Yarmouth’s Street Railway


As a child, visiting my grandparents in Watertown, Massachusetts, I would lie in bed, awaiting sleep; and in the distance the electric street car on Mount Auburn Street would begin to murmur, starting, stopping, growing ever louder, roaring by a half block away, then fading, slowly, into silence and the night. A century ago such recollections also would have seemed natural and familiar to generations of Yarmouth’s children.

The Yarmouth Street Railway Company was organized in July, 1888 [1, p 590], and its street cars served Yarmouth’s residents for 36 years, from August 1892 through October 1928. The delay between organization and operation was caused by rapid technological change.

  1. “Initially, it was intended to have the cars pulled by horses, then they were going to use electric batteries located on the cars, but since the overhead power line connected by way of a trolley pole to motors under the car was being perfected, [the Company] waited for the system to be perfected.” [2]

Even so, Yarmouth was the first community in the Maritime Provinces, and the second in Canada, to install an electric street railway. Indeed, Yarmouth seemed a perfect site for such an undertaking.

  1. “Yarmouth was well adapted for a street railway on account of its length from south to north along Main Street. It was comparatively level with no steep grades. Since the waterfront and the business establishments ran parallel to the rail line, people found it convenient for business and pleasure. The conductors frequently carried both verbal and written messages from one end of the town to the other for people. One lady, living in Milton, recalls her mother sending her husband’s lunch to his shop downtown by street car when the weather was bad.” [2]

In one of the Company’s memorable moments,

  1. “At 10:30 o’clock on Sunday morning, March 19th, 1899, whilst clearing the snow from the track of the Street Railway, two motor cars being harnessed together, the forward car jumped the track, and in an instant crashed into the southern window of the store of T. R. Jolly & Co., completely demolishing the window. Before the car could be stopped it had entered the store about one-third of its length, breaking the plate glass windows and the iron columns, and wrecking the fixtures in the window. Conductor McMellon was thrown 15 feet, but was unhurt.” [1, p. 644]

The following images depict life in a small town during an era of electric street cars.


    [1] J. Murray Lawson, Yarmouth Past and Present: A Book of Reminiscences. Yarmouth Herald, Yarmouth NS, 1902. 681 pp.

    [2] Paul Thibault, “Yarmouth’s Street Railway,” Yarmouth (N.S.) Vanguard, Tuesday, 5 April 1994, p. 10B.

    [3] I thank archivist Lisette Gaudet, of the Yarmouth County Museum and Archives, for providing access to the photographs and archival material concerning the Yarmouth Street Railway Company. All photographs labeled Yarmouth County Museum and Archives (YCMA) are copyrighted. Please contact the Archives if you would like to acquire a photo.

    [4] My thanks, as always, to Wilfred Allan for permitting me to display digital images of his postcards.

William Day (1 January 2014)