Text by James Bow
Research by John F. Bromley
It’s hard to think of Dovercourt Road — particularly the segment between College and Bloor — as ever hosting streetcar tracks, much less a major streetcar route in its own right. The street seems lazy and residential, especially compared to the major arterial roads on either side, Ossington and Dufferin, which both boast busy bus routes. However, for almost sixty years, Dovercourt trumped both streets with its own streetcar route. The bus service operating on Dovercourt today is a shadowy reminder of what went before.
A Suburban Commuter Route
The history of streetcar tracks on Dovercourt begins on Monday, September 24, 1888, when the Toronto Street Railway started operation on the new DOVERCOURT VIA McCAUL horse car route. From Mondays to Saturdays, horsecars operated from a downtown loop of south on Church, east on Front, north on Frederick and west on King via west on King, north on York, west on Queen, north on McCaul, west on College and north on new tracks on Dovercourt Road to a crossover at Bloor Street.
As it is today, Dovercourt in 1888 was a residential street. However, it was also near the edge of the city, essentially a suburban street full of residents looking to commute downtown. Unlike today, when Dufferin and Ossington are needed to carry passengers from suburban neighbourhoods further north to jobs downtown, the streetcar routes approaching these areas were nearing the end of their runs out from downtown. Ossington and Dufferin streets were as sleepy, but the Toronto Street Railway needed to bring streetcar service to where the passengers went home at night. Running service along Dovercourt brought service to more people northwest of the Bathurst-College intersection, saving the need for additional track through the area.
The Toronto Railway Company took over the operation of the Toronto Street Railway in September 1891 an continued operating the DOVERCOURT route as is for a year, until September 5, 1892, when the downtown run was revised to operate via east on King, south on Church, and east on Front to Frederick, wyeing at Frederick and then returning via west on Front, north on York to Queen, rejoining the original route. This arrangement replaced part of the DANFORTH-COLLEGE VIA McCAUL route, and service was also increased to compensate. Around March 1893, the downtown routing was revised again, with incoming cars operating via Queen, York and Front to Frederick, returning via Frederick, King and York to Queen.
Electric Cars Versus Horses
By 1893, however, the Toronto Railway Company was making good on its promise to convert the horse-drawn streetcar routes to electric operation. The first electric streetcar had already started on CHURCH. Electric cars were significantly faster than horse-drawn streetcars, and conflicts between the two were scrupulously avoided, where possible
On October 30, 1893, the CARLTON & COLLEGE streetcar route was converted to electric operation. On this day, the DOVERCOURT VIA McCAUL route officially operated Monday to Saturday from the Bloor crossover via south on Dovercourt, east on College, south on McCaul, east on Queen, south on York and east on Front to Church, returning via north on Church and west on King to York. This would have meant that the stretch on College Street between McCaul and Dovercourt would have been operated with both electric cars and horse cars.
Transit historian John F. Bromley strongly disputes this, saying “it is almost beyond belief that DOVERCOURT VIA McCAUL horsecars would continue operation of the lengthy stretch of track between Dovercourt and McCaul. The delays to the new electric cars would have greatly impacted service reliability on CARLTON & COLLEGE… …Experience with BROCKTON horsecars being drawn downtown by QUEEN cars during electrification work on Dundas suggests that it was possible that DOVERCOURT VIA McCAUL horsecars were probably drawn behind COLLEGE and CARLTON electric cars from Dovercourt to McCaul as trailers from October 10, 1893 to May 4, 1894.”
Effective May 4, 1894, service on the DOVERCOURT VIA McCAUL route came to an end, as the tracks on Dovercourt from College to Bloor and McCaul Street from College to Queen were temporarily served by horsecar shuttles until electrification finished. The wires went up on Dovercourt Road and electric operation began on June 1 of that year, with a single car providing stub service from Bloor to College.
The tracks on McCaul Street continued to host horse car shuttles on the temporary McCAUL route, with two cars running back and forth, one on each track (there being no crossovers on McCaul) from College and Queen. Electric operation there arrived on July 18, 1894, and the last Toronto horse-drawn streetcar officially rode off into history.
Gradual Extensions North
The DOVERCOURT shuttle service continued until September 29, 1894, after which it was replaced by extensions of the CARLTON & COLLEGE routes. Stub car service returned briefly between June 22 and August 24, 1895, although these cars continued to display CARLTON & COLLEGE route signs. The DOVERCOURT route name returned on September 16, 1895, replacing part of the COLLEGE & YONGE route, with cars operating Monday to Saturday from a wye at Bloor Street via south on Dovercourt, east on College, south on Ossington, south on Dundas (today known as Ossington; the name change took place in 1917) to wye at Queen Street, returning via the reverse route. Sunday service was installed on May 23, 1897 and, on July 23, 1897, the service was extended north of Bloor via a single track on Dovercourt to a wye at Van Horne (today known as Dupont Street).
