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The Halifax Street Railway 

Don Cunningham & Don Artz (Nimbus)

Originally coil-bound and self-published by the authors in 2000, this photo-heavy book shows how the growth of electricity's delivery and usage---the business of the grid---was entangled with public transit for almost 100 years of this city's history, from 1866 to 1949.

The authors offer more of an economic history than a social one. They detail how companies were created and consolidated, championing the financially connected people who always sat at the top calling the shots. (By comparison, local government fares poorly in the authors' view. In 1912, the city's "onerous regulations" kept a company from expanding in size and beyond the city's control. A meddlesome municipality? Sounds familiar.)

The two Dons also chart changes in streetcar models, lengths of track, schedules and passenger loads. Too often, they're descriptive and not analytical in their approach. For example, the authors only flick at social history, considering the impacts of the Halifax Explosion, the two world wars and VE Day riots on the system. But they don't get into the everyday social and economic factors that influenced ridership. Who could afford to use it? What communities were first and principally served? What neighbourhoods were underserved, ignored? How does the period covered in this book connect with the condition of public transit today?

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