The Township of York Railways (Deceased)

Gilbert Loop

A PCC enters Gilbert Loop at the northwest end of the Oakwood streetcar. Eglinton Avenue is in the background. Note the tail-track in the foreground. Photo donated by Curt Frey.

By James Bow.

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The Routes at Time of Abandonment

The Lambton streetcar ran from Runnymede Loop at the corner of Dundas and Runnymede, along single track on Dundas Street and private right-of-way to a loop in Lambton Park, near the Humber River. It was the first of the Township of York streetcars to fall, switching to bus operation on August 18, 1928.

The Weston Road line ran from a stub terminal off of Keele Street in the Toronto Junction, just north of Dundas, along double tracks to St. John’s Road, and then along a single track (with a single passing siding at Lawrence) to Humber Street in the village of Weston. It was converted to trolley bus operation on September 15, 1948.

The Oakwood streetcar started at an off-street loop at Gilbert and Eglinton Avenues, close to the CNR Newmarket subdivision. From there, it travelled east along Eglinton Avenue, through a well-developed older suburb in the Borough of York, to Oakwood Avenue. At Oakwood, it turned south and ran to St. Clair (joining the Rogers Road streetcar at Rogers), looping at Oakwood Loop, via St. Clair and Robina. Oakwood was abandoned on January 1, 1960.

The Rogers Road streetcar started at an off-street loop at Bicknell and Rogers Road, just a stone’s throw from Weston Road. There, it travelled east along Rogers Road, until it got to Oakwood Avenue. There, it turned south and ran to St. Clair, where it looped at Oakwood Loop. Rogers Road was the last of the Township of York streetcar lines to fall, ceasing operation on July 21, 1974.

Abandoned before the arrival of Canadian Light Rail Vehicles, none of these routes were ever given official route numbers for their rollsigns.

As you can see, the Township of York boasted a streetcar system of its own. The four routes described here comprise the largest TTC streetcar operation to occur outside of the City of Toronto.

A History of the Township of York Railways

The Township of York, when first created, surrounded the small Town of York from the Humber River to where Victoria Park Avenue is now and south of where Steeles Avenue is now. When the City of Toronto slowed its pace of annexation in the 1920s, developed spilled over the City’s boundaries. As a result, a sharp difference between the character of northern York township and southern York township developed. In 1924, this difference was recognized when the township of North York was created, within much the same boundaries as the City of North York in its last days before amalgamation. Initially, the Township of York existed in two pieces, divided by the trunk of the City of Toronto, before the eastern portion was removed and reformed into the independent Township of East York in 1928.

Thus, in 1922, when the Township of York entered into negotiations with the Toronto Transportation Commission to improve public transportation within itself, it had an eye towards providing service not only north of St. Clair, but to the neighbourhoods north of the Danforth as well. In a mid-1923 plan, five routes were proposed:

  • St Clair - from St. Clair and Oakwood via Oakwood, Vaughan and Eglinton to the Canadian National tracks at Gilbert Avenue.
  • Oakwood - from Oakwood and St. Clair via Oakwood and Rogers Road to Weston Road (It is unknown why this proposal made such an odd choice of route names).
  • Pape - From Lipton Loop at Danforth and Pape north to Don Mills and O’Connor.
  • Coxwell - From Coxwell and Danforth via Coxwell, McMichael and Lumsden Avenue to Main Street
  • Runnymede - From Runnymede Road, along Dundas to the Humber River

For whatever reason, the East York routes never materialized. After considerable discussion, the TTC agreed to construct the St. Clair (now renamed Oakwood and rerouted to operate along Oakwood and Eglinton Avenues only) and Oakwood (now renamed Rogers Road) lines, and purchase the Lambton and Weston routes from the Toronto Suburban Railway. Under the deal, the Toronto Transportation Commission would run the streetcars, but all capital costs and any operating deficits would be paid for by the Township of York Railways. This deal is similar in many ways to the arrangements the cities of Mississauga, Vaughan and Markham have when contracting out TTC services today.

