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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Montreal’s first traffic light

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Red means stop; green means go: It’s just about the only thing that people across North America can wholeheartedly agree upon. They are such a structuring element of our environment that it’s hard to believe that some of our grandparents have been around for longer than our traffic lights.

On November 16th 1927, The Montreal Gazette reported on the first traffic signal in Montreal, in front of the Craig Street Terminal, on what is now the corner of Saint-Antoine and Saint-Urbain.  Each day, 25,000 pedestrians crossed Craig street to enter the terminus during evening rush-hour and 256 street cars would leave the station during between 4:30 and 6:30 pm.

Naturally, juggling pedestrian, automobile and transit traffic in downtown Montreal was a complicated task from the start:

“In this case it is not east-west traffic versus north-south traffic, but street cars versus automobiles,” the Gazette reported, “Lights, bells, traffic constables on Craig street, and tramways officials inside the terminus collaborate on the system.”

“When street cars are ready to move out, bells ring and two red lights go on, giving traffic officers outside the signal to change the traffic movement. An officer on the sidewalk turns on the Craig street red light, which is also the signal for three traffic constables to stop motor traffic. As every second is valuable and the periods of time for each flow of traffic vary…automatic signals are said to be not feasible”

However, it seems that Westmount was ahead of Montreal in the traffic light department: earlier that year, a Gazette article about attempts at creating uniform traffic laws throughout Canada included a mention of traffic lights on Sherbrooke street:

“At present, red, green and amber are the colors uniformly used in the United States, and these colors are to be retained. These are familiar to Montrealers because of the light signal experiments being conducted in Westmount on Sherbrooke street.”

“An endeavor is now being made to have pedestrians observe the light signals just as do the drivers of vehicles…Jay-walkers are almost as bad as jay-drivers.”

I guess that when it comes to actually respecting traffic signals, some things have never changed…



  1. In this view from 1932, looking west on Craig, a small ‘traffic signal’ can be seen near the top on the pole next to the streetlight on the corner to the left.

    The signal is ‘camouflaged’ by the background and can be seen just ahead of the rear door on the green two-man streetcar turning into Craig Terminus.

    Note wording ‘Montreal Tramways Company’ cut in stonework on top front of Terminus building.

    Once a busy place to visit, and where older school students had to go to get their photos taken for the photo ‘Streetcar Pass’ cards which you showed to the chauffeur, Conductor or the Motorman when buying and using student-fare tickets.

    Sample Pass.

    As the photo office at Craig Terminus was open only during business hours, a student from NDG had to take time off school and travel downtown on Route 48, St. Antoine, a great way to spend the school day with permission to do so.

    Thank You.

  2. A Post Script.

    I was interrupted and neglected to mention that there is a lower ‘traffic light’ signal on the same pole in the Craig Terminus photo.

    Here is more information regarding the laminated photo-ID cards we, as students, required to purchase and use lower-cost ‘School Tickets’.

    ( A youth who was not attending school and did not possess the student card would have had to pay Adult Fare. A GROUCHY Chauffeur would ask for a student’s card if he thought the student looked too old to be using School Tickets and delay everything including the passengers standing out in the rain.

    In that era, Motormen, or their Conductors, and Autobus Chauffeurs sold tickets to the passengers, he ‘buying’ them from the Company as he came on duty.

    Streetcar tickets, like postage stamps, came in many styles, colours and prices covering fare zones, adults and students.

    Riders could pay cash.

    An astute Motorman would take his ticket and change dispensers when leaving the car temporarily, at the Terminus, lets say, as he would be out-of-pocket if they went missing.

    He also tore off and punched paper Transfers and handed them out as required. The colour of the ink on the Transfers was changed on a regular basis, the top of each transfer could be removed or left on depending on the time of day.

    The sounds, in a quiet car, of the Motorman dumping the collected coins and tickets into the fare box bin and he punching out transfers for the next trip were an accustomed sound to the riders. )

    Beforehand, the teachers gave each student a small wallet-sized printed cardboard form with a blank square spot for a photo image in the top right corner.

    The card having the student’s information typed on it at the school Office. The cards were issued in the fall and showed two years on their face, as 1956-1957, then 1957-1958.

    A Photographer visited each school where students were sent one-by-one in alphabetical order from each class to the Gymnasium where they handed the preprinted card to the Photographer who placed it in a special holder.

    The student was directed to a mark and a photo taken which imposed his image and the card together on the negative inside the camera.

    The film was processed and the laminated photo cards sent to the schools where they were handed out to the students.

    If there was an error, the student had to travel to Craig Terminus to have a new photo card made up, as I did.

    Memories and their elasticity from long ago.

    Thank You.

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