2024 Marks CUTA’s 120th Year

Published January 25, 2024.


Our journey began in 1904 with the founding of the Canadian Street Railway Association in Montreal. In 1932, we adopted the name we proudly use today. Initially, our focus was on privately-owned transit systems. As we evolved alongside municipally owned systems, our scope diversified. We are now engaged in addressing modern challenges such as traffic congestion, integrated mobility, and the expansion of public transit for sustainable urban living.

Throughout 2024 we will celebrate the innovation and achievements that have shaped Canada’s public transit industry throughout its history.

A Historical Exploration of Urban Transit in Canada: CUTA’s First Decade – 1904-1914

 The rapid expansion of industrialism and urbanization in the late 19th century necessitated efficient urban transportation. Reflecting on this historical timeline deepens our appreciation for the evolution of the Canadian transit landscape during the first decade of CUTA’s inception and its enduring impact on our country’s development.

Canada’s role in the development of electric utilities was underscored by the creation of the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario in 1906, marking it as the world’s first publicly owned electric utility. However, this wasn’t the only electric innovation of the era.

The adoption of electric railways in the late 19th century marked a significant shift in public transit. The introduction of the trolley pole made the electric power supply both efficient and safe, reducing reliance on animal-powered transportation.

Canada was among the early adopters of this transformative technology. Windsor led the charge in 1886 with the establishment of Canada’s first electric railway line along a 2.4 km track. The momentum gained quickly, with Vancouver, Winnipeg, Montréal, Hamilton, and Toronto following suit into the early 1900s. The Edmonton Radial Railway, established in 1908, became North America’s northernmost streetcar system, a title it still holds today, showcasing the nation’s commitment to advancing urban transit.

Amid the rise of electric railways, the Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA), originally known as the Canadian Electric Railway Association, was founded in Montréal in 1904. It played a crucial role in coordinating and advancing the development of these systems nationwide. By 1914, a total of 48 Canadian cities boasted urban railway systems.

The early 20th century saw Canada undergoing substantial cultural and sociological transformations, particularly as the shadow of the First World War loomed large. Despite challenges and labour struggles faced by railway workers, such as the Fraser River Railway Strikes in 1912, organized by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the nation pressed on. As Canada joined Britain in the war effort on August 4, 1914, the transit landscape faced new challenges and implications for transportation networks, impacting resources and priorities.

As a result, the entire government machinery shifted focus to the war effort. All aspects of Canadian industry and trade, including food, clothing, and fuel, came under special regulations. Over time, the expenses of supporting the war escalated, leading to shortages.

Nevertheless, the decade saw significant milestones. The completion of the National Transcontinental Railway in 1913, which had begun construction in 1903 and ran from Winnipeg to Moncton via Sioux Lookout, Kapuskasing, Cochrane, and Québec City, was a notable achievement. Additionally, the completion of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway to Nechako, BC, in 1914 was a significant milestone.

Canada’s journey in urban transportation during the early decades of the 20th century was marked by innovation, challenges, and significant achievements. From the early adoption of electric railways to the establishment of extensive urban transit systems, the nation’s commitment to advancing transportation has played a pivotal role in shaping its urban landscape.