A History of Interurban Service on Yonge Street

Text by James Bow

Acknowledgement

This article would not have been possible without the extraordinarily detailed histories written up by Robert M. Stamp and John F. Bromley, entitled Riding the Radials: Toronto’s Suburban Electric Streetcar Lines and TTC ‘28 respectively. If you are looking for a detailed history not only of interurban service on Yonge Street, but on all the lines that radiated out of Toronto in the early decades of the 20th century, you need to read Robert Stamp’s book. Bromley’s book is as detailed a history as you could ever hope for in covering a year of operations at the TTC. If Riding the Radials is still in print, it is published by Boston Mills Press. TTC ‘28 is available used on Amazon. You may also look for copies at your local library.

See Also

Public Transit on Yonge Street

The Early Days of Yonge Street

British settlement of what is today southern Ontario began in earnest in the last two decades of the 18th century. Previously, the land belonged to the Huron nation, which displaced Iroquois tribes that had lived in the area for centuries. Indeed, the name “Toronto” derives from the Iroquois word “tkaronto”, which means “place where trees stand in the water.” It is believed that this place actually refers to the north end of Lake Simcoe. French traders established Fort Rouille in 1750, but it was the American Revolution that signalled the beginning of European immigration in earnest. United Empire Loyalists fleeing from the United States began establishing farms and towns. In 1787, the British government secured the Toronto Purchase, buying more than a quarter million acres from the Mississauga Nation for a small amount of cash, 2,000 gun flints, 24 brass kettles, 120 mirrors, 24 laced hats, a bale of flowered flannel, and 96 gallons of rum.

The British Government established the colonial government of Upper Canada, separating it from Quebec on December 26, 1791 and, in 1793, Governor John Graves Simcoe established the town of York around what is today King and Frederick Streets. To bolster the military capabilities of Upper Canada from a possible invasion from the United States, Simcoe commissioned the construction of a military road (upgrading a trail long used by the Huron Indians) stretching north from the western part of York, linking it with Lake Simcoe, effectively bypassing Lake Erie and the St. Clair River, which were at the time under American threat. He named this road Yonge Street, after his friend and colleague, Sir George Yonge (a former British Secretary of War and an expert on Roman roads).

Military conscripts toiled through heavy brush for the next three years and the first stretch of Yonge Street was completed on February 16, 1796. It was the first road in that part of Upper Canada to stretch away from Lake Ontario, and it achieved immediate importance as a trade route linking the lower Great Lakes to the upper Great Lakes via Lake Simcoe. It became the baseline upon which all concessions and side roads in York County would be measured. With trade came people, who settled in villages that were soon established along this road. On March 6, 1834, the Town of York was reincorporated as the City of Toronto, and, by 1849, Toronto’s population had passed 21,000. The heavy traffic to and from the city launched a number of stagecoach services carrying passengers from Toronto to the developing settlements north of the city.

The Railways Come to Toronto

Railway technology arrived in Canada in 1836 with the construction of the Champlain and St. Lawrence Railroad near Montreal. By the 1850s, rails were stretching throughout Upper Canada and, as Canada launched Confederation in 1867, work began on a national transcontinental railroad connecting the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. In the early 1870s, railroads such as the Toronto & Nipissing, the Toronto, Grey & Bruce and the Northern Railway built connections between Toronto and the more northerly regions of Ontario. Seeing opportunities, Scottish-born grocery magnate named Robert Jaffray pursued a dream to expand his investments into the field of railways, and persuaded the government of Ontario to incorporate a business called the Metropolitan Street Railway Company of Toronto. Legislation passed on Marcy 2, 1877, charging the company with “constructing and operating street railways in the City of Toronto and adjoining municipalities.” Jaffray used the word “metropolitan” to describe his railway, as the word was in favour throughout Toronto, which saw itself as the true metropolis of the province of Ontario. In the 1870s, buildings such as the Metropolitan Methodist Church and companies such as Metropolitan Plate Glass Insurance Company followed the fashion.

