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Sunday streetcar service — vote to approve called “foregone conclusion” by newspaper
May 21, 2010

by Bruce Cherney (part 3)

As the Sunday streetcar bylaw referendum approached, Rev. James L. Gordon, of the Central Congregational Church, said he favoured Lord’s Day service for a variety of reasons, including helping church attendance, but warned that the terms arranged between the city and the Winnipeg Electric Railway Company (WERC) had to specify a six-day work week for the motormen and conductors. Without this guarantee, said Rev. Gordon, another strike involving streetcar employees would erupt, eclipsing in scope the work stoppage of two months earlier which had been marred by a two-day riot and the burning of two streetcars.

Representatives of the Winnipeg Trades Council, the streetcar employees’ union and the Lord’s Day Alliance met on May 8, 1906, stressing the need to include the six-day 60-hour work week clause in the bylaw before the people voted.

The Free Press on June 18, 1906, published testimonials from mayors of other Canadian cities with Sunday streetcar service. In all instances, a favourable opinion was expressed. 

Hamilton Mayor S.D. Biggar said Sunday streetcars had been a great benefit to the city, “especially to those people in moderate circumstances who can for a few cents enjoy a nice ride.”

“My personal opinion is that Sunday cars were a great convenience and boon to the public,” said Vancouver Mayor Frederick Buscombe. “I cannot say they contribute in any way to the welfare of our city. They certainly have not proved a detriment.”

The Vancouver mayor predicted the Winnipeg vote would be in favour of Sunday streetcar service.

Montreal Mayor H.A. Ekers said none of the residents of his city would be willing to do away with Sunday streetcar service.

The conditions of the Winnipeg agreement to be voted on included:

• The operation of Sunday service from 7 a.m. to midnight.

• The double fare normally charged  between 11 p.m. and midnight was abolished.

• Postmen (53 in number) could not ride for free.

• Sunday tickets would be sold at the labourers’ price of eight for 25 cents. A single fare for workers was three-cents in 1906. 

• School children’s tickets were to be good on Sundays and sold at the rate of 10 for 25 cents. A single fare for school children was 2 1/2-cents in 1906.

• No motorman or conductor was obliged to work more than six days a week, and 10 hours was to be considered a working day.

Mayor Thomas Sharpe declared he had to reply to some of the criticism leveled against the Sunday streetcar bylaw, especially claims that the city would benefit financially from the new service.

“I see,” said Sharpe, “that among the many arguments ministers are using against Sunday cars outside of the religious side of the question to which, by the way, I think they should confine themselves, is one to the effect that the city gets on (a) percentage on Sunday car receipts. That contention is incorrect, for the city is to get 5 per cent of Sunday receipts (collected by the company), just as the same it gets 5 per cent of the week day receipts.”

A 1905 report by city treasurer H.C. Thompson indicated almost 10 million passengers had taken streetcars in 1904, with the city receiving $20,377.11, which was its five-per-cent share of the WERC’s gross earnings of $107,542.30. The city also collected a $20 licence fee for each streetcar in service. No fee was collected for the trailers carrying additional passengers that were towed by streetcars during rush hour as well as to popular recreation destinations such as Happyland, River Park, Elm Park and the 10-day long Winnipeg Industrial Exhibition held in mid-summer. The exhibition grounds were located between McPhillips and Sinclair streets and Jarvis and Selkirk avenues. 

The mayor said the agreement was also beneficial to school-age children. With the passage of the bylaw, children’s tickets (10 for 25-cents) would be valid for the first time on both Saturdays and Sundays instead of being restricted to weekdays.

The vote ended 2,891 to 1,647 in favour of Sunday streetcar service, which was “almost a forgone conclusion,” according to an editorial in the Telegram the next day. “Winnipeg has grown to be a city of considerable distances, and with this growth the occasion of the Sunday car became more and more pressing. In a city the size of Winnipeg there can be no question as to the utility of the Sunday car.”

Mayor Sharpe was said to have broken out in a smile when he realized the bylaw had passed the scrutiny of the voters.

On the other hand, Rev. Charles Gordon, who wrote best-selling books under the pen name Ralph Connor, expressed cynicism about the outcome while admitting he wasn’t surprised the bylaw had passed. Yet, the minister said he was surprised by the small number of voters turning up at the polls, especially those favouring Sunday streetcar service.

