By Sandra Thomas (with notes from the North Shore News)
Inside Streetcar 153 in the lobby of MONOVA: Museum of North Vancouver (115 West Esplanade) the sound of streetcar gongs and snippets of conversation can be heard. Specially scripted and recorded, the voices of streetcar riders from the past take visitors of today back to the years between 1912 to 1946 when the streetcar travelled up and down what was then known as the “Lonsdale Line.” Museum visitors will hear from streetcar conductors and riders and will discover notable community members such as Lim Gong, a grocer, who moved to North Vancouver in 1900.
“Perfect Little Streetcar System”
Car 153 was one of 13 street railway cars in North Vancouver’s so-called “perfect little streetcar system” which carried passengers from the ferry wharf at the foot of Lonsdale Avenue to Lynn Valley, Upper Lonsdale, and the Capilano Canyon. Propelled by electric power, a set of trolley poles atop the Car carried current from overhead wires to a controller inside the car and from there to the motors beneath. The cars were drivable from both ends.
The crew consisted of a motorman, who controlled the Car’s speed and braking, and a conductor who collected passenger fares and flipped the seat backs over to face in the travelling direction when the end of the line was reached.
The Car’s interior has been restored and recreated, right down to advertising cards that may once have lined the wooden panels above the windows. The warm wood of the walls compliments the woven rattan seats and raised clerestory roof, giving the interior a welcoming feel museum visitors will appreciate. Historic images projected on a wall outside the Car help people visualize what North Vancouver’s streetcar era was like.
A Long Road for Car 153
It’s been a long road for the 39-foot streetcar since it was decommissioned and sold for scrap in 1946. When streetcars were replaced by buses, some North Vancouver cars were converted into holiday cabins in Ruskin. Car 160 was later found in the bush near Gibsons Landing. Car 153’s body was sold for $150 and shipped to Chilliwack where, for a while, it was used as a coffee shop, then a chicken coop and was eventually abandoned in a farmer’s field, stacked full of debris.
And that could have been the end of the car if not for transit historian Brian Kelly, who oversaw North Vancouver bus operations in the 1980s. By the late 1970s, there were no known facts about the Car’s whereabouts— only rumours — but a friend of Kelly’s was convinced he’d spotted it in the Ryder Lake area of Chilliwack.
So the search was on and after a couple of road trips out to Ryder Lake, it was spotted in a farmyard. The streetcar was filled with barrels and garbage, but Kelly moved the trash out of the way, stepped on board, and saw the number 153 on the bulkhead. The rest, as they say, is history.
Coming Home To North Vancouver
The City of North Vancouver stepped up and purchased the car, provided restoration funds, acquired replacement parts, stored it for 33 years, and designated a permanent home for it in the new Museum of North Vancouver.
“The restoration of Streetcar 153 was truly a labour of love for us,” adds David Walmsley from the West Coast Railway Heritage Park. “What could be saved was restored. And what couldn’t be was replaced. Piece by piece, the streetcar began to shine. We’re incredibly proud to contribute to bringing Streetcar 153 back to North Vancouver.”
Championing the streetcar’s return in 1986 was the first Director of the North Vancouver Museum and Archives (1971 to 1991) Bill Baker, who passed away in 2011.
Volunteers Bob Booth (1919-2015), a retired architect, acted as the project manager for the streetcar’s restoration from 1988 to 1992, while Carl Andersen, a retired shipwright from Burrard Dry Dock, re-built the car from Booth’s plans. Volunteer Stephen Ley helped complete the final construction work.
Among other key players in the success of the project were Robin Inglis, former NVMA Director (1991-2007), Gary Payne, former City Councillor and NVMA Commission Chair, and Gary Penway, former Director of Community Development for the City of North Vancouver.
Don Evans (1947-2019), President Emeritus of the West Coast Railway Association, oversaw the completion of the car’s restoration which was carried out by David Walmsley and Blaine Thompson. Funding for the project came in part from the City of North Vancouver, B.C. Heritage Trust, and the Province of B.C.
Streetcar 153’s journey home to North Vancouver has taken decades, but with the Museum of North Vancouver now open to the public, visitors can explore the streetcar and see the masterful restoration job for themselves.
Discovering Streetcar 153
Time travel is possible onboard Streetcar 153! Discover how streetcars worked, built our municipalities, and helped residents meet their day-to-day needs. Everyone rode the streetcars and now you can too!
- On Saturday, January 29 and Saturday, February 5 from 12:00pm to 4:00pm, join us at the Museum of North Vancouver for Discovery Session: Streetcars. Learn more about North Vancouver’s streetcar system and our iconic Streetcar 153 with MONOVA staff and volunteers. Make your own papercraft of Streetcar 153 or build your ideal transportation out of LEGO.
- Teachers and educators: Beginning February 15, 2022, the Museum of North Vancouver will be open for School Program bookings. Subscribe to MONOVA’s e-news (select the “Education” option) for updates.
Your donations to the Friends of the NVMA Society support thought-provoking programs and exhibits that promote our community values of inclusiveness, relevance, creativity, and engagement, and help MONOVA to bring stories to life for North Vancouver residents and visitors.
Donations are accepted through the Friends of the North Vancouver Museum & Archives Society, Registered Charity No. 89031 1772 RR0001.
We respectfully acknowledge that MONOVA: Museum and Archives of North Vancouver is located on the traditional lands of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations, whose ancestors have lived here for countless generations. We are grateful for the opportunity to live, work and learn with them on unceded Coast Salish Territory.