Sunday service was discontinued on May 1, 1898, to be reinstated on January 28, 1900, suggesting that the line, operating through a largely residential area, did not have the ridership of its east-west compatriots. However, on February 14, 1902, the service was extended south via east on Queen and south on Shaw to wye at King Street.
This gave DOVERCOURT access to a major trip generator at the south end. The Massey-Harris Company Ltd., a forerunner of Massey Ferguson and, at the time, one of the largest manufacturers of farm equipment in the British Empire, had built its head office and a massive collection of factories over an 11 acre site at 915 King Street West. Employing hundreds of workers, it was as good a reason as any to take the DOVERCOURT car south, and not downtown. Ridership may have increased enough to convince the TTC to double track the route north of Bloor to Van Horne in June 1906. Night car service was inaugurated at the same time.
Takeover by the TTC
The Toronto Transportation Commission took over streetcar operations from the Toronto Railway Company on September 1, 1921, and made no changes to the DOVERCOURT route, at least right away. The TTC did start to provide special service to the Canadian National Exhibition using DOVERCOURT cars, and this is covered in more detail in our article about special transit services to the Exhibition.
On November 1, 1923, the TTC further launched a rush hour tripper service, operating extra cars from the Van Horne wye along the length of the route to King and Shaw, and then via east on King, south on Church and east on front to George, returning via north on George and west on King to Shaw, rejoining the main route. These tripper cars were provided by Lansdowne Carhouse, and afternoon cars entered service via south on Lansdowne, east on College, south on Yonge, east on Carlton, south on Sherbourne and then west on King to George, where it then followed the normal tripper route back to Van Horne.
The TTC also set to work extending service north from Van Horne, laying down tracks through the Canadian Pacific Railway underpass to a new wye at Davenport Road. At this time, service on Davenport was being provided by the Toronto Suburban Railway, with streetcars operating along a single track, but the TTC and the City of Toronto were negotiating a takeover. On December 5, 1923, regular and night cars were extended north to operate from Davenport Road. Morning tripper cars entered service from Lansdowne via north on Lansdowne, east on Lappin, south on Dufferin, east on Hallam and north on Dovercourt to wye at Davenport and follow the full route. Afternoon trippers continued their lengthy runs along College, Carlton and Sherbourne to get to King and George, but also continued north to Davenport.
On January 20, 1924, DOVERCOURT cars turned west onto Davenport Road and operated over new double tracks via Davenport and Old Weston Road to Townsley loop, located one block north of St. Clair Avenue. Rush hour trippers continued to operate only to the Davenport wye, creating a short-turn service. They were joined by regular “base” cars in the morning rush-hours, operating from Townsley all the way downtown.
The DOVERCOURT streetcar provided an excellent way for commuters in Toronto’s northwestern suburbs to get either downtown, or to one of the largest employers in the city. The lie of the land also contributed to the shape of the route, thanks to a steep ridge immediately north of Davenport Road that marked the shore of glacial Lake Iroquois. Although double tracks had been laid down Davenport Road from Old Weston Road to Bathurst, Bathurst Street did not end at Davenport, but continued up a steep hill to St. Clair and beyond. In contrast, Dovercourt ended at Davenport. So, when the TTC looked for ways to get commuters in Toronto’s northwest suburbs downtown, they decided not to run cars on Davenport down Bathurst as Bathurst was already served by streetcars heading to St. Clair. Instead, the cars turned south on Dovercourt, and the short section of track between Dovercourt and Bathurst was left to the DAVENPORT shuttle.
Through Depression and War
The DOVERCOURT streetcar reached its full extent when Crawford loop opened on October 26, 1924, allowing cars at the southern end to loop on-street from Shaw via east on Adelaide, south on Crawford and west on King. It was served by wooden ex-Toronto Railway Cars for its first 18 years of TTC operation. Two-man cars (with a driver and a conductor) were used until March 1, 1925, when one-man cars were substituted for all non-tripper runs. One-man cars handled all runs effective May 1 of that year. Metal Peter Witt cars would not be provided until January 22, 1939 and then, only on Sundays, at first. PCC cars did arrive on October 1, 1942, replacing Witts for night service.
Few changes took place to the route from the late 1920s into the early 1930s. Service was extended east on St. Clair from Old Weston Road a few blocks to a new loop at Prescott Avenue on September 9, 1928. This was done to provide service on St. Clair Avenue west of a railway crossing just west of Caledonia Road. Once a new underpass opened on October 29, 1931, the service returned to Townsley Loop, with ST. CLAIR cars operating through. Coincidentally, on the same day, downtown service from St. Clair was cut back to Crawford loop, leaving only the tripper cars from the Davenport wye to head downtown. At the south end, minor changes took place on the downtown rush hour loop, with morning cars looping via King, George, Front and Sherbourne effective June 14, 1933. Afternoon cars followed suit on June 1, 1939.
