Yonge Street at St. Clair Avenue, 1922. The TTC was busy in its first few years joining together the various street railway systems together and expanding services. Here, work is underway to extend city streetcar service to Glen Echo Loop and connect with the former Toronto Civic Railway’s St. Clair line. City of Toronto Archives Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 1571
In 1921, the Toronto Transportation Commission was established to provide all transit services within the City of Toronto, on a complete cost-recovery basis. Within the City, there would be a single fare for all regular services, including free transfers, with additional fares for services outside the city limits.
The TTC immediately took over the operations of the Toronto Railway Company and the city-owned Toronto Civic Railways and began to unify the two systems. It bought new equipment, and replaced worn-out rail, carhouses, and other facilities. It introduced the first transit buses to Torontonians, and three decades later, Canada’s first subway.
Toronto’s streetcar system expanded through the 1920s, but stagnated through the 1930s, including the loss of almost all of Toronto’s radial railways. But it wasn’t until 1947-1948 that Toronto’s street railway network entered an era of decline, as trolley coaches, diesel buses, and subways chipped away at the streetcar’s dominance.
By the late 1960s, the TTC was looking to eliminate streetcars entirely by 1980, once the Queen Street Subway opened. Of course, that subway line never opened, and the streetcars remained. It wasn’t until the 1990s, though, that the network entered a renaissance.
Within two years, the TTC quickly modernized the streetcar system. New streetcars — known as Peter Witts — were ordered and the oldest of the Toronto Railway Company’s cars were immediately scrapped. The TTC unified the TRC and Civic systems, replaced the radial railways within city limits with city services, and added new routes such as Coxwell and Bay. The City took over the Toronto & York radials as well, but handed their operation over to Ontario Hydro. The TTC also replaced much of the worn out rails, and built new turning loops at the end of streetcar lines replaced crossovers and wyes. This improved operations and allowed for larger, single-ended streetcars to operate on more routes.
The TTC also introduced buses. In the early 1920s, buses were were slow, small and less comfortable than streetcars, but they had their advantages. The TTC’s first bus route, 1 Humberside, provided a direct, single-fare ride through the South Junction neighbourhood to TTC streetcars at Dundas Street; the Toronto Suburban’s Crescent streetcar line couldn’t compete and was soon abandoned. The TTC also experimented with a trolley bus route on Merton Street and Mount Pleasant Road between 1922 and 1925; it was replaced by an extension of the St. Clair streetcar.
Trolley bus on Merton Street, June 20, 1922. City of Toronto Archives, Series 648, Fonds 227, Item 1
The TTC continued to modernize and expand the street railway network. Through Bloor-Danforth streetcar service between Jane Street and Luttrell Avenue was finally possible with the completion of two railway underpasses in the west end. The Winchester streetcar route was replaced with a direct Parliament service, though the Ashbridge streetcar was replaced by buses after the bridge over Keating Channel was condemned.
The TTC also expanded operations into the suburbs. The Township of York contracted the TTC to operate the former Suburban lines on Dundas West and Weston Road, and to build new car lines on Oakwood Avenue, Eglinton Avenue, and Rogers Road. The Township of York Railways lines required a separate fare. The little-used Schomberg and Aurora spur line was abandoned in 1927.
The Toronto Suburban, owned by Canadian National Railways, was left with a short suburban line to Woodbridge and the Guelph interurban, which had a new high-speed route to Keele and St. Clair.
On the eve of the Great Depression, Toronto’s street railway system was at its peak. The TTC replaced the inner-most sections of the Mimico and Scarborough radials, offering city service as far east as Birchmount Road and as far west as Long Branch, though it charged a suburban fare beyond the city limits. However, the TTC abandoned the short Lambton car between Runnymede Road and the Humber River in 1928, replacing it with buses, and the Woodbridge radial was abandoned in 1927.
In 1929, the TTC operated 23 regular service streetcar routes in the City of Toronto, the Township of York, and the towns of Weston, Mimico, New Toronto, and Long Branch. The TTC also operated 10 peak period routes, three rural radial lines, and several bus routes.
On March 15, 1930, the last Yonge Street radial arrived in Toronto from Sutton. The radials couldn’t compete with auto traffic and coach buses, including the TTC’s own Gray Line Coach service. But on July 17, 1930, rail service resumed as far north as Richmond Hill. The Scarboro radial was cut back from West Hill to Scarborough Post Office at Markham Road, and Canadian National cut the Guelph Line in 1931.
