by James Bow
Based on information by Pete Coulman and Alan Gryfe
The Route at the Time of Abandonment
From a single-track terminal on the East Don Roadway just south of Queen Street, the Ashbridge streetcar trundled along a double-tracked private right-of-way on the side of the East Don Roadway to Eastern Avenue and then over a trestle to get across the Grand Trunk railway tracks and the Keating Channel. Cars continued south to Commissioners Street where the cars turned west and continued down a centre reservation right-of-way to a single-track terminal at Cherry Street.
The route was almost completely cut off from the rest of the streetcar network. A single track linked the route to the tracks at Queen Street, and cars (operating from the King Carhouse near the corner of King and St. Lawrence Streets) had to back in and out in order to enter and leave service.
Just a single car was needed to provide a basic service of every fifteen minutes throughout the operating day. A second car increased that frequency to 7 minutes, 30 seconds during rush hours. A crossover in the middle of Queen Street, just west of Broadview, helped the streetcar find the right track on its way back to the carhouse.
A Very Brief History of the Ashbridge Streetcar
In the early part of the 20th century, Toronto continued the development of its industrial waterfront, establishing a port from swampy land at the base of the Don River and reclaiming more land around Ashbridge Bay from the lake itself. As new industries followed, the City of Toronto realized that the development needed to be serviced.
The year was 1916. A few years beforehand, relations between the City of Toronto and the privately-owned Toronto Railway Company soured due to a dispute over the TRC’s obligations to serve areas the city had just annexed, especially with the company having just ten years left on its franchise. This dispute had led to the mayor of Toronto leading a work crew to rip up tracks on Yonge Street, and it had led to the City establishing its own street railway company to serve the newly developing areas along the Danforth, St. Clair, Bloor West, Lansdowne and Gerrard.
This time, however, the City of Toronto and the Toronto Railway company were able to come to a more amicable agreement. To serve the new Port Lands, the City of Toronto agreed to lay down tracks and build bridges, but turned over operation of the line to the Toronto Railway Company. Service on the Ashbridge streetcar started on November 5, 1917.
The Last Days and Why They Came
The Ashbridge streetcar did not last long. It was among the lines transferred from the Toronto Railway Company to the city-owned Toronto Transportation Commission when the latter took over on September 1, 1921. Operations were quickly moved from the decrepit King carouse to the newly built Russell facility that opened to the east at Connaught Avenue. Three years later, on September 19, 1924, service came to an abrupt end, replaced by buses operating along a totally different route the next day.
The problem was the lengthy bridge built to get the cars over the railway tracks and the Keating Channel. Even though it was only seven years old, it was declared unsafe, and the line was abandoned outright. For the TTC, it probably made financial sense. In 1921, the Commission began experimenting with the use of diesel buses to handle lighter routes such as Humberline and Rosedale. When the TTC replaced the Ashbridge streetcar with a bus, the bus followed a completely different route down Cherry Street, along a more developed part of the Portlands. The route the Ashbridge streetcar followed may not have had the passengers to justify any transit service.
Buses like Ashbridge and Carlaw would provide all the transit service to the Port Lands for the years to come.
The Portlands Today
Very little evidence of the Ashbridge streetcar exists today. The area’s industry rose and fell, and redevelopment occurred with the construction and the demolition of the Gardiner Expressway. The wide right-of-way of Commissioners Street with its grassy median is perhaps the only evidence that streetcars ever operated there.
Ironically, it’s possible that the Ashbridge streetcar might rise again. As the City pursues an intensive commercial and residential redevelopment of the Port Lands, there have been plans to anchor this redevelopment with higher-order transit, even before the residents arrived. Planners charged with redeveloping the area have expressed the opinion that additional bus service would not be enough, and have called for streetcar tracks to be laid down Cherry Street, Commissioners, Unwin, Broadview and Leslie. Whether this happens depends entirely on if there is enough political will to ensure that funds are set aside for this infrastructure.