History of the Streetcar

Ottawa Electric Company (OER)

Thomas Ahearn and Warren Soper, two dealers in electrical supplies who had been buying up electrical businesses under the banner of the Ottawa Electric Company, established the Ottawa Electric Railway Company in 1891.  Their company had been providing Ottawa with electric light service since 1890 and was able to increase capacity from its station on Victoria Island (near the Chaudière Falls) to power electric streetcars.

The first streetcars ran on June 29, 1891 from the company's new car barn on Albert Street. Four streetcars serviced four routes: Main Line, Bank Street Branch, New Edinburgh Branch, and Elgin Street Branch. 

In 1893, Ahearn and Soper bought out W.W. Wylie, an Ottawa carriage and wagon builder. They established a company that operated on the corner of Kent and Slater Street as the Ottawa Car Company, the Ottawa Car Manufacturing Company, and the Ottawa Car and Aircraft Company, until 1947. During that time it built approximately 1700 streetcar and rail vehicles for cities and companies across North America. The company also built horse-drawn carriages and military vehicles during the First World War, and aircraft parts during the Second World War. Following delivery of four new 1000 series streetcars to the OER in 1947 (the last new streetcars purchased), the plant was sold.

By 1895, Ottawa had 48 kilometres of track carrying 68 streetcars. By the end of that year ridership had increased to 4.1 million. The system would eventually expand to cover most of Ottawa's downtown and suburban areas, contributing to their development.

In 1900, OER bought Britannia Park and opened a pavilion where special activities were held. This amusement park served as Ottawa's playground for thousands of residents who came by streetcar for family outings. It was compared to Coney Island and Old Orchard Beach. Streetcar companies at the time saw amusement type facilities as a way to promote the use of their transportation system.

At its peak in 1929, the Ottawa Electric Railway carried more than 30 million riders on 90.5 kilometres of track. The company employed 334 motormen and conductors.

Ottawa Transportation Commission

In 1948, the Ottawa Transportation Commission was formed, ending the long association with Ahearn and Soper. The City of Ottawa assumed the OER fleet of 130 streetcars, 61 buses, service vehicles, buildings, power plants, and the Britannia property holdings.

The last full day of streetcar service in Ottawa was April 30, 1959. On May 2, 1959, an estimated 25,000 people lined the route as streetcars took one last tour through the city.

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