Streetcars in the Glebe Annex

October 28th 1951 – Car number 853 travelling southbound across the bridge on Bell Street as part of the Elgin Street route (denoted by the “E” on the top of the car). The bridge over the Canadian National Railway line was so narrow that its “devil strip,” or distance between the two sets of tracks, only permitted one streetcar to cross the bridge at a time. This arrangement allowed space for other vehicles crossing the bridge at the same time as a streetcar, especially if travelling in the opposite direction. (Source: Ottawa’s Streetcars, p. 173. Photo by Omer Lavallée used with permission of publisher, Railfare Enterprises Limited.)


In 1889, Ottawa annexed both Mount Sherwood, an area roughly between what is now Bronson Avenue on the east, Gladstone Avenue on the north (although the northern border is sometimes depicted as being on Laurier Avenue), Booth Street on the west, and the Rideau Canal on the south. The area was home to just over 100 families at the time. Mount Sherwood itself was previously known as Orangeville, as the first settlers who moved here were believed to be Orangemen, an order of Irish Protestants named after the Prince of Orange, King William III, who were dedicated to the Protestant religion, allegiance to the British Monarchy and respect for the laws and traditions of Great Britain. Orangeville St. in the Glebe Annex neighbourhood pays tribute to those roots.

The Borden School – Opened in 1906 to replace the Mount Sherwood School on Bell Street, which was the original impetus for rail access to the neighbourhood. The Borden School building, located at 300 Powell Avenue, lives on – although with a different purpose. In 2004, the school was extensively renovated to become Charlesfort’s Powell lofts condominiums. The renovation kept the shell, terrazzo floors, and high ceilings of the original building intact.

by Sue Stefko

Ottawa’s first electric streetcars were launched in 1891 and were soon to replace the system of horse drawn cars and sleighs that had served Ottawa’s transportation needs since 1870. The electric streetcar lines started quite modestly – on the system’s inception in 1891, there were just four main routes:

  1. The main east-west line across Rideau, Wellington and Albert;
  2. Bank Street to the exhibition grounds at Lansdowne;
  3. Elgin down to Catherine; and,
  4. The main line to New Edinburgh.

While the original routes were largely focused on the downtown core, in 1892 the system’s first expansion brought train service westward along Ann and Emily streets (now Gladstone Avenue) to Bell Street – an intersection slightly north of what is now the Glebe Annex neighbourhood, in a community then referred to as Mount Sherwood. Mount Sherwood had recently been annexed from the Township of Nepean to Ottawa, with one of the benefits of this annexation being the increased access to transit for the small community.

The trial run of the new line to Bell Street occurred on August 6, 1892, at 7:35 in the morning, to great community excitement. Neighbours gathered around the line in what was described as a gala atmosphere, with young children crowding around the car asking for rides and even standing on the tracks in their excitement. The Ottawa Journal celebrated that the trip from Bell Street to Bank Street could now be accomplished in 3 ½ to 4 minutes, described Ann Street (Gladstone) as a “pretty little thoroughfare,” and noted that “with the presence of the cars the neighbourhood should grow like a green bay tree.” (Ottawa Journal, August 6, 1892)

The neighbourhood of Mount Sherwood/Orangeville in the 1870s not long before its annexation from Nepean to the City of Ottawa. (Source: Ottawa: An Illustrated History, by John T. Taylor, p. 36.)
Borden School at 300 Powell Avenue in 1943 Photo: Courtesy of Ottawa Archives (MG397 E00114)
Powell lofts at 300 Powell Avenue today Photo: David Perkins

This single-track line to Bell Street was extended in 1900 south to the Canadian Atlantic Railway tracks at Raymond Street. (The railway line itself was later pulled out and replaced by the 417 highway in the early 1960s.) Although the route was not in heavy use, the city was keen to see the track extend further south to reach the two-room Mount Sherwood school at Bell Street and Powell Avenue (then called Ernest Street). This extension was not easy, however, as track would have to cross a narrow bridge over the railway.

While the city authorized the line to be doubled and to run as far south as Carling Avenue, the track never made it that far south. After crossing the bridge, the line only went a few blocks before it ended at Ernest Street (now Powell Avenue), with a wye at the bottom of the line to allow the train to turn around.

In 1909 the city approved a further loop to replace the wye at Ernest – across Ernest, Turner (now Cambridge Street South) and Mclean Street before the track joined back up at Bell Street.

By 1924 the loop was abandoned as the line moved east across Powell Avenue to connect the Bell Street line to the double track at Bronson Avenue. This addition was referred to as the Bronson extension. Due to the narrowness of Powell Avenue, a gauntlet track had to be used, which means that the tracks had to be overlapped or interlaced, only allowing one set of rails to be used at a time.

Decline of Rail Transit in Ottawa

After years of growth, the streetcar system was soon to suffer a decline. While peak ridership of more than 68,800,000 passengers was achieved in 1946, Ottawa’s streetcar system began to be dismantled in the years soon after.

In 1948, after the City of Ottawa’s fare price dispute with the Ottawa Electric Railway Company, the private company that owned and operated the streetcar system, Ottawa residents voted in a referendum to take over the system. Later that year, for a price of $6 million, the City of Ottawa took it over and created the Ottawa Transportation Commission. It was the beginning of the end of rail transit in Ottawa.

Two years later, Ottawa annexed much of Nepean, increasing the size of the city more than five-fold, making it costlier to provide transit and other services to the expanded city. Ottawa watched the trend in national transportation move from rail to roadways, including buses and trolleys. The city also followed the advice of French town-planner Jacques Gréber who felt that having railways cross the centre of the city was not aesthetically pleasing. Ottawa began to dismantle its passenger rail system in line with the advice provided.

Some of the first streetcars to be abandoned were those on the Elgin-Bronson line, trains serving Gladstone, Powell, Bell and Bronson. On Christmas Eve, 1951, those streetcars were replaced by a trolley bus system, marking the first concrete step in the dismantling of Ottawa’s streetcar system. Ironically, however, the new, “modern” system of trolley buses was itself short-lived, as both the new trolley buses and the venerable streetcars ceased service in 1959. Rail lines and streetcars began to be replaced by streets and highways, cars and buses.

Now, nearly 60 years later, the efficiencies of rail service have a renewed appreciation in the nation’s capital. Coming full circle, but this time at a much dearer price tag, this year we will once again see railways carrying Ottawa passengers – although sadly, no longer to the Glebe Annex neighbourhood.

Sue Stefko is president of the Glebe Annex Community Association.

October 28th, 1951 – A streetcar travelling east on Powell Avenue, photographed from the rear, showing the gauntlet track. Hogan’s can be seen in the distance. (Source: Ottawa’s Streetcars, p.173. Photo by Omer Lavallée used with permission of publisher, Railfare Enterprises Limited.)
October 29, 1950 – A streetcar travelling east on the Powell Avenue gauntlet track on its way to Bronson Avenue. The “C” denotes the fact that the route was a chartered excursion for the Cornwall Electric Railway Society. Hogan’s corner store, still in existence today, is shown at the north side of Powell Avenue. (Source: Ottawa’s Streetcars, p. 172. Photo by Ron Ritchie used with permission of publisher, Railfare Enterprises Limited.)
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