The Metropolitan Street Railway Company of Toronto was authorized to carry passengers and freight outside Toronto’s city limits (all street rail service within the city of Toronto was chartered to the Toronto Street Railway Company). Fares were to be no higher than five cents a mile for the first three miles, and one cent for each mile thereafter. Horses were to be the primary motive power, although “such other motive power as may be authorized by the municipalities” was allowed. Also, thanks to Ontario’s staunch Presbyterian character, Sunday operation was explicitly banned.

Jaffray’s plan was to build a four-mile line between Toronto’s city limits at Scollard Street to the community hall in the village of Eglinton, near today’s Montgomery Avenue. However, he had to put his plans on hold. In the late 1870s, a slump hit the North American economy. If that wasn’t enough, he had to negotiate with towns and villages along the route that were reluctant to just hand over exclusive running rights to the company. Shareholders began questioning the economics of the line. It was all too much for Jaffray, who looked for business opportunities elsewhere. In 1880, the controlling interest for the Metropolitan Railway Company was bought out by brother Charles and W.A. Warren.

Construction Finally Begins

The last hurdle to construction was York County. In 1881, it refused Charles Warren’s proposal to operate steam-powered streetcars down Yonge Street. Three years later, it accepted Warren’s proposal to use horse-drawn cars, and a thirty-year franchise to operate service on Yonge Street was granted beginning June 25, 1884.

Workers for the Metropolitan began laying down tracks at the Toronto City Limits (which was, by this time, at the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks near today’s Summerhill Avenue). A single track stretched up along the side of Yonge Street to Montgomery Avenue, serving the villages of Deer Park, Davisville and Eglinton. Double-ended cars were built by the Toronto Street Railway at their shops at Frederick and Front Streets, and service began on January 26, 1885. A further 1.2 kilometre extension to Glen Grove followed in 1886, connecting to a “park and pleasure grands” on land the Warren brothers owned.

At this time, the first successful operation of electric-powered trains took place at the Canadian Industrial Exhibition, and the Warren brothers looked at ways of converting the system from horses to overhead wire. He had to work to convince York County to allow the change. In the meantime, Windsor became the first Canadian city to open an electric street railway in 1886, and the continent’s first electric interurban line started operation between St. Catharines and Thorold in 1887. After leading a delegation of investors and York County council members to see electric railway operations in Pittsburgh, he successfully convinced York Council to permit electrification and increase car speeds. The first electric car on the Metropolitan trundled down Yonge Street on September 1, 1890, two years before the Toronto Railway Company ran electric streetcars within Toronto’s city limits.

Electrical Teething Pains and Other Problems

Electrical operation was not without its problems. The new electric cars were heavier than the horse cars, and running at three times the speed of the old horse cars. The rails had not been upgraded to handle the additional load, and soon the tracks began to crack. Heavy rains worsened the situation, until the line had to be completely rebuilt in the spring of 1891. In spite of this, expansion continued. Service reached Melrose Avenue (near today’s Yonge Boulevard) in 1892.

At the same time, the Metropolitan Railroad had to deal with souring relations with the communities it served. In 1889, the villages of Davisville and Eglinton had incorporated into the merged village of North Toronto, which became a town in 1890. Yonge Street was its main street. Although many residents depended on the Metropolitan to get to work, school and shops en route and in Toronto, others complained about the lack of direct streetcar service with downtown Toronto. The local newspaper called the North Toronto Recorder was a strong voice against the Metropolitan, deriding its service, and closely covering the Metropolitan’s track problems.

The Metropolitan still had its franchise, however. And when the Toronto Railway Company received its franchise to operate streetcar service within the City of Toronto, provincial legislation specifically prevented the TRC from competing with the Metropolitan’s franchise on Yonge Street north of the city limits. The company looked to expand northward, and received permission from the province to extend service to the shores of Lake Simcoe.

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The winter of 1897 was tough to get around, if this photo of Metropolitan Railway freight locomotive #1 is any indication. The photo is from the Don P. Evans Collection and is courtesy David Wyatt.

