The End of the Street Railway


Birney 128 on Route 1 Belt Line travels along Barrington Street followed by another Birney, car number unknown. From Nova Scotia Archives, Photographer Unknown

After World War II ended, Nova Scotia Light and Power took stock of the state of the street railway in Halifax. During the war, the streetcars were subjected to huge loads of passengers that wore out the Birneys and the tracks they ran on. There was very little opportunity to do maintenance, if materials were even available during the war, due to the huge crowds the cars carried. The company found that nearly all of the cars and rails would need to be replaced. Rather than replacing the tracks and ordering new cars, it was decided to replace the entire street railway system with a fleet of 65 new electric trolleybuses which began to roll out in 1949.

Nova Scotia Light and Power devised a scheme to transition the streetcar routes to the new trolleybus operations. The first routes to begin trolley bus operations would be routes 1 &2 (The Belt Line) and routes 7 & 8 (Agricola - South Park / Windsor - Inglis). The routing of the trolleybuses would change slightly in the downtown area compared with the old streetcar routes.

Because trolley buses run on rubber tires rather than steel rails, two overhead wires were needed instead of one. This meant that streetcar service would end before the new trolleybuses could begin operations. Diesel buses operated along portions of a route while the overhead wires were changed over.

On March 26, 1949, the last car to operate in revenue service in the downtown was car 177, which decorated with a sad face for the occasion with farewell messages on the sides and rear.

The side read:
"Good-bye, my friends, good-bye !
Good-bye, my friends, this is the end; I've travelled miles and miles and watched your faces through the years, show anger, tears and smiles;
Although you've criticized my looks And said I was too slow, I got you there and brought you back, through rain and sleet and snow. "

The message on the back for motorists read:
Farewell to all you motorists, to-day my journey ends!
So let's forget past arguments, shake hands and part as friends.
You've followed me around the streets and many times you swore
Because I beat you to the stop and dared you to pass my door!


Photographer, with a Camera and Tripod, Photographing a Decorated Birney Streetcar, Marking the End of Tram-Car Service in the Main Part of Halifax, 26 March 1949. From Nova Scotia Archives, Photographer Unknown

With the old overhead wires for streetcars removed in the downtown, the remaining streetcars could no longer operate into downtown. Until the remainder of the route could be transitioned to trolleybus operation, the streetcars operated at their extremities and passengers were required to transfer to trolleybuses to reach downtown. Additionally, the cars could not reach the car barns, so the cars were parked on the streets over night.

As routes were converted to trolleybus operations, the Birneys serving the route were towed to the car barn by truck to be scrapped. On April 30, 1949, car 157 became the last car to operate under power in revenue service on the Richmond line, the oldest section of street railway in the city.


Trolley bus on Route 2 Belt Line stopped in front of Zellers on Barrington St, today home to the Discovery Centre. Photographer unknown, collection of Illinois Railway Museum's Strahorn Library

Although there were many offers to purchase the retired cars, the company did not think it was proper for the cars, which served Haligonians and visitors faithfully for years, to end up as roadside attractions or left to decay in the countryside. The company decided it was more respectful for the cars to be scrapped. Unfortunately, not a single car was preserved for historic purposes.

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