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City Government

The Early Years 1890s-1940s

Drawing depiction of Fort William in 1870

The history of Thunder Bay transit begins long before the amalgamation of Fort William and Port Arthur in 1970.  Thunder Bay and its surrounding regions have a long and elaborate history within the fur trade, with Fort William being a prominent post in both the North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company. Thunder Bay's central location in Canada also made it a viable location for major railway activity toward the end of the nineteenth century. During the 1880s when it became evident that the CPR would be establishing their facilities in Fort William, Port Arthur leaders were pressed to find a way to link their town to the expanding settlement on the Kaministiquia River. 

The idea of building an electric street railway took hold in 1891, helping spark an enduring civil rivalry that would last until the towns amalgamated in 1970. The building of the electric street railway, however, also marked the beginning of Thunder Bay's public transit history as it was the first municipally owned street railway in North America.

Street Cars lined up

Aside from the CPR, no other nineteenth-century major project affected the geography or institutions of Thunder Bay so immensely as the Port Arthur Street Railway. Current River became integrated into urban Thunder Bay, Fort William became a town, and Westfort was saved from economic demise. Psychologically, the railway gave Port Arthur a boost, giving it a cause, honing the skills and expertise of politicians and employees alike. By legitimizing the concept of municipal ownership, the railway made it easier for both Port Arthur and Fort William to take over ownership of all electric power and all of their Bell telephone systems. The creation of the Port Arthur Street Railway was an accomplishment in which the townsfolk could take pride.

Conductor on StreetCar step  History of the Civic Railway
 chronologythumbnail Chronology 1891-1947
 Photo of the current river dam being built Powering the Civic Railway
 photo of newspaper front page from 1913 The Civic Railway and the Canadian Labour Movement
 Photo of a crowd on Street railway tracks Photographs