North to Richmond Hill, Aurora and Newmarket

In the early 1890s, Metropolitan service ended near today’s Yonge Boulevard. The next sixteen kilometres were especially challenging, with deep river valleys and steep hills to be conquered. An engineer by the name of J. McDougall staked out the line’s extension through Hogg’s Hollow, sticking to the west side of Yonge Street up to where today’s Forest Lawn Mausoleum now stands, before crossing the road to follow the east side to Richmond Hill. The plan required some of the steepest inclines for interurban railroads in all of North America, but crews began building. By the end of 1896, as many as 400 were employed laying down rails through the villages of Willowdale, Thornhill and Richmond Hill.

After vigorous construction through the winter, electric service to Richmond Hill launched on February 1, 1897. Passengers were treated to luxurious new cars built by the Pullman Palace Car Company. Initial service was four daily round trips between Richmond Hill and the Toronto City Limits. A one-way trip took 45 minutes and the fare was 40 cents (65 cents, return). The service destroyed its local competition (a stagecoach service that could only complete the trip in three hours), and the line was soon popular, with passengers connecting to school, work and shops in Richmond Hill. Trade increased, as did the population, turning the sleepy village into more of a commuter suburb. The Metropolitan built up its business, securing an agreement to transport milk to Toronto, and obtaining permission to build lines throughout York and Simcoe counties.

The next extension north took the line to Aurora in 1899, reversing a population decline. New powerhouses were built, and the surplus sold to households en route. Plans then were drawn up to take the service to Newmarket. This was easier said than done, as the town of Newmarket wasn’t built up around Yonge, but the next concession road east. Unlike the main streets of Aurora and Richmond Hill, the main street of Newmarket was narrow and steep. Although some residents worried about the Metropolitan’s effect on their main street, the company had the support of Newmarket’s mayor, who rallied people around the line — although town council voted against the company’s proposal to lop the top off a hill and widen Main Street. The final route extended the Metropolitan north on Yonge to Mulock’s corners, and then northeast through farmers’ fields directly into Newmarket. By mid-August 1899, the first cars entered the town.

Problems in Newmarket

The narrow main street of Newmarket proved problematic for the Company and residents alike. Wagon drivers took to side streets and back lanes to keep their skittish horses from bolting from the Metropolitan’s cars. Waiting passenger and freight cars blocked traffic. Business in town suffered. In June 1901, local residents petitioned town council to pull the tracks off of Main Street and an alternate route was put forward. Rather than run on Main Street, Metropolitan tracks would run behind the stores on the west side of Main Street from Eagle to Queen Street and then east along Queen. By this time, the Metropolitan saw merit in pulling out of Main Street, especially as it helped align them towards their extension to Lake Simcoe, but other residents objected to having the tracks cross their property. One resident made his point by standing at a proposed crossing, holding a shotgun.

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The image above is Metropolitan Railway’s North Toronto station, circa 1905, located at Yonge Street and Birth Avenue, across the tracks from CPR’s North Toronto station. Note the advertisements for Toronto’s Exhibition and the Newmarket Fair. The image is courtesy the Toronto Archives, and this information is courtesy Old Time Trains.

After tough negotiations, the realignment took place. In 1905, cars operated to a new station on Botsford Street. Main Street was freed up, and trade increased. New factories were established, taking advantage of the town’s connection with Toronto. Gradually, the bad feelings between Newmarket residents and the Metropolitan ebbed. Residents took the service to shop in the city, and the Metropolitan added an evening return train to accommodate them.

The Arrival of William Mackenzie

While this was happening, the corporate structure of the Metropolitan railway was reorganized. Local railroad magnate William Mackenzie bought out the Metropolitan Railway on August 1, 1904. He already had controlling interests in the Toronto Railroad Company and in suburban radial operations through Mimico and Scarborough. Thus the Metropolitan came under control of the Toronto & York Radial Railway Company and, effective November 1, the line was operated as a subsidiary of the Toronto Railway Company.

One of Mackenzie’s moves was to lump the Schomberg & Aurora railway into the Metropolitan’s operations. This short railroad meandering through sparsely populated King Township was physically and organizationally very different from the Metropolitan. It was a steam railroad rather than electric (it would not be electrified until 1916). It operated under federal rather than provincial railroad statute. And it carried very little traffic, freight or passenger. It was the brainchild of Schomberg entrepreneur Benjamin Brown. Construction began in 1899, but stalled, as Brown faced opposition from local farmers. At one point service was delayed when the rival Grand Trunk Railroad removed a crossing from its line. It took a year of litigation to get that rail crossing restored. Finally, the first train (a steam engine hauling a single flatcar) pulled into Schomberg in 1903. Regular passenger business began in 1904.