“Where were the unfortunate denizens  of the congested districts, gasping for a breath of fresh air and pining for a sight of a green leaf or a blade of grass in Happyland?” he asked sarcastically. Happyland was a popular privately-owned  amusement park, which was at the time located on the south side of Portage Avenue in the vicinity of Dominion Street.

“Where were the multitude who, with touching devotion to the memory of deceased relatives, were supposed to be anxiously longing for the transportation of the Sunday car, doubtless with muffled bell, to convey them to the cemetery? Where were the lonely hearts, pining for the social re-unions of a Sabbath afternoon?”

Gordon said there was a 

“loose element” in the city favouring “wide-open” Sundays. The minister claimed the two morning newspapers were openly hostile to the opponents of the bylaw, and that the Roman Catholic Church supported the bylaw because it opposed the “Canadian Sabbath” in favour of the “continental Sabbath, with its afternoon given to amusements.”

He accused Mayor Sharpe of betraying his “religious convictions” by expressing support for Sunday streetcars.

“These constituted a formidable array in favor of Sunday cars, and the only wonder is that the vote for the by-law was not greater,” said Gordon.

Actually, the number of votes cast was substantial given the stringent property qualifications of the era. In order to vote in a Winnipeg civic election, residents had to be over 21 years old and possess property valued at a minimum of $400 (Telegram, June 19, 1906). 

In 1895, women were given the right to vote in civic elections provided they met the property qualification. Women were not permitted to hold municipal office until 1916 (Jessie Kirk, elected in 1921, was the first female councillor in Winnipeg).

Renters paying a designated annual rent were excluded from voting on money bylaw referendums, but could vote on non-money bylaws such as the Sunday streetcar bylaw and in civic elections for mayor, aldermen and city managers. 

Voters at two polling stations in Elmwood, the neighbourhood added to the city in 1906 as Ward 7, encountered problems voting during the bylaw referendum. Several individuals possessing the necessary property qualification in the new city ward were refused ballots, as their names had been “scored from the (voting) lists, and although some of them produced cards from the city assessor’s department showing their property qualification to exceed $400,” reported the Telegram on June 29, 1906.

The Rural Municipality of Kildonan voting list from 1905 was used to compile a list of eligible Elmwood voters (until 1906, Elmwood was in Kildonan), but inexplicably a number of people had been crossed off the new voters’ list, although they were still eligible. Ironically, Alderman Peter McCalman, who was elected as one of four Ward 7 representatives to city council just a month before the referendum, was one of the eligible voters whose name was crossed off the list, while another was Angus Brown, an owner of the pioneer lumber firm Brown & Rutherford.

The city charter was amended in 1907 to allow people paying a minimum annual rent of $100 to vote in civic elections, provided they had been living in the residence they rented for six weeks and had continuously lived in the city for six months. Renters meeting the $100 qualification were still not permitted to vote on money bylaw referendums. The amendment also lowered the property qualification to $200.

The civic election property qualification was not abolished until November 22, 1940, following a referendum. All  residents of Winnipeg over 21 and British subjects (there was no official Canadian citizenship until 1947) were able to vote for the first time in the November 27, 1942, civic election. 

As a result of the voting rules, there were only 7,784 registered voters in 1906 in a city with a population of over 100,000. The rigorous qualification system excluded most working-class residents of the city, who comprised the majority of streetcar passengers, from civic elections and referendums. 

Their lack of political clout was most evident when the question was raised of approving a subway near Higgins and Main to improve traffic flow, including streetcar service to the North End. Repeatedly, the necessary money bylaw was rejected by city voters. The last time was in 1900 when the cost to the city was cited as $60,000, with the CPR willing to pay $30,000 towards the cost of constructing the subway. 

Without the subway, North End residents had to disembark from a streetcar, cross the CPR tracks at Main Street and then board another streetcar in order to travel downtown and to other areas of the city and to do the same for the return trip. Passengers often endured lengthy waits in all kinds of weather in order to complete the transfer. Because of the CPR’s level crossing at Main Street, the North End was effectively cut off from the rest of the city. 

It wasn’t until 1904 that a subway at Main Street was completed, which had more to do with the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s new depot and luxury hotel (Royal Alexandra) along Higgins Avenue rather than for the convenience of North End residents.  In fact, the construction of the CPR depot and hotel required the permanently closure of a number of nearby streets, which further cut off North End residents from the rest of the city. 