The onset of the Second World War ramped up production at the Massey plant at King and Shaw, as well as at factories throughout Toronto, and DOVERCOURT service was increased to match. On December 9, 1940, morning tripper cars entered service from Townsley loop, operating the length of the route to King and then downtown via King, George and Front to Sherbourne, returning via King, Shaw, Queen, Ossington, College to Dovercourt, travelling north on Dovercourt and wyeing at Davenport if making a second trip, or leaving service via College and Lansdowne to Lansdowne carhouse.
Wartime traffic further extended tripper service on February 13, 1945. Four morning trippers continued past King and George via King, Queen and Broadview past Danforth Avenue to Erindale loop, returning via Broadview, Queen and King to Sherbourne where it resumed its normal tripper route. Two more morning trippers operated over the main line to King and Shaw and then operated west instead of east, running via King and North Queen (today known as the Queensway) to Sunnyside loop, returning via North Queen, King, through Toronto’s downtown past Sherbourne to Queen, along Queen to Broadview, and north on Broadview to Erindale loop, returning via the reverse route to King and Sherbourne and resuming normal tripper service.
The “Sunnyside-Erindale” trippers ceased operation on April 20, 1945, but the remaining morning Erindale trippers continued beyond the end of the Second World War. Their last day of service was March 1, 1947, replaced on the morning of March 3, 1947 by ten new morning tripper cars being extended from George and King via east on King, north on Parliament, east on Gerrard to Broadview, returning via south on Broadview, west on Queen and southwest on King to Sherbourne before resuming its normal tripper route. This tripper service continued until the closure of the DOVERCOURT route, nine months later.
The Last Days and Why They Came
On December 8, 1947, at 8 p.m., the last DOVERCOURT cars made their runs and then pulled into Lansdowne Carhouse. Newly acquired trolley coaches operating on the OSSINGTON route pulled out and started service on a line operating from King and Shaw via north on Shaw, west on Queen, north on Ossington and west on Davenport to loop via Oakwood, St. Clair, Alberta, Mount Royal and Regal.
Although the TTC was continuing to carry millions of Torontonians to home, work, schools and shops following the Second World War, ridership patterns were changing, and ridership on some routes were dropping. The TTC also had to deal with a large amount of deferred maintenance resulting from supply shortages and heavy wear and tear resulting from intensive use of its streetcar infrastructure throughout the Second World War. The tracks on Dovercourt — especially between Bloor and College, needed replacing, but were streetcars the best mode of transit for that part of the city? Was the route along that street the best use of system resources?
At the time, another technology rose to prominence: electric trolley buses systems were being marketed by manufacturers and added in such cities as Kitchener, Ottawa, Halifax and Montreal. They promised to provide service without the additional cost of tracks. The TTC decided that such technology could be used to extend service where demand didn’t warrant a full streetcar route, or maintain service when ridership was not sufficient to retain streetcar service.
Moreover, Ossington Avenue was rising in prominence at this time, becoming a significant commercial artery north of Bloor Street that soon overshadowed Dovercourt. The TTC saw a benefit to offering through service on this street from Davenport Road to Queen, and saw trolley buses as the best way to provide that service. So, late in 1947, trolley bus wires went up on Ossington, and DOVERCOURT became the second streetcar route (after LANSDOWNE) to fall to the TTC’s new trolley bus network.
Streetcar service on Dovercourt did not completely disappear, however. Following the launch of the OSSINGTON trolley bus, HARBORD streetcars were rerouted off of Ossington (north of Bloor), Hallam and Lappin to operate via Bloor, Dovercourt, Davenport and Old Weston Road to Townsley Loop. It is possible that the condition of the tracks made it make more sense to keep streetcars operating on Davenport Road than to replace them with trolley bus wires. The tracks also provided an important alternate route for cars from Lansdowne Carhouse to enter service, especially when construction of the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway sparked a number of diversions. So, for eighteen years, HARBORD cars continued to keep streetcar service on Dovercourt Road alive.
However, on February 25, 1965, the last streetcars plied Dovercourt Road, as the new crosstown subway ended the HARBORD streetcar. Indeed, all public transit vacated Dovercourt Road, and much of Davenport Road east of Lansdowne Avenue as well. People were expected to walk to trolley buses on Ossington and make connections with the subway.
Transit service returned to Davenport Road in the form of the 18 CALEDONIA bus as it was extended to Christie station on August 15, 1973. Dovercourt would not see another in-service transit vehicle until March 14, 1988, when an extension of the 94 WELLESLEY bus launched, restoring service on Dovercourt from Bloor to Hallam. Today, Dovercourt Road is served from Bloor to Davenport by the 161 ROGERS ROAD bus, arguably a descendent of the OSSINGTON trolley coach.
The streetcar tracks and poles lingered a little while after service ended. Even the section between Bloor and College remained for years after the DOVERCOURT streetcar stopped, with only switches removed at College Street. Soon after the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway opened, however, the paving crews went in and removed or covered over what they could. Today, only the extra width of Dovercourt Road compared to its surrounding streets indicate that streetcars once went this way.