All-Time List of Canadian Transit Systems

by David A. Wyatt

5.14 Wilderness Tramways

Perhaps nothing could be further from urban public transit than wilderness tramways, but in many ways these obscure operations resembled horsecar systems found in cities. Later came self-propelled gasoline power, sometimes converted road vehicles, fulfilling a role not unlike motor trams.

"Hudson Bay Company Tramway" (mid October 1877 - 1921 - ?) §
Incorporated 02 May 1670 (England) as The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England Trading into Hudson's Bay. A 5.5 km (3½ mi) horse-drawn portage tramway at Grand Rapids, Manitoba (Northwest Territories prior to 1912) connecting steamer services on Lake Winnipeg with those of the Saskatchewan River system. Passengers and freight were carried, and the tramway was obligated to serve as a common carrier. June 1881 - 1901 the tramway (and HBCo shipping services) were owned and operated by subsidiary Winnipeg & Western Transportation Company. At the latter's bankruptcy, the HBCo resumed operation and ownership. Abandoned in more-or-less working condition in 1921, it was operated by local residents (notably Florence Campbell) for several years(?). (Andreae 1997, McCarthy)

§ The HBCo operated a portage tramway on the Athabaska River at Grand Rapid, Rupert's Land (now in Alberta) beginning in 1889 (Andreae 1997 incorrectly estimated circa 1850). Wooden rails. Common carrier? Passengers? Motive power (human or horse)? Service probably lasted until circa the end of the 19th Century. (Atlas of Alberta Railways, Andreae 1997).

Lake Temiscamingue Colonization Railway Company (09 June 1887 - 1893)
Incorporated by order of the Privy Council 20 July 1886. In addition to a steam-operated segment near Temiskaming, Québec, this company operated three horse-drawn portage tramways at points along its Ottawa River water route between Mattawa, Ontario, and Kipawa Landing, at Rapide la Cave, Rapide les Erables and Rapide la Montagne. The whole system was replaced by an extension of the Canadian Pacific Railway after the close of the 1893 navigation season. (Lavallée 1972).

Miles Cañon & Lewes River Tramway Company (1898 - circa 1900)
Portage railway built by Norman Macaulay from the head of Miles Canyon to the base of White Horse Falls, Yukon. Klondike gold rush prospectors were carried along the east side of the Lewes River around the canyon and falls. Operated as an animal railway over wooden rails until bought out and supplanted by the White Pass & Yukon Route steam railway circa 1900. The similar and competing Miles Cañon & White Horse Tramway Company operated by John Hepburn on the west side circa 1899 - circa 1900 was acquired by Macauley circa 1900 before the WP&Y takeover.

"Taku Tram" (circa 1898 - July 1900)
A 3.6 km (2¼ mi.) portage tramway at Taku, British Columbia, between Atlin Lake, BC and Graham Inlet (a branch of Tagish Lake). Operated initially as an animal railway until the arrival of the line's first steam locomotive in July 1900. Steam operation continued until at least 1940. The line is also known as the "Atlin Southern" and the "Taku Central". An asset of John Irving's Canadian Pacific Navigation Company until its acquisition by the White Pass & Yukon Route in 1900. (British Columbia Archives: Visual Records Catalogue, call number F-04972 [140K photo]).

Union Rail Road (1847 - end of navigation season 1879)
This was a 5.5 km (3½ mi.) horse powered portage railway on the Québec side of the Ottawa River some 51 km (32 mi.) west of Bytown (Ottawa). It ran from Lac Deschenes to Lac des Chats to avoid Chats Falls and was built by an unincorporated partnership known as the Union Forwarding Company. This horse railway was put out of business by the coming of the steam railways in 1879. (Churcher)

Upper Columbia Navigation & Tramway Company (circa 1891 - 1902)
Chiefly a steamboat operator on the Columbia River in British Columbia. The company's 1891 (B.C) charter included authority to build tram lines to bridge short gaps in the company's water route south from Golden, including from Golden CPR station to the nearby Columbia, from Mud Lake (Adela Lake) to Upper Columbia Lake and Upper Columbia Lake to the Kootenay River. Parker's Nelson book describes the interlake line as a streetcar-like horse-drawn animal railway, and states that the rails were pulled up in 1902. He doesn't indicate if either of the other two rail lines were ever operated.

Winnipeg Hydro Tramway fairbanks motor car Winnipeg Hydro Tramway (late 1911 - end of July 1962 ( - 2011))
motor tram Incorporated 25 February 1909 (Alta). Originally built from a connection with the CPR at Lac-du-Bonnet to the City of Winnipeg's Point-du-Bois hydroelectric generating station on the Winnipeg River, to facilitate the transportation of construction materials and workers. Passenger service by conventional mixed train began in 1908. Beginning in late 1911 a series of a gasoline trams and rail buses provided most passenger service. An extension to the remote Slave Falls generating station opened 1929. In 1962 the Pointe-du-Bois to Lac-du-Bonnet line was abandoned, ending common carrier passenger service. Passenger travel between the two dams continues by gasoline tram, but is not open to the public. Winnipeg Hydro sold to Manitoba Hydro 2002 which completed replacement road construction in 2011. (Lacey)

"Old Sparky" (circa 1912 - 1958)
Unwilling to provide service for the small population, Canadian Northern Railway Company tendered for private contractors to supply equipment and operate passenger service on its 11 km (7 mi.) branch from Key Junction to Key Harbour on Georgian Bay in Ontario. The initial contractor was Arthur Gropp. Concession was sold 1921 to C.H. Gauthier who eventually sub-contracted it back to Gropp, until 1932. Lawrence Hazzard then ran the operations until 1937, when it was taken over by Reg McIntosh. Year-round passengers and local freight were carried in four-wheeled dollies towed by converted road vehicles. Locals initially referred to the service (and it's various motive devices) as "Old Sparky". In later years it was also dubbed the "Toonerville Trolley" after the well known comic strip. CNoR and successor Canadian National Railways operated shipping-season coal and lumber trains over the branch. CN abandoned the port in the mid 1950's and the line in 1958. (Duff)


A gasoline tramway also operated at Lake Louise, Alberta 1912-1930.

The passenger rolling stock of the 1.1 mi (1.8 km) "Portage Railway" of the Huntsville, Lake of Bays & Lake Simcoe Railway & Navigation Company consisted of two de-motored electric street railway open cars but any similarity to street railways ended there. Saddle-tank steam locomotives pulled the cars over the portage between Lake of Bays and Peninsula Lake, connecting with company boats at either lake. (Lavallée 1972).

A similar service operated as the Chemin de fer de Port Joliette around Port Menier, and Port Seche on Anticosti Island, Québec 1910 - circa 1930 (although the settlement scheme was abandoned circa 1913). Peschkes lists that the operation was provided by animal traction as well as by steam. (Andreae 1997, Peschkes 1998)


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