Route 507 - The Long Branch Streetcar (Deceased)

Hillside Wye

Hillside Wye in Mimico is an odd remnant of Long Branch’s early history. It remained connected to the system for years even though the only visitors appeared to be bold railfans. The switches to the loop were finally removed in 2002. Photo donated from the Curt Frey collection.

Text by James Bow.

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The Route at Time of Dissolution

The LONG BRANCH Streetcar served the former villages of Mimico, New Toronto and Long Branch in Southern Etobicoke. Starting from near the Mississauga Border at Long Branch Loop (where connections were made to a number of TTC and Mississauga buses), the route headed east along Lakeshore Boulevard to the Humber River. There, the route entered private right-of-way, dove beneath the Queen Elizabeth Way and the railway tracks, and emerged at the Humber Loop Interchange. Here, connections could be made with the Queen Streetcar and other TTC Buses.

After the abandonment of the ROGERS ROAD streetcar in 1974, LONG BRANCH became the only streetcar route in Metropolitan Toronto (not counting the QUEEN NIGHT Car) to operate outside of the City of Toronto proper. The villages of Southern Etobicoke have had a long history of streetcar service — something which the neighbourhoods surrounding the Rogers Road car may have lacked…

Interurbans to Long Branch (and Beyond)

In the 1890s, Toronto’s urban development spilled west over the Humber River. An October 1890 issue of the Toronto Globe ran a full-page article on the plans for the developing village of New Toronto and reported that factories, warehouses and foundries would soon be built there. The article stated, with typical Victorian enthusiasm, that “on the borders of the city there is an embryo town growing up which promises in time to equal, if not surpass, old Toronto as a commercial centre.” To help in the growth of New Toronto, Mimico and Long Branch, an electric interurban was proposed to connect residents of these villages to the city of Toronto. On November 14, the Toronto and Mimico Electric Railway and Light Company was incorporated to build such a railway, as well as selling electric power for additional revenue. York County approved construction on December 23 and granted the company a 21 year franchise. Etobicoke Township and the provincial legislature passed similar enabling bylaws and acts soon afterward.

The Toronto and Mimico was to build to a gauge of 4 feet and 10-7/8 inches — the same as was used by the Toronto Railway Company of the time. The provincial legislation granted the company the right to expropriate land for stations and right-of-way and also allowed for an extension east to Dufferin Street (likely along the waterfront). Construction began in August 1891 from the corner of Queen and Roncesvalles and headed slowly west. On July 16, 1892, almost a year later, the line made it to the Humber River. This stub proved popular with visitors to the beaches along Humber Bay, but with the line of no use to Mimico and New Toronto residents, revenues dried up in the fall and winter months. The railroad needed help.

Toronto’s railroad mogul William MacKenzie bailed out the Toronto and Mimico railway, purchasing the line on July 1, 1893. The line was extended to Mimico Creek on July 10, 1893, and then opened for service as far west as Kipling Avenue on September 29, 1893. Ridership increased as the line pushed further west into Long Branch, with service to Etobicoke Creek beginning July 1, 1895. Although primarily a single-track line along the north side of Lake Shore Road offering 20 minute frequencies during the day, the line began turning modest profits, while the villages along the route benefitted from the increased pace of development the line allowed. The first five years were something of a honeymoon.

In 1903, the Toronto and Mimico railroad received permission to extend its operation further west, to Hamilton, and to connect with other railways. This required the line to regauge itself from the TTC gauge to the standard railway gauge of 4 feet 8-1/2 inches. The railroad entered into an agreement with the Hamilton Radial Electric Railway to bridge the gap between Toronto and Hamilton, with the former building west, the latter building east, and the two meeting in Oakville.

This optimistic extension would prove to hurt the line. Although the Hamilton Radial Electric Railway would make it to Oakville, the Toronto and Mimico would have difficulty making it to Port Credit. A landowner on the west side of Etobicoke Creek refused to allow the line to cross his land, and only backed down after considerable negotiations. The railroad reached Hurontario Street on December 24, 1905, and would reach the Credit River on November 19, 1906 before money ran out. The gap between Port Credit and Oakville, although surveyed, would never see interurban operation.

