A Short History of the Dufferin Streetcar

Text by James Bow
Research by John F. Bromley

Today, Dufferin Street is a busy arterial road, formed out of the same concession lines that gave us Yonge and Bathurst streets and Bayview Avenue. The route 29 DUFFERIN bus is one of the busiest on Toronto’s transit network. However, Dufferin Street itself has only a short stretch of streetcar track, running from Queen Street south to just beyond Springhurst Avenue, with looping facilities near the Canadian National Exhibition’s Dufferin Gate.

Given Dufferin’s prominence as a major street in Toronto today, it may seem odd that a DUFFERIN streetcar route is barely remembered by Torontonians. However, such a route did exist, and it operated for over a quarter of a century.

The Humble Origins of Dufferin Street

One reason for Dufferin Street’s low prominence in Toronto’s streetcar history is because the street itself had humble beginnings, compared to Bathurst or Yonge. While its route was defined as one of the concession roads marked off east and west of Yonge Street, the portion between Queen and Eglinton remained a quiet residential street for the early part of the 20th century.

One reason was likely the fact that, when Dufferin Street started to see development, it was not as part of the City of Toronto. Instead, the village of Parkdale grew up around the Queen/Dufferin intersection, with traffic patterns oriented far more east-west towards Toronto than north-south, as was the case with Toronto’s Yonge and Bathurst streets.

Another reason may have been the presence of the railway overpass that overshadows the Queen/Dufferin intersection. Built between August and November 1892 (the resumption of streetcar service was delayed until December, when it was discovered that there wasn’t enough clearance for electric streetcars, and the roadway had to be lowered), the tracks of this overpass blocked Dufferin Street’s progress to the north, forcing northbound traffic to jog via Peel and Gladstone before returning to Dufferin. Other streets, like Roncesvalles, Lansdowne and Ossington, took up the slack.

When streetcar tracks were laid down on Dufferin Street, after 1891, it was as part of the tail end of streetcar services on Queen and King Street. The tracks were used by streetcars offering a connection to the western entrance to the Exhibition grounds, but streetcars did not stay on Dufferin Street for long, before turning onto east-west streets heading towards downtown Toronto. Outside of events at the Exhibition, the tracks did not get much use, as service on King and Queen streets were focused on residents and businesses further west, towards Roncesvalles Avenue. Still, in 1894, the crossover at the south end of the tracks was converted into a loop via Springhurst (then called Huxley, and using private right-of-way north of the street until the street was widened and paved), and private right-of-way next to the Grand Trunk Railway. This loop evolved over the decades but exists to this day as Dufferin Loop.

In Times of War

The first appearance of DUFFERIN as an independent streetcar route using the tracks from Dufferin loop to King occurred in September 1914, soon after the declaration of the First World War. At the time, the Exhibition Grounds had been taken over by the Canadian military to billet a large number of soldiers waiting to be sent overseas. The military asked the Toronto Railway Company to provide a streetcar to help serve these soldiers from the Dufferin Gate — (the only connection the Toronto streetcar network had with the grounds until August 25, 1916, when Exhibition loop opened, giving access to the grounds from the east).

At the time, the Toronto Railway Company and its owner, William Mackenzie, were not popular in Toronto. The TRC and the City had been engaged in a lengthy battle to extend streetcar service to areas the City had annexed after 1894. The Toronto Railway Company refused, saying this went beyond its mandate, and would not be profitable. The TRC’s obstinance led the City to create the Toronto Civic Railway to serve the newly annexed areas, and eventually take over the assets of the TRC once its franchise expired in 1921.

Canadian courts may have sided with the Toronto Railway Company against the City, but the battle did little but foster the TRC’s miserly reputation among citizens. When the Canadian military asked the TRC to provide service on Dufferin Street for its troops, in spite of there being a war on, the TRC was similarly frugal in its response. A single double-ended car began shuttling back and forth from the crossover north of King Street south to Springhurst, before returning to King Street, likely on the same track. The service was not publicized, and the TRC likely abandoned the line within a few weeks of its start-up. John F. Bromley, in researching the route, could find no reference to when operations ended, and speculates that the route may have vanished after just a week.

