Text by James Bow
In its last days of operation, at the end of 1940, the DAVENPORT streetcar was the shortest regularly scheduled streetcar route on the Toronto Transportation Commission's network. Offering a round trip of 2.93 kilometres, it was longer only than the DUFFERIN streetcar, which did not operate as regularly. Throughout the history of the TTC from 1921 onward, only the LANSDOWNE NORTH streetcar was shorter. There were no loops on the DAVENPORT route. Streetcars operated from a crossover on Davenport Road just west of Bathurst west to a crossover on Davenport Road just east of Dovercourt, and returned via the reverse route. Short double-ended streetcars were usually used.
But the shortness of the DAVENPORT route from 1924 to 1940 belies a longer and more illustrious history, which stretches beyond the start of the TTC to the beginnings of electric streetcar operation in Toronto. The street has been served by three separate electric railway companies, and its development affects the shape of public transit in its neighbourhood to this very day.
Toronto's Early Trails
Davenport Road began life as one of the longest First Nations trails in what is now Ontario. The Ojibwe named the trail "Gete-Onigaming", meaning "at the old portage", and it ran along what is now Kingston Road and Queen Street east of the Don River, followed Davenport Road before crossing the Humber River and following Dundas Street. When United Empire Loyalists settled the area, and the route became one of the ways of getting from York to Niagara, they applied a number of temporary names to its alignment, including "Plank Road" and "Bull Road", but by 1797 the trail was known as "Davenport Road".
The road was named after a home named Davenport built near the road by Ensign John McGill in 1797. There is some dispute over where the name itself came from. A fellow officer of McGill was Major Davenport, so the name could be the memorial of a friend, but the name itself has a Norman French origin meaning "the town on the trickling stream".
The route of the road was determined by the presense of the shore-line of old glacial Lake Iroquois, which produces a significant ridge north of today's street. Davenport follows the level land just below this ridge for ease of passage. This ridge is why a number of north-south streets end at Davenport to this day.
Davenport Road was paved in 1833 -- a project paid for by tolls charged at tollkeeper cottages built every few kilometres along the route. One such cottage exists today near the corner of Bathurst and Davenport, preserved as a heritage site. Although an important trade route, Davenport Road was some distance from the towns and villages growing up along Lake Ontario. The Lake Iroquois ridge limited development opportunities to the north. As result, it was a few decades before the area built up enough for public transit, but this did come in 1891.
Davenport Gets Its Own Street Railway Company
On April 20, 1891, the village of West Toronto granted a twenty-year franchise to the newly incorporated Davenport Street Railway Company to operate service from West Toronto's downtown at Keele and Dundas via Keele, St. Clair, Ford Street and Davenport to points east. The proposed route also served the communities of Carlton, Davenport and Bracondale before turning south on Bathurst Street to terminate at the Canadian Pacifiic Railway tracks, where connections could be made with the Toronto Railway Company streetcars south of the tracks. A single track was laid and wires strung along the route, and service began on September 6, 1892 -- albeit, with transfers between cars required on St. Clair Avenue at the Grand Trunk Railway/Canadian Pacific Railway level crossing, until crossing diamonds were installed on September 16.
While this was happening, another street railway company was setting up shop in West Toronto. The Weston, High Park & Toronto Street Railway Company was incorporated on November 12, 1890, with a mandate to build horse-drawn streetcar lines within the West Toronto Junction and the townships of York and Etobicoke. It changed its name to the City & Suburban Electric Railway in 1891 before it started building, to take advantage of the new electric streetcar technology. One of its first routes built by the C&SER was the CRESCENT line, operating from the Keele/Dundas intersection via west on Dundas, south on Gilmore, eat on Louisa (today known as St. Johns) and south on Fairview Avenut to Evelyn Crescent. The route was extended east from the Dundas/Keele intersection in 1894 to Humberside Avenue, where passengers could connect to Toronto Railway Company streetcars on Dundas Street.
Part of a West Toronto Network
Although the CRESCENT and DAVENPORT lines did not compete with each other, their presence around the Keele/Dundas intersection may have sparked interest in a connected network. In February 1894, the people behind the City & Suburban Electric Railway and the Davenport Street Railway asked for and received an act of parliament in Ottawa to incorporate the Toronto Suburban Railway, taking over the properties and operations of both companies. With the beginnings of a new network centred around the Keele/Dundas intersection, the Toronto Suburban Railway began expansion, laying tracks north on Keele Street and Weston Road to the village of Weston in 1894, and extending tracks west along Dundas from Gilmour to Lambton Park around 1895. When the Toronto Suburban Railroad was bought out by Sir William Mackenzie (who also owned the Canadian Northern Railroad), further extensions were planned, to Guelph (starting in 1901) and Woodbridge (starting in 1904).
