A Look Back: Dundas Cars Near City Hall

One section of the city that has changed immensely is Dundas Street through the heart of downtown, and the area around City Hall.

(For more info about the Ford Hotel, see a recent Torontoist article.)

37 thoughts on “A Look Back: Dundas Cars Near City Hall

  1. Fascinating stuff – lots of intriguing details in all that.

    When were the tunnels built allowing east side entry access to the southbound trains? Did people complain about that sort of inconvenience much?

    Steve: The tunnels were part of the Eaton Centre project so that people could get between the mall and either direction of the subway without going outdoors. As for complaints, I suspect people were quite used to using the appropriate street entrance to reach the platform they wanted.


  2. Great stuff! It’s interesting to see the annoying utilitarian granite sets which later became prized for their ornamental value. What really stands out for me is just how grotty everything looks compared to today. It’s obvious that money, both public and private, has been spent on these locations in the intervening years since these photos were taken. Surely here is an object lesson for those on the right who hold that the greatest civic virtue is penny pinching.


  3. I am really enjoying this trip down memory lane. Thanks again. I never understood why King and College got mezzanines and Queen and Dundas didn’t.


  4. I’m with David. I’m miss the cobblestones too.

    Question, Steve, how long did cobblestones last vs today’s concrete between the rails?

    Also, would one be dramatically more cost effective (cost divided by life span) than the other?

    Just curious.

    Steve: As far as I know, the cobblestones last forever — they are rock after all. However, they’re more labour intensive to set (pardon the pun), and they require rail with a cast flangeway that isn’t made any more so that the cobbles don’t intrude onto the track itself (T rail has no ability to prevent cobbles from migrating). There’s also the question of the cost to motorists from vibration, and the comparative difficulty of snow clearing on a rough surface. The advent of trucks carrying heavy loads dictated a move to much more robust road construction and doomed the cobbles. Originally this brought us “thunder track” where concrete was poured around rails with no mechanical isolation. Not only was this noisy, it had a shorter lifespan. That design cock-up is one we are only just now recovering from with much (but not all) of that track being replaced and the roadbeds built to a much better standard.


  5. I’m with Cavlovic. I see them all the time when in Europe (although it’s been a few years) and they do add quite a bit of charm.


  6. I remember the 4700 series of PCC’s (Ex-Birmingham) streetcars that ran on Dundas from Runnymede to City Hall. They had the rough metal backs on the seats and blue standee windows.

    Steve: They also had holes in the armrests to hold the “Blacks Only” signs from their days in the still-segregated south.


  7. Of all the PCC models that the TTC had, I especially liked the 4300-4399 all-electric (green interior) and the 4400-4499 all-electric multi-unit (blue interior) streetcars. The windows opened using cranks (like how the manual automobile windows of the day opened and closed) and armrests. We could also rest our feet on footrests. The front windows were also slanted and the right front window was in a quarter circle.


  8. I really miss the cobblestones. Modern LRT systems go to some effort to use them (or at least fake them up using printed and dyed concrete), at least in downtown or station sections. It’s a shame the TTC is so banal to use plain concrete and waste the streetscaping opportunity.

    Quick examples:


    Steve: The concrete on Spadina and St. Clair is patterned a bit, but not extensively.


  9. Cobblestones are simply no-go. Aside from all the problems mentioned already, they are terrible for bicycles, scooters and motorbikes, and slippery when wet or icy. They are easy to trip over, and murder for high heels. And think about the inhabitants of lower floors in the condos which excessively occupy Toronto’s downtown real estate – the noise from traffic on cobblestone streets is terrible. This is one retro step we don’t need in Toronto.


  10. I seem to remember talk about putting the short-turn Dundas cars on Bay underground, at one point.

    Steve: But instead they went over to Church Street, and Eatons paid the TTC an extra subsidy, for a while. This was in the days when the Dundas car was frequent enough to warrant a scheduled (as opposed to unscheduled) short turn service.


  11. Charm? … good grief .. have you ever tried driving on those cobblestones? I remember them as a kid, and there’s a reason we got rid of them.