The Military Makes it an Order

The Canadian military then turned to Toronto’s mayor and staunch critic of the Toronto Railway Company, Thomas Langton Church, and to the Ontario Railway & Municipal Board. With a formal request endorsed by the mayor, the railway board asked the TRC to resume service. As a result, the TRC agreed to restore service on a trial basis for another week, and did so starting on February 2, 1915, but made no further promises.

This time, the TRC used a larger “palace” car — a term generally used for the double-trucked TRC-built cars with numbers higher than 1310, likely operating along Dufferin, after wyeing at King Street, south along Dufferin, through Dufferin Loop and returning.

In his extensive research, John Bromley found no record of DUFFERIN service operating following the week-long trial, but he did not find any record that the service was curtailed, either. It is possible that the line may have continued to operate, unheralded, for the remainder of the First World War — if so, likely using the smaller double-end car in stub service, like in 1914, to handle the lack of traffic. Service either discontinued on February 8, 1915, or on November 11, 1918, and was certainly over by December 31, 1918.

The Return of the Dufferin Shuttle

For years afterward, service on Dufferin Street was provided by other routes, largely to serve events at the Exhibition grounds. During the Canadian National Exhibition, DOVERCOURT cars would divert off their regular route from King and Shaw and operate to the Exhibition via King and Dufferin. Starting June 30, 1922, this diversion began operating daily through the summer from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., initially from Bloor Street, and then, on July 17, 1922, along the full route from Van Horne. This service ended on August 25, 1922, but resumed again for the summers of 1923 and 1924.

Then, on July 1, 1925, DUFFERIN reappeared, replacing the summer extension of the DOVERCOURT route. Every day, from 2:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., double-ended (likely ex-Toronto Civic Railway) cars would operate from the Dufferin crossover north of King Street, via south on Dufferin, through Dufferin Loop and then north on Dufferin to the Dufferin crossover.

This stub service continued throughout the summer months in the years to follow up to and including 1939. Generally only one car was used, but occasionally additional cars were added as traffic warranted, and the service sometimes reappeared for special events at the Exhibition Grounds. Service would generally end on the day before the Canadian National Exhibition opened, as other streetcar routes were realigned to service the fair, although DUFFERIN cars continued to operate during Sundays, back when the CNE did not open on Sundays.

War Service Returns.

In 1939, the DUFFERIN streetcar ceased operation on August 24 of that year. Days later war was declared in Europe and Canada joined the fight. On October 31, the DUFFERIN streetcar was called upon to serve, ferrying residents to and from area homes and factories to the KING streetcar.. Service operated Monday-to-Saturday, during the afternoon rush hour until 9:30 p.m., again from the Dufferin crossover via Dufferin to Dufferin loop and returning.

The service operated through the winter, until June 8, 1940, when operations were suspended and no replacement service provided. Service resumed on July 1, 1940, daily from 2 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. (longer, if traffic warranted), in a repeat of the summer services that used to operate from 1925 to 1939. The service would end with the start of the Canadian National Exhibition and not resume until the following summer,

In 1941, the DUFFERIN streetcar operated from July 21 to August 21. At the end of service on August 21st, DUFFERIN was not called upon to operate for another four years, until the Second World War ended. The Canadian National Exhibition did not operate from 1942 to 1946, as the grounds were taken over by the Canadian military to billet soldiers. Service to the Exhibition at this time was handled by the FORT, BATHURST and, starting February 19, 1942, rush hour LANSDOWNE streetcars operating out of Exhibition loop at the eastern entrance. From August 1941 to September 1945, the only visitor to Dufferin loop was the occasional KING short turn.

A Final Reprieve, and Last Days

For whatever reason, DUFFERIN service resumed on September 4, 1945. A single double-ended streetcar operated during rush hours, Monday to Saturday, from the Dufferin crossover just north of King Street to Dufferin loop. This service was cancelled on April 27, 1946, but returned on July 14, 1947. This time the service operated during the daytime hours, Monday to Saturday.

This DUFFERIN streetcar would continue to operate sporadically in the years to follow. After suspending service on August 21, 1947, for the Canadian National Exhibition, it resumed on September 8, only to be cancelled again on September 11. In 1948, service resumed on August 20, before being suspended six days later (with the exception of Sunday service) before resuming on September 12, and ending on September 15.

