By James Bow.
The Spadina Streetcar begins underground at the mezzanine level of Spadina Station on the Bloor-Danforth subway line. The route emerges onto Spadina Avenue at Sussex Street and travels south on private right-of-way past the University of Toronto, Kensington Market, Chinatown, the Fashion District and Skydome. At Queens Quay, the route turns east and continues along private right-of-way to Bay Street where, the line plunges underground again and, after stopping briefly at Queens Quay Station, continues to a loop at Union Station on the Yonge Subway.
The route has two branches. The main branch. operating between Spadina Station and Union Station from almost 5 a.m. to 2 a.m is supplemented by cars running between Spadina Station and King Street, looping via Adelaide, Charlotte and King. Occasionally, some streetcars will operate between Union Station and the Queens Quay/Spadina intersection only, duplicating the old Harbourfront streetcar route that the Spadina car replaced.
A History of Streetcars on Spadina
Soon after the Toronto Railway Company began operations in the latter half of the 19th century, Spadina received a streetcar route. In 1891, the Spadina and Sherbourne were combined to form the legendary Belt Line Streetcar, operating both ways in a circle along King, Spadina, Bloor and Sherbourne Streets. This major route serving midtown and downtown Toronto continued until July 1, 1923, when improvements elsewhere in the system allowed the fledgling Toronto Transportation Commission to establish through streetcar operation on Bloor Street. It was at that time that the Spadina Streetcar entered the phase it is most remembered for.
The first Spadina streetcar line operated between a crossover at Bloor Street to a crossover at Front Street. On May 23, 1927, with the new Spadina bridge over the railway tracks open, the route was extended to a new crossover on the north side of Fleet Street (now Lakeshore Boulevard). With no loops at either end of the route, double-ended streetcars had to be used. The TTC turned to the former Toronto Civic Railway fleet, and those double-trucked, steel bodied double-enders provided the bulk of the service for the line until 1948. The line featured private right-of-way, which was tree-lined until the mid 1920s.
In 1948, post war growth led to shortages of electricity. To help lower its consumption of power, the TTC agreed to "temporarily" convert the North Yonge (a streetcar line to Richmond Hill) and Spadina Streetcars to bus operation. It is possible that the TTC used this situation as a convenient excuse to make a change it had been planned to do anyway, as the double ended cars were nearing the end of their lives, but the TTC probably also felt that buses would operate the route more flexibly. Soon after conversion, the Spadina bus was extended to Dupont, something that could not have happened as easily had streetcars still been in operation.
Streetcars continued to operate on Spadina Avenue, however. The Harbord Streetcar, operating from Pape and Danforth to Old Weston Road and St. Clair, traversed Spadina Avenue between Dundas and Harbord. This operation continued until February 25, 1966 when the Harbord route was abandoned concurrent with the opening of the Bloor-Danforth subway. Tracks remained in place on Spadina between King and College for short turns and equipment movements, while the tracks north of College were either pulled up, or paved over.
The Streetcars' Slow Return to Spadina
Although Spadina was one of the last streets in Toronto to lose its streetcars thanks to the TTC's streetcar abandonment policy, it was also one of the first the TTC considered for streetcar reinstatement. In 1973, a year after the TTC bowed to public pressure to keep its streetcars, the City of Toronto and the TTC agreed that Spadina should have a streetcar route. Twenty-four years later, the dream became a reality. What took so long?
The initial, modest, proposal called for a streetcar to use established track from College to King, plus new sections extending the line to Spadina Station and Clarence Square. However, the residents of Clarence Square objected, fearing disruptive noise from the streetcars, and the TTC stepped back and set about looking for a better southern terminus.
While they were looking, the City of Toronto decided to redevelop its deindustrializing Harbourfront and railway lands. In order to service this new development, the City considered using the Spadina Streetcar as a high-speed transit corridor. Plans came and went, and finally, in the mid 1980s, the proposal for a combined Harbourfront/Spadina LRT on private right-of-way was put forward. It immediately ran into controversy.
Local merchants and residents feared that the City was turning Spadina into a road and transit corridor designed solely to get people from outside the area through the area as quickly as possible. They were concerned over the loss of parking, and the proposal to widen Spadina Avenue to accommodate the private right-of-way and six lanes of traffic. They feared that the private right-of-way -- originally rail-and-ballast technology as seen on the Queensway, and then a six inch raised segment -- would act as a 'Berlin Wall' down the middle of the street.
