Compiled from the archives of the Manitoba Transit Heritage Association. Start here and just scroll down through the history of Winnipeg’s Public Transit service.
Winnipeg's Public Transit History
The North-West Omnibus Company, owned by G.H. McMicken, operated a stagecoach service connecting Winnipeg with the railway station in St. Boniface.
After arriving in Winnipeg in 1880 from Toronto, Albert W. Austin quickly recognized the need for inexpensive public transportation.
On October 20, 1882, the first horse car was operated by Austin’s Winnipeg Street Railway Company on Main Street between the Upper Fort Garry site and the new City Hall at William Avenue.
Electrification of the public transit system occurred in 1891, when Austin’s company tested its first electric streetcar along River Avenue.
In 1892, a rival company, the Winnipeg Electric Street Railway, was incorporated and operated its first electric streetcar on Main Street on July 26, 1892.
And so there it was, four sets of tracks on Main Street – two for the whizzing electric street cars and two for the sedate horse drawn cars. Truly a pioneering transportation town!
The years 1904 to 1906 ushered in a period of expansion and development as the Winnipeg Electric Street Railway merged with the Winnipeg General Power Company to become the Winnipeg Electric Railway Company.
The new company initiated Sunday service in 1906.
It also purchased the Suburban Rapid Transit Company which had developed lines to its new housing developments in the west at St. James and Assiniboia.
The Winnipeg, Selkirk and Lake Winnipeg Railway Company and its interurban lines to Selkirk were also acquired in 1906.
By 1912, a street car line was added to Stonewall with connecting bus service as far away as Teulon.
In order to stave off competition from independent jitney operators, who numbered 635 by September 14, 1915, the Winnipeg Electric Railway Company constructed four of its own motor buses and introduced the first scheduled bus route on Westminster Avenue in 1918.
Winnipeg City Council finally banned jitneys on April 19, 1918.
In 1924 the Winnipeg Electric Railway Company became the Winnipeg Electric Company.
The Winnipeg Electric Company began operating service to the City of Transcona in November 1925 after it purchased the Transcona Transportation Company from W.F. Lange.
The Winnipeg Electric Company kept and maintained a fine fleet of streetcars and buses operating during the depression years, including buses built by the Twin Coach Company of Kent, Ohio.
During the Second World War, the Winnipeg Electric Company employed many women; 53 as street car operators in its transportation utility division, 17 in bus and truck maintenance, and 12 in the mechanical department.
Winnipeg had the first trolley bus service in Western Canada, commencing operation on Sargent Avenue in May, 1938. Six Mack CR3 40 passenger Trolley Coaches were purchased. Trolley coaches were rubber tired buses that ran off overhead electrical lines and began to replace streetcars which were worn out and too costly to maintain.
A decision was made in 1938 by the Winnipeg, Selkirk and Lake Winnipeg Railway’s parent company, the Winnipeg Electric Company, to convert the interurban rail line to Selkirk over to a motor bus operation.
Suburban commuter bus service continued to operate from the downtown bus depot at Graham & Hargrave along Main Street to West St, Paul, Riverside, Lockport and Selkirk under the name of Selkirk Streamliner. This service continued until it was sold on October 1, 1948 to Beaver Bus Lines Limited.
The great flood of 1950 challenged the staff of the Winnipeg Electric Company, and a operational note of the time describes the evacuation of the University of Manitoba on May 8 “with bus service curtailed to Pembina & Clarence only. On May 15 a ramp on the Provencher Bridge was opened to allow buses access to a limited area of St. Boniface.”
On May 29, 1953, the Manitoba Government took over operation of the Winnipeg Electric Company marking the beginning of publicly-owned transit service in Winnipeg.
Now known as the Greater Winnipeg Transit Commission the first Chairman was William Henry Carter, who was the former president of the Winnipeg Electric Company. He was 79 years old at the time he became the first Chairman.
On September 19, 1955, the Greater Winnipeg Transit Commission operated its last street car in the Winnipeg Area. The last Street Cars were paraded on Main Street with the lead car painted with a crying face and the phrase "We've had it!" above the windows.
