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Saskatoon Streetcar Celebrates 100 Years

By Collections Curator Ruth Bitner
February 2013

Saskatoon Municipal Railway barns, c. 1914.
SMR #12 is second from right.
City of Saskatoon Archives, 1075-006-04

Six shiny new streetcars set out on the inaugural run of the Saskatoon Municipal Railway (SMR) on January 1, 1913. SMR #12 was one of them. Some 5200 passengers, nearly half the city’s population, rode the new streetcars that day, a remarkable turnout considering it was the dead of winter.

Saskatoon was in the midst of a boom, and as in other western cities, electric railways were built to fill the need for public transportation. The City of Saskatoon bought 12 single-truck, double-end streetcars from the St. Louis Car Company of St. Louis, Missouri for its new electric railway. Each car carried 32 passengers and cost $5082. SMR #12 is the only surviving car from the original fleet. In fact, very few streetcars of this period have survived anywhere in Canada.

City of Saskatoon logo on SMR #12
WDM photo, 2001-S-548

SMR #12 spent its entire working life in Saskatoon. Long-time Saskatoon residents tell stories about riding the original "puddle jumpers." SMR #12 was retired in 1949, about the time that trolley buses were taking over. A buyer from California shipped it to Sacramento where it ended up at the Western Railway Museum in Rio Vista Junction.

The Long Road Home

SMR #12 was far from its Saskatoon home for almost 50 years. In the late 1990s, a small group of Saskatoon ex-patriots learned that SMR #12 was for sale by its California owner. The group bought the streetcar and donated it to the Western Development Museum.

On June 17, 1999 SMR #12 rolled into Saskatoon aboard a semi-trailer. The entire car had been shrink-wrapped to protect it from the wind, prying hands and other dangers of the road. As the cocoon was stripped away, the Saskatoon sun shone once again on SMR #12. It was home to stay.

SMR #12 in its shrink-wrap cocoon arriving
at the Saskatoon WDM, June, 1999
WDM photo, 2001-S-548

Looks May Be Deceiving

The streetcar is remarkably complete, especially since it is 100 years old. While the outside is weathered and some of the glass is missing, the mechanical systems are near-original and complete, even down to the trolley wheel and pole. The original rattan seats, though brittle, are present and the original wood-panelled interior and decorative details have not been destroyed by modern renovations. Even the City of Saskatoon crest can still be seen on the side of the car. Some of the original surfaces have been painted over, but artifact conservation experts can remove the surface coatings to reveal what lies beneath.

Treasured Survivor

SMR #12 is a treasure for Saskatoon, for Saskatchewan and for all of Canada. That one of the original fleet of Saskatoon’s streetcars has survived is remarkable in itself. That it is so complete is little short of a miracle. We invite you to stop by and see this 100-year-old treasure at the Saskatoon WDM. You will find it at the far end of the Transportation Gallery, near the model railway exhibit.

Saskatoon Municipal Railway ("SMR") Car #12 statistics:

Builder: St. Louis Car Company, St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A.

Order: No. 947 Year: 1912 Cost: $5,082.00

Type: Single-Truck, Double-End

Capacity: 32 Passengers

Construction: Eight Side-Window Steel Body, with Arch or "Turtle" Roof

Length: 34 feet, 4 inches Weight: 27,000 pounds

Electricals: Westinghouse 101-B2 Motors (40HP) and K-36 Controllers

Truck: St. Louis-type, with 34" Wheels

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