Categories
History Infrastructure Transit Travels

Subways don’t always last 100 years

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Former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford liked to claim that subways would last one hundred years, while other “inferior” forms of transit, like light rail systems, would last only thirty.

At the time, Ford was pushing for a subway extension to Scarborough Town Centre that would replace the Scarborough RT. The SRT opened in 1985 and nearly thirty years later, the line needed a major rebuild, including new equipment. The City of Toronto planned to replace the aging system with a modern LRT route, including a three kilometre extension with two new stations at Centennial College and at Sheppard and Progress Avenues in Malvern. The line would have been fully funded by the province, and the rebuild would have reduced the cumbersome transfer from the subway platforms.

Of course, Rob Ford was wrong about subways lasting 100 years. While Toronto’s subway system is over sixty years old — the original Yonge Subway opened in 1954 between Union and Eglinton Stations —  only the tunnels and station structures themselves remain from that era. The Yonge Subway is on its fourth generation of vehicles. Each of the stations have been renovated with new turnstiles, tiling, signage, and elevators. The TTC is also working on a new automated signalling system, and track replacement is an ongoing program.

Had the Scarborough RT been built as originally planned as an LRT route, there would only be the need for ongoing maintenance and new replacement vehicles. Extensions of the line would have been much easier and cheaper. The problem was that the planned route was converted — with pressure from the provincial government — to an Intermediate Capacity Transit System, a novel technology which was then being developed by the Province of Ontario. The rolling stock — nearing 30 years old — had to be replaced, and Bombardier, the successor to the provincial Urban Transportation Development Corporation, no longer built vehicles that could fit a tight turning radius between Ellesmere and Midland Stations. That’s why, after 30 years, the SRT needs a replacement.

But you don’t have to travel far to see proof that subways don’t last a hundred years. In Rochester’s case, that city’s subway lasted only twenty-nine years before abandonment.

IMG_7219-001High Falls, Rochester

Rochester, New York is an interesting city. It’s best known as the home of Kodak and Xerox, with a few attractions that make it a worthwhile place to visit, including the George Eastman Museum and estate, The Strong Museum, and the most easterly of Frank Lloyd Wright’s classic Prairie Style houses.

It also has America’s only fully-abandoned subway system.

The Rochester Subway was one of three subways planned and built in mid-sized American cities after the First World War. All three, coincidentally, were designed to permit streetcars to run under city streets using abandoned canal beds.

Cincinnati’s subway was the first to begin construction. Work began in 1919 on the path of the old Miami and Erie Canal, which once linked the Ohio River with Lake Erie at Toledo. But costs increased and construction was never completed. Today, the Cincinnati Streetcar runs on top of the abandoned subway route along Central Parkway.

IMG_5599-001Central Parkway in Cincinnati in January 2015, where new streetcar tracks run above the abandoned subway line

Rochester was the second city to build a subway line in a disused canal bed. The Erie Canal was rerouted around Downtown Rochester in 1919 and the new subway line — of which less than three kilometres was below grade — was built along the old waterway. A new downtown roadway, Broad Street. was built above the old canal. Service began in 1927 and was abandoned in 1956, as streetcar service in Rochester came to an end. Suburban growth along with population decline in old central city, and the prioritization of new interstate highways, put an end to rapid transit in that city.

Newark was the last city to build a new subway system in an old canal bed. Opened in 1935, the Newark City Subway was built between the Pennsylvania Railroad Station (which now serves Amtrak, NJ Transit commuter trains, and PATH subway trains to New York City) and northwestern suburbs. The City Subway, which operated PCC streetcars until 2001, later became the core of New Jersey Transit’s Newark Light Rail System.

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In Rochester, several sections of the abandoned subway remain visible to the public, including both tunnel portals. Stairs leading down from the Broad Street Bridge, which spans the Genesee River and once carried the Erie Canal, allow the general public to get a glimpse of the tunnel (it is also accessible from the Genesee Riverway Trail next to Blue Cross Arena without stairs), and all the graffiti lining the walls.