But Mackenzie’s resources enabled the Metropolitan to absorb the Schomberg & Aurora, and also to focus on extending its main line northeast of Newmarket. The line reached Jackson’s Point on the shores of Lake Simcoe on June 1, 1907 and, on January 1, 1909, reached a further 2.4 kilometres to Sutton. The Metropolitan was now the quickest way for Toronto residents to reach the beaches and resorts of Lake Simcoe, and soon cars were crowded in summer with holiday goers. No expense was spared, either. The forty kilometre extension cut across farmers fields along a twenty-metre-wide right-of-way that cost $1,000 per kilometre to build. Trestles spanned rivers, and the latest rolling stock was among the first cars into the resort towns. Fifteen passenger cars were bought between 1906 and 1907, built of steel, painted dark green and offering separate smoking and non-smoking compartments. Seven daily round trips were scheduled in the summer, with more cars added during high traffic civic holidays.

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This photo, courtesy the Toronto Archives, shows Yonge Street looking south from Woodlawn towards the CPR Tracks near today’s Summerhill station, on August 9, 1916. The Toronto Railway Company is finally laying down tracks to bridge the gap opened in the street by mayor Tommy Church a year before.

Yonge Street Connections Get Worse

While the line proved popular with residents in northern York County, those at the south end of the line were becoming more resentful. The town of North Toronto continued to grow, and the quality of service was not keeping up. More and more residents were commuting to jobs in downtown Toronto and they faced a lengthy transfer and an additional fare to make the trip. As their needs were more urban in nature, wasn’t it time for them to have a more urban street railway service? William Mackenzie also had to contend with the mayor of Toronto, Tommy Church, who objected to the performance of the Mackenzie-owned Toronto Railway Company as it refused to extend streetcar service to areas of the city annexed after the launch of the TRC’s charter in 1891.

Part of the problem at the south end of the line was the single track the Metropolitan used to serve North Toronto. To improve service, additional passing tracks would have to be added, or possibly the line would have to be double tracked. But it was now 1911, and the company’s owners weren’t as interested in throwing money around. The company and the town of North Toronto negotiated a proposal to double-track the line through the town in exchange for the company paying $1,200 per year in rent for the right-of-way, maintaining a fare of ten tickets for twenty-five cents and operating rush hour service at five minute headways. Local residents balked, defeating the proposal in a plebiscite, feeling the agreement was too favourable to the company, and did not provide direct service to downtown Toronto.

As part of his ongoing campaign against Mackenzie and the Toronto Railway Company, Toronto mayor Tommy Church personally led a delegation carrying shovels and pick-axes to rip up a five-block section of track on Yonge Street south of Farnham Avenue. The franchise for this stretch, which was now within Toronto’s city limits, had expired at midnight on Saturday, June 26, 1915. Although local residents were generally supportive of Mayor Church’s actions, the move still left a 400 metre gap between the Metropolitan and the Toronto Railway Company, which either had to be walked, or covered by taxi. Finally, in early 1916 and on order from the Ontario Railway and Municipal Board, the Toronto Railway Company extended Yonge city streetcar service from Price Street to Woodlawn.

Sir Adam Beck and His Radial Plan

While Mackenzie faced growing opposition from Toronto and North Toronto councils, a new player entered the game from the province of Ontario. Adam Beck was a successful industrialist and a former mayor of London. He was a minister without portfolio in the provincial government of James Whitney, and the founder and chairman of the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario.

