Text and Pictures by James Bow.
The last surviving special service route to the Canadian National Exhibition was Route 521. Officially named Exhibition East in April 1980, it retained the older route name of King Exhibition on its transfers. In its final state, it looped at Richmond, Victoria and Queen before travelling south on Church, west on King, south on Bathurst and west on Fleet Street into the Exhibition East loop. This line operated until July 2000 from around the end of the morning rush-hour until late at night, but only during the days that the CNE was open for special events, such as the Exhibition and extra-special events like the Molson Indy.
Route 522, which could be found on CLRV rollsigns until the year 2000, was called officially named Exhibition West in 1980, although it retained the older route name of Dundas Exhibition on its transfers. It began its route at Dundas West Station, running south on Roncesvalles, east on King and south on Dufferin to the Exhibition West (Dufferin) loop near the Dufferin Gates. Like its 521 cousin, it operated only during the times the CNE was commanding huge crowds. The last 522 car on Labour Day, 1986, before being replaced by the 93 Exhibition West bus. It was reinstated for one year only during the 1995 Exhibition season.
A History of Streetcars to the Exhibition
The year (1879) that the Canadian Industrial Exhibition opened its doors, Toronto streetcars were providing service to it. The Toronto Street Railway extended tracks from the terminus of the King line (at King and Strachan) south to Wellington and Strachan. At its height, the Canadian National Exhibition was the largest annual fair in the world, so it is no surprise that it commanded considerable respect amongst the TTC's service planners. The August event would transform the TTC's route map, altering several routes, producing new routes, and even breaking some established routes in two in order to ferry fairgoers to the grounds. Chief amongst the routes that were altered were Queen, Dovercourt and Bathurst (which, before 1966, operated south from St. Clair and then east on Adelaide to run through downtown Toronto during the rush hours and the midday). From 1916 the TRC and the TTC operated an evening-only Yonge-Exhibition service, taking patrons to North Toronto via Fleet, Bathurst, Front and Yonge. This service continued until 1949, with the exception of the years 1942 through 1946, when the CNE was closed and operated as a military base.
The Dundas and King Exhibition services are amongst the oldest of these special services. This isn't to say that they remained static all those years, however. The Dundas cars used to run all the way to Runnymede Loop until those tracks were lost to the Junction trolley bus in 1968. King Exhibition Cars went through a number of changes of their own.
Prior to the opening of the Bloor-Danforth subway, the King-Exhibition streetcar was responsible, along with the Kingston Road-Exhibition and Queen-Exhibition services (which last operated on Labour Day, 1965), for ferrying many of the fairgoers to and from East Toronto. It did this by operating along Bathurst and King, up Parliament and along Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue to Coxwell Avenue and Danforth carhouse. The line ran down Parliament instead of Broadview because the turn from westbound Danforth to southbound Broadview was sharp, and the intersection quite congested. Parliament offered an easier turn, especially in terms of traffic, and far less congestion than on Broadview.
This operation ended when the Bloor-Danforth subway opened, since most patrons coming from East Toronto simply took the subway and transferred at Bathurst or Dufferin stations. For the 1966 Exhibition season, the King-Exhibition service was rerouted along Bathurst, King and Queen to loop at Woodbine Loop (at the corner of Kingston Road and Queen). This replaced the Kingston Road-Exhibition service which had operated along Queen, King and Dufferin, to loop at Dufferin Loop.
By the late 1960s, the Dundas-Exhibition and King-Exhibition cars were starting to assume their present alignments. As subway routes expanded in 1968, the Dundas-Exhibition cars were operating from Dundas West Station to Dufferin Loop only. In 1969, the King-Exhibition car was cut back from Woodbine Loop to an on-street arrangement of Church, Richmond, Victoria and Adelaide back to Church. This looping arrangement changed to Church, Richmond, Victoria and Queen in 1973. Apparently direct service between the Ex and Broadview Station was never considered particularly useful for the King Exhibition line, as this route never saw the transfer facilities at Broadview (although CLRV rollsigns made this, and a Neville Park routing possible). Since the 1970s, the routes' importance has diminished considerably. Dundas-Exhibition/Exhibition West abruptly disappeared in 1986 (barring a brief reprieve in 1995), when the TTC replaced it with a special express bus route named 93 Exhibition West. A year after that, this service was moved to Keele Station and has since been fading away. Although buses were operated for the 2000 Exhibition season, their presence was not advertised on TTC literature.
The reason for this decline is the Canadian National Exhibition's own decline in the wake of such competition as Canada's Wonderland. The closure of Exhibition Stadium and the loss of the Blue Jays and the Toronto Argonauts to the Skydome in 1989 did not help matters. Experiments by the TTC to improve service to the Exhibition using buses (such as the 93 Exhibition West Express previously mentioned, and special Ossington Buses down Strachan) have not proved successful, and the only time the TTC has drawn at old levels has been during extra special Exhibition events, like the Symphony of Fire, the Molson Indy and Caribana (which saw special bus shuttle services from all of the Bloor-Danforth stations from Bathurst to Dundas West).
If the Exhibition retools itself successfully and increases attendance, the TTC will see the demand for its services to the Ex increase correspondingly. The latest developments at the CNE have put into place such things as a world trade centre, which has increased traffic year-round. Further proposals surrounding the 2008 Olympics Bid will continue to maintain interest in the Exhibition site, so rumours of the death of the CNE would appear to be greatly exaggerated.
Streetcars will continue to service the Exhibition for as long as there are streetcars on Bathurst Street. Also, on Sunday, July 23, 2000, the first streetcars began operation on the new 509 Harbourfront streetcar line, running from Union Station to the eastern loop at the CNE grounds via Queens Quay and Fleet Street. Unlike 521 Exhibition East, which it replaced, 509 operates year-round, providing much-needed service to the rapidly developing West Harbourfront lands.
Exhibition Image Archive
- 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.
- Filey, Mike, Not a One-Horse Town: 125 Years of Toronto and its Streetcars, Gagne Printing, Louiseville (Quebec), 1986.
Thanks to John Bromley and Ray Corley for their corrections to this web page.