Text by James Bow.
At over 56000 passengers per weekday, the Carlton Streetcar is the TTC's most well-patroned surface route. And why not? The neighbourhoods it passes through are some of the most transit-friendly in the city, and it passes a host of major trip generators along the way, including Maple Leaf Gardens, the University of Toronto, Kensington Market, Little Italy and Little Portugal, a number of schools, Chinatown East and, the coup-de-grace, High Park.
Starting from an off-street loop at Main Street Station on the Bloor Line, out in Toronto's older eastern suburbs, the Carlton Streetcar proceeds south along Main Street, and then turns west along Gerrard. After heading to Coxwell, the streetcar jogs south one block to rejoin Gerrard Street, and then continues to Parliament. Another jog north takes the car to Carlton, which changes into College Street at Yonge. Just past Lansdowne Avenue, the streetcar moves from College Street onto Dundas Street, turns west at Howard Park Avenue, and loops inside High Park.
Cars operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with night cars avoiding Howard Park Avenue and continuing on Dundas Street to Dundas West Station.
How Four Routes Became One: Carlton's Early Days
With the University of Toronto as an anchor, growth in what is today Little Italy and Old Cabbagetown brought streetcars to College and Carlton Streets before the end of the 19th century. However, the focus of service was very different than what exists today. With these neighbourhoods essentially the new suburbs of the time, the commuting patterns meant that the streetcars had to head downtown, and so cars along College and Carlton Streets headed for Yonge Street and then made a bee-line south.
By 1910, however, some demand for cross-town service had materialized. A map of services effective August 28, 1910 shows College cars operating from the current High Park Loop, along today's route, as far as Yonge Street, before turning south to loop at Front and Scott. Carlton cars are supplementing service, operating between Broadview and Gerrard, via Gerrard, Parliament, Carlton and College to Lansdowne, whereupon they turn north and stop at the CPR railway tracks.
Two other routes supplemented service on what was to become the Carlton Streetcar Line: Winchester and Parliament. Winchester Cars operated from Downtown Toronto to Carlton and then along Carlton to Parliament. There, it proceeded north for two blocks, turned east at Winchester Street, headed deep into the residential neighbourhood of Old Cabbagetown and wyed at Sumach Street. This service continued until 3rd August 1924, at which time Parliament cars took over along new track to Bloor Street. As for 1910's Parliament Cars, they also operated from Downtown Toronto, running along Queen and Parliament to Gerrard, where they turned east and followed Gerrard to Greenwood Avenue.
The Civic Railway Pushes Service Further East
Although Parliament cars served the neighbourhoods along Gerrard Street to Greenwood Avenue, that wasn't enough for the City of Toronto. Having acquired a lot of new territory after annexing East Toronto, they wanted streetcars to service the newly developing areas between Greenwood Avenue and Main Street. With the Toronto Railway Company nearing the end of its mandate, it refused to extend service and, as has been discussed elsewhere on this web site, Toronto decided to go it alone and build and operate its own streetcar route.
Starting early in 1911, the City of Toronto began laying track, passing through undeveloped countryside, filling in ravines and getting service in operation by December 18, 1912. The route, referred to as 'Gerrard', started where the TRC Parliament (later, Queen) cars turned back, and ran along Gerrard, Coxwell and Gerrard, to a crossover at Main Street in East Toronto. Service operated for 24 hours a day until the Civic Railway's Danforth Streetcar started operating in late 1913.
You may be wondering why Gerrard Street takes such an improbable jog at Coxwell Avenue. Dave Imrie supplies this answer: 'The City of Toronto's boundaries reached Coxwell Avenue by 1883. Gerrard Street itself was already extended east from the downtown area to the city's eastern boundary. Kingston Road already cut northeast from Queen Street, providing the main eastern access route out of the city, a situation that would last until construction of Highway 401. One local developer, whose name is probably commemorated in one of the local streets, saw the area as prime 'suburban' development that would have complimented the resort-like atmosphere that had developed in the nearby Beach District. Gerrard abruptly halted at Coxwell. Although Eastwood Road was later extended eastward from Gerrard's terminus at Coxwell, it was not seen as a major thoroughfare to the emerging eastern area.'
Lower Gerrard's eastern progress as Eastwood Road was complicated by a number of factors, including several ravines cutting back from the old Lake Iroquois shoreline, as well as established development from the villages of 'Little Norway' and 'East Toronto'. The graveyard of Little Norway's St. John's Anglican Church also took up a considerable amount of available land. When the City of Toronto annexed this territory, it saw a need to link the emerging residential area south of the Grand Trunk rail line via a roadway. As Eastwood Road traversed some very uneven topography, and stopped abruptly at Woodbine, the road was seen as unsuitable as a thoroughfare or a streetcar route. So, 'Upper' Gerrard Street was created. The majority of residential development followed once the streetcar was put into place, and after the end of World War I.
