A drawing of the waterfront overlooking a body of water with canoes and houses

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 made it a good location for railway activity toward the end of the nineteenth century. During the 1880s when it became known that the CPR would be building in Fort William, Port Arthur leaders were pushed to find a way to link their town to the growing town of Fort William.

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.

two street cars sitting side by side in a large warehouse awaiting useAside from the CPR, no other nineteenth-century major project affected the geography or institutions of Thunder Bay so greatly as the Port Arthur Street Railway. Current River became part of 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, improving 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.



History of the Civic Railway

A group of men standing in front of a trolley car






Chronology 1891-1947

A poster titled transportation chronology 1891-1947







Powering the Civic Railway

workers standing on a railway bridge






The Civic Railway and the Canadian Labour Movement

The front page of a typed newspaper titled the Wage Earner






Photographs 1840s-1940s

a crowd of people standing on railway tracks in a sepia photograph





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