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Streetcar 356: Winnipeg's Last Remaining Wooden Streetcar

Article by Laura McKay and Roshanie Balkaran, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg Corp.
To follow up on this or any other articles on the blog, contact Heritage Winnipeg's Executive Director.

Streetcar 356, believed to be the last remaining wooden streetcar built and used in Winnipeg.
Streetcar 356, believed to be the last remaining wooden streetcar built and used in Winnipeg.

Back in the Day

October 20, 1882 - The Winnipeg Street Railway Company (WSRC) opened for public use, using horse-drawn streetcars. The tracks originally ran only along Main Street, but were soon expanded along Portage Avenue to the west, St. John's College to the north, and to Broadway to the south.

Featuring the various types of transit that have been used in Winnipeg
Border features the various types of transit that have been used in Winnipeg.
1885 - By this time, the single line of tack used by the horse-drawn streetcars was proving inadequate. A high volume but efficient transit system was sorely needed.

January 27, 1891 - The first electric streetcar took to the tracks in Winnipeg. Land developed in the area of what is now Osborne Street by WSRC President Mr. Austin provided the extra passengers necessary to make an electric transit system viable.

Electric streetcar on Portage Avenue
Electric streetcar on Portage Avenue

October 1909 - Streetcar 356 was completed in the Winnipeg Electric Railway Company's (WERC) Fort Rouge Shop on Osborne Street and released as one of a group of four "Standard 10 Winnipeg Cars". These comprised of streetcars 356-362 (even numbers) and were similar in design to the earlier "9 Window Cars". A standard streetcar at the time was a two-man operation with enclosed front vestibules for the motorman (no public access). The rear vestibules were without doors and bulkheads on the front and back protected the streetcar from the weather. Passengers got on and off at the rear, while a conductor roamed the interior collecting fares with a hand-held fare box. The car body was covered in narrow matched strips of cherry wood filled with oil, rubbed down and varnished in its neutral colour. Above the belt rail (located below the windows), the exterior woodwork was painted cream, while the window sashes were given a natural finish.

Between 1914 & 1915 -  Streetcar 356 is refurbished into a Pay As You Enter (PAYE) car, with doors and a conductor's station being installed on the rear vestibule. The conductor stayed at his station and manned a permanent fare box secured there.

Streetcar tickets
January 24, 1920 - Streetcar 356 is once again released for service after being upgraded a second time. It was rebuilt into a "low floor car" through the replacement of the original GE 80 motors with smaller GE 258s. The wheels were also changed, swapping out the 33" diameter originals for smaller 26" wheels. These changes made it necessary to modify the doors to include a folding step mechanism and a front exit for passengers was installed. At the same time, the original Sleeman Bulkheads were changed to a HB Lifeguard variety. Cherry wood was no longer available to make necessary repairs, so modifications were made using basswood and the colour of the car body was changed to a dark Tuscan red along with the window sashes.

1955 - Streetcar 356 is retired from service and sold for scrap. All of the metal components (including the truss rods, trucks, wheels and the motor) were removed and sold as scrap metal, while the body of the streetcar was sold to a private individual for $100 and was left at Springfield Road at Panet.

The last day for the WSRC - September 20, 1955
1980 - The Old Market Square Association purchases Streetcar 356, intending to restore and display it in Old Market Square but this was not considered feasible. Instead, Heritage Winnipeg acquired Streetcar 356 until restoration facilities could be obtained, taking ownership and responsibility for the car and its restoration. Due to the threat of vandalism, temporary housing was negotiated by Heritage Winnipeg at the Winnipeg Hydro's Mill Street Substation.

1989 - Streetcar 356 is moved to storage in the Winnipeg Transit Fort Rouge Garage.

Streetcar 356 is transported

1996 - The Midwestern Railway Association obtains permission to house and restore the streetcar. It is currently housed on temporary freight trucks at the VIA RAIL CANADA Union Depot.

September 19, 2010 - The film Backtracks: The Story of Winnipeg's Streetcars (view this video on the Streetcar 356 website) is shown at Cinematheque in Winnipeg as a Heritage Winnipeg fundraiser for the continued care and restoration of Streetcar 356.

Streetcar 356 back in the day - and what it will hopefully look like after restoration

"Little 356" - The 1/8 Model of Streetcar 356

This project was started in the Summer of 2012 by model engineer Dianne Best, as a 1/8 scale model of Streetcar 356, fitted for use on a 7.5" gauge track. Model engineers create working scale models of various machinery, etc.
Photos and information used with the permission of creator, Dianne Best.

The manufacture of the wheels and axles beneath the streetcar.

Constructing the walls of the streetcar, with the wheels already in place beneath the floor.

Starting to look the part! Ash was used for the car framing while Baltic Burch was used for the sheeting.

The interior after its first paint job and the installation of a portion of the roof.

Painted model pictured here with the Motorman's Car.

 To keep the interior open for detailing, a Motorman's car was designed to be pulled behind. The batteries and control electronics are located in the riding car, which has space for the operator in addition to passengers.

The exterior of the streetcar with its plank-like detailing.

And with the decals for authenticity.

The functional trolley bell on the Motorman's car!
An antique trolley bell was purchased from a California dealer, then mounted on the front of the Motorman's car. The bell is completely functional, activated by a foot bell used by the operator.

"Little 356" made its debut appearance August 22, 23 & 24, 2014 at the Manitoba Live Steamers and Model Engineers Open House. Rides were enjoyed by members and guests on the Friday, and then by the public on the Saturday morning. Unfortunately, by noon on Saturday there were some mechanical issues with the car and it had to be withdrawn from service for the rest of the weekend.

Plans are in place to start on the interior this fall, so stay tuned on Dianne's website and the Streetcar 356 Facebook Group for updates!  

Interested in the details? Check out Dianne Best's website, with detailed information on each stage of the "Little 356" project!


Historical streetcar's restoration off the rails (Winnipeg Free Press, 2010)
Restoration of Streetcar 356 on Facebook 
Restoration of Streetcar 356 Website
Streetcar 356 Backtracks Fundraiser Trailer (2010)
West End Dumplings Blog Article on Streetcar 356

Interested in helping out with this project?
Donate to Heritage Winnipeg or offer your services as a volunteer!

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