The subway was so important to the CPR’s plans that the railway agreed to fully fund its construction and compensate homeowners and businesses affected by the project. As such, another money bylaw referendum was not required to seek voter approval for the project. Instead, city council reached an agreement with the CPR and then passed a bylaw allowing the company to proceed with the subway construction.

By the time the Sunday streetcar service bylaw was approved by voters, streetcars were able to travel the length of Main Street within the city’s borders without interruption. In 1905, the WERC’s tracks on Main Street were extended northward to the city limits. 

At the city’s northern border, passengers could travel on the the WERC’s St. Johns streetcar line to connect with the twice-daily journey to Selkirk aboard the Winnipeg, Selkirk & Lake Winnipeg Railway interurban. The railway, founded in 1900, acquired rights-of-way through the municipalities of Kildonan, St. Pauls, St. Andrews and West Selkirk to its northern terminal at Selkirk. The line to Selkirk was completed in 1904 with steam-powered service in operation until the line was electrified in 1908. The WERC bought the Selkirk line in 1906. 

To reach Headingley, passengers took the St. Charles streetcar to the city’s border and boarded the Suburban Rapid Transit Company interurban. The SRT was chartered in 1902 to construct an interurban line from the western boundary of Winnipeg to Headingley. The SRT’s line to Headingley was completed in 1905, the same year that he company became a subsidiary of the WERC. 

On November 2, 1903, the first WERC streetcar operated in St. Boniface, with the company obtaining a 40-year lease to operate in the community. In order for Sunday service to be provided, the St. Boniface council followed Winnipeg’s lead and shortly afterward passed the necessary bylaw.

When interviewed by the Telegram, Edward Lancaster “E.L.” Drewry, a city and provincial politician noted as the owner of Drewry’s ale and lager beer brewery that once stood near the Redwood Bridge, said he had always been a strong supporter of Sunday streetcars. “I certainly think that large numbers of workmen will take advantage of the day and get out with their wives and children into some place where they can enjoy to the full the day of rest given them.”

Lawyer J. Stewart Tupper commented that no great city was without Sunday streetcars, “and I am glad that the citizens have come to realize their need.”

Attorney Alexander Haggart said the new service would be a benefit to both rich and poor. “The convenience ... more than counteracts any evil which may arise from the free use of cars.”

While Alderman James Gerald Latimer believed Winnipeggers were not ready for Sunday streetcars, he was satisfied with the vote.

An unnamed “commercial man” interviewed at the Corona Hotel said  that if the vote had gone against Sunday streetcars, Winnipeg “would have been consigned to the backwoods as a little jerk town.”

Another man said he originally thought Winnipeg was puritanical and under the thumb of church ministers, but the vote in favour of Sunday streetcars showed no one “can ever say again that we were ruled by the ministerial association.”

A nearby newspaper boy (“newsie” in the vernacular of the day) interrupted to express his opinion: “I figgers it out dis ’ere. Dis town wants to run open shop of Sunday wid everting goin’ full blast.”

As it became evident the Sunday streetcar bylaw was about to be approved by voters, cheers were heard from the crowds gathered in front of the newspaper offices posting the results. 

A special edition of the Telegram with complete returns was on the streets by 9:40 p.m., and “sold rapidly, the newsboys finding no difficulty in selling anywhere from one hundred to two hundred copies each. This relieved the tension somewhat in front of the Telegram office and carried the tidings to the suburbs.”

Following the favourable vote, WERC manager Wilfred Phillips said when Sunday streetcars came into operation, the motormen were to avoid ringing gongs when passing churches or other places of worship — the only exception was to avoid accidents. The motormen were also instructed not to exceed 10 km/h when passing places of worship.

On June 30, the company announced Sunday streetcars would begin running on July 8. 

Mayor Sharpe said he had hoped that streetcars would be in operation for Dominion Day (Canada Day, July 1), but agreed that the company had not received sufficient notice to implement the new service by that time.

On July 8, 1906, motorman Campbell and conductor Stewart pulled streetcar No. 180 out of the car barn at Assiniboine Avenue and Main Street, heralding the beginning of Sunday streetcar service in Winnipeg.

“The initiatory Sunday street car service was an unqualified success,” reported the Telegram on July 9. “No disorder resulted, no divine service was disturbed and the trust placed in the people by advocates of Sunday cars, who believed that they would not abuse a just and right privilege was sustained.”