Dave Imrie continues: 'The City had also planned to link the two Gerrard as it had done with several of the streets that composed Dundas Street, but the needs of the Depression and residential development stalled that idea... ...there have been some recent plans to modify this area. When the Scarborough Expressway was still in its planning stages in the early 1970s, one of the plans to accomodate a local interchange was to link the two roadways via a new road east of Coxwell Avenue. That plan pre-supposed the end of streetcars in the area. That has not occurred, of course.'
The TTC Takes Over and Realigns
When the TTC took over all streetcar operations in Toronto on September 1921, work began to connect the TRC Gerrard route with the rest of the system. On Saturday, October 1, 1921, the Gerrard route was renamed Gerrard-Main, and changed to operate from Coxwell and Queen, along Coxwell and Gerrard to Main Street. The line was extended over the Main Street bridge to Danforth Avenue and east to Luttrell Loop on October 19, 1922.. The section between Coxwell and Greenwood was taken up by the Queen Route, which wyed at Coxwell and headed west along Gerrard to Parliament. Carlton Cars continued to operate from Broadview and Gerrard, via Gerrard, Parliament, Carlton, College and Lansdowne to the CPR Tracks near Royce Avenue (today's Dupont Street), and College Cars continued their routing, although turning south and heading downtown along Bay Street instead of Yonge.
By July 1, 1923, this changed again. Carlton cars now operated from High Park Loop via Howard Park, Dundas, Lansdowne and College and Carlton to Gerrard and Sword Street (the line was temporarily cut back from Broadview to facilitate bridge repair), and College Cars operated from the new Royce Loop, via Lansdowne, College, Bay, Dundas, Broadview and Gerrard, retracing the Gerrard route to Danforth Avenue, wying at Danforth and Main. College featured two tripper cars, one which ran from Royce loop and followed the normal route, breaking off at McCaul Street to loop at York and Adelaide. College East Trippers started at Luttrell Loop and followed the eastern half of the route to Dundas and Victoria.
Once the Gerrard Street bridge over the Don River was repaired, Carlton Cars were extended east along the old Gerrard route to Luttrell Loop and College Cars faded in importance. On July 1, 1925, the Carlton Streetcar was operating along most of its present-day route, and College Cars disappeared on April 1, 1933. Only a few changes occurred since then: A jog between College and Carlton Streets on Yonge Street was eliminated on June 3, 1931, with Carlton angled northwest to meet College Street head on. On May 9, 1940, College Street was extended one block west of Lansdowne to Dundas Street, eliminating a short jog there. Some Carlton tripper services survived into the fifties. One ran from Luttrell Loop over the regular route to Lansdowne and then up Lansdowne to Royce Loop while another ran over the regular route to Parliament and Gerrard and then entered the downtown via Parliament and Dundas, looping via Church, Adelaide and Victoria. These trippers did not survive long past the opening of the Yonge subway.
As for the Carlton base service, a new loop was constructed on Main Street north of Danforth to relieve congestion at Luttrell Loop. This loop opened for business on May 15, 1955. It closed again between April 25, 1966 and June 13 of the same year to allow construction of the Main Station Loop on the Bloor-Danforth east extension. Streetcars were using this loop before the subway station opened. The route has not changed significantly since.
As the best-patroned surface route in the TTC, and one of those routes which has changed the least in the past four decades, one might think that the 506 Carlton Streetcar is as stable as a rock. Not quite. In 1997, a proposal was examined to break this long route into two sections, with the two services overlapping through downtown Toronto. This was ultimately rejected, as the overlap would have wasted streetcars, and the issue of the line's reliability was addressed with the installation of transit-priority signals. The TTC has decided, however, that more passengers would benefit if every second rush-hour streetcar were routed into Dundas West Station. This proposal is on hold until such time as Dundas West Station is expanded to handle the operation of three streetcar routes.
506 Carlton Image Archive
- Bromley, John F., and Jack May Fifty Years of Progressive Transit, Electric Railroaders' Association, New York (New York), 1978.
- Filey, Mike, Not a One-Horse Town: 125 Years of Toronto and its Streetcars, Gagne Printing, Louiseville (Quebec), 1986.
- Hood, J. William, The Toronto Civic Railways: An Illustrated History, The Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto (Ontario), 1986.
- Westland, Stu, 'The Winchester Carline' Rail and Transit, September-October 1979, p23-24, The Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto (Ontario), 1979.
Special thanks to John Bromley and Ray Corley for their corrections to this web page