A history of stagecoach and inter-city bus lines in Manitoba
Compiled from the archives of the Manitoba Transit Heritage Association, this electronic exhibit tracks the story of the development of stagecoach and scheduled line-haul inter-city motor bus companies operating in the Province of Manitoba from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to the present. Start here and just scroll down through Manitoba’s stagecoach and inter-city motor bus history.
Dusty Trails to Divided Highways
Preceding the nineteenth-century technological advancements in the bicycle, horsecar, streetcar, railroad and eventual development of the motor bus in the early twentieth century, stage-coaching was one of the chief means of commercial ground transportation. Carrying passengers, freight and contracted to carry the mail, stagecoach companies constructed networks of trails, bridges, and station posts - at uniform distances along the route - stocked with station keepers and handy men, stables, extra relay horses, and spare hack-drivers. Top speed in the day was 13 kilometers (8 miles) per hour!
Travel by stagecoach began in Manitoba as early as September 11, 1871 when Russell Blakeley and Cephas W. Carpenter’s Minnesota Stage and Express Company reached Winnipeg from the south. The route started in St. Cloud, Minnesota and travelled via Cold Spring, New Munich, Melrose, Winnibago Crossing, Sauk Rapids, Kandota, Osakis, Alexandria, Dayton, Breckenridge, Fort Abercrombie, Georgetown, Pembina and Fort Garry (Winnipeg). This service ended on December 3, 1878 with the arrival of the railroad.
Other stage coach companies operated lines in Manitoba and included routes between Winnipeg and Portage La Prairie, the Northwest Angle of Lake-of-the-Woods, and Rat Portage (Kenora) along the future right-of-way cleared for the advancing Canadian Pacific Railway.
The North-West Omnibus Company began operating a tri-weekly stage coach service on September 8, 1879, replacing the steamboat schedule along the Red River.
Some reports document a stage coach line operating as late as December 1880 by S.J. Van Ransselaer between Winnipeg and Edmonton.
Ira Austin Moore pioneered one of the first scheduled inter-city motor bus services in Manitoba with the “Portage - Winnipeg Bus Line”.
The road between Portage La Prairie and Winnipeg had not been graveled until 1927, so the early years were a difficult battle with mud and dust. It wasn’t until 1930 that the provincial government had even made an attempt at snow plowing!
According to his son, Ian Moore, two vehicles were created by converting former truck chassis into buses to provide service on the rough trail between the two cities. Furthermore, Ira was inspired to build a deck-and-a-half bus from models that he had seen in Seattle, Washington.
Ira Moore continued to operate his bus line until 1939, when he sold it to the Clark Transportation Company of Dauphin, Manitoba.
John (Jack) Smith of Sperling, Manitoba started a bus service between the Town of Carmen and the City of Winnipeg in 1924. The company was sold to Wilfred “Dint” and Joseph “Buster” Brown, becoming Brown Brothers Bus Line.
In 1927, Gary Masillon Lewis, eldest son of William Roscoe Lewis of Carmen, bought Dint Brown’s share.
The “Grey Goose Bus Lines” name was registered on January 27, 1934 by partners William R. Lewis, Gary M. Lewis, Albert J. Todd, Alfred Hurshman and Elmer Clay.
Also in 1924, Peter Homenick of Gonor, Manitoba established a scheduled bus service operating between Winnipeg and East Selkirk under the name Red River Motor Coach and Transit Company.
Red River Motor Coach quickly expanded by providing service to Grand Beach, Lac du Bonnet and Pine Falls.
The Manitoba government set to work building a system of trunk highways and introduced regulations to ensure that buses were safe, insured and organized into a rational network of routes providing dependable scheduled service across the province.
The Manitoba Bus Owners’ Association (pictured above) had organized themselves to pool resources by printing a common timetable, interlining schedules, handling parcel express and sharing bus depots.
Thomas J. Clark of Dauphin, Manitoba established the Clark Transportation Company operating “The Evergreen Route” between Dauphin, Neepawa, Portage La Prairie and Winnipeg. He later added the Winnipeg, Russell and Roblin route which made connections in Yorkton Saskatchewan with Arrow Coach Lines of Saskatoon.
