Sunday streetcar service — petition was signed by prominent residents opposed to its implementation

by Bruce Cherney (part 2)

Manitoba’s Lord’s Day Act of 1898 made it “unlawful for any merchant, tradesman, artificer, mechanic, barber, workman, labourer or other such person to sell or offer for sale or to purchase on Sunday any goods chattels or other personal property or any real estate whatsoever or to do or exercise any worldly labor, business or work of his ordinary calling ...” on Sunday.

Of course, there were exceptions, such as railway operations between Manitoba communities and beyond, delivery of mail, selling of medicine or other “necessities.”

The city’s own Sabbath Day Bylaw of 1889 also placed restrictions on what services could be offered on Sundays. A leading citizen who signed the 1902 anti-Sunday streetcar service petition was Thomas “Shoe King” Ryan, a deeply-religious former Winnipeg mayor who was responsible for the city’s Sabbath Day Bylaw (nicknamed the Ryan Sunday Bylaw).

Other prominent residents signing the petition were Manitoba Attorney-General Colin H. Campbell, and Dr. Joseph Sparling, a cleric and principal of Wesley College, who later helped to arbitrate an end to the 1906 streetcar strike. 

Dr. George Bryce, an author, educator and theologian, wrote a letter dated April 2, 1902, to the Manitoba Free Press objecting to the proposed change on the grounds that it would disrupt the quiet Sundays existing in the city, which he claimed was the envy of visitors. Opponents feared crime would be transferred to quiet areas of the city by lawbreakers riding Sunday streetcars. 

In common with commentators on the age of industrial “robber barons” and their monopolies, Bryce considered Sunday streetcar service an expansion of the great power the Winnipeg Electric Railway Company (WERC) already exerted at the alleged expense of the people.

“The prevailing danger of our age in Anglo-Saxon countries is the formation of vast companies and trusts to make money,” Bryce added. “I do not say the street car company is a heartless company ... but I say that in the present instance their money interests appear to be against public morality, and against the interests of the community of labor.

“Instead of increasing the hours of labor, I would like to see them shortened,” added Bryce. “I would certainly by word and pen support a movement for giving workingmen a Saturday half-(day) holiday.

At the time, all workers typically laboured 10 hours a day, six days a week, with Sunday being their only day off. In the case of streetcar employees, their work day could run beyond 10 hours a day as they were required to complete all their runs before returning the cars to the barns at Assiniboine and Main and booking off. Delays, such as a streetcar jumping off its tracks, invariably increased the working hours of employees for which they received no additional pay.

The streetcar workers were among the strongest critics of Sunday streetcars, believing such a change to their work schedule would rob them of a day of rest and add to their hours of labour.

A “Hardworker” writing to the labour newspaper, The Voice, on December 5, 1902, said a vote for the Sunday streetcar bylaw “is to vote in favour of enslaving fellow workingmen.”

While in Winnipeg, Ralph Smith, the MP for Nanaimo, B.C., and a former president of the Trades and Labour Council of Canada, offered his opinion against Sunday streetcar service: “Any public support given to the companies in favor of street railway service on Sunday, is public influence lending it itself to a cause of opposition (of labour).” 

Smith said those agitating for such service are “of the same spirit as that which seek to extend the hours of labor, or lessen the wages of the producers for the comfort and a little convenience to the rest of the people.”

Union officials cited the case of Detroit, Michigan, where Sunday streetcars had been operating for years. According to the union, streetcar motormen and conductors in the American city often worked five or six weeks without a day off.

As to be expected, other extremely vocal critics were the city’s clergymen, who firmly believed in the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy, which they interpreted using Christian doctrine to be Sunday.

Rev. J.J. Roy,  in a lengthy sermon  delivered at St. George’s Anglican Church and reprinted in the Free Press on December 1, 1902, claimed “the Protestant view of Sunday, as it exists, in the creed of the church and her authorized formularies, with the exception perhaps of Lutherans and Roman Catholics, may be summed up as follows ...  The Sabbath is a Divine Day ... It is a positive moral law ...(It is) designated the Lord’s Day (which) requires the day to be wholly devoted to the exercises of public and private worship.”