In spite of the ambitions of the Toronto Suburban Railway, service along Davenport Road was fairly modest. While express cars delivered milk enroute, the line remained single-tracked along its whole length, with the only passing siding to be found along its 3.11 miles just west of Lansdowne Avenue. Two passenger cars provided 30 minute service. According to James Victor Salmon in his publication Rails From the Junction, "DAVENPORT was the main open car route. During a storm or shower, the grab rails became charged very highly, giving some of the riders a severe jolt... The DAVENPORT route trackage was in wretched condition in later years, and poor rail bonding was a constant nuisance. Crews often had to use coppers or switch irons in order to get a car underway."
In spite of the modest operation, the Toronto Suburban Railway ended up switching gauges partway through its charter. The lines were initially built at the Toronto Railway Company's broad horse-car gauge of 4 feet, 10 7/8 inches. However, the extension to Guelph and the resulting interchanges with Mackenzie's freight railroads required that the Toronto Suburban Railway switch to standard railway gauge (4 feet, 8 1/2 inches). This changeover took place on January 30, 1917, when rails across the network were shifted 2 3/8ths inches closer to each other, and car wheels regauged. The tracks would be moved back apart again (except for the GUELPH line, which moved off of city streetcar tracks entirely with the construction of a bypass north of St. Clair from the Humber River to Keele in 1924) when the Toronto Transportation Commission took over a few years later.
Toronto Catches Up
By 1911, the City of Toronto had annexed much of the territory the DAVENPORT streetcar line served. When the Toronto Railway Company refused to extend service to this territory, claiming it was not covered under the original 1891 franchise, the City of Toronto set up its own street railway company called the Toronto Civic Railway. One of the lines it set up to provide service to the newly-annexed areas of the city was LANSDOWNE, operating from St. Clair Avenue south to the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks, crossing the TSR's DAVENPORT route. In 1917, a railway diamond was installed, with an interlocking signal to prevent crashes. The signal was set up so that TCR crews on Lansdowne activated it before they crossed the rails at Davenport, and then reset it after they made the crossing -- making the conductor run a heck of a lot during a full day on the very short LANSDOWNE route.
While this expansion was happening, the Toronto Suburban Railroad considered expansion of its own. In 1917, it laid down tracks east from the Davenport/Bathurst intersection, following Davenport Road to Huron Street. The idea was to continue to Poplar Plains Avenue and connect the line with the Canadian Northern Railway right-of-way paralleling the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks north of Dupont Street, extending service to Yonge Street and offering better connections with downtown-bound Toronto Railway Company streetcars there.
The Toronto Suburban Railway spent a fair amount of money on this extension, using heavier rail than what was on the rest of Davenport Road. However, once the tracks reached Huron Street, construction abruptly stopped. It's speculated that the City of Toronto intervened, as they hadn't given permission for Mackenzie to make the extension. With no love lost between Toronto mayor at the time Tommy Church and William Mackenzie, and with the City of Toronto looking ahead to uniting all streetcar service within Toronto under a single city-owned operator, the Davenport Road extension never pushed further east, and was taken up months later without the tracks ever seeing service.
Toronto Transportation Commission Takeover
On September 1, 1921, the city-owned Toronto Transportation Commission took over the properties and operations of the Toronto Railway Company and merged them with the properties and operations of the city-owned Toronto Civic Railway. The TTC's takeover of other streetcar operations within city boundaries, including the Toronto & York Radial Railway and the Toronto Suburban Railway, would have to wait a few more years as negotiations continued, sometimes acrimoniously, between the parties. On November 15, 1923, most of the operations of the Toronto Suburban Railway within the City of Toronto were turned over to the TTC, although the TSR continued to operate these lines in trust until the TTC could upgrade the tracks to city standards.
The first line to be rebuilt was the DAVENPORT route. The TTC had already purchased the TSR tracks on Bathurst Street from the Canadian Pacific tracks to Davenport in order to extend BATHURST service on October 30, 1921. With the rest of the line now in TTC hands, crews set to work replacing the single standard-gauge tracks with double-tracks at TTC gauge along the length of Davenport Avenue from Bathurst to Old Weston Road. Ironically, this would result in a significant reduction in DAVENPORT service once the new tracks were complete.
On January 20, 1924, the first 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. DAVENPORT was reduced to a stub service operating between crossovers at Bathurst Street and Dovercourt Road.
The problem was that the eastern end of the old DAVENPORT service was not a natural one, but one forced by the competing franchises and mandates of the Toronto Suburban Railway and the Toronto Railway Company. By 1923, most passengers using the DAVENPORT service wanted to travel to downtown Toronto. However, the exclusive mandate of the Toronto Transportation Commission prevented this. Even when the Toronto Railway Company was running and owned by Sir William Mackenzie (who also owned the Toronto Suburban Railway), the terms of the franchise, and the TSR's standard gauge prevented TSR cars from travelling downtown. The TSR's attempt to extend DAVENPORT service east to Yonge Street was its attempt to better address this market.
