A day trip to The Capilano Suspension Bridge is today, as it was 100 years ago a fine excursion for the family. Nowadays, to get there from Lonsdale Quay is a five kilometre, 25 minute journey on transit bus and by car a bit quicker. The truth is, even 100 years in the past, this trip was only slightly more difficult yet immensely more scenic.
The trip began by paying a nickel and boarding the B.C. Electric Railway Company Number Three streetcar at the foot of Lonsdale Street. The BCERC operated electric street cars throughout the Vancouver Lower Mainland and in North Vancouver alone had three lines, the first coming into operation in 1906. The main route (Number 1) ran directly up the middle of Lonsdale Avenue. There was a rail siding to accommodate street cars passing in opposite directions at 15th Ave, with the line terminating at Windsor Rd. The Route Number 2 track departed the Lonsdale ferry dock and made its way to the top of Lynn Valley Rd. ending at Dempsey. There was and still is, a substation and street car barn at St.Davids Ave between 3rd and 4th Streets. The car then made its way East along 4th before turning North on Queensbury and continuing right up through the middle of Grand Boulevard and on to Lynn Valley.
To access the Capilano Suspension Bridge, The Number 3 car turned West at 1st Ave and Lonsdale before heading up Mahon Ave. to Keith Rd. Here the track turned 270 degrees to the left and descended Keith Road hill. The foot of the hill at Mission Creek (near the present day gas station) was the original terminus of the Number 3 in 1906.
To continue on to the Suspension Bridge the Capilano Extension of the line was approved in 1910 and its route involved a fair deal of political wrangling. The Heywood-Lonsdale family of England were in the midst of planning a subdivision in soon-to-be Hamilton Heights and desired that the new line pass through. The logical route for the Capilano Extension would have been to continue along Marine Drive and crossing Mackay Creek with a low bridge before turning North on Mackay Ave, the developers however offered to build a high trestle with their own money nearer to their development. As well, the Heywood-Lonsdale family donated the land that is now Heywood Park (across Marine Dr. from Capilano Mall).
The trestle bridge across Mackay Creek was at 21st Street spanning 450 feet between Fell Ave. and Mackay Ave on the far side. The impressive, 98 foot high structure completed the extension of the line in 1912. Once on the West side of Mackay Creek the line turned slightly North before continuing West along 22nd through the pioneer community of Capilano (current day Pemberton Heights). The Capilano Line ended at MacLeod’s General Store and Post Office situated at Bowser, North of 23rd Street at the former School Street. The actual location currently and sadly sits directly under the westbound lanes of the Trans Canada Highway near the Capilano Rd. exit, the store having been demolished when the freeway was constructed in the early 1960’s.
A century ago, upon arriving at the General Store, one would have a one kilometre walk to the Suspension Bridge up Capilano Rd. There is still evidence of the original stairway cut through the trees where Capilano Rd. curves just before the traffic lights at Ridgewood. By the mid 1920’s, Norman MacLeod, the Postmaster and general store proprietor, had acquired a car and could be persuaded to drive tourists to the bridge for an extra fifteen cents.
The Capilano Line operated for the last time on September 30, 1943 after the McKay trestle had been condemned. The entire North Vancouver street car system was shut down on April 23, 1947 in favour of bus transportation. There is still evidence of the old trestle structure across Mackay Creek in the form of concrete footings on the east side of the Creek as well as the cut through the trees currently used as a hydro right-of-way.
Standing on Fell near 21st Ave looking east there is an obvious gap in the forest and it’s easy to imagine a street car from the Lonsdale ferry dock still rumbling along the long-since-gone wooden bridge.