George Moore, no relation to Ira Moore, had immigrated from Ireland and settled in Winnipeg starting a taxicab business in the 1920s. By the 1930s Moore had expanded into the trucking business operating between Winnipeg and Fort William/Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay, Ontario).
His company also operated the “Moore’s Trans-Canada Bus Line” on the Winnipeg, Beausejour, Whitemouth, West Hawk Lake and Kenora route.
Hervé Duguay organized the “Ste. Anne’s Bus Service” eventually becoming Eagle Bus Lines. Together with family members who staffed all aspects of the operation, they delivered scheduled bus service from Winnipeg serving the towns of St. Boniface, Lorette, Ste. Anne and East Braintree.
In 1951 the company was sold to Edward, Michael and Walter Pitura. Together they expanded operations eastward toward Falcon Lake and West Hawk Lake to serve weekend cottagers.
Greyhound first appeared in Manitoba in 1935 when Northland Greyhound Lines of Chicago, Illinois was licensed to carry passengers between Winnipeg and Fargo-Minneapolis-Chicago.
The Canadian Greyhound story began when Barney Olsen moved to Manitoba and established Trans-Continental Coach Lines operating from Winnipeg to Regina, SK.
By 1938 the company had been absorbed into the rapidly growing Central Canadian Greyhound Lines based in Calgary, Alberta.
Harry Henteleff’s Beaver Bus Lines (established 1932) had acquired the Winnipeg to Selkirk bus lines from the Winnipeg Electric Company (now known as Winnipeg Transit). Beaver Bus Lines continued to operate the route to Selkirk until July 1, 2016. The company continues to operate chartered and contract bussing services.
F.S. (Phil) Geiler and his son Wm. (Bill) Geiler pioneered bus service northward from their home base in Brandon to the mining towns of The Pas and Flin Flon.
Established in 1933, the Manitoba Motor Transit Company had grown into a major regional bus operation by the mid 1950s serving a corridor stretching from Minot, North Dakota up to Thompson, Manitoba and all points in between.
Post-war state-of-the-art design, modern engineering and manufacturing processes introduced many improvements to the bus industry including better suspension systems, air-conditioned climate control, and longer more spacious and comfortable coaches. The adoption of the diesel engine greatly improved vehicle range, performance and reliability contributing to dependable service delivery and customer appeal.
By Canada’s 100th Centennial year, a number of smaller family run companies had bus routes and operations in Manitoba.
Included among them were Sonnichsen Transportation running between Winnipeg and Headingley, operated by Carl Sonnichsen (now in his 90s) who still owns and manages the family Garage business.
The other family run business was Webb Bus Lines of Portage La Prairie, established by Gordon Webb in 1936. His company provided scheduled service from Winnipeg to Alonsa on Highway #50, between Winnipeg-Portage-Minnedosa-Russell via Highway #16, from Winnipeg to Treherne, Souris and Reston via Highway #2 and a shuttle from Melita, Deloraine and Souris to Brandon that connected with Greyhound Canada's Trans-Canada Highway services. Webb’s scheduled line haul service ended in 1988 when it was sold to Grey Goose Bus Lines.
Under the ownership of Abraham J. Thiessen, Grey Goose Corporation had grown into a major regional carrier in Manitoba and Northwest Ontario mainly by acquiring many of the other bus companies including the smaller family run operations.
By 1974, Laidlaw Transportation of Hamilton, Ontario purchased a major stake hold in Grey Goose.
Growing prosperity, changing life-styles and attitudes, increased automobile ownership and discount airlines lead to declining ridership for bus companies throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s.
Consolidation occurred when the Laidlaw Group (majority owners of Grey Goose Bus Lines) purchased Greyhound Canada Transportation ULC and Greyhound Lines Inc. (U.S.A.) in 1997.
Jefferson Lines of Minneapolis, Minnesota operated a scheduled service between Winnipeg and Fargo-Sioux Falls-Kansas City from 2001 until 2010.
Greyhound Canada moved to a new bus depot facility at Winnipeg’s Airport in August 2009.
Brandon Bus Lines briefly undertook a trial scheduled route offering service between Brandon and Winnipeg via the Trans-Canada Highway with intermediate stops at Carberry and Portage La Prairie.