Beck had a vision for Ontario that involved using the power of its many waterfalls (especially Niagara Falls) to generate cheap electricity for use by every resident in Ontario. As part of his commitment to provide power to the people, he proposed the creation of a network of publicly-owned electric interurban railways stretching across the province. At the time (1912), 580 kilometres of electric railways operated around Windsor, Chatham, London, Kitchener-Waterloo, Brantford, Hamilton, Toronto and the Niagara Peninsula. Beck sought to connect these systems, and to make downtown Toronto a hub of this network. Beck’s plan for a publicly-owned network appealed to Mackenzie’s critics, who were frustrated by the inadequacies of his privately-run operations.

In 1914, Beck introduced the Hydro-Electric Railway Act into the Ontario legislature, encouraging the construction of radial lines. In spite of a change of government in 1918, he pursued this network as head of Ontario Hydro, and eventually negotiated a “Clean-Up Deal” with the City of Toronto. The plan called for Ontario Hydro and the City to acquire William Mackenzie’s operations — some through payment, and others through the expiration of his franchises. The Toronto Railway Company’s thirty-year franchise was set to expire at the end of August 1921, and the City was to acquire all of the TCR’s streetcars and properties. The “Clean-Up Deal” would give the City of Toronto control over Mackenzie’s local power utility and the Toronto & York radial lines. Ontario Hydro would take control of the generating plants and transmission lines. The total cost to taxpayers would be $10.5 million, mostly paid to Mackenzie himself. The deal was ratified by Toronto voters on January 1, 1921, and on September 1st, the newly minted Toronto Transportation Commission took control of the Metropolitan Railway.

But Beck’s proposal was not without controversy. For Toronto to be the hub of a massive provincial radial network, the suburban radial lines had to enter downtown Toronto. Negotiations snagged on the details of the right-of-way. When the city refused to accept a six-track line across Toronto’s waterfront, accessed exclusively by Hydro cars, and when Beck refused to accept the city’s four-track counter-proposal (with access shared by TTC and Hydro cars), the back of the “Clean Up Deal” was broken. Toronto voters defeated the proposal in January 1923 by a vote of 28,325 to 23,129.

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Within days of the TTC acquiring the Metropolitan Railway, the Commission set to work rebuilding the tracks on Yonge Street for use by city streetcars. The interurban cars were cut back to the city limits at Glen Echo, where a new terminal was built for city cars and radials to meet. Photo courtesy the Toronto Archives.

The Toronto Transportation Commission Acquires Ownership

But the TTC still had ownership of the Toronto & York Radial Lines, including the old Metropolitan line operating up Yonge Street to Lake Simcoe. As the town of North Toronto had been annexed by the City of Toronto, work immediately began on ripping up the Metropolitan tracks south of Yonge Boulevard, and replacing them with city streetcars on the TTC’s YONGE streetcar route. A new terminal was built at Glen Echo Road (across from today’s Yonge Boulevard) where city streetcars and Lake Simcoe radial cars could meet. It opened in March 1923, offering passenger shelter and baggage facilities on the first floor and offices on the second. A new station was built at the junction between the old Metropolitan and the Schomburg and Aurora Railway. Additional service was provided between Glen Echo loop and Thornhill.

Although the TTC owned the line, and although the City of Toronto was responsible for its budget, Ontario Hydro remained the managers of the Toronto & York Radial lines. In spite of the improvements, ridership on Toronto’s radial lines started to decline. The Metropolitan line carried 1.969 million riders in 1923. By 1926, this had dropped to 1.765 million. Deficits mounted, and in September 1925, Toronto City Council ordered the TTC to take over direct operation of the lines, effective January 12, 1927. By combining operation under one roof, costs could be saved. Suburban radial equipment could be stored at TTC carhouses. The Metropolitan Line was formally renamed the Lake Simcoe Line. Between September 11 and September 17, 1927, the radial tracks were regauged from standard gauge to the TTC’s wider streetcar gauge. The Schomberg and Aurora was not included in this regauging, much to the chagrin of farmers in King Township, so the TTC was obliged to maintain three kilometres of dual gauge track between Schomberg Junction and Aurora, so farmers could access the freight railroads there.