Those living in the suburbs had the most to gain and generally favoured the passage of the Sunday streetcar bylaw.

“The possibility of being able to go in and out Sunday without hiring a cab would make it possible for many citizens to live along the banks of the rivers in St. James and Kildonan,” according to a report in the Morning Telegram on December 6, 1902,  “who now because of the distance from church and other facilities are forced to live at a shorter distance and in a central part of the city.”

The report, quoting an unnamed source, who was “a large property owner and old resident of Winnipeg,” said property values in the suburbs would increase if the bylaw was passed.

When questioned by a Telegram reporter, Alderman (today’s councillor) Robert Barclay said he was against Sunday streetcar service. “But I think that the citizens, who are fighting the bylaw, are so unreasonable in their attitude and their statements, that instead of killing it, they are helping it through.”

Barclay denied Winnipeggers weren’t part of the consultation process, adding that the bylaw asking for the public’s opinion was in itself a consultation.

“Are the opponents of Sunday street cars opposed to permitting the will of the people to govern in the matter?” Barclay asked.

Barclay need not have worried about opponents inadvertently helping the passage of the bylaw. Those opposed to Sunday streetcars carried the day on December 9, 1902, and the referendum failed at the polls by a 2,370 to 2,166 vote. The only wards where a majority favoured Sunday streetcar service was the South End suburban Ward 1 (home to the city’s elite) and Ward 2, which encompassed the downtown business core. Wards 3, 4, 5 and 6,  primarily comprised of working-class neighbourhoods, strongly opposed the bylaw. Wards 5 and 6 were in the North End, while wards 3 and 4 were in the city’s West End.

The Free Press asserted that the defeat of the bylaw was a surprise, and could be attributed to the well-oiled organization of the opposition and the lack of such by those who favoured Sunday streetcars. 

The newspaper commented that many felt “Winnipeg has not yet reached the period in its history where Sunday street cars are a necessity.”

The defeat of the bylaw meant the question of Sunday streetcars could not be put to Winnipeg voters for another three years, a condition placed upon the city by the provincial government that had not been requested by city council or the WERC. 

In early April 1905, Alderman James Cunningham Gibson took up the cause of Sunday streetcar service in a motion, seconded by Alderman Henry Fry, proposing to approach the WERC to discuss the terms required for such a service and then to place the matter before Winnipeg voters through a referendum bylaw. 

The motion was passed by council despite strong opposition by some aldermen.

“We are breaking faith with the people,” claimed Alderman James Gerald Latimer, who voted against the motion. “This matter is out of order and cannot be considered until the three year term is up.”

Gibson replied that no rush was intended and the negotiation process with the company would take time and only after the completion of these negotiations would a referendum bylaw be placed before voters.

Whatever the objections, the wheels to reconsider Sunday streetcar service had been put in motion. The ensuing debate would reintroduce all the old arguments used in 1902. 

On May 29, 1905, a committee made up of Gibson and Fry reported on the results of negotiations with the company, which agreed to operate streetcars on Sunday provided the WERC no longer had to carry 53 postmen for free (they would continue this practice only until August 12). In return, the company would cancel the double fare between 11 p.m. and midnight and give half fares on Sundays to children under 12. The company also agreed not to oblige its motormen and conductors to work more than 60 hours per week.

A postal letter carrier protested the inclusion of the clause singling out postmen in a June 2, 1905, letter to the Telegram. “Will the people of Winnipeg be satisfied if their delivery is thrown hours behind and in some cases put off till the next day?” he asked.

“This will certainly be the result, for it is out of the question that we, on our small salary of an average of $1.75 per day, can afford to pay six or seven (street) railway fares a day. It cannot be done. Surely the citizens will not put up with this state of affairs simply for the benefit of the theatre-goers. Will not some influential citizens take up our cause?”

Ottawa had passed an amendment to the Post Office Act in 1904 which provided an annual sum of $50 to help defray the transportation costs for each postman in communities where streetcar service was not provided to them for free.

The dailies pointed out that the concession granted to the company by the city would not place an undue burden on the postmen as a result of the passage of the amendment.  

