Following the BCER

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In the days gone by, the British Columbia Electric Railway (BCER) operated an extensive network of street cars and interurbans throughout Metro Vancouver. Now that automobiles rule the road, the paths forged originally by their railed counterparts have shaped our communities without many of us giving a thought to it.

Central Park Line

Central Park Line at Edmonds
Central Park Line at Edmonds

When SkyTrain was constructed in the early 1980s, the most appropriate path for what is now the Expo Line, was along the old BCER Central Park Line. The right-of-way started in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side from Georgia Street, south onto Campbell Avenue and then east along Venables Street. Street cars would then run south along Commercial Drive before turning south-east along Vanness Avenue towards Burnaby. The tracks would then run parallel to Beresford and Prenter Streets looping around Connaught Heights and then following Stewardson Way east into New Westminster.

Trackage can still be found through the north-eastern portion of Central Park and adjacent to the Edmonds SkyTrain station in Burnaby.

Burnaby Lake Line

The Burnaby Lake Line branched off from the original Central Park Line due east crossing major roads like Nanaimo Street, Renfrew Street and Boundary Road. The tracks followed a serpentine path through Burnaby, along the southern edge of Burnaby Lake and then looping south into New Westminster. The route is familiar to many – the Trans-Canada Highway traces most of the original right-of-way.

Marpole Line

One of the more memorable lines paralleled most of Arbutus Street in Vancouver’s west side. The original route started from behind the Molson brewery next to the Burrard Street Bridge and curved down Fir Street onto West 6th Avenue running west towards Arbutus Street. The tracks then turned south through Kerrisdale alongside Arbutus Street and then south-east around Quilchena Park at West 33rd Avenue and Pine Crescent. The route continued south-east bordered by the East and West Boulevards after breaking away from Arbutus Street to end up in Marpole south of Marine Drive at Oak Street.

The rails are still prevalent in the Kerrisdale area with some portions turned into community gardens.

Car 1207 at Granville Island station
Car 1207 at Granville Island station

Lulu Island Line

The tracks extended across the north arm of the Fraser River into Richmond on Lulu Island, running all the way south to canneries in Steveston on the river mouth.

Westminster-Eburne Line

This right-of-way connected the Marpole Line with the Central Park Line in New Westminster. The tracks ran east along the north arm of the Fraser River in proximity to Marine Drive in Vancouver, and Marine Way in Burnaby. The Westminster-Eburne Line route is still in use today by the Canadian Pacific and Southern Railway of BC for freight operations.

Fraser Valley Line

Fraser Valley Line at Kennedy
The Royal Hudson steams up the Fraser Valley Line near Kennedy.

Interurbans used to travel from Vancouver out to Chilliwack in the Fraser Valley. The tracks crossed the Fraser River into the Brownsville part of North Surrey and turning south to wind up the hill into Kennedy Heights. From there, the route ran south-east through Newton and down into Cloverdale before going east through Langley. Further east of Langley, the rails meandered across the valley into Abbotsford, down south to the Canada-USA border at Huntingdon and then back north-east towards the terminus in Chilliwack. Much of the track is still in use today, with western portions owned by the Southern Railway of BC, Canadian Pacific and Canadian National.

Where are they now?

While most of the cars have been retired and scrapped, a few are still riding the rails. Cars 1231 and 1207 are under the care of the Transit Museum Society (TRAMS) in Vancouver. These two historic cars are usually operating between the Granville Island and Olympic Village stations during summer weekends. Car 53 is a retro seating option in the Old Spaghetti Factory in Gastown. The Burnaby Village Museum is home to refurbished car 1223. Two other cars, 1225 and 1304 are maintained by the Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society in Surrey. Finally, the company behind it all, BCER, exists now as the Crown Corporation BC Hydro.

Sources: The Transit Museum Society, Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society, Burnaby Village Museum, The Buzzer Blog

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