IMG_7238-001A public walkway from the Genesee Riverway at the Broad Street Bridge allows visitors to get a glimpse of the abandoned Rochester Subway

Categories
Development History Ontario Urban Planning

Ontario’s failed downtown malls

IMG_0392.JPGBayside Mall, formerly the Sarnia Eaton Centre, on a Saturday morning in 2013. Most stores are vacant or occupied by non-profits or independent businesses.

The Toronto Eaton Centre, large, famous, and vital, is only one of many malls built in the downtown cores of Ontario cities between the 1960s and 1990s. From Thunder Bay to Cornwall, the construction of new enclosed shopping centres were seen as a necessary tool to keep the old city centres vibrant and relevant in the face of competition from new suburban malls. But only in the province’s two largest cities did the concept work. Elsewhere, these urban shopping complexes were left largely vacant within ten years of opening, when leases expired. When the Eaton’s department chain went bankrupt in 1997, huge voids were left behind that developers and municipalities struggled to fill.

The Toronto Eaton Centre was opened in two phases between 1977 and 1979. It added hundreds of shops and new office space to Downtown Toronto, anchored by a new Eaton’s flagship and was connected to the Simpson’s store across Queen Street. Today, the Eaton Centre is Canada’s second largest mall (including the Hudson’s Bay/Saks Fifth Avenue building) and the Toronto region’s second most productive shopping centre in terms of sales per square metre. In Ottawa, the downtown Rideau Centre, opened in 1983, is the busiest and most productive mall in that region (Retail Council of Canada, 2016).

But elsewhere in Ontario, downtown malls — mostly built with municipal and/or provincial government support — have been, without exception, commercial and urban development failures. Not only did they suffer from high vacancy rates, they helped to wreck the downtown cores they are located in rather than foster the economic revitalization they once promised.

Categories
Brampton History Maps Transit

Brampton Transit’s evolution from a laggard to a leader

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The introduction of Brampton Transit’s Zum service in 2010, serving York University, was a major turning point for the suburban transit agency

For TVO this week, I discuss Brampton Transit’s impressive ridership growth. In the last five years, Brampton Transit has bucked the trend of stagnant ridership numbers encountered elsewhere in the Greater Toronto Area and North America in general. I argue that Brampton’s success in improving transit ridership comes from sustained investment over many years, the move to a grid-based route structure, and the introduction of Züm, a basic network of semi-frequent, limited-stop bus routes, many of which extend outside of Brampton’s boundaries.


I grew up in Brampton, and I have collected maps since kindergarten; my collection includes several old Brampton Transit maps. These maps help to illustrate the progress made since the 1980s, when the level of service provided was quite basic.

Brampton Transit began operations in 1976 after the old Town of Brampton’s local bus service was amalgamated with the dial-a-bus service operated in Bramalea. (Brampton amalgamated with most of Chinguacousy Township in 1974, including Bramalea.) In 1980, Brampton Transit operated 14 routes, serving a community of just under 150,000 people. Buses operated no later than 9:00 or 10:00 PM, Mondays through Saturdays, and many routes operated with long, meandering loops. Apart from GO Transit, there were no connections to nearby communities.

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December 1980 Brampton Transit map

By 1988, service was offered on Steeles Avenue to Humberline Drive in Etobicoke, where connections could be made to TTC buses on the 96 Wilson and 73 Royal York buses, but didn’t continue east to Humber College. Brampton Transit Route 14 Torbram served Westwood Mall in Mississauga, and connections to Mississauga Transit could be made at Shoppers World. But still, service levels were poor — you were lucky to get a bus every 30 minutes outside of rush hours. Permanent Sunday service wouldn’t come for another ten years. Notable are the four lettered bus routes — A, B, C, and D — that made direct connections to the four weekday GO train round trips to and from Toronto.

Brampton Transit’s maps of the era are also historically notable because of their advertising: only one of the Burger King locations shown on the 1988 map still exists. Other restaurants advertised — the Old Beef Market, O’Henry’s, and Queen’s Pizzeria — are no longer in business.

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September 1988 Brampton Transit Map

 

 

Brampton Transit Maps published in the 1990s and early 2000s were printed on newsprint, and used only a two-colour scheme: blue for regular routes, and orange for rush-hour routes. Service to new subdivisions was often provided by way of long one-way loops, which is an inexpensive way of serving new areas, but are inconvenient and slow for potential riders.

