Text by James Bow
On September 1, 1921, the city-owned Toronto Transportation Commission was launched to take over the operations of all streetcar service within the borders of the City of Toronto. It immediately acquired the assets of the Toronto Railway Company (whose 30-year franchise with the city expired the day before) and the Toronto Civic Railway (which was established by the City of Toronto in 1911 to serve areas of the city the TRC refused to). A few years later, after negotiations, the TTC acquired most of the remaining assets of the Toronto & York Radial Railways (serving the villages along Lake Shore Boulevard, Yonge Street and Kingston Road) and the Toronto Suburban Railway (operating out of the West Toronto Junction.
You can read a brief history of the early days of public transportation operation in Toronto at this page here. Suffice it to say, when the TTC took over streetcar operations in Toronto, the city had seen sixty years of streetcar operations. From when it started operations on its 30 year franchise in 1891 to the end of its franchise in 1921, the Toronto Railway Company had built a network of 142 miles of track, several properties, and 830 service cars (709 motors and 121 trailers). Many of these assets showed signs of lax maintenance and heavy use as the TRC squeezed every dollar it could out of its final days of operation.
Though the TTC worked diligently and spent a lot of money acquiring new properties and equipment (including the first all-metal streetcars on the network, the Peter Witts), these cars could not arrive instantaneously. And even as the TTC’s 350 Peter Witt streetcars arrived on the system, the TTC still felt that it had to use a number of cars from the systems it acquired in order to maintain service. Some streetcars were still in usable shape, while others could be easily rebuilt. Using the older equipment saved the TTC hundreds of thousands of dollars by reducing the number of new equipment that the commission had to purchase.
The cars the TTC acquired from the TRC lasted in service for a number of decades, while others lasted even longer serving the TTC’s work fleet. Still others survive to this day. This is the story of these cars.
Cars to Keep, and Cars to Scrap
The TTC acquired 830 service cars from the Toronto Railway Company on September 1, 1921. These ranged in age from four-year-old double-truck streetcars to twenty-eight-year-old former horsecars. All of these cars were largely wooden-frame. All but two had been built by the Toronto Railway Company itself.
The TTC accepted these cars, but immediately divided them into two groups: one group (which tended to be older) were marked for removal as soon as possible. The other were retained for long-term use. These cars tended to be newer (the oldest had been built by the TRC in 1906) and tended to be longer and bigger (typically double-trucked). A total of 351 cars out of the original 830 were deemed suitable, while the others limped along until arriving Peter Witt cars allowed the TTC to retire them from service.
Five TRC cars in the “dispose of” group were saved from the scrap heap, however. Car #64 was a former horsecar built by the “Jones” in 1879. It was converted to electric operation by the TRC in 1893, and so was forty-two-years-old when the TTC acquired it. The TTC retired it from service in 1921, but retained it as a relic. It was later donated to the National Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa. A similar fate occurred to Car #306, built in 1892 by the TRC as an open-car that was converted to closed operation when open cars were banned by Toronto. The TTC retired the car but saved it as a relic in 1921.
Two other cars were retained as work cars by the TTC. Cars 1704 and 1706 were part of a double-truck class built by the TRC in 1912. These weren’t in the best of condition, however, leading the TTC to abandon all but the mentioned cars in 1924. Car 1704 was preserved as a rail grinder and renumbered W-25 before eventually finding its way to the Halton County Radial Railway. Car 1706 was eventually donated to a museum in East Haven, Connecticut.
The last car of the “dispose of” list to be retained was car #170. This was a former trailer built by the TRC in 1909, before being converted to a bond test car in 1911 and finally a private car in 1919. The TTC retained this vehicle and converted it to an instruction car in 1922. It remained in the fleet until 1939, when it was sold for scrap.