Two Decades as a Political Football

The years from 1905 onward would prove difficult for the MIMICO route, and not just for its failure to get west of Port Credit. Attempts were also made to extend the Toronto and Mimico operations downtown, where the offer of direct service could have generated more riders, but the City of Toronto threw up so many political obstacles to such proposals that no radial would ever do so in the history of the city. The radials, which by now were all owned by William MacKenzie, had become pawns in a political battle between the city and MacKenzie himself. The fact that MacKenzie’s railroad debts throughout Canada were starting to catch up with him, didn’t help matters for the interurban either.

Finally, after almost two decades of political wrangling, this line was bought by the City of Toronto on December 1, 1920. For the next few years, the Mimico line was turned over to the Ontario Hydro-Electric Power Commission for management. The head of the operation was Adam Beck, who had visions of a vast interurban network bringing public transit and electricity to thousands of people throughout southern Ontario. A key to his plan, however, was a high-speed connection into downtown Toronto. Adam Beck and the City of Toronto had been allies in their drive to get William MacKenzie out of the street railway business, but Toronto balked at Beck’s high-speed corridor proposal.

Adam Beck wanted an exclusive six-track right-of-way along Toronto’s waterfront; Toronto was only willing to offer Beck a four-track connection that he could share with the TTC. Other property owners adjacent to the proposed right-of-way, including the Canadian National Exhibition and the Toronto Harbour Commission, objected to the corridor in principle. Eventually, the political will swung against Beck, and no waterfront corridor was built. The plans for an Ontario interurban network collapsed, and the ailing Mimico radial line was handed back to the City of Toronto on January 12, 1927. The track gauge was changed back from standard to the TTC’s unique 4’ 10-7/8” on November 5, 1927, and the TTC set about making further improvements to bring this former interurban line up to ‘city’ standards.

Conversion to ‘City’ Operation

On September 27, 1928, service ended on the Mimico radial line. The well-worn interurban track was taken up and new, double track laid down all the way to Browns Line, where Long Branch loop stands today. Lakeshore Boulevard was also widened, with three additional traffic lanes placed to the north of the new tracks. Work was completed by early December and, on December 8, service began on the LAKE SHORE streetcar. Residents of Mimico, New Toronto and Long Branch were charged an additional fare to enter the city, but the new direct service to downtown Toronto brought out the riders.

streetcar-4152-06.jpg

A PORT CREDIT car prepares to leave Long Branch loop on February 6, 1935, days before radial service would end and bus take over. This shot is taken from the entrance to Long Branch loop, looking west and is courtesy the Toronto Archives.

While all this was happening, and after the Lake Shore Streetcar began operation, the remains of the Mimico suburban carline continued to operate between Long Branch Loop and Port Credit. Service was at half-hourly intervals, but ridership was falling fast, due to competition from the automobile and new motor-coach services along Highway 2. The PORT CREDIT line would lumber along until converted to bus operation on February 9, 1935. The TTC would run the PORT CREDIT bus service until 1974, at which time the service was transferred to Mississauga Transit.

Until the LAKE SHORE streetcar opened, service on Queen Street from the downtown to Roncesvalles and/or Humber Loop was provided by the BEACH streetcar. When LAKE SHORE opened, BEACH operations were cut back to a loop via York, Richmond and Victoria. LAKE SHORE streetcars continued along Lake Shore Boulevard to Roncesvalles (at that time, a five way streetcar intersection!) and then onto Queen Street, where it performed the same loop, clockwise. Sharing the same looping facilities with the BEACH route made for heavy congestion and, in response, the TTC constructed two off-street loops to handle the routes; BEACH and QUEEN cars ran to McCaul Loop, while LAKE SHORE cars continued east of Yonge, turning back at Mutual Loop. Mutual Loop was closed on December 21, 1944 (after a serious accident); McCaul Loop still stands to this day.

LONG BRANCH was born as a route name on October 28, 1935 when the LAKE SHORE line was split in two. The LONG BRANCH section operated between Long Branch Loop and Roncesvalles Carhouse while the remaining LAKE SHORE route ran between Parkside Loop and Mutual (with rush-hour service extended to Humber Loop). A permanent loop at Queen and Roncesvalles opened for LONG BRANCH streetcars on March 14, 1936. LAKE SHORE continued operating until August 2, 1937 when it and the BEACH car were merged and renamed QUEEN. On October 26, 1942, PCCs started making their only foray into what is now Mississauga, with Long Branch tracks extended across Etobicoke Creek to the ‘Small Arms Loop’, serving workers at a World War II munitions factory. This loop, and the tracks west of Etobicoke Creek were not needed after the war came to an end and abandoned on October 14, 1945.

