by James Bow.
The Route at the Time of Abandonment
The Harbord streetcar was almost as misnamed a route as Carlton, given what percentage the streetcar tracks on Harbord comprised of the route. Just before it was abandoned, the service began at Lipton Loop on Pape Avenue just north of Danforth and ran south on Pape, west on Riverdale and south on Carlaw Avenues to Gerrard Street. Then the line ran west along Gerrard, south along Broadview and west along Dundas to Spadina Avenue. After running north on Spadina to Harbord Street, the streetcar turned west and ran to Ossington, jogging north and west along Ossington and Bloor to Dovercourt Road. After running up Dovercourt, cars turned west again at Davenport and ran to St. Clarens Loop, just one block east of Lansdowne Avenue. The Harbord streetcar probably had to negotiate more right-angle turns than any other streetcar line on the network.
The Harbord streetcar connected the residential neighbourhoods of Riverdale, Kensington, Little Italy and Dovercourt with the downtown, as well as serving such major high schools as Harbord Collegiate and Central Tech. Service was moderately frequent throughout the day, but no night service was ever offered. Abandoned before the arrival of CLRVs, no route number was ever assigned to this line.
A History of Harbord Streetcars
For a downtown route, the Harbord streetcar was a surprisingly young line. The earliest ancestor of the Harbord car was 1910's Bloor and McCaul route which, on August 29, 1911, was modified so that alternate cars were operated over new track on Harbord between Spadina and Ossington, and north on Ossington to Bloor. On November 16, 1911, this branch was formalized into the Harbord streetcar, which wyed at Bloor and Ossington and ran via Ossington, Harbord, Spadina and Adelaide to wye at Church Street.
A railfan once speculated that the Harbord streetcar was built to serve the underserviced areas between the old Toronto Railway Company and Toronto Civic Railway systems, and the routing of the Harbord car does seem to indicate this. On June 1, 1916 this service ran from an on-street loop of Victoria, Richmond and Church, west along Adelaide (between the King and Queen routes), north on Spadina, west on Harbord (between the College and Bloor routes), north on Ossington and west along Hallam and Lappin to wye at Lansdowne Avenue. It is almost as though the Harbord car is jumping from underserviced community to underserviced community in its meandering route.
This could even be true for Harbord's extensions, the first of which came a decade later, when the Harbord car assumed its more familiar U-shaped route. Its eastern segment started to take shape when tracks were run down Pape, Riverdale and Carlaw avenues (right in the middle of an underserviced area bounded by Coxwell, Danforth, Gerrard and Broadview) and a Pape service started using former Civic cars and crossovers. By March 9, 1919, the College Car was providing service on Dundas Street East and Pape Avenue. It only ran during Monday to Saturday and, by 1928, the Harbord Car was filling in for College along Dundas and Pape during Sundays. In 1933, the TTC restructured the routes significantly. The College Car disappeared, and Harbord's Sunday routing became the standard throughout the week. Bathurst cars moved in to replace service on Adelaide Street.
Trolley buses would provoke more changes to the Harbord streetcar in 1947. When the Annette trolley bus opened, it rendered service on Hallam and Lappin obsolete. The Ossington trolley bus duplicated most of the Dovercourt route south of Davenport Road. As a result, the Dovercourt streetcar was abandoned, and Harbord rerouted onto Bloor Street, Dovercourt and Davenport to loop at Townsley Loop, north of St. Clair Avenue.
While the Harbord streetcar was active, the TTC never pressed for through service along Dundas Street. Passenger demand appears to have been significantly less on Dundas east of Bay Street than it was west of it. Harbord continued operations without significant change for the next two decades. My father remembers boarding a Harbord Car at McCaul and Baldwin on his way to high school at Harbord Collegiate in the late 1950s/early 1960s, but this was likely a temporary diversion during track reconstruction on Spadina Avenue.
The Last Days and Why they Came
The Harbord streetcar started to fade from existence in 1956, with an innocuous temporary change that became permanent.
West of Lansdowne Avenue, the Harbord streetcar ran along Davenport Road, across one of the last at-grade crossings between streetcars and mainline railroads in the city. In December 1954, the City of Toronto announced plans to replace that level crossing on Davenport with a grade separation. As part of this anticipated construction, the TTC built a new loop at St. Clarens Avenue, one block east of Lansdowne. The loop was built on Hydro land on substantial fill due to topology. Effective November 19, 1956, Harbord cars were cut back to the new St. Clarens Loop "from 9 am to 4 pm for ten days" due to watermain construction on Old Weston Road. This change was so temporary, the TTC didn't bother issuing a new schedule, choosing instead to let drivers sit in St. Clarens loop for ten to fifteen minutes until the time when they would normally have passed it going back east.