Within the City of Toronto, the TTC cut service levels and eliminated some rush hour “tripper” services, but did not abandon any streetcar routes outright. Through service on St. Clair Avenue from Keele Street to Mount Pleasant Road was finally introduced, and streetcars on the Bay and Dupont routes were re-routed from Avenue Road to new tracks on Davenport Road and Bay Street.
Removing the Scarboro Radial tracks east of Markham Road, 1930. Traffic on Kingston Road (Highway 2) is on left. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 7804.
1935 & 1938
Between 1932 and 1935, the TTC streetcar stagnated, but only the Port Credit Radial was replaced with buses. The remnant of the Scarboro Radial was replaced with buses in 1936.
But in 1938, the first Presidents’ Conference Committee (PCC) streetcars were ordered; they entered service on St. Clair Avenue in September of that year. The TTC was, at that time, committed to operating a large, modern street railway network.
1941 & 1944
The Second World War began in 1939, leading to an surge in industrial employment and wartime restrictions on fuel, rubber, and other products. Transit ridership skyrocketed in most North American cities. The TTC was fortunate to have a well-maintained network, with 190 new PCC streetcars to augment ageing ex-TRC and ex-Civic wooden cars and Peter Witt streetcars.
The TTC abandoned the short Davenport streetcar in 1940, replacing it with an extension of the Oakwood bus. Old double-ended streetcars that served the Davenport route were part of a shipment of aged cars to Halifax, to assist wartime needs there. Otherwise, the TTC was ordered by the federal government to limit the use of buses were possible, and the phase-out of the Sherbourne Car (which was served by buses evenings and weekends) was reversed. Additional rush-hour services were added.
In 1942, a new munitions factory opened in Lakeview, in what is now Mississauga. A short one-kilometre extension of the Long Branch route was built to serve the plant, and was removed in late 1945.
With the Second World War over, the TTC, like most transit agencies, needed to modernize its equipment and infrastructure. Still committed to its street railway, it purchased new PCC streetcars, but it also decided to abandon several carlines in favour of buses. The Sherbourne route was replaced by buses on January 6, 1947.
The first trolley bus route began on Lansdowne Avenue on June 19, 1947, providing new service between Dundas and Queen Streets. Annette followed on October 6, and the Ossington trolley bus began on December 8. The Harbord Car was rerouted off Hallam and Lappin Streets and on to Dovercourt Avenue and Davenport Road, partially replacing the Dovercourt Streetcar. The new trolley bus routes simplified the transit network Toronto’s west end and allowed the TTC to retire some of its oldest equipment.
Trolley bus on Ossington Avenue. City of Toronto Archives, Series 381, Fonds 319, Item 2641-32
The TTC abandoned three more rail lines in 1948: Weston, Spadina, and the North Yonge radial. All three routes required older, double-ended streetcars. The Weston line was replaced by Toronto’s fourth trolley bus route, while diesel buses took over on Spadina and Yonge. During peak periods, St. Clair streetcars continued to operate on Weston Road as far north as Avon Loop (opposite Rogers Road).
Work began on the Yonge Street subway in 1949, requiring many diversions of the Yonge Streetcar south of Bloor, including temporary tracks on residential side streets such as Alexander Street.
Yonge Subway groundbreaking, 1949. City of Toronto Archives, Series 381, Fonds 002, Item 5914-1
1954 was a turning point for the TTC. It opened its first subway line, and it was charged with serving a much larger area.
On January 1, Metropolitan Toronto was created, making up the City of Toronto and 12 neighbouring townships, towns and villages. The TTC became a Metro responsibility and its service boundaries were expanded. The TTC took over private suburban bus operations and rationalized the suburban fare structure.
On March 30, 1954, the Yonge Subway opened, from Eglinton to Union Station. The Yonge and Bay Streetcars were abandoned, but the Dupont car was extended from City Hall south on Bay Street to the ferry docks. Several “tripper” routes were also eliminated. Trolley buses replaced streetcars on Yonge Street north of Eglinton Station; the Nortown route operated on Avenue Road and Mount Pleasant, feeding the subway terminal. Streetcars on St. Clair and Bloor had direct connections to the subway
A few weeks later, on May 16, the Church streetcar was replaced by buses, with the explanation that the subway was drawing too much electrical power. On July 1, The Kingston Road streetcar was cut back from Birchmount to Bingham Loop, to reflect new suburban fare boundaries.
