Windsor, Ontario Streetcar System

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Streetcars in downtown Windsor in 1938, at the intersection of Ouellette Avenue and Wyandotte Street.

Windsor, Ontario was the first Canadian city with an electric street car system, which was introduced in 1886.[1][2][3][4] Other Canadian cities soon followed suit, with St. Catharines in 1887 and Toronto in 1889.[1] By World War I, nearly 50 Canadian cities had streetcar systems in place.[5] By the time Windsor's streetcar system was dismantled in 1937, the system's scale was extensive and it serviced all 5 of the major riverfront communities of Windsor, Ford City (East Windsor), Sandwich, Walkerville and Ojibway.

Early Beginnings[edit]

The streetcar system adopted by the city of Windsor and surrounding towns was developed by Charles J. Van Depoele.[6] Van Depoele had immigrated to Detroit, Michigan from Belgium in 1874 to develop his electric system.[6] Windsor was the first city to adopt Van Depoele's system, as well as the first in Canada to have any type of electric streetcar system.[6] Prior to the electric cars, a horse-drawn streetcar system had been in place since 1872.[1] The new railway began development under two companies, the Windsor-Walkerville Street Railway Company and the Windsor-Sandwich Street Railway Company until the two merged in 1891 to later become the Sandwich, Windsor, and Amherstburg Street Railway (S.W. & A.R.).[7] Van Depoele's electric streetcar first ran in Windsor on June 6, 1886, servicing the small town nestled south of the Detroit River.[6]


Although initially the track spanned only a small portion of Windsor along the Windsor-Detroit waterfront on Riverside Drive, the S.W.& A.R. began expanding its service southward with an extension along Ouellette Avenue in 1893.[7] The track started at the international ferry landing and went south, providing access to a popular race track, while simultaneously encouraging population growth south of the Detroit River where transportation was becoming readily available.[7]

The service began expanding from the small city of Windsor outward to the east and to the west to the towns of Sandwich, Walkerville, and East Windsor. Population was expanding in these areas largely due to the introduction of big industries in Windsor. Walkerville began expanding due to the Hiram Walker distillery and East Windsor because of the introduction of a Ford Factory in 1904.[8]

Subsequently, the S.W. & A.R. began expanding its track to these areas and to areas of dense population growth, creating access to much of the city and surrounding areas. People followed the track line, and the track line followed the people. Many Windsorites did not own automobiles, and found the streetcar a viable alternative to purchasing a new car. By 1921, the track had expanded to the towns of Amherstburg and Tecumseh at each end, measuring 37 miles in total.[7] An additional track, the Windsor Essex and Lakeshore Hallway Company, operated between Leamington, Essex and Kingsville.

As the automobile began rising in popularity and lowering in price, the use of the streetcars began to decline, despite the steady increase in population seen in Windsor at that time. In 1934, the company went out of business and its rails were incorporated into the system of the S.W.& A.R.[7]


The electric streetcar system provided an extensive and effective mode of transportation to the citizens of Windsor until the 1930s, when the Great Depression left the world in financial turmoil.[3] The streetcars were expensive to repair and were beginning to deteriorate, and because of costs S.W. & A.R. began to cut down some of the less-travelled and less-profitable routes on the track.[7] The newly comprised City of Windsor, consisting of the Sandwich, Windsor, Walkerville, and East Windsor communities in 1935, was unable to bear the financial burden of the S.W. & A.R.[7]

Buses began to be considered a viable alternative to streetcars, because they were much less expensive to purchase.[9] The S.W. & A.R. found that it would be less costly to purchase a set of buses than to repair the deteriorating rails.[7] It was also thought by many that it was contradictory to continue using electric streetcars instead of automobiles in the automotive capital of Canada, where automobile ownership was rising and providing stiff competition to public transportation.[7]

In 1937 the City decided to abandon the streetcar system in favour of a city bus system.[9] The last Windsor electric streetcar ran on May 7, 1939.[9] The rails were removed from the ground and a city bus system has been in place ever since. The only remaining rails can be found at the intersection of Sandwich Street and Mill streets in Windsor. Also there is some more remaining rails that have been recently dug up at the intersection of Riverside and University street , one block west of the Ambassador bridge of the location of Huron church street, for the construction of a monument of Chief Tecumseh.

Piece of track and spike and the brick laid under track


The streetcar's carhouse, on University Avenue, where off-duty vehicles were stored and maintained, was to be converted into a restaurant as of 2015.[4] One of the original vehicles, number 351, had recently been located, and the restaurant's owners agreed to pay to have the vehicle restored, if they could incorporate it into their restaurant's decor. New update the City of Windsor now owns the street car number 351 are now in the process of restoring it , to be put on display

Reinstatement consideration[edit]

On November 29, 2019, CBC News, Windsor, asked Pat Delmore, Transit Windsor's executive director to answer a viewer's question as to when the agency would re-instate streetcars or Light Rail, in Windsor.[10] Delmore pointed to Grand River Transit's 2019 reinstatement of Light Rail in Kitchener-Waterloo, pointing out that at 22 million rides per year it had almost three times Transit Windsor's 8 million rides per year. He said current ridership didn't justify the expense of reinstatement.


  1. ^ a b c Harry Black, Canadian Scientists and Inventors. Markham: Pembroke Publishers Limited, 1997.
  2. ^ "Remember This? Heading to Bellevue Park? Why not take a street car?". Soo Today. 2015-10-18. Archived from the original on 2015-11-05. Windsor, Ontario was the first Canadian city with an electric streetcar system, which was introduced in 1886. Other Canadian cities soon followed, with St. Catharines in 1887 and Toronto in 1889.
  3. ^ a b Gord Henderson (2014-12-13). "When Windsor ruled public transit". Windsor Star. Archived from the original on 2017-03-18. Retrieved 2017-03-16. The big blow, said Dr. Trevor Price, U of W professor emeritus in political science and urban politics expert, came in 1929 when a change in American immigration rules ended cross-border commuting for huge numbers of Essex County residents. Many opted to move to the U.S. Those who stayed here had to find new jobs.
  4. ^ a b Sharon Hill (2015-08-10). "Rare Windsor streetcar to be restored". Windsor Star. Archived from the original on 2017-10-27. Retrieved 2017-03-16. For years, Niforos and George Sofos wanted to capitalize on Windsor's streetcar heritage by developing the University Avenue West site to include another Penalty Box restaurant in the 124-year-old brick car barn, where streetcars were repaired but not made. The first electric streetcars in Canada were running in Windsor in 1886.
  5. ^ Kearney, Mark, and Randy Ray. Pucks, Pablum and Pingos. Canada: Dundurn Press, 2004.
  6. ^ a b c d Schramm, Kenneth. Detroit's Street Railways. Chicago: Arcadia Publishing, 2006.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i R. Markovich, "The Evolution of Public Transport Networks in Windsor, (Ontario), and London, (Ontario), 1872-1968." MA diss., University of Windsor, 1971.
  8. ^ Kreipke, Robert C. Ford Motor Company: The First 100 Years. Turner Publishing Company, 2003.
  9. ^ a b c Plaut, Jonathon V. The Jews of Windsor, 1790-1990. Canada: Thistle Printing Limited, 2007.
  10. ^ "There's no light rail service in Windsor. Why is that?". CBC News. 2019-11-29. Archived from the original on 2019-11-30. Retrieved 2019-11-29.