With the Toronto Transportation Commission in charge, this division wasn't necessary anymore. Streetcars on Davenport Road could head downtown. But which roads would the line use? Bathurst Street was already served by BATHURST streetcars, and the TTC was extending service north of Davenport Road to St. Clair. There was little desire on the part of the TTC to have DAVENPORT cars duplicate service on Bathurst Street south of Davenport Road. Similarly, while some thought was given to extending tracks east of Bathurst Street, the north-south streets that could take DAVENPORT cars downtown already had routes of their own, like YONGE, BAY and DUPONT, that were already heading elsewhere.
Further west of Bathurst, the Lake Iroquois shoreline cut off many north-south streets, and the DOVERCOURT streetcar line conveniently ended a few blocks south of Davenport Road. Linking the tracks together and extending DOVERCOURT service west on Davenport Road gave those residents direct downtown access, at a cost of leaving Davenport residents between Bathurst and Dovercourt with the consolation prize of a short shuttle service.
There was no room to build a loop at the west end of the new DAVENPORT route, so a crossover was used instead and double-ended cars from the old Toronto Civic Railway were put into service. The crossover at the west end meant that the TTC had little incentive to build a loop at the east end, or route DAVENPORT cars into the loop within Hillcrest Shops, so the service operated between the two crossovers for the remainder of the line's life.
The Last Days and Why They Came
Although the tracks along Davenport Road were new and in good condition, ridership along the DAVENPORT line was low and the route was an obvious contender for replacement by buses. The Lake Iroquois shoreline kept most residents north of Davenport Road away from the line, using the streetcars along St. Clair Avenue instead. The residents south of Davenport Road could just as easily walk to Dupont Street and catch DUPONT cars heading directly downtown. As the Toronto Civic Railway cars along the line aged, and the TTC remained committed to using single-ended cars as the standard of its fleet, there was little incentive to keep streetcars operating on the DAVENPORT route beyond the late 1930s.
In 1926, the TTC established a bus service along Oakwood Avenue between Davenport and St. Clair. As the question of maintaining the double-ended streetcars on Davenport Road became more pressing, the TTC decided it made sense to convert the operation to a bus line combining the streetcar route with the bus route on Oakwood. Even with the Second World War rations limiting the availability of rubber and gasoline, the TTC ended the DAVENPORT streetcar service on December 31, 1940, and the DAVENPORT bus started operation the next day. The tracks were paved over within five years, with only stubs extending east from the Dovercourt intersection offering a reminder of what had been (as well as serving as a short turn wye for DOVERCOURT cars).
Davenport Road continued to maintain streetcar service west of Dovercourt Road. In 1947, the DOVERCOURT cars gave way to HARBORD cars, again operating between Dovercourt Road and Old Weston Road. HARBORD service was cut back to St. Clarens Avenue on January 21, 1957, although tracks remained in place to Lansdowne Avenue to maintain a connection to Lansdowne Carhouse. However, the writing was on the wall. Not only were streetcars on the wane, but the 24 DAVENPORT bus service east of Dovercourt vanished after March 28, 1958 due to low ridership. Finally, when the BLOOR-DANFORTH SUBWAY opened for service on February 26, 1966, HARBORD cars vanished, removing transit service from Davenport Road entirely.
For the past few decades, Davenport Road's prominence as a roadway was waning. The City of Toronto had already punched a number of streets through the Lake Iroquois shoreline ridge -- particularly Bathurst, Avenue Road and Yonge, and it had built a wide and fast east-west thoroughfare in the form of St. Clair Avenue north of that shoreline. People entering the city from the northwest were more likely to use St. Clair than Davenport, and St. Clair better served the growing developments of York Township.
Aside from short jogs by buses serving other routes, Davenport Road would remain largely unserved until August 15, 1973, when the 18 CALEDONIA bus extended east from Caledonia Park to Christie Street. As ridership slowly grew, the 127 DAVENPORT bus emerged on April 15, 1984 to provide service to area residents from Spadina Road to west of Symington. Today, Davenport Road is a modest street running in the shadow of St. Clair Avenue and Dupont, but serving a mix of commercial and residential uses. It maintains its unique alignment, which recalls its heritage, both as access route into the city, and historic streetcar corridor.
Davenport Streetcar Image Archive
- 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.
- Salmon, James V., John F. Bromley, and Mike Filey. Rails from the Junction: The Story of the Toronto Suburban Railway. Toronto:, 1958. Print.
- Veilleux, Annie. "The Davenport Trail." Heritage Toronto. City of Toronto, 5 July 2011. Web. 26 June 2016.