Notable in the 2001 map below is Route 77, launched in the 1990s as a joint Brampton Transit/Vaughan Transit route between Bramalea City Centre and Finch Station along Highway 7. Route 77 was a very slow way to get to the subway from Brampton, but it operated until Züm began service in 2010. In 2001, bus service on 11 Steeles was finally extended to Humber College’s main campus.

Brampton Transit, 2002
September 2001 Brampton Transit map

2005 marked an important turning point for Brampton Transit, as it introduced a grid-based route system on major arterials. Route 14 Torbram, for example, no longer served Bramalea City Centre, but continued north, providing a core north-south route; many other routes were straightened, including Route 2 Main north of Downtown. Changes since May 2005 saw service frequencies improved, more local routes added, and improved connections.

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May 2005 Brampton Transit map

The current system map, dated September 2017, can be found on Brampton Transit’s website.

Categories
Canada History Travels

A visit to New Glasgow, Nova Scotia

IMG_0319-001New Glasgow City Hall

After our wedding, we went away to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. I’ve been to Halifax and the Annapolis Valley once before, in April 2004, but I’ve never been to Cape Breton (which has become one of my favourite places in Canada), or PEI.

It was a wonderful trip. We drove the Cabot Trail, hiked several trails in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, enjoyed great meals featuring local seafood, visited restored historic sites such as the Fortress of Louisbourg, and spent some time wandering around Halifax and Charlottetown. I’ll write more on those adventures later.

Driving through Nova Scotia on the way to Cape Breton, you must pass through Pictou County on Highway 104, part of the Trans-Canada Highway. Most travelers pass through, or stop off the highway for gas or food. But the region has an interesting history, and we visited two historic sites there which are off most tourists’ radar.

Once an industrial powerhouse, settlements such as New Glasgow, Stellarton, and Trenton have been hit by the closures in the steel industry and in coal mining. Trenton had a large steel mill; the TrentonWorks plant produced rail cars until 2007. Coal mining was also important to both northern Nova Scotia and in Cape Breton, but today, only one surface coal mine remains in the province near Stellarton. Today, Stellarton might be most known as the hometown of and headquarters for the Sobeys supermarket chain and its parent company, Empire Corp. The town of Pictou was known for its shipbuilding industry.

New Glasgow, which we visited, is the largest community in Pictou County, and the regional centre for central Nova Scotia. We stayed in New Glasgow overnight, as we were to take the Northumberland Ferry to PEI early the next morning.


In 1947, Viola Desmond, a successful Black entrepreneur, was removed by police from the Roseland Theatre for refusing to sit in the upper segregated seating area, but in the ‘whites only’ section. She was charged and convicted for tax evasion – the one cent difference in the provincial amusement tax between the ticket she was sold and the lower level seating. Despite this injustice, the apology and pardon from the Nova Scotia government didn’t come until 2010. That year, a plaque was unveiled in New Glasgow. Since then, there has been more recognition of this injustice and of Desmond’s importance — a new ferry was named for her in Halifax, and she will appear on the next issue of the $10 bank note.

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Roseland Theatre building, June 30, 2017

Today, the Roseland Theatre is closed (the theatre later became a club). I found the building (which is being renovated, and the marquee removed), but I had trouble finding the plaque. I found out it was located two blocks away from the theatre building, next to the public library.

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The plaque commemorating Viola Desmond is located two blocks away from the Roseland Theatre

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On May 9, 1992, sixteen miners were killed in a methane and coal gas explosion at the nearby Westray Mine. News of the explosion, and coverage of the attempted rescue efforts was one of the first major news stories I clearly remember, and the first I really understood. I was eleven when it happened. (Though I also remember the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, I was eight years old at the time, and I couldn’t understand the significance. Westray was the first news story that I remember and which I could understand clearly.)

Tragically, eleven bodies remain underground. The mining company ignored unsafe working conditions, and the government was complicit in knowing about the problems but not forcing changes — the Westray mine promised jobs, not only in the mine, but in other local industries, such as TrentonWorks, which was contracted to supply rail cars for shipping coal to a nearby power generation station. The mine had lots of support at all three levels of government; this likely contributed to pressure to keep it open despite serious safety concerns. Furthermore, criminal proceedings against the company and its management were botched.