On January 21, 1957, the grade separation project began, and Harbord cars were again cut back to St. Clarens loop. The UCRS Newsletter of February 1957 noted that, although this was referred to as a temporary change, "no commitment has been made to lay tracks through the new underpass". Suspicions were confirmed in November 1957 with the addition of a new bus loop at St. Clarens, demonstrating that the Harbord cutback from Townsley loop north of St. Clair Avenue was now permanent. The Harbord car was not deemed worthy of preserving in its entirety. Just over eight years later, the rest of the line fell.
The Harbord streetcar was one of a number of routes to be abandoned after the Bloor-Danforth subway opened on February 26, 1966. The TTC may have felt that streetcar service on Harbord was too close to the subway to be warranted. The change did bring about a number of through services, including the extension of the Wellesley Bus from Spadina to Ossington Station and the extension of the Ashbridge bus north on Carlaw and Pape into Pape Station. Especially with the Bloor-Danforth subway acting as such a passenger-pull, Harbord's meandering nature was no longer consistent with the times; travel patterns demanded through services that Harbord couldn't give. The abandonment was also consistent with the TTC's streetcar abandonment policy.
A new branch of the Dundas streetcar took over service on Dundas Street from Bay to Broadview, running into Broadview Station instead of Pape. Service on Davenport and Dovercourt north of Bloor languished, with a number of routes (such as Keele) rerouted into the subway. It took some time for echoes of the Harbord streetcar to reappear. First came the 18 Caledonia bus, operating along Davenport from Caledonia to Christie. Then the TTC brought in the 127 Davenport bus in the mid 1980s, running from Spadina Station to around Symington. Service on Dovercourt reappeared first as a westward extension of the Wellesley bus, and then as a rerouting of the Caledonia bus into Ossington Station. Finally, in 1994, a major West Toronto restructuring facilitated by the abandonment of trolley bus service brought regular service to Dovercourt in the form of the Rogers Road bus.
The Harbord streetcar is missed by those who remember it, perhaps even more than any other streetcar route that no longer operates today. Its meandering nature made it vulnerable to changing travel patterns, however, and it could not have worked as effectively in today's Toronto, unfortunately. Still, some ghosts remain, in the form of the many routes which took its place.
A Harbord Streetcar Timeline
Jack Knowles was kind enough to heed my request for more information on the early days of the Harbord streetcar. He supplied me with copies of a few pages of Louis Pursley's two books, The Toronto Trolley Car Story and Street Railways of Toronto 1861-1921. Thanks, Jack. Your kindness is much appreciated. So, for the readers' interest, I thought I would transcribe the portions as they related to the Harbord streetcar.
- 1911. August 29. Alternate Bloor-McCaul cars operated over new track on Harbord between Spadina and Ossington, and north on Ossington to Bloor.
- 1911. November 16. HARBORD route inaugurated. From Bloor & Ossington wye, via Ossington, Harbord, Spadina, Adelaide to wye at Church Street. Operated from Lansdowne Division.
- 1915. October 18. Extended from Bloor, north on Ossington, west via Hallan, Dufferin and Lappin to wye at Lappin & Lansdowne.
- 1916. June 1st. Looped downtown via Adelaide, Victoria, Richmond, Church to Adelaide
- 1919. March 9. SUNDAYS ONLY - downtown loop via Spadina, College, McCaul, Queen, York, Front, Bay to Queen.
- 1921. September 1st. Taken over from TRC (by TTC). Daily route from wye at Lappin and Lansdowne via Lappin, Hallam, Ossington, Harbord, Spadina, Adelaide, looping via Victoria, Richmond and Church to Adelaide. Single truck cars used. Operated from Lansdowne Division. Sunday Route: From Lappin and Lansdowne via Lappin, Hallam, Ossington, Harbord, Spadina, College, McCaul, Queen, looping via York, Front, Bay, Adelaide, York to Queen.
- 1922. February 22. Extended from wye at Lansdowne and Lappin north on Lansdowne to Royce Loop [James note: this contradicts Pursley's own statements that the extention to Royce occurred a few weeks after October 18, 1915]
- 1922. June 4. Sunday routing changed to same as daily.
- 1922. July 9. Sunday route changed. From Royce via Lansdowne, Lappin, Hallam, Ossington, Harbord, Spadina, College, McCaul, Queen, looping via York, Front, Bay to Queen.