In a speech about its modernization program, W.H. Carter, chairman of the new Commission, was quoted:
“... in the largest single item of transit modernization in local history, the familiar sight of street cars rumbling along the Portage-North Main route has disappeared forever, replaced by a fleet of transit buses, the largest and most luxurious that money can buy.
The completion of the rails to rubber program, however, is not being taken as signal by the Commission to sit back and relax. A transit system must change, grow, and improve as the areas served develop.”
Mascot “Transit Tom” makes his advertising debut promoting “Take A Bus”.
The Greater Winnipeg Transit Commission was re-organized on January 1, 1961 as the Transit Department of the Metropolitan Corporation of Greater Winnipeg and continued to provide transit service to a multiple of municipalities that made up the Greater Winnipeg Region. It was commonly referred to as Metro Transit.
The operation of the Transcona bus route was assumed by Metro Transit on January 1, 1963 after the Metropolitan Corporation of Greater Winnipeg purchased White Ribbon Bus Lines Limited from its owner, Abraham J. Thiessen.
A March 4, 1966 transit operations note read:
“Snow storm. Service badly disrupted. All units pulled off road at 11.00k. All schools closed.”
Partial service was operated on March 5 beginning at 8 am and full service returned on March 6.
Metro Transit operated service to municipality East St. Paul until 1969, and in 1971 inaugurated a summer-only service to Bird’s Hill Provincial Park.
On Friday October 30, 1970 the last Trolley Coaches operated in Winnipeg. The last bus to operate in service was Trolley number 1752, a Can-Car/Brill model T48 coach manufactured in Thunder Bay, Ontario. It’s last run was on the Corydon - North Main line. The Trolley left the Kenaston Loop and headed east on Corydon where it was met by a large crowd at Confusion corner. The Trolley finished its run, turning off Main Street onto Carruthers and into the North car house for the last time.
Mascot “Transit Tom” continues to be used in public announcements.
In 1972 public transit service became the responsibility of the newly unified City of Winnipeg, with Transit as its own department.
The City of Winnipeg Transit Department is commonly referred to as Winnipeg Transit.
Handi-Transit began as a two year test project in 1977 to provide parallel public transit service to those citizens with limited physical mobility.
In 1979, Handi-Transit was made a permanent part of Winnipeg Transit’s operations.
A number of new services were initiated by Winnipeg Transit in the 1980s, including a FREE downtown shuttle service (originally called the DASH, then changed to the DOWNTOWN FLYER, and currently called the DOWNTOWN SPIRIT).
Other special services implemented by Winnipeg Transit include event day service to Blue Bomber Football games to the former Winnipeg Stadium and continuing today to the brand new Investors Group Field.
In order to make the entire public transit fleet accessible to all citizens, including those with limited physical mobility, the first low floor buses were purchased in 1994.
In the summer of 1999 the City of Winnipeg Hosted the Pan American Games. and Winnipeg Transit’s fleet grew to 665 buses in order to provide transportation to Athletes, volunteers, media, and spectators.
On April 8, 2012 Rapid Transit arrived in the City of Winnipeg with the official opening of the long awaited southwest Transitway. The first phase of the new busway is 3.2 kilometers in length and features three stations.
Electric powered buses returned to regular service in Winnipeg operating on the 20 ACADEMY-WATT route as trial project. The project ended in 2018.
On December 12, 2016 the last “high-floor” bus performed its final regularly scheduled trip. This meant that the fleet is now 100% exclusively easy access “low-floor” buses, including 12.2m (40-ft.) standard sized and 18.3m (60-ft.) articulating buses.
A reloadable electronic fare card called “peggo” featuring an embedded microchip that communicates with the on-board farebox was introduced as a new fare payment system.
Development of the City’s rapid transit network continued to progress with the announcement of a functional study to examine possible routes for a rapid transit corridor connecting east Winnipeg with the downtown. Work on the study will be undertaken throughout 2017, with an anticipated completion date of Spring 2018.
The phase two extension of the Rapid Transit busway toward the University of Manitoba was completed by late 2019 and opened on April 12, 2020. The full 11 kilometer Transitway features seven additional stations along with Park & Ride and TOD or transit-oriented developments.
MANITOBA TRANSIT HERITAGE ASSOCIATION