• Lawrence Herzog

Edmonton's taxi pioneers

Updated: Mar 2

Originally published May 3, 2014

Edmonton’s taxi tradition goes back more than 100 years to the days of the horse and buggy. Even before the arrival of cars, enterprising entrepreneurs were running horse-drawn carriages as shuttles from local train stations to the Queens Hotel and the Alberta Hotel at Jasper Avenue and 98th Street.

Hotel buses and taxis waiting for train at Strathcona Station, 1906. City of Edmonton Archives, EA-10-1273.

The invention of the automobile made quick and reliable service possible, and June 2, 1913 marked the beginning of operations for Edmonton Taxi Company, the city’s first. The Edmonton Bulletin reported the “inauguration of taxis in this city” with a front page photo in its June 3, 1913 edition.

An accompanying story on page seven had this to say: “Yesterday taxicabs made their debut to Edmonton with the arrival of the cars for the Edmonton Taxi Co. with headquarters at the King Edward [Hotel at 101st Street and 102nd Avenue]. The cars are driven by liveried chauffeurs and a large taximeter is placed so as to be always in view of those riding within and the cars are electric throughout.”

The trailblazers were joined just a month later by the Capital City Taxicab Company, which boasted Brewster green limousines built by the White company. Startup was delayed until July 29th, 1913 by a backlog of orders for the cars, reported a story in the July 30th edition of the Edmonton Bulletin.

“Owing to the heavy rush at the White factory our original full order of ten cars, which were to have been here nearly a month ago have been delayed but we have the assurance of the company that the rest of the compliment will be here any day,” manager G.L. Ellis was quoted as saying. “It is the intention of the company to have cars standing at all the convenient places in the business section of the city.” One car was to be on permanent stand at the company’s Purvis Block head office at Jasper Avenue and 101st Street.

Taxis at Hotel Macdonald, 1918. City of Edmonton Archives, EA-10-1238.

Each car had a Jones taximeter system, and customers were charged 50 cents for the first half-mile. Large swiveling electric searchlights were installed on the car hoods, “similar to the headlight on a boat,” to help drivers locate street numbers on dark nights.

The third comer to Edmonton’s fledgling taxi industry was the Phoenix Taxi & Auto Company, which started in September 1913 with a garage at 630 102nd Street and a head office at 14 Jasper Avenue, next to the Selkirk Hotel. In short order, the company had four taxicabs and four 1914 Hudson six-cylinder touring cars in service.

“In addition to the prompt service, day or night, the firm lays particular stress upon keeping all of the cars and taxis in prime condition,” reported a story in the History of the Catholic Church in Central Alberta, published in 1914. Phoenix Taxi was managed by Keith J. Tailyour, an energetic and ambitious Irishman who arrived in Edmonton in 1902.

City taxis outside Macdonald Hotel, 1919. Glenbow Archives, NC-6-4853.

Tailyour was one of Edmonton’s taxi pioneers who went off to fight in the First World War and then returned to see and recognize emerging opportunities in air transport. He, along with John “Jock” McNeill, E. Owens, R.L. Green and Peter McArthur, incorporated the Edmonton Airplane Company in 1919, and began providing air shuttle services into northern Alberta.

McNeill started Twin City Taxi in 1920 as part of his Twin City Transfer empire. It was to become the Yellow Cab franchise, and a slogan in his downtown office declared “the thinking fellow calls a yellow.” Twin City Transfer was renamed McNeill Van and Storage, with the taxi fleet a branch of the firm.

Other taxi pioneers included Jack Hays, who started his company with just one car on May 24, 1914. His Jack Hays Taxi Company operated into the 1950s from the Selkirk Hotel at 10056 101st Street. Hays also became manager of Empire Taxi and Auto Livery, with five- and seven-passenger touring cars and heated limousine taxis.

Jack Hays Taxi Cabs, Edmonton, 1923. Glenbow Archives, ND-3-2227.

Despite the efforts of manufacturers like Henry Ford to bring the cost of automobile ownership down so that there would be a Model T in every driveway, not everybody could afford a car. Taxis became popular for short trips across the city and to move goods.

Drivers had to contend with vehicles that would often break down, overheat and blow tires on the young city’s rough roads. And there were other hazards, too.

“Edmonton cab drivers report a rash of bad fares,” reported a 1915 story in the Edmonton Journal. “Well-dressed persons” were engaging cabs for hours-long tours of the city and then disappearing “without paying up.”

By the mid-1920s, Edmontonians had more than a dozen taxi providers to choose from and most also offered “transfer services” to move baggage and household possessions. United Auto and Taxi Company, Diamond Taxi, Dollar Taxi, Big 4 Taxi and Blue Line Taxi were some of the choices of the day.

Canadian Motors Limited, lineup of Dollar Taxi Cabs, Edmonton, 1925. Glenbow Archives, ND-3-2789.

With the end of World War II and the discovery of oil near Leduc, Edmonton boomed – and so did the taxi business. When Grey Line Taxi installed two-way radios in local taxis in 1949, it was big news.

Arcade Taxi, at 10033 Jasper Avenue, not only ran cabs but also rented “single or tandem bicycles” from its office at 10033 Jasper Avenue. Acme Taxi and Bill’s Taxi both operated from dispatch offices at Jasper Avenue and 97th Street, Black & White Cabs was located at 9803 Jasper Avenue, and Grey Line was at 9922 Jasper Avenue.

Alberta Avenue was serviced by Avenue Taxi, headquartered at 9341 118th Avenue. Yellow Cab, a dominant company in the market by then, had its dispatch office at 10019 104th Street.

Into a male-dominated business drove two women, both veterans discharged from the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) in early 1946. Miss Alice Charles and her best friend in the army, Miss Jessie Stevens, drove army station wagons and staff cars while stationed in Canada and overseas, reported a story in the May 23, 1946 edition of the Edmonton Journal.

“For a couple of young women just getting on their feet again after a little over four years in Canada's forces, forming a taxi business is an ambitious undertaking,” the story said. They started their West End Taxi Service from Alice’s parents’ home at 11142 129th Street -- and then moved to 11015 127th Street on June 1st.

Their one car, painted black, was adorned with a yellow maple leaf on the front doors, similar to the patch they wore in the CWAC while overseas. “At first they contemplated on whether to open a coffee shop as was their initial ambition or to go ahead with a taxi outfit,” the story stated. “The latter won out and Edmonton now has its first taxi service entirely operated by women.”

Billy Watson chats with Zane Feldman, manager of the Blue Diamond Taxi Company. City of Edmonton Archives, EA-600-4312b.

As Edmonton’s population exploded in the 1950s, more than two dozen new companies popped up to answer the demand. There was South Side and Scona Taxis, headquartered in the Park Hotel at 10423 Whyte Avenue; Imperial Taxi at 11068 95th Street; Black & White Cabs at 9803 Jasper Avenue; and Park Taxi at 9112 Whyte Avenue, just to name a few.

The west end was serviced by a handful of operators in Jasper Place, including Barrel Taxi at 14901 Stony Plain Road and Reliable Taxi at 15106 Stony Plain Road. Beverly had its own taxi service, too, fittingly called Beverly Taxi, with an office at 4317 118th Avenue.

It was well before the days of mobile phones and GPS, and cars were dispatched by two-way radio. Drivers found their way through the ever-growing city using maps and compass, and fares were calculated by mechanical meters hooked to speedometers.

Over the last 100 years, fares have increased ten-fold and technology has bounded ahead. But the smart idea of affordable, convenient door-to-door transport has never gone out of style.

© 2020 Lawrence Herzog. All rights reserved. Article may be reproduced with permission of the author.

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