By James Bow.
In 1884, a Belgian inventor named Charles Van Depoele met with J. J. Wright and constructed an electric railway running between the Crystal Palace, inside the Canadian Industrial Exhibition fairgrounds, and Strachan Avenue near the terminal of a Toronto Street Railway horsecar line. It was the first electric railway to be built in Canada. After five years of successful operation, the operators of the line went on to establish successful electric railway systems elsewhere and the experimental line was abandoned. The Toronto Railway Company started electric service to the Ex two years later. Ever since then, streetcars have always been a part of experiencing the Canadian National Exhibition. Service was provided down Dufferin Street to where today's Dufferin Loop stands.
The streetcar loop that we could call the earliest ancestor of today's Exhibition East started operation on August 25, 1916. The route to the Exhibition was very different from what we see today. After arriving at the Bathurst-Front intersection, cars would follow the Bathurst bridge southwest, and then leave the street to follow private right of way through Fort York, entering the loop at Strachan Avenue. Military officials were not pleased with this arrangement, but they had to live with it for more than a decade. This track also featured a spur near Strachan Avenue, where ashes from the TTC's electrical powerplants were dumped. This spur was removed in 1930.
Starting on August 20, 1923, the first Exhibition loop was modified to offer runaround capability. but in a rather unusual fashion. At the time, the loop featured an inner and outer track, and to run through the loop again, streetcars had to run into the inner loop, and use the runaround switch. This switch brought the cars onto the outer track, meaning that streetcars could only runaround the loop once. Exhibition Loop may have only seen service during the C.N.E. until 1931, when development south of the railway tracks and east of Strachan provoked the realignment of the Bathurst bridge into a north-south alignment. New tracks were built along Bathurst and Fleet Street, and the new Fort Streetcar began operation.
It was at this time that Fleet Loop came into being. Opened on June 22, 1931, its distinctive feature was the historic lighthouse it turned around. The Lighthouse had been rescued from demolition and moved to the site in 1929. Fleet Loop offered no runaround capacity, and served only to turn westbound Fort cars back east. As for the Exhibition Loop, it was rebuilt and reopened on July 31, 1933, enhanced to store a large number of streetcars to handle the Exhibition crowds. The loop remained relatively unchanged (even during World War II when the C.N.E. became a military base) until July 15, 1982, when cross-over tracks were added. Fleet Loop was renovated at this time, to allow cars leaving the C.N.E. to turn around and return; thus, Fleet Loop became the run-around track for the Exhibition Loop, allowing streetcars to drop patrons off and move into the storage tracks.
The construction of a World Trade Centre in 1995 brought about the end of the old Exhibition East Loop. A new loop was built to the north of the Coliseum, beneath the Gardiner Expressway. Accessed by private right of way and featuring extensive storage and passenger facilities, this loop is an ultra-modern stop worthy of an LRT line. It opened for business on June 11, 1996, and currently handles Bathurst cars, as well as serving as the terminus of the 509 Harbourfront streetcar route.
In the long term, the new Exhibition loop is designed to serve an LRT that may extend further west, connecting Union Station to the Queensway, Mimico and Long Branch. Those plans have cooled, for now (if Toronto gets the Olympics, the loop may be connected to the tracks at Dufferin Street and Dufferin Loop). Until then, it serves as a fine terminal for a venerable fairground.
Exhibition Loop and Fleet Loop Image Archive
- Bromley, John F., and Jack May Fifty Years of Progressive Transit, Electric Railroaders' Association, New York (New York), 1978.
- Filey, Mike, Not a One-Horse Town: 125 Years of Toronto and its Streetcars, Gagne Printing, Louiseville (Quebec), 1986.
- Filey, Mike, The TTC Story: The First Seventy-Five Years, Dundurn Press, Toronto (Ontario) 1996.