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Windsor streetcar number 361 - Date unknown Photographer unknown.
11 August 2017
Mayor Hopes to Restore and Display Century Old Streetcar


Windsor Ontario - Mayor Drew Dilkens stares up at a hulking, ramshackle, old streetcar, its steel rusted, its wood panels rotting, and many components missing entirely, and is stirred by its connection to Windsor's history and its untapped potential.
 
"This is one of only three remaining in the world, cars that were in Windsor," Dilkens said Thursday as he inspected the old streetcar and expressed hope that it can be restored and put out on public display, perhaps along the riverfront, as a testament to Windsor's place as the first Canadian community with electric streetcars.
 
"It's one of those things that's extremely authentic to the City of Windsor's history," Dilkens said of number 351 car, which was discovered inside a cottage in Belle River a decade ago and purchased and moved by business partners Van Niforos and George Sofos.

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Windsor streetcar number 351 - Date unknown Photographer unknown.

They had plans to restore it and make it a feature attraction at the restaurant they're developing in one the two heritage buildings they own, former repair barns for the Sandwich Windsor & Amherstburg Railway (SW&A), on University Avenue West.
 
But several weeks ago, contractors building the roundabout in Sandwich uncovered old streetcar tracks, and Dilkens eagerly asked that two 50-foot sections be set aside.
 
Then he approached Niforos and Sofos.
 
"Van and George own this asset and I've had a conversation about the city acquiring it, but we don't have a firm deal," the mayor said.
 
"But I have a firm commitment, which I'm very appreciative of, that they don't want to see this leave the community."
 
Dilkens is currently gathering information on the project, "and if it makes sense we'll go to city council."
 
He doesn't think it's practical to get it running again.
 
Instead, it would be on display somewhere with a plaque explaining Windsor's electric streetcar history.
 
"Perhaps this is something you put up close to the Ambassador Bridge on our waterfront and sell ice cream and food from it," he said, suggesting it could be a destination for people walking and cycling westward on the riverfront trails.
 
It's so early in the process, he hasn't yet looked into possible grants from the federal and provincial government.
 
He noted that this is the city's 125th anniversary, a great time so he can make the pitch to city council.
 
He doesn't yet know what it would cost to acquire and restore.
 
On Thursday, a world-renowned auto restorer who is currently restoring a 1938 dining car, dropped by to give his advice.
 
"It's lots of work," said the expert, who asked to not be identified.
 
When asked about its potential, he said, "It can be fabulous."
 
Number 351 was built in 1918 in Cincinnati and operated in New Jersey before it was one of 20 purchased and brought to Windsor in 1926, said Bernie Drouillard, a local streetcar historian who would love to see the streetcar restored, mounted on those tracks, and put out on display to showcase Windsor's transportation history.
 
Drouillard was called to examine the unearthed track and identified it as 100-pound rail, which was used on the suburban line that stretched from Windsor to Amherstburg, rather than the city lines that used lighter 80-pound rails.
 
Drouillard said there were electric rail lines also running to Tecumseh and Kingsville/Leamington.
 
"Over 100 years ago we had regional transit, and today we're still talking about it," he said.
 
The rail sample he saw was stamped with a 1929 date.
 
The electric streetcars were replaced by cheaper-to-run buses around 1938 or 1939 and were sold off.
 
Some were moved to areas near the water and used as cottages.
 
That's probably what happened with number 351.
 
In fact, a cottage was built around it, so it took some sleuthing to locate it.
 
Of the two other known Windsor streetcars, one's been restored and is on display at a museum in Kennebunkport, Maine, and the other is unrestored, probably in worse shape than number 351, at the Halton County Radial Railway in Milton.
 
The three are all that remain from 220 streetcars that operated here between 1886 and 1939.
 
Sofos said he and Niforos have received calls from other museums offering to buy number 351, but they want it to stay in Windsor.
 
"It's an incredible part of history," said Niforos, who said many people don't realize that Windsor had the first successful streetcar system, not just in Canada, but in all of North America.
 
To get the streetcar, they had to tear down the house and then haul the streetcar, 54 feet long and almost 10 feet wide, on a 56-foot flatbed to the former streetcar barns, which were built in 1891 and 1896.
 
The SW&A was operated by the forerunner of Ontario Hydro and became the municipal bus system, which was renamed Transit Windsor in the 1970s.
 
The electric streetcars ran on Tecumseh Road, Wyandotte Street, Ouellette Avenue, Parent Avenue, College Avenue, Lincoln Road, Seminole Street, Erie Street, and the Sandwich line that ran down University Avenue.
 
Windsor was also the first place in Canada to run an electric bus, with poles and wires but with rubber tires, starting in 1922.
 
"We've got quite a history of transportation here in the city," Drouillard said.
 
Brian Cross.

Quoted under the provisions in Section 29
of the Canadian Copyright Modernization Act.
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