I was at the Scandinavian pavilion during Folklorama when I was introduced to Brian Darragh who captivated me for 15 minutes with his tales of Winnipeg streetcars.
He started off by telling me he is the last surviving driver of our old streetcars, then shared some of his memories with me.
The last streetcar ran here in 1955, Brian would have been in his 20’s at the time and remembers it well having spent his entire career working for Transit Tom as Winnipeg Transit was affectionately known.
Today he’s well into his retirement years yet he’s keeping the memory alive by promoting a book he has written which describes an important era in our city’s history.
The Streetcars of Winnipeg – Our Forgotten Heritage: sub-titled Out of Sight, Out of Mind was self-published by him in conjunction with Friesen Press and is available locally at McNally Robinson Booksellers. E-book formats are also offered by Amazon, i-Tunes and Kobe.
The book tells the story of the early days of public transport in Winnipeg and offers a glimpse at local life in a bygone age.
He has been actively promoting his book at various speaking engagements at such venues as the Manitoba Historical Society, Dalnavert Museum and of course the Railway Museum.
It tells of how Winnipeg came to be such a great city, the third largest in Canada at one time. A growth that was fueled by good public transportation – streetcars.
This was a time when there were no buses or private cars. The railway got you to Union Station on Main Street and from there the streetcar offered an alternative to walking or horse and buggy.
It is said to be the reason that Eaton’s chose to build their store here.
They provided transport for Winnipeggers for more than 63 years starting in 1892.
The sad part is that after they were de-commissioned most were sold off for as little as $100 and used as grain storage bins or allowed to rot.
There’s not many of the original ones left today but there is one at Union Station. Unfortunately it’s not been restored and is not in a public display area.
It’s also languished in various places since its rescue in 1980 and is still awaiting funds and volunteers to restore it 36 years later.
At the start of the 20th century they referred to Winnipeg as the Chicago of the North and as the city grew we managed to lay down 120 miles of streetcar track with nary a murmur from taxpayers. Today we have a paltry two miles of rapid transit and an ambitious plan to add an additional five miles at a staggering cost of $465 million along a route through nowhere.
Seems like we’ve become the Churchill of the South. With my sincere apologies to that northern community.