If one of your New Year resolutions is to check out more of the Lower Mainland’s great local attractions, now is the perfect time to visit the Steveston Tram. The free-entry Moncton Street pavilion––housing a beautifully restored century-old interurban tramcar––has just unveiled a new permanent exhibit.

Using authentic artifacts, evocative photos and hands-on features, the fascinating display charts the rise and fall of the surprisingly extensive transit network the tram once operated on. But as we discovered on our visit, the new exhibit isn’t the only reason to hop aboard this unique, family-friendly heritage attraction.

Onboard tramcar 1220. PHOTO CREDIT: John Lee.

Illuminating Timeline

Mounted on an interior wall, the backbone of the new exhibit is a timeline depicting how the Vancouver to Steveston route––one of five electric interurban rail lines that once serviced the region––solved the problem of the arduous five-hour stagecoach trips between the two communities.

Launched in 1905, the fast, modern tramcars enabled farm and cannery employees to reach work easily and Steveston locals to hop to Vancouver on shopping trips and nights out. Produce and livestock were also packed onto the trams, helping Richmond producers to access markets around the region.

According to the timeline, car 1220—the tram now housed in the pavilion––was built in St. Louis in 1912. It spent decades trundling passengers to and from Steveston, part of a busy regional network that, by the 1940s, had grown to 72 cars and 140,000 annual passengers.

The purpose-built pavilion housing the tram. PHOTO CREDIT: John Lee.

Unfortunately, that was the system’s peak. By the 1950s, vehicle ownership and cheaper bus services killed off the interurban system. The final service sashayed into Steveston in 1958, crammed with nostalgic passengers––there’s a great photo on display showing this highly decorated “last tram.”

Photo of a functioning tram car taken in May 1957. PHOTO CREDIT: Steveston Heritage Sites

Most of the old tramcars were quickly scrapped. But somehow car 1220 escaped. Discovered in a Mitchell Island warehouse in 1992, its painstaking, multi-year restoration culminated in the opening of the Moncton Street pavilion in 2013––with the shiny yesteryear car as the star attraction.

New Artifacts

Alongside the timeline, a collection of evocative artifacts has also been added. We loved checking out the rail spikes, tram tokens, a 1950 employee badge, a 1914 tram whistle and a handsome clock of the type that would have hung on the wall of every station on the network.

Evocative artifacts have been added to the pavilion. PHOTO CREDIT: John Lee.

There are faded signs here from several of these old stations––including Steveston, Trucks and Woodward’s––plus a 1950s hat worn by a motorman (aka tram driver). And if you’re wondering how much it cost to travel on these old tramcars, a fare poster from the line’s final years indicates that an adult one-zone fare was just 13c.

A display depicts old tram ticket designs. PHOTO CREDIT: John Lee.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the new exhibit is a huge interactive map, with push buttons lighting up the five main lines and the stations that operated on them. As well as the busy Vancouver to Steveston service, it was possible to ride the tramcar rails out to Burnaby, New Westminster and even as far as Chilliwack.

A huge interactive map shows the five main lines of the old interurban system. PHOTO CREDIT: John Lee.

Bring the kids

Since day one, the pavilion has done a great job of making this a family-friendly attraction––which explains why you’ll often find wide-eyed young Thomas the Tank Engine fans here. These junior visitors can try on kid-sized motorman costumes (hats included) and also check out hands-on brake levers, bell cords and a conductor’s coin changer.

Lego fans of all ages will also enjoy a special scale model display that was recently added to the pavilion. Built by Richmond Lego expert Peter Grant, it’s a clever and colourful recreation of an interurban tramcar parked alongside a tram barn.

Restoration Project

Rebuilding the pavilion’s full-size tram took a little longer than a Lego model, though. Next to the timeline, another newly installed display uses photos and artifacts to show how an army of dedicated volunteers and conservation professionals toiled for countless hours to restore car 1220.

A vintage motorman hat on board the tram. PHOTO CREDIT: John Lee.

From bouncy seats to brass newspaper holders, parts of all sizes were replaced, renovated or fabricated from scratch before the tram could be painted and polished to its former glory. Now when you climb the stairs and step inside, the tram’s interior feels like walking into a glowing, glass-and-wood jewelry box.

Hop Aboard

Like travelling back in time, car 1220 is lined with vintage adverts proclaiming the wonder of old-time products from Eaton’s tea to “corn-dodger” shoes. There are also cabins at each end where you can peruse the tram’s chunky, mechanical controls––and the tiny stools where the motorman perched.

Vintage adverts line the tram’s interior. PHOTO CREDIT: John Lee.

We also love the mini-displays tucked between the seats. One shows the chickens and milk churns that rode alongside passengers. And the other explains how the last tram of the day left Vancouver at midnight, with Steveston revelers clambering aboard and strewing peanuts shells from the snacks they’d bought at the station. Not surprisingly, this late-night service was known locally as the Peanut Special!

The trams transported more than passengers. PHOTO CREDIT: John Lee.

If you go:

The Steveston Tram is at 4011 Moncton Street in Steveston Village. It is open noon to 4pm Tuesday to Sunday from January 3 to May 19 and from September 5 to December 31. In summer (May 20 to September 4), it is open every day from 10am to 5pm. Admission is free.

Last Updated on January 26, 2023 by Tourism Richmond