Windsor as it is known today is the land of the automobile. Windsorites now take for granted that the only way to get around without a car is to use the somewhat limited bus system. Windsor is generally not associated with innovation in public transit in recent times. But, around the turn of the century, Windsor boasted one of the most high tech systems in all of North America. Windsor was the first city in Canada to adopt an electrified streetcar system and quickly went on to boast one of the first and most complete systems of its kind.
1872-1886 Horse-drawn Streetcars
Windsor’s transit system began with the establishment of a horse-drawn streetcar line between the Town of Windsor and the Town of Sandwich. The line also expanded east to include the rapidly growing Village of Walkervillle. This first line ran along Sandwich St. which we know today as Riverside Dr. A local newspaper at the time was quoted saying: “The run to the Springs and back – six miles and a half – was made in less than three quarters of an hour, including stoppages both ways at almost every street crossing and considerable rest at the springs and notwithstanding that the single horse had to draw 22 passengers.” Cash fare was 5 cents; tickets were sold 12 for 50 cents, or 25 for $1.00 according to Windsor Transit.
1886-1893 Electric Streetcars
Windsor became the first municipality in Canada to adopt electric streetcars in 1886. Developed by Charles J. Van Dopoele; an immigrant from Belgium, Windsor was put on the forefront of technological progress with the establishment of the Windsor Electric Street Railway.
1893-1921 Expansion of the System & the city
In the years around the turn of the century the system rapidly expanded. Lines ran out from the growing Town of Windsor to Sandwich, Walkerville and East Windsor. The lines stretched to places of dense population and everywhere the lines went, industry and settlements would spring up alongside. By 1921 the Sandwich, Windsor & Amherstberg railway had reached its peak- lines stretched from Amherstberg to Tecumseh, a total of 37 miles (60 km). Another line operated by the Windsor, Essex & Lakeshore Hallway Company, stretched south from Windsor to Leamington.
1921-1939 The Decline and End of the Streetcars
As the automobile grew in popularity and became cheaper, the streetcar system began to experience a decline in ridership despite the city’s rapidly growing population. The onset of the Great Depression also contributed to the S W & A’s financial woes. Buses became cheaper to implement rather than repairing the aging rails. There was also a growing opinion at the time that it would be contradictory for the Automotive Capital of Canada to have people use public transportation rather than the automobile. The final blow came in 1937 when the city decided to discontinue the streetcars in favor of a fleet of buses. The last streetcar made its final run on May 6, 1939.
Approximate route map of the Sandwich, Windsor & Amherstberg Railway
Below is an approximate route map of Windsor’s streetcar system. This map is based on descriptions from the time as well as information gleaned from historical photographs.
Transit Windsor- http://www.citywindsor.ca/residents/transitwindsor/Corporate-and-Contact-Information/History-/Pages/History.aspx
David A. Wyatt- http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~wyatt/alltime/windsor-on.html
Southwestern Ontario Digital Archive- http://swoda.uwindsor.ca/search/node/streetcars