MP-1979.137.5001 | Upper Wyndham Street, Guelph, ON, 1905

Upper Wyndham Street, Guelph, ON, 1905
Nerlich & Company
1905, 20th century
Silver salts on paper mounted on card - Gelatin silver process
7 x 15 cm
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Cityscape (3948) , cityscape (422) , electric tramcar (6) , fountain (2) , Guelph (2) , Photograph (77678) , rail (53) , streetscape (1737) , streetscape (187) , tram (13) , transportation (338) , Upper Wyndham Street (1)
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Keys to History

In the early decades of the twentieth century, Canadian cities became electrified. City lighting, home appliances and industrial processes were plugged into grids that carried electricity from hydroelectric sites like Niagara and Shawinigan or from thermal generating plants. Electric streetcars changed city habits and geography. Nineteenth-century cities had been walking cities in which citizens lived near where they worked. Streetcars allowed "streetcar suburbs" to develop, thereby segregating cities by class. By 1911, 83.9% of Toronto's labour force took a daily return streetcar ride.

Public utilities like streetcars and power distribution required heavy capital expenditure. Promoters argued that they were "natural monopolies" requiring long-term, monopoly privileges. Capitalists like Toronto's William Mackenzie grew rich on streetcar fare boxes. Opponents argued that civic ownership was preferable; in 1921 the Toronto Transit Commission was born to assert public streetcar ownership.

  • What

    The streetcar was a self-contained passenger coach that drew electricity from overhead wires or underground conduits. Canadian companies like the Ottawa Car Company built streetcars designed for Canadian conditions until the 1940s.

  • Where

    The first electric streetcar system in Canada opened in Windsor, Ontario in 1886, followed by Vancouver in 1890 , Winnipeg in 1891 and Toronto and Montreal in 1892. By 1914, forty-eight Canadian cities had streetcar systems.

  • When

    Streetcars provoked Canadians to debate the virtues of private enterprise and public ownership. The Guelph Street Railway, founded by brewer George Sleeman (1841-1926) in 1895, was taken over by the city in 1905 as a "people's" company.

  • Who

    Toronto streetcar promoter William Mackenzie (1849-1923) grew rich on streetcar profits, won a knighthood and eventually exported Canadian streetcar expertise to Spain and Latin America.