Last Run of the No. 7 South Calgary Streetcar

November 7, 2023 marks the 75th anniversary of the last run of the South Calgary street car

It was a typical Sunday, November 7, 1948, the suburban quiet occasionally interrupted by the familiar squeak and rattle of the South Calgary streetcar.  By Monday morning’s “rush hour” (such as it was back then), a diesel-powered bus was temporarily on the route.* The streetcar tracks were soon torn up.  A trolley bus, on rubber wheels powered by overhead wires, took over in February 1949 and ran until 1974.

From 1913 – 1948, the No. 7 streetcar had travelled a counter-clockwise loop around South Calgary: It came up 14th Street to 26th Avenue, travelled west to 20th Street, rolled down the hill to the corner of 34th Avenue, travelled east on 34th, and then turned back down 14th Street to the center of town.  The route was part of an extensive streetcar network developed in the early 20th century to connect the center of town to far-flung industrial areas and new “streetcar suburbs” like South Calgary.

The South Calgary route took on more passengers after the opening of Currie Barracks in 1933, a short walk away from the closest stop, and more still as the military base grew during World War 2.  There was increased frequency and a night-owl late night service during the war.

By the late 1940s the war was over, and Calgary was on the edge of another boom following the big oil strike in Leduc in 1947. Next to South Calgary, new suburbs were springing up in Altadore and Knob Hill.  All of Calgary’s streetcars at this time were still the originals, carefully maintained through lean years of economic depression and war. With Calgary’s new growth, all of them were replaced by busses by 1950.

The new No. 7 trolley bus, powered by a web of overhead electrical wires, took a different route than the old streetcar – it went straight down 33rd Avenue and turned around at a loop a half-block west of where the Petro-Canada station is now.  This was not far past the Marda Theatre, which opened in 1951 at the corner of 20th Street where Global Pets is today (renamed the Odeon in 1964 it closed in 1989).  By the late 1950s a line also went down 20th Street, like the No. 7 does today.

Marda Loop takes its name from the theatre and these two “loops” – the old streetcar loop around South Calgary, and the later trolley bus loop on 33rd Avenue.  And the No. 7 route designation has never changed.  Since October 2023, hourly chimes at the corner of 20th Street and 34th Avenue, where the street car turned towards downtown, rings out the legacy of the Marda Loop Streetcar.

*  Calgary’s last streetcars were decommissioned in 1950.

Marda Loop streetcar facts

  • During World War 2 a “night-owl” tram was added to the #7 route for the convenience of soldiers? Currie Barracks was only a seven-minute walk to the turn-around at 20th Street and 34th Avenue.
  • In 1934 a single streetcar ticket was 10 cents, that’s about $2.20 in 2023 money. The Calgary streetcar system was popular and ran at a profit; in 1912 the Calgary Herald editorialized that it was as necessary “as bread or boots”.
  • The #7 was the Blue and Orange Line, identified with a colour symbol on the front. Just few years ago we started calling our LRT lines and BRT routes by colour names again.

Streetcar service was more frequent than bus service in today. In 1945 there was Monday to Saturday 7.5-10 minute frequency, from 6 am to 1:15 am.

The No. 7 commute during wartime Calgary, from the Calgary Herald, March 6, 1945.

Did you know that the No. 7 bus goes north-south at 17th Avenue because of a deadly accident? On an icy December day in 1919, a South Calgary streetcar coming fast down the treacherous 14th Street hill derailed at the right-turn switch at 17th Avenue and crashed into Crooks Drug Store – one passenger was killed. After the accident, the switch was closed permanently in a north-south position so streetcars coming down the hill would go straight down 14th Street and turn at 12th Avenue instead. And that’s how it’s been ever since.

Did you know that Marda Loop almost wasn’t a loop? The original idea was to run two streetcar “stub lines” west of 14 th Street on 26 th Avenue and 32 nd Avenue. But it was deemed more efficient to connect them into a loop via 20 th Street. The plan for the line was also moved from 32 nd Avenue to 34 th Avenue. (Some tracks that had already been laid on 32 nd Avenue were removed at a cost of $250.)

Sources include Calgary’s Electric Streetcar by Colin K. Hatcher and Tom Schwarzkopf

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