The regauging allowed the TTC to shut down the line’s shops at Glen Echo. Cars would instead be serviced at Eglinton carhouse, requiring Lake Simcoe cars to proceed over city tracks after hours. The gauge change also allowed for the possibility of operating the radial cars directly downtown, although initially not much was made of this option, save for occasional late night express cars, and private charters to Bond Lake. The TTC had plans, however. They acquired property between Wellington and Front, just east of Yonge Street, and planned to set up a downtown terminal for radial cars. New passenger cars were planned for 1928. However, the performance of the line in 1927 cooled the TTC to this idea. There was just too much red ink. The private automobile was eating into ridership, and the TTC found that providing intercity service using buses from its Grey Coach subsidiary was more cost effective.

The TTC began to shut down its radial operations in 1927, abandoning the Schomberg and Aurora on June 20, in spite of protests by the federal government that the abandonment was illegal. The Lake Simcoe line came to a close next, with the last cars rolling back from Sutton on March 15, 1930, replaced by new runs by Gray Coach buses. The last car was a “Thornhill Local” arriving at the Glen Echo terminal at 1:15 a.m. on March 16. In the following months, properties were sold off, and tracks, poles and wires north of Newmarket were removed and sold for scrap. The Scarborough and Port Credit lines followed in the mid-1930s.

North Yonge Resurrection

The reeves and wardens of York County were not about to give up the Lake Simcoe line without a fight. Protests were lodged and public meetings were held. Two days before the Lake Simcoe line was abandoned, the township of North York entered into negotiations with the City of Toronto about purchasing the portion of the line between Glen Echo and Steeles Avenue. Encouraged by the City’s interest, the townships of Markham and Vaughan and the village of Richmond Hill followed suit. On May 3, 1930, ratepayers were called upon to vote for whether or not to make the purchase; 1,336 voted in favour, and only 110 voted against.

Newmarket sought to rescue the next 20 kilometres of the line north of Richmond Hill, and hosted municipal representatives with interest in the line all the way up to Sutton, but interest was cooled by the harsh reality that the amount of traffic the line would receive could only save service up to Richmond Hill. Including the rest of the line in the rescue plan would only lead to mounting deficits.

The final agreement called for the townships of North York, Markham and Vaughan as well as the village of Richmond Hill to purchase the line for $66,500. The Toronto Transportation Commission would provide service on the line under contract with these municipalities. The TTC would receive 10% of gross receipts to cover administrative costs, and any surplus or deficits would be divided among the four municipalities, in proportion to their tax base. The TTC and the municipalities also agreed not to run or licence any competing bus service.

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The opening ceremonies for the North Yonge Railways was well attended. This picture, courtesy the Toronto Archives, shows from right to left Reeve J. Muirhead, TTC commissioner William C. McBrien and W.D. Robbins. Reeves Lunau and Robson are holding the ribbon for cutting. William McBrien would become TTC chairman the following year, and led the Commission until 1953.

At 7:30 p.m. on July 17, 1930, two specially-decorated cars pulled out of Glen Echo terminal and headed north. The first car carried a marching band while the second carried municipal politicians and transit officials. The cars ran the length of the line to Richmond Hill where speeches were given and a celebration followed. The operation was officially christened the North Yonge Railways. Base service was initially hourly between Glen Echo and Richmond Hill, with additional half-hourly service operated south of Steeles. This service was doubled during rush hours. Fares were five cents per zone, with a trip to Richmond Hill costing 30 cents (return fare 55 cents).

Service Through the War

The resumed line was a success. The TTC brought in eight double-ended cars that had previously been in use on the Mimico radial line. Initial ridership was around 800,000 passengers per year. The first years operated with small deficits, but as the Great Depression ended, traffic rose, and the line posted its first profit in 1937. During the Second World War, ridership jumped to 2 million, and by 1946, annual profits rose to $59,866.

The TTC gave serious thought to double-tracking the line and operating single-end city-style cars. Land was purchased at the north end of Richmond Hill for a future track loop. As ridership increased, the TTC looked into double-tracking the line up to Steeles. As the Mimico-line cars reached the end of their design lives, the TTC considered converting a number of Peter Witt cars for operation to a Steeles loop. The conversion would have included doors that would open on the left side of the vehicle. Although the TTC expected the cars to operate on a double-tracked line, they expected the line to remain single tracked on the bridge over the Don River.

