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The End of Vancouver's Brill Trolley Buses

Bus & Motorcoach History

    In 1947 and 1948, the British Columbia Electric Railway (BCER) purchased a total of 84 "trackless trolley" CCF-Brill T44 buses to initiate Vancouver's first trolley bus routes. At a cost of $21,000 each, the buses were bought from Canadian Car and Foundry (CC&F) of Fort William (now Thunder Bay), who had acquired the rights in 1944 to build buses designed by the ACF-Brill Motors Company of Philadelphia. The CCF-Brill T44 trolley buses (with 44 seats) began working in Vancouver on August 16, 1948. Between 1949 and 1954, 245 of the larger T48, T48A, and T48SP models (with 48 seats) were also acquired from CC&F. Wikipedia states that "With the delivery of the last new Brill trolley bus, in January 1954, Vancouver had the largest trolley bus fleet in Canada, 327 units."

    In 1975 and 1976, 50 Flyer E800 trolley bus bodies were purchased, and the power plants from the Brill T44s were installed in them.

    In 1982, 245 new Flyer E901A/E902 trolley buses were ordered, and the entire Brill fleet was retired. The final day of operation for a Brill trolley bus in Vancouver was March 25, 1984.

    Two months prior to that final day of Brill operation, on January 15, 1984, the North Vancouver Transit System had sponsored a "Farewell to Brill" event. For $18, participants got a buffet luncheon, a tour of the Vancouver bus system on a Brill trolley bus, movies of the old buses, and a slide show.

    In the Summer 1985 issue of Bus World magazine, a brief note about Vancouver's Brill buses appeared. Richmond Steel Recycling Ltd. had been the highest of 10 bids received - a total of $194,640:

Vancouver Brills to be Scrapped. No operator-buyers have been found for the 240 Brill trolley buses replaced in 1983 by new Flyers. Most of the Brill fleet was sold for scrap on March 15 at $811 per bus. A few have been retained for historical value.

    On April 7, 1985, Richmond Steel Recycling operations manager John Logan was quoted in the Richmond Review as saying that he had received "all kinds of inquiries" about the trolleys. He felt that the electrical switching mechanisms might be useful in Mexico's new fleet of electrified buses, but that the first Brill to arrive at the Richmond Steel Recycling yard on Mitchell Island was going to be his toy.

    I have vague memories that the scrap sale fell through and the fleet of buses became a huge thorn in the City's side, but I haven't yet found conformation of that.

    In 2001 and 2002, a total of 6 of the Vancouver Brills were trucked to the remote former mining town of Sandon. With all 3 variants of the T48 models included (but no T44s), they formed the nucleus of what is now the Brill Trolley Bus Collection. An article on GlobalNews BC in 2014 gives more information about the Sandon collection.

    In April 1985, a fellow old-bus fan, Terry Kong, and I went to what had been the Dominion Bridge plant. Terry worked with me at the Overwaitea Foods warehouse in Burnaby, and the Brill buses had been a frequent subject of conversation. When we heard that they had been sold for scrap, we had to go for a look. Terry lived in Burnaby and had ridden on the buses many times - living out in Surrey, I never had. We initially looked at the buses from outside the 10-foot-high chain-link fence.

    Being outside the fence, though, didn't really suit our needs, so when we came to a hole in the fence, we cautiously went through. We didn't know whether there was security or not, but it was a fleet of junked buses - who would care?

    On April 27, 2008, "Jason V" shot this photo of former British Columbia Electric Railway (BCER) 1947 CCF-Brill T44 trolleybus No. 2040. Preserved in Vancouver by the Transit Museum Society, it was seen at the Oakridge Transit Centre (O.T.C. garage/depot) of TransLink. (photo used via Wikimedia Commons)