After advertising in local media about the availability of a new inbound morning trip to Winnipeg and return afternoon trip back to Brandon, the company cancelled the run due to a lack of ridership.
White Owl Bus Lines suspended scheduled route service between Steinbach and Winnipeg on January 15, 2016 after only 8 months of operation. However, the company continues to offer chartered bus service.
Beaver Bus Lines cancelled its scheduled route service between Winnipeg and Selkirk on July 1, 2016. The company continues to offer chartered and escorted tour motor coach services.
Exclusive Bus Lines assumed operation of the scheduled service between Winnipeg and Selkirk starting on Monday, July 4, 2016.
Exclusive Bus Lines announced on Friday, May 26, 2017 that it will discontinue its scheduled service between Selkirk and Winnipeg on Friday, September 1, 2017. The company continues to offer chartered and escorted tour motor coach services.
Kasper Transportation of Thunder Bay, Ontario assumed operation of the scheduled service between Winnipeg and Selkirk on Tuesday, September 5, 2017.
Jefferson Lines of Minneapolis, Minnesota had resumed its operation of a scheduled service between Winnipeg and Fargo-Sioux Falls-Kansas City on Wednesday, August 16, 2017. Jefferson Lines serves the mid-western United States operating daily service routes in Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas.
Jefferson Lines of Minneapolis, Minnesota cancelled its scheduled Motor Coach service between Winnipeg and Fargo-Sioux Falls-Kansas City on March 7, 2018.
The Province of Manitoba announced on March 8, 2018 that the Manitoba Transport Board would be eliminated under Bill 14 in order to reduce or eliminate transport-related regulations, including those affecting the inter-city bus industry.
Greyhound Canada announced on Monday, July 9 that it would shut down all of its passenger routes
and freight services in Western Canada, west of Sudbury, Ontario, on Wednesday, October 31, 2018. Greyhound Canada, a subsidiary of First Group of Scotland, had provided scheduled Motor Coach service to many points in Manitoba including Winnipeg, Portage La Prairie, Brandon, Dauphin, The Pas, Flin Flon and Thompson for over 85 years. Citing a significant decline inridership and financial challenges, Greyhound Canada closed its western Canadian operations on October 31, 2018. (Greyhound continues to run scheduled motor coach routes in southern Ontario serving centers such as Sudbury, Toronto, London, Kitchener-Waterloo, Windsor, Ottawa and Montreal.)
Scheduled carriers currently operating or planning to operate routes in Manitoba include:
Brandon Air Shuttle operates daily scheduled service between Dauphin-Brandon-Winnipeg using large passenger vans.
For complete details, please visit their website at www.brandonairshuttle.com
Maple Bus Lines operates scheduled motor coach service on the following routes:
- Winnipeg-Ashern-Grand Rapids-Thompson
- Winnipeg-Portage La Praire-Neepawa-Dauphin-Swan River
- Thompson-Cross Lake
For complete details, please visit their website at www.maplebuslines.com
Kelsey Bus Lines offers daily scheduled motor coach service between Flin Flon-The Pas-Dauphin-
Portage La Prairie-Winnipeg, and between Thompson & Winnipeg.
For complete details, please visit their website at www.kelseybuslines2014.com
Kasper Transportation operates 5 trips each way via Highway #9/Main Street from Monday to Friday on The Selkirk Commuter Line between the City of Selkirk and the City of Winnipeg. Kapser Transportation also operates scheduled service using large passenger vans from Winnipeg to Sioux Lookout, Ontario, with connections to Red Lake, Thunder Bay and other northwest Ontario destinations.
For complete details, please visit their website at www.gokasper.com
Thompson Bus was founded in July 2018 and by mid-October started offering motor coach service between Thompson and Winnipeg, Thompson and Gillam, and Thompson and Cross Lake.
For complete details, please visit their website at www.thompsonbus.com
Brandon Bus Lines once again briefly undertook a trial scheduled route offering service between Brandon and Winnipeg via the Trans-Canada Highway with intermediate stops at Carberry and Portage La Prairie, starting trial service in November 2018. However the company cancelled the run on January 18, 2019 due to a lack of ridership.
Ira Austin Moore
MANITOBA TRANSIT HERITAGE ASSOCIATION