Text by James Bow.
When the Toronto Transportation Commission inherited the public transportation network of the city in 1921, it inherited a bit of a mess. With the Toronto Suburban Railway, various radial routes and the separate systems of the Toronto Civic Railway serving areas the Toronto Railway Company refused to serve before, work was needed to amalgamate the several systems into something seamless. Worse still, the TRC had skimped during its last days on the job, and so the TTC was expected to dramatically expand and improve service and at the same time dealing with aging equipment and infrastructure.
Between April 1921 and early 1923, the TTC turned to the Canadian Car and Foundry of Montreal to provide new cars for its service needs. The design, originated by a commissioner of the Cleveland Street Railway, Peter Witt (hence the name), offered a front entrance, centre exit, “Pay as You Enter” car for 2 man operation inside a steel body. The TTC were to get a modern vehicle offering large passenger capacity and able to haul a trailer. A total of 575 cars were ordered in all (350 motors, 225 trailers), and several variations came with each. Of these, 50 (2800-2898) were ordered from the Ottawa Car Company and 50 were from the Preston Car Company (Brills 2580-2678).
The Peter Witts ranged in size from 47 feet (Small Witts) to 51 feet, 10 inches (Large Witts) to 52 feet, 3 1/4 inches (the Brill Large Witts), and the trailers came in two door and three door versions. The streetcars were eight and a half feet wide, and due to the TRC’s narrow devil strip (the space between two sets of tracks) tracks had to be relaid in order to provide proper clearance. No problem, as much of Toronto’s street trackage had to be relaid anyway, due to its poor condition.
The Peter Witts were the workhorses of the fleet until 1938, with the appearance of the Presidents Conference Committee car. On September 7, 1952, after York Township requested that the TTC replace the Small Witts with PCCs, the operation of pay-as-you-enter Witts during normal hours ceased and the Witts were largely confined to rush hour tripper service. The large, two-man Witts continued to operate on the Bay and Yonge lines, however, for another two years, at which point the Yonge subway opened. Witt trains were the base fleet of the Yonge Streetcar route, and of course, the model took a big hit when its showcase route, Yonge, was abandoned due to the opening of the Yonge subway. A month before the subway opened, the Yonge service was cut back to Eglinton Avenue, to prepare North Yonge for the new 97 Yonge trolley bus route. The morning of March 30 started out normally for the Witts, as they trundled past throngs of people viewing the opening ceremonies, but after 1:30 p.m., the trains started to disappear, as the subway took over.
After the subway opened, many Witt cars and their trailers were rolled into the newly constructed Harbour Yard, on the south side of Harbour Street, between York and Bay. The new yard opened for use on September 5, 1951, featuring six tracks and a capacity of 36 Witt trains. The yard made up for capacity lost at Eglinton carhouse due to subway related construction and, on March 30, 1954, stored all of the Yonge line’s Witt trains while they awaited their fates at the hands of the scrap merchants.
Even with the loss of the Yonge Line and the shrinking size of the streetcar fleet, Witts hung on tenatiously for another nine years. The trailers were now surplus and were disposed with, but the venerable Witts were not… at least, not until February 28, 1963. On that day, with the opening of the University Subway, streetcars were removed from Bay Street (the Dupont route). After that, the Witts made only a few more appearances on Toronto’s streets, scheduled as extras on the Bathurst, Fort and Kingston Road Tripper runs, to make up for car shortages until March 7, 1963. Bill Hood noted in the March 1963 UCRS Newsletter that car 2890 made run 83 on Bathurst on March 7th, and this is known as the last peak hour Witt car. The very last time the Witts were used was for the opening game of the International League Toronto Maple Leafs at Maple Leaf Stadium on April 24, 1963.
Several Witts were retained as spares until January 1, 1965, after which point they were officially retired, except for 2766, which was withdrawn on July 18, 1965, following its “last” fan trip. Railfans thought that this was the end, but there was a reprieve. The TTC retained Small Witt 2766 and brought it back into service in 1973 as part of a special ‘Belt Line Tour Tram’. Unfortunately, despite a lot of initial interest, this service was discontinued in 1975 due to lack of ridership, and Small Witt 2766 returned to occasional charter duty, where it remains to this day.
Technical Specifications (Large Witt, except where noted):
Fleet List (Peter Witts):
- 2300-2498 - Large Witt (CC&F) (Even Numbers Only), Hauled Trailers
- 2500-2578 - Large Witt (CC&F) (Even Numbers Only), Hauled Trailers
- 2580-2678 - Large Witt (Canadian Brills) (Even Numbers Only), Hauled Trailers
- 2700-2798 - Small Witt (CC&F) (Even Numbers Only)
- 2800-2898 - Small Witt (Ottawa Car Company) (Even Numbers Only)
- 2900-3018 - Large Witt (CC&F) (Even Numbers Only), Hauled Trailers
Fleet List (Trailers)
- 2301-2419 - 2-door (CC&F) (Odd Numbers Only)
- 2701-3029 - 3-door (CC&F) (Odd Numbers Only)
- Seating: 58 (Large Witt), 51 (Small Witt), 60 (Trailer)
- Normal service usage: 113 passengers - 67,100 lbs
- ‘Crush’ load capacity: 140 passengers - 71,150 lbs
- Empty streetcar weight: 50,000 lbs
- Minimum horizontal curve radius: 10,973 mm (36’0)
- Minimum verticle curve radius - convex: 350 feet
- Minimum verticle curve radius - concave: 700 feet
- Motor rating: 4 x 50 HP one hour
- Braking rate: 1.6 m/s/s (3.6 MPHPS) in service, (3.8 MPHPS) in emergency
Peter Witt Cars Image Archive
Special thanks to John Bromley and Ray Corley for correcting the information on this web page.
- Bromley, John F., and Jack May Fifty Years of Progressive Transit, Electric Railroaders’ Association, New York (New York), 1978.
- Corley, Ray F., The Witt Car: Peter Witt Design, The Toronto Transit Commission, Toronto (Ontario), February 1988.
- Partridge, Larry, Mind the Doors, Please, The Boston Mills Press, Erin ON, 1983.