Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

What happened to Vancouver’s CCF Brill Trolleys

with 6 comments


Photo by Keith Freeman

Brill trolleybuses at Sandon BC

Photo by Keith Freeman used with permission

Unbelievably there are now six of them in Sandon BC (that is in addition to those that TRAMS has here.)

The story of these buses as told on the page I have linked to misses a curious and human element. Something odd happens to men when they reach a certain age. They start lusting after small open British sports cars, or steam engines, and in one case I know of, a complete full size theatre organ that got rebuilt in the spare bedroom of a small semi-detached house. A couple of senior people at Transit actually used public funds to gratify their obsessions. One shelled out $1m for the refurbishment of an interurban car and another (David Stumpo first CEO of Coast Mountain Bus Company) decided that Vancouver should have a fleet of restored Brill trolleys running around downtown. The bankrupt scrap dealer who had stored them since they were withdrawn in 1984 in a yard in Surrey, was finally dispossessed of his property. The fleet of trolleys (which had featured in that strange The X-Files tv series, so surreal was the image of all those old trolleys forlornly waving their poles at the sky) was destined finally to be broken up, but Stumpo stepped in. Many were completely beyond repair, but he thought that it would be possible to make a working fleet out of the better ones with parts scavenged from the rest. Very few people agreed with him – and he departed from CMBC soon afterwards, mainly due to his mis-handling of the bus strike.

His actions, however, had saved the fleet from the torch and some enthusiasts have managed to hang on to some of them, though too many to all be restored. But the longer they last the more desirable they become, I suppose. I doubt they will now ever see public service again but perhaps some more will get put into museums.

By the way, the idea of selling on old trolleybuses abroad is not that far fetched. Some of the later examples of London’s double decker fleet ended up in Bilbao after they were withdrawn (they were then only about ten years old). Until the advent of electronic control systems, very little changed in trolleybus technology and some things could be reused. Electric motors for example can be rewound and put back into service. Toronto’s old fleet of trolleys was rebuilt and kept going long after diesel buses would have been scrapped. Edmonton’s current fleet is of advanced age. They just don’t build them now like they used to. And in a city like Vancouver where there is not much salt on the roads in winter, vehicles do last longer.

BC Hydro 2332 on route 19 at Main and Broadway July 1970

Written by Stephen Rees

June 30, 2007 at 10:10 am

Posted in transit

6 Responses

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  1. I use to ride buses on sundays w a child pass for25¢. The old brills were so common in the 1970 s, id get all excited when a new bus comes along. Now I miss the old brill trolley buses & and love to find articles & pictures of them. They are forever lovingly in my memory of simpler times


    March 5, 2013 at 3:02 pm

  2. Im surprised that someone hasne’t converted a Brill bus to a food truck in downtown Vancouver. I remember the busses fondly from my childhood and taking the buss to school.


    March 6, 2013 at 2:31 pm

  3. Jeff, do you have any pictures of them? I too love them, they are a part of my youth. I am an artist now, and would love to do a series, but need reference material. Here’s really hoping. Otherwise I may have to take a trip to Sandon.

    [Moderator’s note: this comment has been lightly edited to remove some typos]

    Julie Mai

    September 21, 2013 at 8:41 am

  4. I completely agree with you that something odd happens to men when they reach a certain age. My dad craves for cars and he cannot live without his car. He spends his entire weekend in his garage cleaning and repairing his car body parts.

  5. I love the Brill Trolleys and in fact drove the bchydro/be transit fleet for 43yrs and each one that Mr Wright rescued in Sandon I piloted around greater Vancouver transit needs to rescue #’s 2408/2414/2415 because the heritage workers use #2416 restored. for tourist use now — they have the facility and the necessary workers to get the job done — I helped do the restoration work on trams #1225 and #1304 at the Cloverdale shops — Mr Wright needs help and tourism BC and heriTage society can do it this stock is in good salvagible condition — my thanks for your foresight Mr wright only wish that I could assist in this mission of restoraton (sad to say I am 77 yes old and am keen in heart for the project)
    Roberta Anaya

    Roberta c Anaya

    December 4, 2021 at 10:15 pm

  6. The example I think we should follow is that of San Francisco, who keep a marvellous heritage streetcar fleet going – as well as the beloved cable cars – not just for tourism but also functional local service. We could not even keep the Olympic Line going!

    Stephen Rees

    December 5, 2021 at 3:09 pm

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