The Voice claimed the annual sum for each letter carrier was paid to the streetcar companies across Canada rather than the individual postmen. “It may be taken for granted that when the city drops the postmen from the street railway charter, the Dominion (Canadian) government will secure them free transportation, and they will neither benefit or suffer from the change.”

The double fare between 11 a.m. and midnight was a contentious issue at city hall and among the public. A January 1905 letter to city council from T.L. Waldon outlined the problem. He and his wife had boarded a Portage Avenue line streetcar at the Canadian Pacific Railway subway at 11:45 p.m. and were charged the double fare. At the corner of Portage and Main, the couple was told to disembark, as the streetcar would not be going any further that evening and it was time to return to the car barns. The Waldons were obliged to walk the remaining distance to their home in Armstrong’s Point.

Alderman Frederick Cox had discussed the matter with WERC manager Wilfred Phillips, who explained the streetcar schedule. The alderman said if the company followed the schedule closely, there would be no reason for complaints. It was the conductor’s duty to inform passengers when the streetcar service was about to end and go to the barns, according to the explanation given by Phillips to Cox. 

City council also expressed concerns over the scheduling and number of streetcars plying routes at other times of the day. At the time, the WERC had nearly 100 streetcars travelling over 30 kilometres of tracks. 

The city had the authority to fine the company $10 for each breach of their agreement. On a motion by Alderman Christopher Campbell, the city engineer was instructed to send inspectors out to check the service being provided and fine the company for breaches of the agreement.

A lawyer for the city said the wording of the agreement between the city and the WERC made it difficult to say whether the company had breached its agreement with regard to the service between 11 p.m. and midnight.

When discussing the negotiations with the company at the council meeting, Gibson said the terms were not completely favourable, but he believed they should be accepted in order for the city to have Sunday streetcar service as soon as possible.

Latimer told council the public had not agitated for Sunday service. He claimed not to be against the service, but “believed in standing by the will of the people,” according to a May 30, 1905, article in the Telegram.

The alderman also hinted that Gibson favoured the service because he had shares in the WERC.

“A vote of those who have a right to vote on such a question would give an overwhelming majority in favor of the cars,” commented Alderman Moses Finkelstein. “Ald. Latimer hears the reverse. He should read the papers. Possibly he is always in Sunday school.”

“This voice of the people business is all bosh,” alleged Alderman Frederick Cox during the council meeting on the report. “The very men who voted against  cars two years ago would vote for them now.”

“This report,” said Fry, “was a plaster to draw discussion and it did. The double fare was a ‘saw off’ and the half fare is all the concession that can be got. The city wants the cars, and delay will raise such clamor that we will be forced to give them to the people this year or next and the company will turn around and hold us up for concessions.”

The committee report was carried by a narrow 6-5 vote, resulting in Sunday streetcar service clearing another hurdle. The next hurdle was to actually prepare the bylaw for presentation to the people.

Opposition had changed substantially since 1902, with many clergymen — although not all — reversing their previous stand and accepting what they believed to be inevitable. As the debate progressed, it seemed that the city’s clergymen were almost equally divided on the issue.

A delegation of clergy and union men appearing before city council, reported in the Voice on June 16, 1905, indicated the question of Sunday streetcars was only for the people to decide, as it would effect “the home, the business man, and was too wide an issue to be settled by a few representatives on council.”

Mayor Sharpe outlined to the delegation the evolution of the legislative procedure governing Sunday streetcars. He said the provincial government took the matter out of the hands of council by enacting legislation 10 years earlier “that cars should not run on Sunday within the province.” Sharpe said the province included the Sunday restriction in the company charter, although neither the WERC or the city had requested its inclusion.

The mayor “objected to a body composed ninety per cent of farmers dictating to the city in that way.” At the time, seats in the legislature were heavily skewed in favour of rural voters at the expense of urban voters. In fact, Sharpe was correct in pointing out 90 per cent of the MLAs in the legislature were from rural ridings.

Sharpe said the change made by the province to allow votes on the question of Sunday service every three years “was better, but still not satisfactory.”

He said citizens should be able to vote on the question “this week or any other week.”

As mayor, Sharpe said he would not sign a Sunday streetcar service bylaw until the question was decided by the people in a referendum. 