IMG_0316-001Their Light Shall Always Shine Memorial Park, New Glasgow

Though the main Westray Mine site and shaft were located at Plymouth, to the south of New Glasgow, the explosion took place north of Highway 104, within the city limits. Their Light Shall Always Shine Memorial Park is located close to the site. Besides a garden and a monument with all sixteen men’s names, there are several interpretative plaques on the history of the Westray Mine, the explosion, and the aftermath.

Categories
History Parks Toronto Walking

Exploring Earl Bales Park

IMG_8535-001View from the top of the ski hill at Earl Bales Park

Last Sunday afternoon, I went for a walk around Earl Bales Park. The large, multiuse green space is located near the corner of Bathurst Street and Sheppard Avenue in North York; it also descends into the West Don Ravine. It was a delight to explore this park, but as I discuss below, it could be much better connected to the city on the south end.

Earl Bales Park originally was a farm established in 1824 by English settler John Bales and his family; their house still stands in situ. The land later became a private golf course, and was purchased by the Borough of North York in 1975, named for one of the Baleses’ great-grandsons.

A lot is packed into this popular green space: walking trails, playgrounds, picnic areas, a community centre, an amphitheatre, an off-leash dog park, a memorial, a seniors’ woodworking shop, and even a ski hill. Even on the first weekend of April, the park was full of picnicking families and groups; families represented a diverse cross-section of suburban Toronto.

After English, the most commonly spoken languages I heard were Russian and Tagalog — the Bathurst Street corridor north of Highway 401 is popular among immigrants from the Philippines and Eastern Europe; many businesses and community organizations in the area cater to these communities.

IMG_8530-001Picnicking at Earl Bales Park, April 2, 2017

Categories
History Toronto Transit

Hallam Street and the Harbord Streetcar

img_7439-001Hallam Street looking east from Dufferin Street, January 2017

Hallam Street, which runs east-west from Shaw to Dufferin, north of Bloor Street, is unusually wide for such a quiet, short road. Hallam Street doesn’t provide a convenient thoroughfare for motorists, and nearly every storefront is either vacant, or converted to other uses. Despite being located in a dense urban area of Toronto, Hallam Street has a ghostly feeling when walking or cycling across it.

So why is Hallam Street so wide? And why does it have so many vacant or former storefronts?

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Former storefront on Hallam Street at Delaware Avenue, one of several on Hallam that were converted to residential uses

For thirty-one years, from 1916 to 1947, Hallam and Lappin Streets hosted the Harbord Streetcar, an interesting and circuitous route that served the northwest portion of the City of Toronto, and later, the east end of the city. Unlike most streetcar routes in Toronto, the Harbord Car refused to follow a grid. It wound its way through several working class neighbourhoods, tying together parts of Toronto otherwise underserved by its transit network.

The Harbord Car was re-routed from Hallam Street and Lappin Avenue to Dovercourt and Davenport Roads in 1947, as part of a re-organization of transit services in Toronto’s west end (more on that below). The streetcar was fully abandoned in 1966, when the first phase of the Bloor-Danforth Subway opened.

Categories
History Toronto Transit

Mapping Toronto’s street railways in the TTC era (1921-2016)

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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

Third in a three-part series — also see Part 1 (1861 to 1891) and Part 2 (1891 to 1921)

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.

1923

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.

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s0648_fl0227_id0001Trolley bus on Merton Street, June 20, 1922. City of Toronto Archives, Series 648, Fonds 227, Item 1

Categories
History Maps Toronto Transit

Mapping Toronto’s streetcar network: The age of electric – 1891 to 1921

People & Historic shots. - [1920?]-1987

TRC streetcars on Queen Street, c. 1910. Note the old TSR horsecars used as trailers behind the electric cars. City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 722, Item 18

This post continues from The Horsecar Era: 1861 to 1891 

In 1891, after obtaining a new 30-year franchise, the Toronto Railway Company went to work electrifying Toronto’s streetcar system. The TRC was a private company, led by William Mackenzie and James Ross. Mackenzie made his fortune in railway construction; together with Donald Mann, he would go on to build a railway empire before it collapsed by the end of the First World War. Mackenzie would also control other street railway and interurban lines in Ontario, including the Toronto and York, the Toronto Suburban, and the Niagara, St. Catharines, and Toronto.

