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Guelph Radial Railway

'Streetcars In The Royal City'

Guelph, Ontario, Canada

Revised February 20, 2010

[GRRy car]



The City of Guelph is located approximately 55 miles west of Toronto. Known as 'The Royal City', having been named after a Scottish King, Guelph's street railway operated from 1895 until 1939 along five routes. It was also the western terminus of the Guelph line of the Toronto Suburban Railway.

By the late 1800's, Guelph had become such a size that public transportation had pretty much become a necessity. Serious discussion concerning a street railway began in 1875, with a company under the name of The Guelph Street Railway Company being formed in 1877. The company failed to get a charter for its proposed horsecar line, and the idea was abandoned.

It wasn't until 1894, that local businessman George Sleeman approached Guelph city council for a street railway charter. This was duly granted, for a term of twenty years, and thus was born the Guelph Railway Company. Construction began in April 1895 using 56 pound rail. The initial route of the GRC was south along Woolwich Street, through the downtown and along Dundas Road, with a second line running from the Sleeman owned Silvercreek Brewery on Waterloo Avenue, to the Canadian Pacific and Grand Trunk (later Canadian National) Railway stations. Total distance of these two lines was approximately 4-1/2 miles. Electrical equipment for 600 volt operation, three closed and two open cars were supplied by the Canadian General Electric Company. A stone carbarn and powerhouse were also built. The carbarn later served as the garage for the Guelph Transportation Commission buses until the 1970's, and still stands today at 371 Waterloo Avenue.

Sleeman operated a brewery on Waterloo Avenue and expected that his employees would travel back and forth to work on his system. He also built a skating rink and park behind his brewery.

Operation began on September 17, 1895 with 20 minute service being provided between 5 am and 11 pm, Monday to Saturday. New lines were soon built including Suffolk, added in 1896, O.A.C (Ontario Agricultural College) in 1902 and York Road in 1911. Sunday service did not begin until July 25, 1921.

George Sleeman continued to own the line until late 1902 when control passed to the Bank of Montreal and the Trader's Bank. The name of the company was also changed to the Guelph Radial Railway, as the new owners proposed extending the car lines to municipalites outside Guelph, but none were ever built.

Ridership doubled between 1902 and 1906 resulting in more rolling stock being purchased in 1906 and again in 1911. In 1903, the city of Guelph purchased the street railway for $78,000, which included eight miles of track, eight closed and three open cars.

Freight service had been introduced in 1900 using a small four-wheel locomotive, with traffic being interchanged with the Grand Trunk Railway. This business increased to a point where in 1911 a new 27-ton locomotive, #26, was purchased from Preston Car & Coach, along with two 2-truck 'Prairie' type streetcars, #60 and #70. In 1913, another 'Prairie' car, #80, was added with two more, #90 and #100, being acquired in 1914. The Prairie cars were 45 feet 10 inches in length and were double ended. All five 'Prairie' cars were transferred to the Toronto & York Radial Railway in 1925 and renumbered 151 to 155. A second freight interchange was added on Suffolk Street in 1915 and a connection was made with the new Toronto Suburban Railway line in 1917.

Both the Canadian Pacific Railway and Ontario Hydro made offers to buy the Guelph system. Ontario Hydro won out and took title to the Railway, under the name Ontario Hydro Electric Railways - Guelph District, on May 21, 1921. Some lines were rebuilt and some extended. Seven single truck Birney cars numbered 219 to 225 were acquired in 1922. These were built by Canadian Brill at the former Preston Car & Coach plant in Preston, Ontario.

The first bus, a 29-seat Gotfredson, was placed in service in 1926 on Eramosa Road. This service was discontinued on October 31, 1927 due to significant losses, however, the service was reinstated the following year with a smaller bus. A second bus was used when streetcar tracks were under repair.

Operating losses began to climb beginning in 1927. The Suffolk line was removed in 1929 due to its poor condition and the cost of rebuilding, being replaced by bus service.

In 1926, Ontario Hydro tried to sell the system back to the City of Guelph, but were refused. Finally, in June 1937, City Council recommended the discontinuance of the streetcars, September 30, 1937 being the final day of operation, buses replacing them the next day. In 1939, the Ontario Legislature passed a bill transferring the system to the newly created Guelph Transportation Commission (now Guelph Transit). Electric freight service continued to operate until May 26, 1939.

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St. Georges Square Guelph RR 60 Former Guelph RR carshop
St. Georges Sq. Car 60 Former Carshop
(click on thumbnail for larger view)

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  • Adam Beck - James Sturgis - Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Don Mills ON, 1982, ISBN 0-88902-246-1
  • Canadian Car Builders Series
    - John M. Mills - Upper Canada Railway Society / Ontario Electric Railway Historical Assoc., Toronto ON
    ==This series consists of three seperate volumes:
    ====- No. 1: Ottawa Car Company
    ====- No. 2: Preston Car & Coach Co.
    ====- No. 3: Miscellaneous Builders
  • Canadian Electric Street Railways and Interurban Lines
    - compiled by John M. Mills - Ontario Electric Railway Historical Assoc. / Upper Canada Railway Society,
    =Scarborough ON, c.1970
  • Historic Guelph: The Royal City
    - Guelph Historical Society, Guelph ON, Vol. XXII August 1983, ISSN 0709-5562
  • History of Guelph 1827-1927
    - Leo A. Johnson, Guelph Historical Society, Guelph ON, 1997, ISBN 0-9690594-0-X
  • Interurban Electric Locomotives From Baldwin-Westinghouse
    - Joseph A. Strapac - Shade Tree Books, Bellflower CA, 2001, ISBN 0-930742-22-2
  • Lines of Country: An Atlas of Railway and Waterway History in Canada
    - Christopher Andreae - The Boston Mills Press, Erin ON, 1997, ISBN 1-55046-133-8
  • On a Streak of Lightning: Electric Railways in Canada
    - J. Edward Martin - Studio E, Delta BC, 1994, ISBN 0-920716-03-2
  • Riding The Radials: Toronto's Suburban Electric Streetcar Lines
    - Robert M. Stamp - The Boston Mills Press, Erin ON, 1989, ISBN 1-55046-008-0
  • Streetcar Builders of Canada - Volume One
    - William Bailey and Douglas Parker, CRHA, Montreal QC, 2002, ISBN: 0-9730219-0-X
            - The Ontario Car and Foundry Company
            - The Preston Car & Coach Company
            - The Tillsonburg Electric Car Company
  • The Birney Car - Harold E. Cox, no date, no ISBN

    View a full copy of The Birney Car on-line,
    or the page listing the Guelph Radial Railway cars.

    (Please note that each page is its own GIF file which may take a while
    to download depending on the type of internet connection you have.)

  • Traction On The Grand - John Mills - Railfare Enterprises Limited, Montreal QC, 1977, ISBN 0-919130-27-5

  • Guelph Radial Ry.: A Thumbnail History - Upper Canada Railway Society 'Newsletter' October 1988 page6

To learn more about the City of Guelph, visit the
official City of Guelph web site

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