In my opinion, the politicians made a mistake in departing from the streetcar's image as a community transportation service. Illustrated by their decision to name the line 'the Spadina LRT', the politicians failed to consider local concerns in designing the route. The situation wasn't helped when the local media, looking for video footage to illustrate a story on the proposal, keyed in on the 'RT' of 'LRT', and showed pictures of a Scarborough RT vehicle operating on an elevated portion of its line. A protest flyer appeared soon after, featuring a composite picture of a Scarborough RT vehicle on elevated right-of-way running down the middle of Spadina Avenue. In 1986, Metro Council agreed to build the Harbourfront portion of the Spadina LRT, but sent the Spadina LRT back to the drawing board.
The TTC set about addressing the concerns of the local community and, along the way, the Spadina LRT became the Spadina Streetcar again. The private right-of-way was reduced from a six-inch raised island to a cobblestone-like surface raised barely two inches from the surrounding pavement. Left turns were not prohibited outright and two lanes of car traffic each way were maintained without widening the road. The City of Toronto illustrated its commitment to protect the parking lanes by building planters at major intersections, jutting out into the road. The TTC added extra stops, put the Spadina Station loop underground to address noise concerns from Annex residents, and planted trees along the private right-of-way, attempting to recall the original tree-lined streetcar boulevard which used to run up the centre of the street into the 1920s. In May 1992, the revamped Spadina Streetcar proposal received final approval, and construction began. The line was completed five years later, under its budget, but well above the cost estimated when the line was first proposed in 1973.
In order to start operations on the line on the set date of July 27, 1997, the TTC left certain intersections (Dundas and Adelaide) unfinished, wiring up the main routes, and leaving the switches undone. Work completing these intersections finished early in 1999 with the opening of Charlotte Loop. Charlotte Loop was designed into the streetcar line after construction started, to allow the TTC to route its streetcars more efficiently. Until Charlotte Loop opened and cars were short turned at Adelaide, Charlotte and King, roughly every second streetcar turned back at Queens Quay to provide extra service on Spadina Avenue. The new loop has helped save the TTC $300000 per year in improved operation efficiencies.
Also, since opening, the TTC has had problems with cars turning in front of streetcars and causing collisions. In the first six months of operation, the number of accidents on the Spadina line exceeded those of the rest of the system combined. The problem started to settle down as the car drivers got used to the new route, but to further improve safety, the TTC installed additional barriers, and now streetcars operate without cars getting in the way. Since the opening of the Spadina line, work was completed on a new streetcar line along Queens Quay between Spadina and Bathurst. This route, numbered 509 Harbourfront, allowed for direct service between Union Station and the Canadian National Exhibition.
Despite initial teething pains, the TTC is happy with the operation of the new Spadina Streetcar. Ridership has increased 7-15% since the streetcars started rolling, and the Spadina Bus was already one of the most profitable routes in the system.
Update October 1, 2000: On July 23, the City of Toronto set about replacing the temporary barriers alongside the line from College to Front with curbs and landscaping. This will solve the problem of cars turning in front of streetcars illegally, and restore the tree-lined boulevard look that used to be a feature of the Spadina Streetcar in the 1920s.
510 Spadina Image Archive
- Byers, Jim. "Cut size, cost of Spadina LRT, committee urges." The Toronto Star 10 Jul. 1990: A7.
- Filey, Mike, Not a One-Horse Town: 125 Years of Toronto and its Streetcars, Gagne Printing, Louiseville (Quebec), 1986.
- Harvey, Ian. "So lets get Spadina LRT rolling." The Toronto Sun 27 Jan. 1992: 20.
- Sarick, Lila. "The perils of reworking a landmark." The Globe and Mail 6 Apr. 1992: A9.
- Smith, Michael. "Alternatives to Spadina rapid transit line to be studied." The Toronto Star 5 Feb. 1987: A7.
- Smith, Michael. "Spadina line wins support as solution to congestion." The Toronto Star 9 Jun. 1988: A7.
- Wickson, Ted and Pat Scrimgeour, 'Toronto's new Spadina streetcar line' Rail and Transit, January 1995, p8-9, The Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto (Ontario), 1995.
Thanks to John Bromley and Ray Corley for their corrections to this web page.