Text by James Bow
Small Arms Loop may be one of the more mysterious streetcar loops to have been built in the history of the Toronto Transit Commission. It lasted less than three years, and yet it pushed the TTC’s city streetcars into unfamiliar territory outside of York County. It served a vital function in the Second World War, but left very little record behind for that same reason. Thanks to the efforts of dedicated transit fans, however, we are able to piece together this history.
Streetcars in Peel County
Before 1942, streetcars weren’t unheard of in southern Peel County — today better known as the City of Mississauga. With the lake shore highway connecting the City of Toronto with the City of Hamilton and a number of port towns en route, traffic drove the construction of an interurban line called the Toronto and Mimico Railway through the southern Etobicoke townships of Mimico, New Toronto and Long Branch through the 1890s, reaching Etobicoke Creek by July 1, 1895. The company received permission to build further west in 1903 to link with the Hamilton Radial Electric Railway in Oakville, but it only managed to get to Port Credit in 1906.
The line was bought out by the City of Toronto on December 1, 1920 for possible future use by the Ontario Hydro Electric Power Corporation as a high speed Interurban line along the shore of Lake Ontario to downtown Toronto. That never came to pass and, on January 12, 1927, the line was reacquired by the City of Toronto, which set about converting the line for operation by TTC streetcars. The line through Mimico, New Toronto and Long Branch was double-tracked and widened to TTC gauge, with a new loop built at the western end of Long Branch. TTC service started on December 8, 1928, in what would become the 507 LONG BRANCH streetcar.
The portion west of Long Branch loop remained an interurban, however, starting as a stub-ended terminal at Long Branch, crossing the Etobicoke Creek and following Lake Shore Road as a single-track line on private right-of-way to the Credit River. The PORT CREDIT car did not have significant ridership compared to the city streetcars running east, and it was easy prey for competing motor coach services. The PORT CREDIT radial line was converted to bus operation on February 9, 1935. The tracks were removed as the Lake Shore highway was widened.
A Wartime Effort
The Second World War increased demand for TTC services as fuel and rubber rationing limited the number of cars on the streets, and factories worked overtime to supply the Canadian war effort. Around 1942, a factory manufacturing “small arms” set up on the south side of Lake Shore Road, just east of today’s Deta Road, two blocks east of Dixie.
Although the site was served by the PORT CREDIT bus, the connection was not a convenient one. It required a transfer with city streetcars at Long Branch Loop, as well as payment of an additional fare. The site was less than a kilometre west of Long Branch loop, so a lengthy walk for workers.
At the request of the Dominion government to serve the war effort, the TTC worked to extend streetcar service to serve the Small Arms factory. New tracks were laid down from the entrance of Long Branch loop heading west along the north end of Lake Shore Road, crossing Etobicoke Creek along the north side of the highway bridge. The tracks then swung across Lake Shore Road before turning in a loop north of the munition’s factory. The loop featured a long but open shelter to protect workers from the elements. In recognition of its service to the small arms factory, the loop was named “Small Arms Loop”.
Photographs of streetcars serving Small Arms Loop are almost impossible to find. Not only was photographic film rationed and hard to find, the War Measures Act restricted the taking of pictures in situations government officials believed could threaten wartime security. A munitions factory was just such a place where railfan photographers could be looked at as potential Axis spies.
All LONG BRANCH service was extended west of Long Branch loop to serve Small Arms (except possibly for one week from 3 p.m. on Saturday, August 7 to 6:55 p.m. on Sunday, August 15, when the plant closed to give the workers a week’s holiday — it’s not known why this would be noted by transit historians unless service was affected), although Long Branch remained the eastern terminus of the PORT CREDIT bus. Long Branch loop itself saw infrequent streetcar service (short turns, mostly) while there were factory workers to be served.
The End of the War, the End of the Loop
The Second World War officially ended on September 2, 1945, and with it the need for the small arms factory to manufacture munitions. Service to Small Arms loop continued until October 13, 1945 as production wound down and workers moved on to other jobs. After October 13, all LONG BRANCH service was routed back to Long Branch loop, and the TTC moved quickly to remove the tracks on the bridge across Etobicoke Creek, and in Peel County. The TTC claimed that, now that the war was over, it was “trespassing” on the Etobicoke Creek bridge. It’s likely that the provincial government was looking at widening the road, which would have kicked the TTC off the bridge. Building a new bridge, or laying down new tracks was deemed too costly for the TTC given the number of riders expected to use the service in peacetime.
Long Branch Reeve Tom Carter criticized the TTC decision and its haste, stating his belief that that the Commission could use the Etobicoke Creek bridge for the time being. He also hoped that the small arms factory could be repurposed for peacetime operation that could employ Long Branch residents. Long Branch councillor I.L. Iles stated, “We hope there will soon be many persons from three lakeshore municipalities employed at this plant.” Deputy Reeve Horace Purdy added, “It is ridiculous to pay an extra five-cent fare for half a mile farther… …If the tracks are removed, we would like to see it possible to use a transfer on the buses to this plant.”
Long Branch council tried to appeal the TTC’s decision to the Toronto Suburban Transportation Commission, but nothing came of it. The tracks went out, and the fare zone boundary remains at Etobicoke Creek to this day.
Elements of Small Arms loop remained visible for years following the removal of service. The trackbed of the loop remained visible in aerial photographs as late as 1957, and pictures of the shelter exist from as late as 1958. Today, the site southeast from the intersection of Lakeshore Road East and Deta Road is vacant land next to Marie Curtis Park, a protected natural area surrounding the mouth of the Etobicoke Creek. Most of the rail right-of-way was covered over by a widened Lakeshore Road. The Small Arms factory’s water tower remains as of this writing, long after the factory came down, and is still visible from Lake Shore Road.