Back in the days when goodly chunks of “the suburbs” were still farms, I grew up in North Toronto near Mt. Pleasant and Eglinton. This neighbourhood dates from the building boom of the 1920s, although our house was older, 1906, the third one built in our block. The old farmhouse up the road was replaced by two monster homes a few years ago, and now ours is number 2 in seniority.
When I was young, I spent a lot of time down at Mt. Pleasant Loop watching the streetcars. This was a typical old style TTC loop with trees and benches, a house to the north and a BA gas station to the south right on the corner. All of that’s gone now, and the loop is simply a hole in the front of seniors’ building where, infrequently, one can find a Mt. Pleasant bus.
The other corners held Ted’s Restaurant (gone — replaced like other stores around it with an ugly midrise office block), Eglinton Public School (replaced by a new building that turns its back on the intersection with a dead wall where once there was a playground), and the Bank of Commerce (now a Second Cup, but at least the original building).
Tracks ran west on Eglinton to Yonge, but these were never used for revenue service. These had been installed in 1930 to allow operation of the St. Clair line from Eglinton Carhouse, but this never happened. The junction at Mt. Pleasant came out in 1959, but the track to Yonge, buried under pavement, remained years longer until Eglinton was repaved.
The Mt. Pleasant Routes
The first service on Mt. Pleasant was a trolleybus route from Yonge & Merton (the north side of Mt. Pleasant Cemetery) east and north to Eglinton & Mt. Pleasant. This opened with gas buses in December 1921, converted to trolleybus in June 1922. In September 1925, the St. Clair streetcar was extended north from Moore Park Loop, a loop that remains today as a parkette. Mt. Pleasant retains much of its original commercial strip and two movie theatres, the Regent (formerly the Crest) and the Mt. Pleasant, but the low-rise nature of this neighbourhood is beginning to change.
Like the St. Clair car, service on Mt. Pleasant was provided to develop a new residential area, but the east end of the line was always more lightly used and served than the western half. “Lightly used” is a relative term. The Mt. Pleasant car once provided better service than many streetcar lines today and had the riding to support it. A lot of demand was local, north-south between residential areas and schools at Eglinton, Davisville and Deer Park. Over the years, population densities fell and school traffic shifted. The greatest blow, however, was the closure of the bridge just south of Merton Street.
The original hump-backed bridge over the Belt-Line railway stood just east of the D0minion Coal & Wood coal towers (now, like the bridge, only a memory) and by the early 1970’s it was due for replacement. Although we saved the streetcar system in 1972 and with it the Mt. Pleasant line, that branch didn’t have the support needed to include streetcars on the new bridge, and the line closed in July 1976.
After the new bridge opened in November 1977, electric operation returned with trolley coaches in place of the streetcars. However, the service was not frequent or reliable enough to lure back riding that migrated to the east-west bus services on Davisville and St. Clair (the South Leaside bus) during the bridge construction. In December 1991, the trolley coaches too disappeared (another, separate long story) and bus service today on Mt. Pleasant is a shadow of the streetcar days.
The St. Clair Routes
The St. Clair car itself originally operated west from Yonge to Caledonia as part of the Toronto Civic Railway. There were no loops, and cars used crossovers at the terminals. The TCR built St. Clair Carhouse on Wychwood in 1913 and later it was expanded by the TTC. St. Clair had its own right-of-way in the middle of the street although this didn’t last into the “modern” era when automobile traffic demanded more and more space. Converting the right-of-way to road lanes was a Depression-era make-work project.
When the TTC took over the assets of the TCR and the privately-owned Toronto Railway Company, it undertook a major reconstruction and expansion program. In 1921, the former Toronto Railway Company’s Avenue Road car was extended west on St. Clair to a new loop at Caledonia (on the northwest corner). A shuttle ran east from Avenue Road to Yonge briefly, and from mid-1923, the St. Clair route operated from Caledonia Loop to Lawton Loop (the triangular parkette on the west side of Yonge near Heath Street) until its extension through to Moore Park in late 1924. Service to downtown remained, however, with the Bay cars operating north up Avenue Road and west to Caledonia Loop.
At the west end of St. Clair, the Toronto Suburban’s Davenport line came up Ford Rd. After the TTC took over in 1921 and amalgamated the TSR into its network, the link from Davenport to St. Clair moved west one block to Old Weston Road and the Dovercourt streetcar service operated into Townsley Loop. This loop is now used only by buses, and the remaining track will be removed in 2008 with the west end of the LRT project.
Between 1928 and 1931, the Dovercourt car came east on St. Clair to Prescott Loop located on the parkette just west of the railyway overpass at Caledonia.
