More than 4,700 visitors arrived on the first two cruise ships of the 2023 season to dock in Prince Rupert on May 3 and 4. Each passenger had the opportunity to partake in the city’s most recent tourist attraction offered by the new Olde Time Trolley Company.
The wheel-chair accessible, 36-seat red and green street cars are ringing the trolley bell of interest as they trundle around the city.
The fleet of eight trams and staff of 18 offered a sneak peek of its tour route to city residents, previewing the historical sites and places of note around town on April 29. The 90-minute ride, offered free on the day, entertained passengers through Prince Rupert streets, circling from Atlin Terminal at the waterfront.
The idea for street cars was born back in November 2022 after it was acknowledged there were necessities needed to develop tourism in the city and the cruise ship industry mentioned that transportation gaps were required to be filled.
Tourism Prince Rupert also noted the transportation deficit for visitors, James Warburton, owner and operator of the trams, said.
“It was identified that [there was a lack of] transportation connecting tourists to see the best parts of Prince Rupert [with] a way to explain why Prince Rupert is a good place to live. I think this is a critical piece to convincing people that there’s more than just Safeway and Walmart.”
The trolleys were one of those unique experiences that ticked all the boxes, he said, where there is something interesting to ride and that can tell a story.
“You can transport people wherever they need to go, to connect on the tour or to another destination,” he said, adding the shuttle service will also deliver people from various parts of town.
Warburton said the search for trollies started in Ontario and took him to Chicago, where a trolley company had folded during the pandemic. The trollies were in good shape and were admissible to Canada through a “fairly simple” import process. He went looking for four land vessels and came home with eight.
He took his eight-year-old daughter with him on the trip. It was made a family memory as they had to build the loading ramps themselves for the trams to be ladened on the back of transport trucks for the road journey north of the border.
“We actually went to Home Depot and we picked up a bunch of two-by-twelves, some nails, hammers, screws and all that kind of stuff. We built the center ramps and we built our own loading dock in the middle of the yard. Then we drove the buses up the ramps onto the back of the different trailers.”
The aluminum body trollies were built by the Molly Corporation on a 2008 Ford motorhome chassis and are capable of travelling at highway speeds. The Old Time Trolley Company is the second owner of the vehicles.
Because the vehicles had been sitting for a while, some updates were required, such as new brakes and tires. To pass federal and provincial inspections, the signage inside the buses needed to be bilingual. They also painted the outside of the trollies, sanded and re-varnished all the bench seats.
“New new audio equipment was added as well to make sure there’s good quality microphones so the tour can be delivered properly. we took out anything that was faded in and old looking and just put in some nice new looking touches to make them look shiny.”
The staff of more than 18 will work year-round, albeit the busy is the six months of the tourist season, Warburton said. For the month of May, the touring trams will be available just on cruise ship days to vessel passengers. However, in June, they would like to be open every day and include the public.
“To be very clear, as well, too. It’s not just for cruise ships. We plan to be open to tourism and in between the cruise ship days as well. So we’re working out a way that we can sell tickets and schedule all that,” adding prices of tickets still needs to be worked out.
He plans to expand the tours with the trollies available for special events and private functions and said there has already been inquiries about wedding transportation. Also in the works for later in the summer is the design and scripting of a second tour delving deeper into the darker side of Prince Rupert’s history titled “Brothels, Bootleggers and Blood.”
Warburton said the tour will give locals a different understanding of the town and will show visitor why Prince Rupert is loved so much.
“We just really want this to help develop Prince Rupert as a destination for tourists because I think there is so much to offer here. It’s a special place. When you come back to Prince Rupert, you choose to be here, so you just look at it in a totally different light.”
The Northern View reached out to Tourism Prince Rupert for comment but no response was received.