Personally, Sharpe said he had not voted in favour of Sunday streetcars in 1902, and mused that the city might be just as well off without such a service.

But, “let the people decide,” he told the delegation.

Archdeacon Fortin, the rector of Holy Trinity Anglican Church, said he was opposed to Sunday streetcar service some years earlier, but changed his opinion by closely monitoring such a service in Toronto.

He said in the practical application of Sunday streetcar service, sufficient evidence of disorder didn’t

exist to counteract the benefit to the community.

The archdeacon said many people unable to attend church on Sunday due to distance would attend once streetcar service on the Lord’s Day was adopted. He told a Telegram reporter on May 13, 1905, such service would be “a valuable adjunct to the religious life of the community,”  

Father Louis Drummond, the rector of the Collège de Saint-Boniface said the experience of Catholic congregations in cities with Sunday streetcars was that it increased church attendance and believed that would also be the case in Winnipeg.

“Those who oppose Sunday cars are consciously or unconsciously favoring the rich at the expense of the poor,” the Jesuit priest said in a May 13, 1905, Telegram report, “since they tolerate Sunday carriages and automobiles, which the rich alone can use, while they condemn Sunday cars, which will be a boon, especially to the poor.” 

Even Rev. Frederick Du Val, who had earlier opposed Sunday streetcars, had a change of mind, declaring: “Sunday cars are a necessity in Winnipeg (Free Press, February 5, 1906). They should be inaugurated in the interests of the citizens.”

Students at Wesley College (now University of Winnipeg) chose Sunday streetcar service as a topic for their first debate. According to an October 25, 1905, report in the Free Press, the debate revolved around the question of the city’s moral welfare. Apparently those favouring Lord’s Day streetcars handled this aspect rather well, as the judges awarded the victory to those supporting Sunday service.

A delegation from the Lord’s Day Alliance appeared before city council on January 18, 1906, objecting to Sunday streetcars. W.A. McIntyre claimed Sunday streetcar service had not been included as an issue in the civic election held the previous December, and should not be part of a special vote prior to the next civic election. Since such a service hadn’t been placed before the people in December, he said the council didn’t have the right to introduce the bylaw.

Mayor Thomas Sharpe expressed the opinion that a city of 100,000 citizens should have the right to put the matter to the people in a special vote. The only provision he had was that a satisfactory agreement needed to be reached with the WERC before asking voters for their  approval.

The bylaw to be placed before eligible voters was prepared and presented to council at a special meeting on May 29, 1906. It was passed  by a slim 7-6 vote.

Immediately, the Winnipeg Trades Council stressed its opposition.

“The labor men will fight this bylaw at the polls and will defeat it,” vowed W.H. Reeve, president of the trades council. “We have not the least doubt of our ability to accomplish this.”

Reeve also claimed labour would be organized to defeat the alderman

supporting the bylaw if they chose to seek re-election in the up-coming civic elections.  

The Ministerial Association and the Winnipeg Trades Council joined forces to oppose the special vote on the bylaw.

“We do not know their secret minds,” said Rev. A.E. Smith at a  June meeting establishing the joint committee, implying the existence of some ulterior movement from the WERC, “and it is a remarkable thing  that certain of the aldermen seem to spend the whole of their spare time bringing the matter of Sunday cars to the attention of the citizens.”

He included the alderman in the conspiracy, sarcastically saying he

didn’t know their motive, but “they seem to be very public-spirited men.”

Further opposition arose during a mass meeting at Selkirk Hall on June 25. Reverend P.C. Parker told the audience that William Mackenzie, the president of the WERC, was a dictator, who, through his various business interests, owned too much of the city, and thus didn’t require the further privilege of Sunday streetcar service.

W.R. Trotter of the Winnipeg Labour Council accused city newspapers of a “conspiracy of silence” on the contentious issue. He said the company was bringing electric power to Winnipeg from Lac du Bonnet in defiance of city council, which was an illustration of the necessity of not

doing business with the WERC except under “cast-iron” agreements.

A vote taken at the meeting was nearly unanimous in its condemnation of the Sunday streetcar bylaw, with only two people disassociating themselves from the vote.

As the referndum approached,

opponents intensified their arguments to sway the public to their cause.


              (Next week: part 3)