Posted by: Glenn Clark
The idea of extending street car service southward began with the annexation of Rideauville, and Wyoming Park (now Old Ottawa South) and the village of Ottawa East by the City of Ottawa on December 16, 1907. But street car service was dependant on suitable bridges crossing the Rideau Canal. At the time, swing bridges existed on Bank Street at Lansdowne Park and at Argyle Avenue and could not carry street cars. Almost immediately, new bridges were being planned.
In 1912, the Canadian Northern Railway was under construction just to the south of the Rideau River in Gloucester. A railway bridge over Metcalfe Road (Bank Street) was being planned in January [Ottawa Journal, January 5, 1912, page 10] and the bridge across the Rideau River at the Dowler Farm was expected to be completed by September 1st [Ottawa Journal, July 6, 1912 page 9]. The next year, a passenger railway station south of Billings Bridge was under consideration [Ottawa Journal, May 22, 1913 page 2].
On March 21, 1913, the centre span of the old wooden Billings Bridge collapsed from high water [Ottawa Journal, March 22, 1913 page 3]. This blocked vehicular traffic and began the process of planning a more permanent bridge.
The new Bank Street Bridge over the Rideau Canal opened to traffic on July 25, 1913 after the temporary swing bridge malfunctioned [Ottawa Journal, July 25, 1913 page 1]. This made way for the street car extension into Ottawa South, which opened on October 10th with a 4 minute service frequency [Ottawa Journal, October 9 and 11 page 1]. The route followed Bank Street to Sunnyside then looped by Sunnyside, Seneca, Grove and back to Bank Street. This route remained in service until January 12, 1959 when street car service ended [Ottawa Journal, January 3, 1959 page 25]. Interestingly, street car rails extended southbound on Bank Street from Sunnyside to Grove Avenue but likely were never used. They were likely a relic of a proposed Billings Bridge extension.
The extension of street car service into Ottawa East waited for a new bridge to be built at Pretoria Avenue [Ottawa Journal, January 24, 1913 page 2] but also a suitable crossing was needed with the Canada Atlantic Railway at Elgin Street. The new bridge was delayed by World War I.
However, a new bridge at Billings Bridge was in greater need after the earlier collapse had created treacherous crossing conditions. Following a considerable discussion on whether a temporary bridge was needed (a temporary bridge was finally built), the new Billings Bridge (the current bridge) officially opened on September 2, 1915 [Ottawa Journal, September 3, 1915 page 14]. The bridge was built to accommodate street cars.
The new Pretoria Avenue Bridge followed and it opened to traffic on October 31, 1917 [Ottawa Journal, October 31, 1917 page 10]. After considerable protest from the community, the old Argyle Avenue Bridge began to be dismantled on March 18, 1918 [Ottawa Journal, March 18, 1918 page 17]. With the war continuing and the Ottawa Electric Railway’s contract up for renewal, there was no immediate action to open an Ottawa East street car extension.
It was not until the Robert M. Feustal Report was produced in 1922 that further street car extensions were considered [Ottawa Journal, December 28, 1922 page 5 including map]. This included an extension to the Elgin Street car line into Ottawa East as far as Main Street and Clegg and an extension of the Bank Street car line across Billings Bridge to the proposed passenger railway station. This was part of a four year plan with the Ottawa East extension to take place in the first year and the Billings Bridge extension in the last year of the plan. The former began operation on July 29, 1925 with 10 minute frequency and 5 minute service during rush hour [Ottawa Journal, July 30, 1925 page 18].
In order to test the viability of transit service in the Billings Bridge area, bus service was provided from the Bank and Grove street car terminus south on Metcalfe Road (Bank Street) as far as Ridgemont near Walkley Road. This was for a one month trial starting on May 18, 1927. Average daily receipts were only $10.93 and the service was cancelled following the trial [Ottawa Journal, July 20, 1927 page 11]. This proved to be the death knell for the Billings Bridge street car extension as Ottawa Electric Railway officials saw little hope of significantly increasing receipts.
Further street car extensions were planned including one running the Ottawa East line further south on Main Street to near the Rideau River. This never took place.
Jacques Greber arrived in Ottawa in 1937 with his ideas opposed to street cars. The National War Memorial was completed in 1939 and the grand promenade on Elgin Street was not considered suitable for street cars. On April 24, 1939, the Elgin Street and Ottawa East car lines were abandoned and buses were placed on the route [Ottawa Journal, April 21, 1939 page 1]. In the weeks leading up to this conversion, there were increasing demands to extend service to Billings Bridge via Main Street and Riverdale Avenue. The Ottawa Electric Railway resisted those requests wishing to wait for the results of the switch to buses first.
A six month trial began on September 1, 1939 with bus service terminating with a loop at Riverdale, Bank and Cameron [Ottawa Journal, August 31, 1939 page 2]. This trial was extended another 6 months in early 1940 [Ottawa Journal, January 26, 1940 page 22]. Ultimately, it proved to be too successful with many Gloucester residents taking advantage of the service immediately to the north of the bridge. There were complaints of overcrowded buses and with war restrictions on the hours allowed for bus operations, the route was shortened with buses turning around at Belmont Avenue starting on December 14, 1942 [Ottawa Journal, December 21, 1942 Editorial Page]. This ended any service to Billings Bridge by the Ottawa Electric Railway.
From then on, bus service to the Billings Bridge area was offered only by Uplands Bus Lines and starting on July 1, 1950, by the Ottawa Transportation Commission.
Glenn Clark is currently President of the Gloucester Historical Society and has a strong family connection to the Billings Bridge area.This article was originally published in the Winter 2015 newsletter of the Gloucester Historical Society.