This photo shows the Manitoba Hotel omnibus parked on Main street. The horses are tied to a telephone pole and the driver is nowhere to be seen. Note the characteristic roof bulge, designed to provide headroom for passengers walking in the aisle between the two bench seats which ran along the sides.
Winnipeg had a regularly-scheduled bus service up and down Main Street for one day in 1877, but prospects proved to be so dismal that it shut down the same day as it was launched.
Winnipeg's horse-drawn street railway began operations in 1882 and removed any need for a regular bus line, but the omnibuses probably commanded a larger share of the train passenger business than cabs did. Pictures of Winnipeg's railway stations prior to the First World War show far more omnibuses than cabs waiting for passengers.
Ham McMicken started the North West Omnibus and Transfer Co. in 1877 or 1878 and ran omnibuses to and from the C.P.R. station in St. Boniface as an adjunct to his freight operations. Until a railway bridge was constructed, Winnipeg passengers had to cross the river by ferry to St. Boniface. The railway line ran south to to the U.S. border, where it linked up with the St. Paul & Pacific Railway.
A visiting Englishwoman described a trip to the St. Boniface station in 1880:
"This morning, at about 6 A.M., the omnibus arrived and conveyed me for quite a long drive round and round the city, calling at all the hotels and several private houses, and finding none of the passengers ready. They all came out very coolly, saying, "Wait a few minutes," and then the driver would either wait, calling out "All aboard" at intervals, or go somewhere else, and career round again over the prairie to fetch them. We began to be afraid we would lose the train. Any ordinary train would have been lost, but this one waits till every one is ready, so at last we bounced down on the ferry, nearly sending a waggon into the river, and went over to St. Boniface."
As soon as he took over the Connell & Burke stable, McMicken strung a direct telephone line across the river to the station so that passengers could wait in relative comfort until advised of the train's imminent departure.
McMicken soon had competition from local hotels, which began sending their own omnibuses to the station. The brightly painted vehicles were rolling advertisements for the hotels, and the drivers touted aggressively on behalf of their rival establishments.
Picture source: Provincial Archives of Manitoba, Stovell Advocate Collection, 99.
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Revised February 13, 1998