- 1922. July 30. Sunday route again changed: Via Lansdowne, Lappin, Hallam, Ossington, Harbord, Spadina, Adelaide, Bay, looping via Front, York and Wellington to Bay.
- 1922. August 27. July 9th Sunday routing resumed.
- 1923. July 1st. General rerouting program. No change in daily route. Sunday route changed: From Royce Loop, via Lansdowne, Lappin, Hallam, Ossington, Harbord, Spadina, College, McCaul, Dundas, Broadview, Gerrard, Main and Danforth to Luttrell. Sunday cars operated from Danfroth and Lansdowne Divisions.
- 1923. December 16. Sunday routing changed in east end - via Dundas, Broadview, Gerrard, Carlaw, Riverdale, Pape and Danforth to Coxwell Loop.
- 1926. February 15. PAYL ex TRC cars replaced PAYE rear entrance cars in service since July 1923.
- 1926. October 3. One-man ex TRC cars replaced two-man cars on Sundays only.
- 1927. October 23. Sunday routing changed in east end, Operating north on Pape to new Lipton Loop, instead of to Danforth and Coxwell.
- 1932. September 12. One-man ex TRC cars replace all two-man cars on all daily runs.
- 1932. December 26. Holiday route changed to same as Sundays.
- 1933. April 3. Change in daily route (College route discontinued). From Royce Loop via Lansdowne, Lappin, Ossington, Harbord, Spadina, Dundas, Broadview, Gerrard, Carlaw, Riverdale and Pape to Lipton Loop. Operated from both Danforth & Lansdowne Divisions.
- 1939. January 15. One-man Witt type cars replaced TRC cars on all Sunday runs.
- 1942. February 1st. PCC cars replaced Witt type cars on all Sunday runs.
- 1942. February 9. Eight PCC cars on daily runs replacing small Wit cars in service since 1941 on some runs.
- 1942. March 2. Full base service of PCC cars in use. (15)
- 1947. December 8. Daily and Sunday routing changed (Dovercourt cars replaced by Ossington trolley coaches). From Townsley Loop via Old Weston Road, Davenport, Dovercourt, Bloor, Ossington, Harbord, Spadina, Dundas, Broadview, Gerrard, Carlaw, Riverdale and Pape to Lipton Loop.
- 1950. July 16 to August 12. Due to the construction of the Yonge Subway, and the closing of the intersection of Yonge and Dundas while this work was in progress, the Harbord service was split as follows;-
HARBORD EAST: From Lipton Loop over usual route to Church Street, looping via Church, Richmond, and Victoria to Dundas, then east over normal route to Lipton.
HARBORD WEST: From Townsley Loop over usual route to Bay Street, looping via Bay, Albert and Elizabeth to Dundas then west over normal route.
- 1953. February 16. Pullman built PCC cars from Cleveland, Ohio, in service on Harbord route replacing 4200 type Class A-2 PCC car. First Pullman built car to be used in city street car service in Toronto.
- 1956. November 19 to December 24. Shortened to new St. Clarens Loop instead of using Townsley Loop during watermain construction on Old Weston Road.
- 1957. January 21. Western terminus permanently changed to St. Clarens Loop. Railway underpass constructed on Davenport west of Lansdowne with no provision for streetcars. Service west of St. Clarens Loop provided by bus.
- 1966. February 25. Last day of operations before opening of Bloor-Danforth Subway. Portions replaced by extensions of Dundas streetcar, Ashbridge bus (Pape), Keele bus and Wellesley bus. Dovercourt would have to wait more than twenty years for transit service to return, with an extension of the Wellesley bus.
Harbord Streetcar Image Archive
- Bromley, John F., and Jack May Fifty Years of Progressive Transit, Electric Railroaders' Association, New York (New York), 1978.
- Brown, James A. and Brian West, 'All about the Bloor-Danforth Subway' UCRS Newsletter, March 1966, p50-56, The Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto (Ontario), 1966.
- Filey, Mike, Not a One-Horse Town: 125 Years of Toronto and its Streetcars, Gagne Printing, Louiseville (Quebec), 1986.
- Pursley, Louis H., Street Railways of Toronto 1861-1921, Ira Swett, INTERURBANS, Los Angeles (California), 1958.
- Pursley, Louis H., The Toronto Trolley Car Story, INTERURBANS, Los Angeles (California), 1961.
Special Thanks to Jack Knowles, John Bromley and Mark Brader for their assistance in the construction of this page