The First Through Tram

My book, “The Drive: A … History of Commercial Drive to 1956” is a study of the period from 1935 to 1956. In an introduction, I attempted in a few paragraphs to sketch the history of Grandview prior to 1935. One of the anecdotes I used for this purpose went as follows:

“[I]n the fall of 1891, the first tramcar to make a through trip from Vancouver to New Westminster carried Vancouver Mayor David Oppenheimer, the CPR’s William Van Horne, and Lords Mount Stephen and Elphinstone.”

Though I took this from previously published work, I am now convinced this is inaccurate.

George Stephen, who just months before had become the first Canadian to be elevated to the British peerage as Baron Mount Stephen, and who had been almost single-handedly responsible for the management and financing of the CPR construction, was indeed in Vancouver in the fall of 1891. He accompanied Cornelius Van Horne (to whom he had passed on the CPR presidency) and Lord Elphinstone, a Scottish peer with extensive investments in both the CPR and BC property, on a cross-country tour of the CPR line from Montreal, arriving in Vancouver in the second week of September [see “Vancouver Daily World“, 11 September 1891, p.5].

The group spent “a few days” in Vancouver and they did in fact travel by train to New Westminster on their way to visit Mission. However, this trip was on the CPR main line via Coquitlam, not the Electric Tramway via Grandview, which was not completed until early the following month.

I am glad to have that corrected.  However, the date of the first through tram on the New Westminster & Vancouver Electric Tramway is still something of a mystery.

Heather Conn’s execellent history of transportation called “Vancouver’s Glory Years” suggests that the line was complete by October 8th, 1891 [see page 33].  However, the News-Advertizer of 10th October, 1891, says that the tram was still only running from New West to the Vancouver City boundary at 16th Avenue by that date [p.5], and its edition of October 16th suggests that the through service was only then finally in operation to some part of the city [p.6]. On October 22nd the same paper reported on a trip by Mayor Oppenheimer and an invited party of guests: “The car came for them to Westminster Avenue [Main Street], the furthest any car has yet gone” [p.8]

Not important, perhaps in the scheme of things.  By the end of October 1891 at least, the full service was already full of eager passengers and extra trips had to be laid on.