By 1894, the TRC became fully electrified, providing quicker and more reliable service. In the twenty-five years that followed, new electric railways radiated out of Toronto to points such as West Hill in Scarborough, Port Credit, Woodbridge, and even as far away as Lake Simcoe and Guelph. But after a short sprint of service expansion within the City of Toronto, the TRC refused to extend its services beyond Toronto’s city borders of 1891. The City of Toronto was forced to form its own public streetcar company in 1911, and became determined to take complete control over urban transportation services once the TRC’s franchise came to an end.

Maps presented only show revenue routes, including peak period variations and some seasonal routes, such as Exhibition services. I omit some minor service and route changes. I welcome constructive feedback as I plan to re-publish these maps elsewhere.

1894

Electrification of the Toronto Railway Company began when the Church Street line was converted on August 16, 1892. The last horsecar made its trip on McCaul Street on July 18, 1894. The TRC extended several routes in Toronto’s west end, including King, Dovercourt, Bloor, Dundas and Carlton.

The Davenport Street Railway Company began operations on September 6, 1892 between Toronto Junction at Keele and Dundas Streets, and Bathurst Street at the CPR tracks, a short walk to TRC Bathurst Cars. The Weston, High Park & Toronto Street Railway Company began operating the same year within the Junction, from Evelyn Crescent to Keele Street, later extending east to the Toronto City Limits at Humberside Avenue. These two companies merged in 1894 to create the Toronto Suburban Railway.

The Toronto and Mimico Railway was the city’s second radial. After a troubled start in 1892, it extended west to New Toronto by 1894. The Toronto and York built east from Queen Street and Kingston Road to Blantyre Avenue in Scarborough Township. Two short spurs served the town of East Toronto (near today’s Main/Gerrard intersection) and down to the Beach.

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Categories
History Maps Toronto Transit

Mapping Toronto’s streetcar network: The horsecar era – 1861 to 1891

Horse car, with J. Gibbons, conductor, and J. Badgerow, driver, at Old North Toronto StationToronto Street Railway horse car on Yonge Street at the Canadian Pacific Railway crossing, after 1885. From City of Toronto Archives, Fords 16, Series 71, Item 3367

Over the last few months, I have researched many books and maps and created a series of maps that attempt to illustrate the history of Toronto’s street railways, from 1861 to the present. Toronto is one of only a few cities in North America to continually operate a street railway network (others include Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and New Orleans), which remains one of the busiest and most expansive tram systems in the world.

Before the Toronto Transportation Commission was created in 1921, Toronto was served by several private streetcar firms. The Toronto Street Railway, which began operations in 1861, built Canada’s first streetcar system; two routes were opened that year, with small railcars pulled by horses. The TSR’s successor, the Toronto Railway Company, electrified the network, but with few exceptions, refused to expand it beyond Toronto’s 1891 borders. Only with the creation of the publicly owned TTC was Toronto’s streetcar system unified and modernized to be the envy of cities across the continent.

Creating these 38 maps was a challenge, because published materials covering the pre-TTC era (before 1921) are sparse. William Hood’s Street Railways : Toronto: 1861 to 1930 provides some history of Toronto’s earliest transit services, but with only some details. I also consulted Transit Toronto’s route histories and other books such as Robert M. Stamp’s Riding the Radials and John F. Bromley’s Fifty Years of Progressive Transit which covers the years from 1921 to 1971.

This post, the first of three, will cover the years from 1861 to 1891, the era of the Toronto Street Railway (TSR), when horse power ruled the streets. I do not cover every year, and I omit some minor service and route changes. But this, I hope, accurately illustrates the rise, fall, and renaissance of Toronto’s streetcar system.

1861
The TSR begins operations on September 10, 1861, serving a small provincial city of less than 50,000 people. The first route, Yonge, operates from Yorkville Town Hall, just north of the city limits, to St. Lawrence Market at King and Jarvis. A second route, Queen, was established in December of 1861, running between the market and the Ontario Hospital at the corner of Dundas Street, now Ossington Avenue.

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