, Niagara Falls Transit, St. Catharines Transit, Welland Transit, and Fort Erie Transit systems into a single transit operator since January 2023.

Check below for more photos of Downtown public transportation options!


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