But the plans would come to nought. Just as streetcar companies throughout North America emerged from the Second World War with an overtaxed system in need of replacement, just as a resurgent automobile cut into ridership, the TTC found it had little money available to maintain the railroad to an acceptable standard. Buses started to supplement rail service south of Finch Avenue. Finally, a series of power shortages gave the TTC the excuse to shut down radial service for a six-month period starting the morning of October 11, 1948.

“Temporary” Bustitution

NORTH YONGE buses replaced radial cars on the morning of October 11. Service was initially provided via Yonge Boulevard, while Hoggs Hollow was served by a separate YORK MILLS bus until residents complained. The buses allowed the TTC to expand service beyond what eight double-ended radial cars could provide. Although the TTC claimed that the bus substitution was temporary, others were suspicious. The Upper Canada Railway Society charged that the plan was to forestall public opposition to the rail closure until it was a fait accompli. They suspected that other interests were at work, hoping for temporary bus operation to become permanent. One such interest was the Department of Highways that were surely eying the railway right-of-way as a means to widen Highway 11.

Whether or not the UCRS was right to be suspicious, when the six month period ended, there were no major calls to return the radial cars into service. In the summer of 1949, North York council advised its ratepayers that restoring rail service would be substantially more expensive than maintaining bus operation. A plebiscite was held in September and, though turnout was low, the vote in favour of maintaining buses overruled the call to restore radial service by a ratio of 4:1.

Memories of North Yonge Railways

The tracks alongside Yonge Street were pulled up as the highway was widened in 1950. The eight radial cars were sold to the Western Iron and Metal Company for scrap. Of the eight, one was saved. Car #416 was obtained by the Halton County Radial Railway Museum and is currently undergoing restoration.

In the years that followed, Toronto experienced explosive suburban growth, with a lot of it extending north of Yonge Street. It wasn’t long before most traces of the line vanished. However, Car 416 isn’t the only reminder that exists of the North Yonge Railways. Properties that were once power stations or passenger depots exist today as private residences or commercial buildings. And eighty years after the fact, much of the Metropolitan Railway’s right-of-way north of Newmarket can still be identified, maintaining its existence in the form of walking trails and hydro rights-of-way through farmers fields and woodlots. It’s possible to walk the old right-of-way of the Lake Simcoe Line along a trail within the Mabel Davis Conservation Area near Newmarket. The trail includes an old powerhouse east of Roaches Point.

At the south end of the line, hints of the old Metropolitan are harder to come by, but the exclusive Badminton and Racquet Club of Toronto, tucked away behind the stores on the southwest corner of Yonge and St. Clair, includes much of the structure of the original carhouse used by the Metropolitan railway.

Yonge Street remained a busy thoroughfare, and transit use only increased as the years went on. While the NORTH YONGE bus provided service to Richmond Hill, Gray Coach provided further service to Newmarket and beyond. Other service followed, as the TTC became responsible for all transit service south of Steeles Avenue following the formation of Metropolitan Toronto in 1954. The Yonge subway extended service to York Mills in 1973, followed by Finch in 1974, and the NORTH YONGE bus was soon replaced by buses operated by GO Transit. As urban development filled out York Region, York Region Transit took over service, and began building bus rapid transit service under the VIVA banner.

None of this would have been possible without the building of the Metropolitan, and the Lake Simcoe and North Yonge lines that followed it. These operations built up the villages along Yonge Street and connected them firmly to the City of Toronto. As the Yonge subway pushes north and bus rapid transit expands on Yonge, it is building on the legacy established by these earlier railroads.


North Yonge Railways Image Archive

References

  • Bromley, John F., and Jack May. Fifty Years of Progressive Transit: A History of the Toronto Transit Commission. [New York]: Electric Railroaders’ Association, 1973. Print.
  • Bromley, John F. TTC ‘28: The Electric Railway Services of the Toronto Transportation Commission in 1928. Toronto, Canada: Upper Canada Railway Society, 1968. Print.
  • Stamp, Robert M. Riding the Radials: Toronto’s Suburban Electric Streetcar Lines. Erin, Ont.: Boston Mills, 1989. Print.