Construction Begins

All negotiations were settled on July 24, 1924 and a deal was signed on August 7. Construction on the Oakwood and Rogers Road streetcars started soon after that. The Oakwood streetcar opened along with the first phase of the Rogers Road streetcar on November 19, 1924 (the remaining Rogers Road segment from Dufferin Street to Bicknell opened to the public on August 29, 1925). The opening ceremonies were elaborate, and featured Witt trains operating in the parade, the only time Witt trains be seen on the route. The TTC only assigned Birneys, old TRCs and other older vehicles to the two lines until August 1, 1947 when the last TRC cars used in base service were replaced by Witt cars. On September 7, 1952, PCCs finally arrived.

The other two Township of York railways were converted Toronto Suburban Railroad lines. It took two years after the formation of the Toronto Transportation Commission for the TTC to gain control over the TSR’s operations within the City of Toronto. When this happened, on November 15, 1923, the TTC immediately began shuttle operations on those lines, including the Weston Line from Dundas to Northlands Avenue. When the deal with York Township was struck, the TTC purchased and rebuilt the remainder of the TSR’s Weston and Lambton routes. On November 25, 1924, the Lambton streetcar started running between Runnymede Loop and Scarlett Road (the extension back to Lambton Park occurred on December 8 of that year). The Keele shuttle was extended north into the Town of Weston on November 28, 1925. The Weston Line at the time extended into Woodbridge, and the Toronto Suburban Railway continued to operate the section from Weston to Woodbridge until May 8, 1926, when it closed due to financial losses.

The Oakwood and Rogers Road streetcars were double-tracked throughout their length and had loops at either end. Single-ended cars were used exclusively on these lines. Lambton featured single track operation, but had loops at both ends, and handled ex TRC Class BB equipment. The Weston streetcar operated between two stub terminals, and so double-ended Niles cars from the Toronto Civic Railways were called upon to provide service. The Weston operation was also the only Township of York streetcar to cross the City of Toronto boundary. Dual fareboxes were required to separate fares into TTC and TofYR coffers. With Lambton, Rogers Road and Oakwood operating exclusively outside the City of Toronto, dual fareboxes were not required on these lines. Weston also boasted a number of short turn loops, including one at Northlands Avenue (the City of Toronto boundary) and, later, one at Rogers Road (Avon Loop). Additional service was initially provided between the Keele and Dundas stub terminal and Northlands Loop.

These four routes were a very stable operation, facing few, if any, changes to their routes until their eventual abandonment. Until then, Weston Road’s short turn service was moved north of Northlands Loop to the end of double track at St. John’s Road and a new terminal stub track was built in 1940 to replace the crossover on Keele near Dundas. Rogers Road cars were routed into St. Clair Station during rush hours once the Yonge subway opened in 1954. As for Oakwood, the only improvement customers received came in 1954, with the elimination of the zone boundary at St. Clair.

The Last Days, and Why They Came

The Lambton streetcar was the first of the Township of York operations to fall, converted to bus operation on August 18, 1928. The route was never very successful and the Township went to its Ratepayers and notified them of mounting deficits and a possible increase in taxes resulting from that. The Township claimed that these deficits could be eliminated if the streetcars were replaced by a buses. They also noted that a bridge was to be constructed near Lambton Park and that it would require property that the streetcar loop was operating on. Under this pressure, the Ratepayers voted 392 to 52 in favour of conversion to bus operation. The bus was immediately unpopular, operating at 20 minute headways instead of 10 minute frequencies enjoyed by streetcar users and using an older bus to provide service. A second bus was eventually added. Streetcar reinstatement was impossible by that time, as the rails were torn up for road reconstruction just days after abandonment.

As for Weston, it continued operation into the forties. By then, the TCR Niles on the line were getting old, and the rails needed replacement. Rather than incur the costs to pay for such needed improvements, the TTC opted to convert the line to trolley coach operation, and the buses began running on September 13, 1948. By 1950, the rails were removed north of Avon Loop, and the switches at Keele and St. Clair were taken up so that streetcars could only turn left onto St. Clair Avenue. Remnant tracks remained on Keele Street from Dundas to just south of St. Clair, and the Junction Terminal was altered on October 24, 1949 into a wye formation and used occasionally by short turning Dundas and extended King cars until June 27, 1963. St. Clair cars would continue to use the Weston Road tracks to Avon Loop until these too were abandoned on February 28, 1966.