In 1958, the final major change occurred. As part of the Gardiner Expressway project and the redesign of Lake Shore Boulevard around Sunnyside, new private right-of-way was opened down the middle of the newly extended Queensway. QUEEN streetcars were routed along this segment, tracks on Lakeshore Boulevard east of the Humber were taken up. LONG BRANCH streetcars pulled back from Roncesvalles Loop and connected with the QUEEN route at the newly opened Humber Loop Interchange. Some direct downtown service continued for the Long Branch route, particularly during rush hours, with cars running east on Queen Street to loop via Church, Richmond and Victoria.

Until its last days, the route boasted a couple of oddities. Kipling Loop allowed cars coming from the east to short turn, and this allowed for additional service between the village of New Toronto, east. Rollsigns for the route at the time read ‘New Toronto’. Also, at Hillside Avenue, there was a wye, wherein cars from the east and west can enter, and then back out onto the other track, turning themselves around. It is doubtful that this wye was ever used except under the rarest of circumstances, but it remained connected to the system until 2002, the only wye in the streetcar system that wasn’t in or near a present or former carhouse.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, the LONG BRANCH streetcar managed to avoid being chosen as the next candidate for the TTC’s streetcar abandonment program. When the CLRVs and the ALRVs were introduced, LONG BRANCH (assigned route number 507 at this time) tended to be the route where these cars were first tested.

The Last Days, and Why They Came

507 LONG BRANCH’s continued existence could have been a legacy of the days when the TTC had a two fare system. Humber Loop was one such location where suburban passengers had to pay an additional fare to continue their trip into the city. If so (and, we hasten to point out, LONG BRANCH did operate direct downtown streetcars into the late 1960s), LONG BRANCH outlasted this legacy by some twenty years.

Over time, the TTC again came to believe that the residents of southern Etobicoke would be more willing to take transit if they didn’t have to change vehicles at Humber Loop. In 1992, direct downtown service along Lakeshore Boulevard, the Queensway and King Street was put into place, and succeeded beyond the TTC’s expectations (see the 508 LAKE SHORE streetcar). In the 1995 Service Plan, the TTC Planning Department recommended that the TTC extend the Long Branch streetcar into downtown Toronto, looping once again via Church, Richmond and Victoria. The arrangement they proposed was to have the 501 QUEEN Streetcar continue to provide base service between Humber Loop and Neville Park, while the 502, 503 and 507 would supplement service on the eastern and western halves respectively. For reasons known only to them, the TTC picked a different proposal.

On March 26, 1995, the TTC merged the 507 LONG BRANCH Streetcar into 501 QUEEN, with split service west of Humber Loop, producing an extremely long streetcar route running from the Mississauga border to Toronto’s border with Scarborough. This wasn’t a new idea (the 301 QUEEN NIGHT car operated over both routes for years), but some still mourned the loss of this distinctive community streetcar line running through the old towns and villages of southern Etobicoke.

Restoration (Sort Of)

The merger in March 1995 might have been the end of the story, but the marriage of 501 QUEEN with 507 LONG BRANCH wasn’t a comfortable one. The 501 QUEEN streetcar had long been plagued with service reliability issues, with residents of the east-end Beach neighbourhood fiercely complaining about the number of times cars short turned before getting near Woodbine Avenue. With the new route now even longer, service disruptions were magnified.

For the residents of southern Etobicoke, the merger meant that streetcars travelling on Lake Shore Boulevard continued straight downtown, but half of all service only operated from Humber Loop eastward. So where most of the 501 QUEEN route had scheduled headways of 5 minutes, residents of southern Etobicoke received 10 minute service. In the late evenings, that schedule stretched to every twenty minutes. Compare this with the early 1970s, when off-peak service was never longer than every twelve minutes. This assumed the service was reliable, which it wasn’t. Ridership dropped and rider complaints increased.