New Life in Haileybury
A use was found for many of the old TRC cars — especially the former horsecars — that the TTC wanted scrapped, although this was not something anybody would have wanted to have planned. On October 4, 1922, a wildfire swept through northern Ontario, consuming 300,000 acres from Charlton to Cobalt and from the Quebec border to the Montreal River. The community of Haileybury was almost completely destroyed, with hundreds left homeless. It was decided that the old TRC equipment could be used as emergency shelters and dozens of them were shipped north where they were converted into impromptu cottages and homes. One of these cottages now lies preserved in the Haileybury Heritage Museum.
In the first five years after the TTC’s takeover, the commission’s fleet of TRC vehicles dropped from 830 to 409. Of the remainder, these continued to provide base service through the 1920s and the 1930s. Another 55 vehicles (numbered 1564 to 1710, even only) were retired in 1929. By 1939, the number of TRC vehicles in the fleet was down to 252. The Second World War may have slowed the pace of retirement, but by then most of these cars were approaching thirty years old or were older. Made of wood, they were less able to take the pounding of passengers. And by 1938, a new vehicle would spell their eventual doom.
Decline and Disappearance
By 1924, the steel Peter Witt cars bought to usher in the TTC’s era of modernity numbered 350 strong, and there that number stayed. With the TTC’s total streetcar fleet numbering over 1000 streetcars, the commission had enough to service its passengers, especially as the Great Depression hit, and ridership fell. By the mid 1930s, however, the TRC cars were showing their age, and a new model of streetcar entered production in the United States. The Presidents Conference Committee car, designed through a committee of streetcar company presidents to take back ridership from the private automobile, started impressing passengers in many American cities with its sleek modern lines and streamlined appearance. The TTC ordered 140 of these streetcars, which were delivered by the end of 1938. Another 50 followed two years later. With the TTC’s PCC fleet numbering 250 by the height of the Second World War, the oldest and most run-down TRC cars started to be scrapped.
The need for more equipment to serve an increase in passengers during the war kept a number of the older vehicles on the road. However, when the Second World War ended, the TTC purchased PCC cars in earnest, and the days of the old wooden trams were numbered. The TTC had 195 TRC cars at the end of 1945. By 1948, that number had dropped to 101. By 1950, only 40 cars remained, and most were relegated to rush-hour extras.
Retirement and Preservation
As the final 40 TRC cars were retired, a group of railfans realized they had to move fast in order to preserve a vanishing piece of Toronto’s streetcar history. Pooling their resources, they formed the Ontario Electric Historic Railway Association and purchased TRC car #1326, an O-1 class double-truck vehicle built by the TRC in 1910. They also purchased other equipment, as well as a portion of the Toronto Suburban Railway’s right-of-way in Halton County between Toronto and Guelph (which had been taken over by the local township for non-payment of taxes). The equipment was trucked to the site in 1957, and preserved in sheds for future rehabilitation. These vehicles proved to be the kernel around which the Halton County Radial Railway would form and prosper.
Although most of the TRC’s equipment was scrapped, other pieces of equipment were preserved. In addition to car #306 and #64 (preserved at the Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa), the HCRY was able to acquire former TRC work equipment, including car #1704, used as rail grinder W-25 from 1925 until its retirement in 1962. The museum also acquired single-trucked open car #327, although this was not the original (built in 1893), but a replica built using the original’s parts as part of the TTC’s contribution to Toronto’s centennial celebrations in 1934. The car remained as a relic on TTC property until 1967 when it was donated.
By the mid 1950s, the Toronto Transit Commission had divested itself of all of its passenger cars dating from before the 1920 takeovers. Its passenger fleet was solely made up of TTC-bought PCC and Peter Witt streetcars. Save for a handful of equipment operating as part of the TTC’s work fleet, the TTC’s early history was now in museums.
The ex-TRC Fleet 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.
- Bromley, John F. TTC ‘28: The Electric Railway Services of the Toronto Transportation Commission in 1928. Toronto, Canada: Upper Canada Railway Society, 1968. Print.
- Stamp, Robert M. Riding the Radials: Toronto’s Suburban Electric Streetcar Lines. Erin, Ont.: Boston Mills, 1989. Print.