By Aaron Adel and James Bow.
St. Clair Carhouse dates from 1913, about eight years before the Toronto Transportation Commission came into being. It is the only property still standing today retaining some of its streetcar heritage that was constructed by the Toronto Civic Railways to house its streetcars.
The Toronto Civic Railways was formed in 1911 to service those newly annexed areas of Toronto that the Toronto Railway Company refused to service. One of the major corridors to see service was St. Clair. Significantly removed from the rest of the system (which primarily operated in Toronto's east end), a new yard had to be built to house and maintain the streetcars necessary for the St. Clair and Lansdowne routes built at that time.
Service on St. Clair began on August 25, 1913; the carhouse on Wychwood Avenue (then called Bracondale Avenue) was opened on April 4, 1914. Until that point, St. Clair streetcars were stored in a temporary yard on Station Street (now Caledonia Road). The property chosen for the site was originally a park; no structures had to be demolished to build the carhouse.
The structure began as a simple building two hundred feet long and thirty-eight feet wide. It had a steel frame and concrete, brick and hollow tile walls. A storeroom and a traffic office were located at the Christie Street side of the building. In total, the original structure, still standing today, had room enough for three tracks. A fourth outside track provided additional capacity; in total, 12 cars could be stored. Double-ended cars drove into the stub tracks and, when they entered service, they did so on a single track up Bracondale (Wychwood) Avenue.
The structure was expanded in 1916 when the Lansdowne Civic route entered service. A second three-track structure abutted the original structure on its south wall, bringing the capacity up to twenty-seven vehicles, not including the snow sweeper.
In 1921, the Toronto Transportation Commission took over operation of all the Toronto Railway Company and the Toronto Civic Railways properties and operations. Trackage on Bathurst Street was extended north from Davenport Road to St. Clair Avenue (other connections between St. Clair and the rest of the system were added at Yonge Street, Avenue Road, Lansdowne Avenue, Old Weston Road and Keele Street) and operations at St. Clair Carhouse were significantly increased.
That year, the TTC spent $220,000 to renovate the structure, adding two more three-track bays (Tracks 7-12) on the south side of the building, a two-track repair bay (Tracks A & B) on the north side of the building, large traffic offices at the northeast corner, doors over all the bays, and new track so that the cars could enter at the west (Christie Street) side of the barn and exit at the east (Wychwood Avenue) side, with runaround capability. There were nine outdoor tracks (tracks 13-21), and double track was laid down on the now renamed Wychwood Avenue to provide easier access for arriving and departing cars. By the end of the year, St. Clair Carhouse had capacity for a total of one hundred and sixty cars (50 in the carhouse, 110 in the outdoor yards).
From that point on, St. Clair carhouse was one of the more important properties in the TTC system, rivalling Russell, Roncesvalles and Eglinton in terms of its capacity and operations. Among the carlines operated out of St. Clair, notables included Avenue Road, Bathurst, Bay, Church, Davenport, Dupont, Earlscourt, Ferry, Fleet, Fort, Lansdowne, Mount Pleasant, Oakwood, Rogers Road, St. Clair and even the famous Yonge Streetcar (briefly in late 1921 and for much of 1922, until Eglinton carhouse opened).
Starting in 1954, however, the use of St. Clair carhouse declined, as the TTC embarked on a campaign to eliminate its streetcars. By 1959, only Oakwood, Rogers Road, St. Clair, Earlscourt, Bathurst and Dupont were operating here. Oakwood was abandoned on January 1, 1960. Dupont disappeared when the University Subway opened. Bathurst was cut back to Bloor in 1966 (but continued to operate out of St. Clair carhouse), Rogers Road departed in 1974. The eastern portion of St Clair was broken away to form the Mt. Pleasant Streetcar in 1975, but that disappeared barely a year later. Earlscourt was merged into St. Clair in 1978.
By this time, the TTC felt that St. Clair Carhouse was no longer useful, serving as it was only two routes. Thus the decision was made to move all cars and personnel to Roncesvalles, and this took effect on April 15, 1978.
Since then, St. Clair saw a number of different uses. UTDC used the site to store and test CLRVs and the ALRV demonstrator (4900) before putting them into service. Even a Scarborough RT ICTS train was stored here early in 1985, when there wasn't enough space at the under-construction McCowan Avenue Yard to house the vehicle. The site has also had a number of grim functions, providing space as a graveyard for PCCs awaiting scrap, and even some of the old trolley buses.
By the mid-1990s, the site lay abandoned. All of the yard tracks were disconnected from the rest of the system on April 15, 1978 (#16-21) and October 31, 1991 (#3-13 & 15). The TTC, facing a nearly half-million dollar price tag if it hoped to renovate this structure to safe building standards, and about a hundred thousand dollars in annual charges for holding onto the property, sold it back to the city in 1996 for a nominal $1 fee. The switches from St. Clair onto Wychwood were plugged and the property closed on May 29, 1998. The switches have since been removed entirely.
This wasn't the end for the structure, however. The Toronto Historical Society wanted to protect the building, and the local residents campaigned to have the site turned into a park. Thanks to a lot of hard work and negotiations with the parties and local councillors, the Wychwood site was leased to Toronto Artscape Inc, for a nominal fee of $1 per year for 50 years. Along with work to restore the building to safe building standards while protecting its heritage features, the facility soon reopened as Wychwood Barns, a special community centre and local park, offering a number of cultural amenities including a brewery market and the "Music in the Barns" festival.
As of October 2014, The tracks on Wychwood Avenue remain in place, though they no longer connect to the tracks at St. Clair. It's a reminder of the facility's transportation heritage. For the community, the facility is an even more important centre than ever.
St. Clair (Wychwood) Carhouse Image Archive
- Hood, J. William, The Toronto Civic Railways: An Illustrated History, The Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto (Ontario), 1986.
Thanks to Ray Corley for correcting this web page and offering additional information.