Some proposals to try and remedy the situation included taking the tracks on the extra-wide Lakeshore Boulevard and rebuilding them on their own private right-of-way, as had been done with the 510 SPADINA and 512 ST. CLAIR streetcars. This would be paired up with an extension of the 509 HARBOURFRONT streetcar to Sunnyside, and southern Etobicoke riders would be able to travel towards Union Station on a dedicated Waterfront West LRT. Unfortunately, this proposal faded due to lack of funds. Local residents themselves organized to ask the TTC to restore the 507 LONG BRANCH streetcar, possibly expanded to operate between Long Branch loop via Lakeshore Boulevard, the Queensway and Roncesvalles to Dundas West station, providing an overlap with the 501 QUEEN streetcar along the Queensway so that, even if their car was short turned at Roncesvalles, they could still make a transfer with a ready 501 QUEEN streetcar. By breaking the long 501 QUEEN up, service disruptions downtown would not radiate to the ends of the line, destroying service.

In 2007, TTC Commissioners attended public meetings organized by the Rocket Riders advocacy group and local residents demanding better and more reliable service all along the 501 QUEEN line. The restoration of the 507 LONG BRANCH streetcar was proposed, but the TTC ultimately did not implement the proposal. Instead, for a six week period starting October 19, 2009, the 501 QUEEN car was split downtown, with lines overlapping between Dufferin and Parliament. This was not what the residents of southern Etobicoke asked for, and after the TTC dropped the test after six weeks claiming it to be a failure, critics alleged the TTC never gave it a chance to succeed. However, the TTC did assign more supervisors to the route, and some riders reported that reliability improved. Southern Etobicoke riders were also given additional assistance through the premium-fare 145 HUMBER BAY-DOWNTOWN EXPRESS bus service.

In 2015, the TTC and the City of Toronto invested $90 million in new service improvements throughout the city. One of these initiatives was the launch of a network of bus and streetcar routes operating at intervals of ten minutes or better throughout the week, between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. The 501 QUEEN line through southern Etobicoke was earmarked for such an improvement.

In theory, this meant that the practise of turning back half the service from Neville Park at Humber needed to end, during the midday, evenings and weekends. However, at the time of the anouncement, the TTC was dealing with a shortage of ALRVs, and maintaining ALRV service over the whole length of the 501 QUEEN route wasn’t feasible, and wasn’t necessary given the ridership west of Humber loop. So, effective January 3, 2016, the TTC decided to unofficially restore the original LONG BRANCH service, breaking the 501 QUEEN route at Humber loop. ALRVs would ply the route from Humber to Neville, while CLRVs would operate from Humber to Long Branch. Though the Long Branch-to-Humber section would still operate with 501 QUEEN rollsigns, this was effectively the resurrection of the 507 LONG BRANCH route.

Southern Etobicoke residents would have to change streetcars at Humber to continue their trips downtown, but they could be assured that their streetcars would show up at their stops more frequently, and not be delayed by congestion downtown. In spite of scheduling CLRVs to provide this service, railfans reported that six ALRVs were operated instead on the morning of Sunday, January 3, 2016. In addition, the TTC scheduled three early-morning “trippers” operating from Long Branch to Neville, and some through-service was maintained during the late evenings. Service on the 301 QUEEN NIGHT car continued to operate from Long Branch to Neville.

The TTC has not stated how long their “temporary” split of the 501 QUEEN car will remain as they wait for new Flexity LRV deliveries and rebuilt ALRVs to reduce their streetcar shortage, but a number of residents in southern Etobicoke are glad to see the 507 LONG BRANCH streetcar return, even unofficially. Many continue to campaign for an extension east to Dundas West station to improve connections with the rest of the streetcar network without damaging reliability. Meanwhile Toronto planners continue to quietly pursue the Waterfront West LRT, which could improve LONG BRANCH service in a different manner altogether.


507 Long Branch Image Archive

References

  • Bromley, John F., TTC ‘28, The Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto (Ontario), 1979.
  • Bromley, John F., and Jack May Fifty Years of Progressive Transit, Electric Railroaders’ Association, New York (New York), 1978.
  • Stamp, Robert M., Riding the Radials: Toronto’s Suburban Electric Streetcar Lines, The Boston Mills Press, Erin (Ontario), 1989.

Special thanks to John Bromley and Ray Corley for their corrections to this web page