During the final weeks of 1948, the TTC retired its remaining double-ended passenger-carrying streetcars. When the call came to restore DUFFERIN service in 1949, there were no streetcars that could easily handle the crossover, and the TTC had lost faith in wyeing streetcars in intersections. Instead, a bus was provided. On August 18, 1950, when service resumed again, a single-ended streetcar was used, operating from Dufferin Loop via north on Dufferin, east on King, north on Shaw, west on Queen and south on Dufferin to Dufferin loop. The service was suspended for the Exhibition on August 24, before returning on September 10.

The last day of operation of the DUFFERIN streetcar was September 13, 1950. On March 26, 1951, the KINGSTON ROAD streetcar extended its morning tripper service from Bingham Loop via Kingston Road, Queen, King and Dufferin, looping via north on Dufferin, east on Queen and south on Shaw. On November 26, 1951, this service was revised to operate via King and south on Dufferin to Dufferin Loop, returning via Dufferin and King. Also on this day, afternoon trippers on KINGSTON ROAD entered service from Russell Carhouse via north on Connaught, west on Queen, west on King and south on Dufferin to Dufferin loop, returning via Dufferin, King, Queen and Kingston Road to Bingham loop. With this service in place, there was no need for a DUFFERIN shuttle.

KINGSTON ROAD tripper cars would use Dufferin Loop until the end of 1962. On January 2, 1963, morning cars were extended to operate on King west of Dufferin to Roncesvalles, while afternoon cars entered service operating from Connaught via west on Queen, south on Dufferin and east on King. On May 21, 1963, these afternoon cars were also extended west to Roncesvalles.

Through the 1950s and into the 1960s, Dufferin Street emerged as a major arterial. North of Eglinton, the street saw development, and the first dedicated public transit routes in the form of the BRIAR HILL and DUFFERIN buses. Traffic on Dufferin south of Eglinton gradually more grew until, on September 5, 1961, the 73 SOUTH DUFFERIN bus was launched to serve it. On March 26, 1962, the 29 DUFFERIN bus was extended south, absorbing the 73 SOUTH DUFFERIN route, and serving Dufferin Street between Queen and Dufferin Loop, effectively ending all hope for a DUFFERIN streetcar.

Dufferin Streetcar Echoes

Maybe not all hope. In 1997, the TTC commissioned a report to look at ways it could use its surplus streetcar fleet to deal with a shortage of buses. The 29 DUFFERIN bus, south of Bloor Street, was cited as a possible candidate for conversion to streetcar operations. Not only did the bus have the passenger traffic that could make streetcar service effective, the fact that tracks still existed on Dufferin between Queen and Springhurst, and looping facilities were in place at the Dufferin gates, meant that conversion could be done less expensively than if the entire route had to be built from scratch.

Whatever the savings the track and loop represented, the TTC did not have the budget to complete the conversion, especially as it would have required a costly underground terminal at Dufferin station to connect with the subway and turn cars around. Moreover, the 29 DUFFERIN bus did not have quite the ridership to justify such a conversion, so the proposal did not proceed.

Since then, former industrial lands southeast of the King/Dufferin intersection saw massive redevelopment into the high-income, high-density Liberty Village neighbourhood. With the KING streetcar seeing major crowding east of Dufferin, the possibility of increasing service to Liberty Village was raised by individuals in the neighbourhood and by local councillors. With the TTC building a short streetcar spur along Cherry Street in the old Don Lands, ahead of service that would start in 2016 after the Pan Am Games ended, a short line operating from Cherry Loop to Dufferin Loop via King Street became a distinct possibility, and such a link materialized with the launch of the 514 CHERRY streetcar on Sunday, June 19, 2016.

As for Dufferin itself, on November 18, 2010, after months of work, a new stretch of Dufferin Street opened beneath the railway tracks, connecting Queen Street to Peel, and eliminating the need for buses to jog via Gladstone. The underpass was designed to allow for an extension of the streetcar tracks north of Queen. This means that a possibility exists, however remote, for a DUFFERIN streetcar to re-emerge at some point in the future.

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