Once both the CPR and CNR were grade-separated at St. Clair, the streetcar line ran straight through to a new loop at Keele Street. This loop was just north of the old terminal building for the Guelph radial line on the east side of Weston Road just where it veers off from Keele Street. The site is now a housing subdivision, and the St. Clair cars run to the new loop at Gunn’s Road. A further extension to Jane Street is included in the TTC’s recent Transit City scheme.
Although the streetcar service to Weston ended in 1948, the rush-hour extension of St. Clair cars to Avon Loop (at Rogers Road) continued until 1966. This service had begun in 1942 as a wartime extension to Northland Loop (at the boundary between Toronto and York), later to Avon. Avon was an unusual terminus with a siding down into a dump west of the loop.
The Weston Road line (a remnant of the Toronto Suburban Railway) along with streetcar lines on Rogers Road and Oakwood formed the York Township Railways. The TTC built and operate this system on behalf of York Township (not to be confused with the regional of York for whom we are building a subway line). Separate fares were charged outside of the City of Toronto until amalgamation in 1954 when the boundary of “Zone 1″ expanded to embrace the Oakwood and Rogers lines, and the Weston line up to Rogers Road.
Both the Rogers and Oakwood carlines used Oakwood Loop at St. Clair as their common southern terminal, and this loop remains as a short-turn point for the St. Clair cars today. Some cars on these lines carried route signs in a left side window so that passengers hurrying up to transfer from the St. Clair line could tell which route’s service was waiting in the loop. In 1960, the Ossington trolleybus route was extended north from St. Clair to Eglinton replacing the Oakwood car, and later east to Eglinton West Station on the Spadina Subway. The Rogers car lasted until 1974 when it became a branch of Ossington.
At Lansdowne we come to Earlscourt Loop. Originally, the Lansdowne route ran with double-ended streetcars, but switched to the Loop in 1931. A treat on weekend streetcar jaunts in my youth was a visit to St. Clair Ice Cream which used to be on the north side of the street at Lansdowne. Long ago it moved right beside the old Luttrell Loop on Danforth (the east end of the old Bloor car line), but retained its original name.
When trolleybus operations ceased in early 1992, the Weston, Lansdowne and Ossington lines became bus routes. Rogers Road now is a separate route, and Lansdowne has merged with Caledonia.
The Bathurst Tripper also provided service to downtown from St. Clair West. At various times, the line originated at Caledonia Loop, Earlscourt Loop, Townsley Loop or Keele Loop running at peak hours only. In 1947, the service was cut back to Vaughan Loop, a wide lane between Bathurst and Vaughan, south of St. Clair. This was a busy loop as an interchange point between the Bathurst and Vaughan buses, the Bathurst streetcars running downtown via Adelaide to Church, and the Fort cars running to the CNE. In 1966, the Bloor Subway opened and the interchange was moved south to Bathurst Station. The Vaughan Loop property is now under an undistinguished high-rise building.
[Note to the route history sticklers — yes I do know that the routes of Fort and Bathurst changed a lot, and the Bathurst car also ran to the CNE.]
When the Yonge subway opened in 1954, the Bay steetcar ended, and its service on St. Clair was replaced by two routes both connecting to the subway at Yonge. The new Earlscourt route operated east from Lansdowne, and during peak periods, the Rogers Road car also operated east from Oakwood. The combined service of the three routes was one car every minute at Yonge Street.
By 1972, the St. Clair streetcar line was under threat from the TTC’s plan to gradually eliminate streetcar service in Toronto. A Queen Street subway would suck most of the east-west demand off of the downtown network, and the St. Clair line would become a trolleybus route using vehicles displaced from the Yonge trolleybus (Eglinton to Glen Echo) when the subway opened to York Mills. Alas, the new service would be nowhere near as good as the one it replaced because the TTC didn’t have enough trolleybuses to run the St. Clair line with adequate capacity.
The Streetcars for Toronto Committee formed to fight the TTC proposals, and with the support of City Council, this policy was reversed. We hoped to see widespread improvement and expansion of the streetcar system, but two decades would pass before the first new line, Harbourfront, actually opened. Suburban expansion did not receive official status until the Transit City scheme announced in March this year.
This year brought a return of reserved lanes for streetcars, and then only between Yonge and Vaughan Road after a long, bitter and divisive debate over the St. Clair “LRT” proposal. 2007 will see the right of way built from just east of Dufferin to Caledonia, and next year the remainder of the line west to Keele and east to Vaughan will be completed. There is some irony in the fact that the St. Clair line was built by the city specifically to develop newly annexed land. Nearly a century later, we hope that the St. Clair project can revitalize the street.