Local History Advent Calendar 2019 – Day 15 – Streetcar scars

Last year I took on the challenge of the first-ever Local History Advent Calendar! For 24 days in a row, I presented random historical tidbits I’d collected over the previous year and presented them in the form of “treats” for my 2018 Local History Advent Calendar. This year, the “Heart of Mount Pleasant” was number 1 on Heritage Vancouver’s Top 10 Watch List for 2019.  So I decided to choose Mount Pleasant as the theme for the Vanalogue Local History Advent Calendar for 2019.  Each day you can “open” a new historical treat. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder – 24 facts about Mount Pleasant history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.

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Street car on Quebec St. (between 14th & 13th) on its way from the Mount Pleasant Car Barns. Photo: CoV Archives

Day 1 of the LHAC 2019 featured the Mount Pleasant Streetcar Barns and its resident janitor cat ‘Toots‘. The car barns were bounded by Main Street on the east and Quebec Street on the west,  between 13th and 14th Avenues . The building was two-tiered to compensate for the grade of the property at the Main St side vs the Quebec Street side. Cars could enter and exit at grade from both sides. For 46 years, from 1906 to 1952, street cars would start and end their routes from that location.

For 10 years starting in 1945, the entire transit system was converted from streetcars to trolley buses – the campaign was called “Rails to Rubber“. In 1952, the ‘Fairview Beltline’ was transferred from streetcar to bus and the Mount Pleasant car barns were closed. The land was eventually sold and a series of supermarkets, starting with the Dominion Store, have occupied the site ever since.

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Old street car tracks still visible on Quebec Street between 12th and 13th. Photo: C. Hagemoen

But you can still see evidence of this part of Mount Pleasant’s history on Quebec Street between 13th and 12th Avenues (just south of the Fire Hall).  A portion of streetcar rails, like a scar on the landscape, can be seen on Quebec street near the former site of the Mount Pleasant carbarns.

In his novel, All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy wrote, “Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.” We should similarly appreciate urban landscape scars like those of the Mount Pleasant streetcar line. These historic “scars” on our city’s landscape form part of the history of Vancouver; as such they should be shown and celebrated rather than hidden.