Today there’s scarcely a trace of them, but for years countless Haligonians relied on Birney electric streetcars to get around the city. They were small, single-truck vehicles, much lighter than conventional streetcars. Mass produced during the First World War, they were relatively inexpensive and sold by the thousands.

They only required a single operator, with no need for a conductor—an attractive feature because of the labour shortage during the war. Many cities began to sell off their fleet after the war, due to their low passenger capacity and light weight, which caused them to often derail and easily get stuck in snow.

But Halifax loved those cars. Their light weight and twin motors were ideal for the city’s steep hills. Halifax originally bought 24 Birney cars from the American Car Co. in 1923. Prior to 1923, Nova Scotians drove on the left side of the road, requiring the original Birney cars to have their doors moved to the opposite side of the car when the province switched to the right. Halifax bought eight more from the Toronto Transit Commission in 1927.

Photo: NS Archives

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Halifax’s Birney Cars carried nine million passengers yearly. During the war, that grew to 31 million passengers per year, requiring the purchase of an additional 23 cars.

By 1949, Halifax was operating 86 Birney cars.  With many cities selling off their Birney fleet, Halifax was able to get an additional 62 cars second hand over the years. Halifax eventually ran a 100% Birney fleet consisting of 86 Birney cars.

Birney Cars ran in Halifax until 1949, when officials replaced them with trolley buses. By 1969, those trolleys were gone as well, as the transit authority moved to a motor-bus fleet.

Halifax Magazine