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by R.L.Kennedy

Public transportation in Canada dates back to the 19th Century when stage coaches and steam ships provided the only public transportation. Stage coach travel was rugged and slow, with long distances being an arduous and tiring journey over primitive roads, subject to delay and often impassible in muddy weather. Overland travel was best in winter when the ground was frozen. Travel by water was better for much of the year until winter froze the rivers.

The coming of the railways in the mid-to-late 1800's changed all this for the better. Not only was it possible to travel much farther and faster in relative comfort, it soon became possible to reach far more places without riding on horseback or walking. Far more significant was the ability for farmers to ship their crops to farther away towns and cities, while rural and village residents were able to buy manufactured goods produced in far away places rather than put up with the often inferior locally-made goods.The two-way effect was better prices for all parties. Travel by steam locomotive hauled trains lasted from 1836 to 1960 when diesels took over. In between there were many electric interurban railways. These lasted from 1893 until 1959, finally driven out of business by buses, but mostly by the private automobile which had also greatly affected railway passenger trains.

Cities and towns used horse-drawn omnibusses (origin of "bus"), which were versions of stage coaches, in the beginning before tracks were laid for streetcars, also pulled by horses. Electricity changed all that in the late 19th Century, powering streetcars and interurban cars connecting rural and urban areas throughout Canada.

The coming of the automobile changed things forever. No longer were people forced to travel when the railway scheduled its trains. Convenience, comfort and privacy, replaced the public transportation system for a majority of the travelling public. Dependable and affordable automobiles for the average person along with better and better, year round highways and a more mobile society brought about changes delayed only by the Great Depression and World War II restrictions. The airplane also affected travel to a great deal, while it is primarily public, (few people can afford to own their own airplane), both trains and buses lost business to them.

Public transportation remains most common in big cities where it is simply not possible to get along without buses, streetcars, subways and commuter trains. The latter reach out into the suburban areas and farther away cities and towns, as more and more people live a longer distance from their work. Streetcar and bus companies were mostly privately owned for many decades. Increasingly it became more and more difficult for private owners to make a profit. This compelled municipalities to take them over in order to improve service, public transportation being essential to its growth and prosperity. The railways got out of commuter services and even inter-city trains, leaving them to various government agencies.

Public Transportation in Canada

This web site will look at some of the private bus operators in different parts of Canada, the most unique of which were those operated by the very companies that also operated steam and electric railways. Canadian National had the most extensive operations located many parts of Canada. Canadian Pacific also had a number of operations including full-fledged highway motor coach lines. Ontario Northland alone remains in the highway service, but perhaps not for much longer.

Railway operators

Canadian National Transportation: Highway and local bus service.

Canadian Pacific Transport: Local bus service.(Link)

Ontario Northland Bus Lines: Highway coach service.

Quebec Central Transportation: Highway coach service.

Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo Rwy: Local highway service

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