Eastbound Bloor Streetcar loading passengers at Bloor Subway Station, 1950s.
City of Toronto Archives, Series 381, Fonds 321, Item 13171-15.
1957 & 1960
After the opening of the Yonge Street subway, the TTC focused on expanding bus service to Toronto’s suburbs. While the City of Toronto’s population stagnated, Etobicoke, North York, and Scarborough were rapidly growing. Metropolitan Toronto began planning and building new expressways to serve the growing, and suburbanizing population. At the same time, work began on a new crosstown subway line.
Two cuts to the TTC streetcar network were made during this time. In 1957, the Harbord Car was cut back from St. Clair and Old Weston Road to Davenport and St. Clarens, just east of Lansdowne Avenue. This allowed for the construction of a railway underpass, but it foreshadowed the end of the Harbord Car nine years later. In 1960, the Oakwood Car was replaced by an extension of the 63 Ossington trolley bus.
The University Subway opened on February 28, 1963, the first phase of the new crosstown rapid transit line. The Dupont Car was abandoned, and regular streetcar service on Bay Street came to an end, excepting Dundas Cars that continued to loop behind Old City Hall via Bay Street. The 4 Annette trolley bus was extended from Dupont and Christie to St. George Station, replacing part of the Dupont service.
The Bloor-Danforth Subway opened on February 26, 1966 between Keele and Woodbine Stations. Four streetcar lines –Coxwell, Fort, Harbord, and Parliament — were abandoned. The Bathurst Car was shortened and rerouted to operate between the subway and the Exhibition Grounds and the Dundas Car was extended east to Broadivew Station, replacing part of the Harbord service. The Bloor Streetcar was reduced to two short temporary shuttles on Bloor and Danforth to Jane and Luttrell Loops at the city limits.
Westbound subway train at Broadview Station, 1966.
City of Toronto Archives, Series 648, Fonds 205, Item 17
On May 11, 1968, the eastern and western extensions to the Bloor-Danforth Subway were opened, bringing rapid transit to Scarborough and Etobicoke. The Bloor and Danforth streetcar shuttles were abandoned, as was the Dundas streetcar through the Junction, west of Dundas West Station. The western leg of the Dundas Car was replaced by the 40 Junction trolley bus.
In 1973-1974, the Yonge Subway was extended first to York Mills, then to Finch, and the busy 97 Yonge trolley bus was replaced with a basic diesel bus service.
Civic activists successfully reversed the TTC’s plans for the abandonment of the streetcar system in 1972. However, the fleet of PCC streetcars, of which the newest was over 20 years old, was ageing. With a shortage of cars in good condition and pressure from local politicians, one more line would have to be axed: Rogers Road. The last Rogers Road streetcar ran on Friday July 19, 1974, and trolley buses on the 63F Ossington-Rogers Road branch began operating soon after.
Rogers Road at Old Weston Road, 1972. The Rogers Road Streetcar would disappear in 1974.
City of Toronto Archives Fonds 1526, File 72, Item 61
1978 & 1980
The Rogers Road streetcar was supposed to be the last carline abandoned in Toronto, but in 1976, service was permanently suspended on the Mount Pleasant line, the eastern leg of the St. Clair Streetcar. The Metropolitan Toronto Roads Department wanted the streetcars off Mount Pleasant Road for bridge work, and did not intend for their return. The route was replaced by the 74 Mount Pleasant trolley bus.
With the abandonment of Rogers Road and Mount Pleasant, there were only nine streetcar lines left; only seven operated evenings and weekends.
On September 4, 1976, the busy 6 Bay bus route was converted to electric operation, utilizing surplus trolley buses displaced from Yonge Street. The next fifteen years would prove to be the peak of the trolley bus era in Toronto.
In 1978, the Spadina Subway opened between St. George and Wilson Stations, and the 63 Ossington was extended to Eglinton West Station. In 1980, the Bloor-Danforth Subway was extended by one stop to the east and to the west with the opening on Kennedy and Kipling Stations.
The TTC placed an order for 200 new streetcars (later reduced to 196) from Urban Transit Development Corporation (UTDC), a provincial crown corporation created to promote advanced transit technologies. The first of those streetcars arrived in 1977-1978, and began service on the 507 Long Branch route in Etobicoke.