The Oakwood streetcar ceased operations on January 1, 1960. At the time, it was the first streetcar abandonment since the Church route was bussed in May 1954 and was one of the few route abandonments since 1954 to be completely unrelated to the opening of an extension of the Toronto Subway. Oakwood fell to an extension of the Ossington trolley bus, which until 1960 looped at St. Clair Avenue. Township of York travel patterns, which had seen patrons head south to St. Clair and then head east, changed to the point where offering through service north and south of St. Clair made a lot of sense. As it corresponded with the TTC’s policy of gradually eliminating all streetcar service in the city, the TTC decided that Oakwood’s usefulness as a streetcar route had ceased. The Ossington trolley bus was extended over Oakwood’s route to Gilbert Loop. The Eglinton leg of this extension became redundant a couple of years later as travel patterns changed to the point where through service along Eglinton from Gilbert to Yonge Street made more sense. The Ossington trolley bus was cut back to a loop at Eglinton and Oakwood on June 28, 1964. The trolley buses themselves would disappear due to diesel bus conversion in 1992.

Rogers Road would soldier on for another fourteen years after the abandonment of the Oakwood streetcar. In the early seventies, when the TTC decided to abandon its streetcar abandonment policy, they found that they needed a surplus of streetcars to maintain the fleet while embarking on an extensive rebuilding program. At the same time, the Borough of York was asking the TTC to consider extending the Rogers Road service west along Rogers, Weston, Humber Blvd and Alliance to Jane. York was unsatisfied with the current service in this area, handled exclusively by a loop of the Runnymede bus. The TTC knew that such an extension of streetcar track would be expensive and complicated, so Rogers Road became the obvious candidate for abandonment to free up extra streetcars. Converting the route into a branch of the Ossington Trolley Bus would also allow for an extension to Jane Street, or so they thought. Conversion occurred in 1974, and on July 21, of that year, trolley buses were running between Bicknell Loop and King Street. Bicknell Loop remained in use, as the extension of trolley bus wires to Jane Street never happened. A new shuttle bus route named 48 HUMBER BLVD provided the link, and this arrangement continued until a massive route restructuring in 1994, two years after trolley buses stopped running.

Township of York Railways Today

Today, little remains of the Township of York Railways. Evidence of the Lambton streetcar has completely vanished. As for Weston, the trolley buses took over Avon Loop and it remains as a short turn loop for buses. Northlands Loop and the Junction Turnback have both been redeveloped. Little remains of the Oakwood streetcar today; Gilbert Loop’s usefulness as a transfer point for suburban buses lapsed as the TTC’s fare zone structure was eliminated and through service was inaugurated on most of the routes in the area. By 1974, it did not see regular service. It was officially owned by the TTC and declared surplus to its needs in 1984. It was leased to the City of York for a nominal rate ($200 per year) and used as a parkette. After briefly considering using the property as part of the Eglinton West subway, the TTC determined it had no further use for it, and in 2002 it officially transferred ownership of the lot to the City. It still stands today as a parkette.

You can still see signs of the Rogers Road streetcar if you follow the route. Oakwood Loop remains in place between Robina and Oakwood Avenues, just north of St. Clair. Until just a few years ago, it featured some of the last examples of cobblestone insets on the system. The loop is currently used by short-turning St. Clair streetcars. Also, until roadwork during the early part of the decade removed them, tracks were visible on Rogers Road, running west of Old Weston Road to Bicknell Loop. This track was likely re-laid along with roadwork a year or two before abandonment. Well disconnected from the rest of the system, it never see streetcars again, but it provided an eerie reminder that streetcars were once in the area. Bicknell Loop still stands, although it was declared surplus on October 15, 2000, once Avon Loop was renovated and 168 Symington and 161 Rogers Road buses were extended to Weston Road.

Outside of the City of Toronto proper, there was no other municipality served by the TTC which made as extensive a use of streetcars throughout its history than York Township. Ironically, history left the City of York without streetcar service of any kind. The only suburban TTC streetcar operation today is the single line to Long Branch, running through the old villages of southern Etobicoke.


Rogers Road Streetcar Image Archive


Oakwood Streetcar Image Archive


Weston Road Streetcar 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.

Special thanks to Mark Brader, John Bromley, Ray Corley and Bill Robb for their corrections to this web page

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