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The Nelson Streetcar is a lovely way to spend a late afternoon after a fun filled day at Lakeside Rotary Park. The streetcar travels from the Rose Garden Cafe in Lakeside Park, past the soccer fields located at the shores of the lake, and all the way to the Prestige Lakeside Resort.
I had the great opportunity to speak with Walter Laurie, President of the Nelson Electric Tramway Society, about the history of the electric tram in Nelson.
The city of Nelson was founded on the mining of rich mineral deposits, hidden in the mountains around the late 19th century. One of the most notable substances mined was silver which gave way to the Silver King Mine. This attracted many English investors who saw Nelson and the surrounding area as a prime opportunity to grow a strong city in the otherwise wild mountain terrain. An Englishman, who was known as Captain Duncan, had made himself a fortune off the Nelson mining industry. It was Captain Duncan who first proposed the idea of installing an electric tram to connect the community. In 1898 the first streetcar was installed at the top of Stanley St., a street that is known to be more than a little steep. As one can imagine, the late 1800’s version of Stanley St. was freshly cleared land and consisted of loosely packed dirt, making the streetcar ride a little adventurous. By the time the streetcar system was completely installed Nelson was the second community west of Winnipeg that had a streetcar system. The first community to do so was Vancouver who beat Nelson by only one year.
The streetcar fleet had two cars that were commissioned from a British tramway company, and adopted a third from Columbus, Ohio in the 1920’s. Although the fleet only consisted of three cars they were numbered car #21, car #22, and #23, “it just sounds a little better,” Laurie says with a chuckle.
The streetcars were beloved by the community and there are many pictures to indicate that that was true. Below is a photograph of young Nelsonites travelling to the community dance hall that was the top floor of the old boathouse. You’ll notice that back then the streetcars were open-air, with no siding or walls. Streetcar 23, which is in operation today at Lakeside Park, was modified to be enclosed to meet today’s safety standards.
The push for diesel fueled buses surfaced post-war in 1949. With the expansion of paved roads, tire on pavement began to make more sense than local rails. However, the community was not fast to let go of the streetcars as they were a facet for life in Nelson during the early half of the 20th century.
Once the bus system was fully in place, the original British commissioned streetcars were cancelled and Streetcar #23 was sold to a local veterinarian to be used as a makeshift dog kennel. The streetcar association was revived with help of Pierre Berton, who was tasked by the Canadian government to travel the length of Canada and revive communities historical features.
Streetcar #23 was refurbished and now serves it’s route that travels along the perimeter of Rotary Lakeside Park and ends at the Prestige Lakeside Resort. Take in the vibrant history of the Nelson Streetcar at the Nelson Electric Streetcar Society’s charming museum that is located to the left of the car barn that houses #23 when not in use.
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