All 196 CLRV streetcars arrived, and an order was placed for 52 articulated streetcars, which began arriving in 1987.
The Scarborough RT, originally designed as a light rail line using modified UTDC streetcars, was opened on March 24, 1985. Instead, the SRT was built as a semi-automated light metro using linear induction propulsion. (The technology was first proposed for Hamilton, and was later installed in Detroit, Vancouver, and in a few other cities.)
The first entirely-new streetcar line, 604 Harbourfront, opened on June 22, 1990. The Harbourfront streetcar, which featured a tunnel under Bay Street to Union Station and a median right-of-way on Queen’s Quay, was first marketed as a rapid transit line, even though it had frequent stops and used rebuilt PCC streetcars.
The PCCs were replaced by CLRVs in 1994 as Harbourfront condo residents complained of noise caused by squealing wheels.
Harbourfront Streetcar emerges from Bay Street tunnel, 1990. A trolley bus on the 6 Bay route is visible in the background. City of Toronto Archives Fonds 1465, File 596, Item 5
In January 1992, the TTC suspended its trolley bus operations. The buses, which were rebuilt with new bodies in the early 1970s, were at the end of their useful lifespans, and the network of overhead wires was neglected. The province, which owned bus manufacturer Orion, was pushing compressed natural gas-fueled buses at the time. Hamilton, which had also neglected its trolley bus system, followed suit and purchased Orion CNG buses.
But the TTC had a lease on 50 trolley buses from Edmonton, so electric service on 4 Annette and 6 Bay continued until July 17, 1993. The overhead wires were removed in 1994 and 1995.
There was one silver lining to the elimination of Toronto’s trolley bus network: it allowed for the logical reorganization of surface transit routes in Toronto’s west end, just as the introduction of trolleys in the 1940s replaced or rerouted several streetcar routes. For example, the 161 Rogers Road bus provides a superior service to the old 63F trolley bus, and the 63 Ossington now serves Liberty Village.
Provincial funding cuts by NDP and Progressive Conservative governments, combined with declining ridership due to a major recession, forced the TTC to make further cuts to its surface operations. All but two of the rebuilt PCC streetcars would be withdrawn from service in 1995, despite construction underway on a new Spadina streetcar line. In 1995, the 507 Long Branch service was abolished, replaced by an extension of the 501 Queen Car.
In 1996, the Spadina Subway was extended one stop to Downsview. Exhibition Loop was re-located behind the CNE grounds, adjacent to the Exhibition GO Station. In 1997, the 510 Spadina Streetcar opened, featuring a median right-of-way.
The City of Toronto was amalgamated on January 1, 1998 and the metropolitan level of government was abolished. In 2000, the 509 Harbourfront Streetcar was created, operating between Union Station and Exhibition loop on new track on Queen’s Quay between Spadina and Bathurst Streets.
Ridership slowly increased, but the TTC was left with fewer than 250 streetcars. Increasing traffic, poor line management, and fewer resources led to a decline in streetcar service quality despite an increase demand and a larger street railway network.
In September 2014, the first of 204 Bombardier Flexity low-floor streetcars began revenue service on 510 Spadina. The 204 new streetcars, larger than the ALRVs, would replace the existing streetcar fleet, and an option for 60 additional cars would cover ridership growth as well as new waterfront streetcar services. Unfortunately, Bombardier has botched the delivery schedule, and as of January 2017, only 30 cars are available for revenue service.
On June 19, 2016, the TTC launched the 514 Cherry streetcar line, a scheduled short-turn service on King Street between Dufferin Street and Cherry Street, utilizing a new spur and loop near the Distillery District. The 514 Cherry also brought permanent streetcar service to Fort Rouille Loop, at the Dufferin Gate to the CNE grounds.
There are now eleven streetcar routes, nine of which operate evenings and weekends. Low-floor streetcars will finally make the entire surface transit system accessible to customers with disabilities. The legacy street railway system will also be augmented by modern light rail.
Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency, is currently building a light rail line along Eglinton Avenue between Weston Road and Kennedy Station. The Eglinton-Crosstown LRT is scheduled to open in 2021. Another LRT route, on Finch Avenue West will begin construction in 2017. Other LRT lines, proposed in former mayor David Miller’s Transit City Plan, are unfunded and in limbo.
The Waterfront East streetcar line, serving new development east of Bay Street, has been proposed for years, and yet remains unfunded.