  12. Steve, Some absolutely great pictures there that bring back both good and bad memories.

    Looking south on Bay (I think it’s on Louisa), notice the blue and red Eaton’s truck that we used to see all over town.

    Back in 1967-68, I was in grade 8. My school in the St. Clair-Dufferin area was overcrowded. As a result, we were bused down to an old school that was falling apart down at Dundas and Beverley, while a new school was under construction in our neighbourhood. Many, and I mean many of those photos I remember from those years.

    When I saw the picture of Albert St., I was remembering the Honey Dew shop on the corner of Yonge and Albert. Because we were bused downtown (by the old TTC Canadian Coach buses), we had a lot of small field trips all over the central area (one was to hear Trudeau at City Hall, after he won the Liberal nomination and was running for Prime Minister the first time),and these pictures just lit up many of my memories.

    The one sad thing to see was the Ford Hotel … Why? The Emmanuel Jacques (shoe shine boy) murder. That was the beginning of the sanitizing of Yonge Street and downtown. Sadly, I now find one of the ugliest sections of Toronto is Yonge Street just south of Dundas/Dundas Square.Yes, there were a lot of seedy strip clubs, but there was also a lot of quaint shops that everybody loved that never came back.

    Nice job,great memories!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Steve, I forgot to mention that when we were taken back up to Dufferin and St.Clair by the buses (6 of them) after school, we went west on Dundas from Beverley, and then north on Spadina … which meant we went by the old Victory Burlesque every day. I remember walking by the old O’Keefe brewery.

    Now, if someone had some old Yorkville, Central Library (on St. George), or streetcars going down the old Bathurst Street hill at Davenport that would be nice!

    Steve: Be patient. I can’t publish photos of every corner of the city at once!


  14. Steve:

    Do you have pictures of the Dundas cars going through the new City Hall site? I missed that because I didn’t get to explore that area until after the City Hall was built.

    And for years I wondered where those little stubs of track had led.

    Steve: I didn’t start photographing until after City Hall was built. There are some photos online in the City Archives.

    Louisa looking west from Bay 1930. The large building at the west end of the street is the old Armoury (after which Armoury Street is named), now the site of the Toronto Courthouse.

    By the way, the direction of the loop was originally east on Albert, north on James, west on Louisa until 1930. The tracks through the City Hall site to Elizabeth were added in that year, and the loop’s direction reversed. This view of City Hall shows the Louisa/Bay intersection with the loop exiting westbound onto Bay. In this view from 1921, a car is eastbound on Albert at James (the northeast corner of City Hall and the Eaton’s buildings are visible).

    In this view, the car eastbound on Albert at James in 1930.

    Looking south on Elizabeth from Dundas and from Foster Place in September 1930 before the new tracks were installed.

    In this view looking east from the Canada Life Tower across Osgoode Hall, you can see a streetcar turning at Albert and Elizabeth. The photo is dated 1929, but I suspect that is incorrect as the track on Elizabeth didn’t exist until late 1930. East of Osgoode Hall is the area that would be cleared for New City Hall’s construction.

    Here, we see an old TTC problem — a broken down truck on Elizabeth south of Dundas in 1934.


  15. Two more things I remember about the old Eaton’s: The budget store was connected to the main Eaton’s by a tunnel under Albert. That, along with the really antiquated escalators in the Budget store, was a fun excursion. Also, I remember the Eaton’s Parking bus that the store chartered from the TTC. It was a 10 cent fare. Nothing but right-turns for the poor bus driver, though.


  16. Hi Steve:-

    These looking back entries are a delightful respite from the frustrating present realities of transit in Toronto. The memories are appreciated, thank you.

    The City Hall loop brings a number of things to mind, but two that stand out are going downtown with my Mother by riding the Danforth cars to the Yonge Subway and then stopping to see my Grandpa at Eaton’s Queen Street store’s Albert street freight elevators (He was an operator there). He would stop his car at street level and give me a quarter. Unfortunately I never had a ride in them, but I recall their steel gates.

    The second was the loop itself. I had a very understanding trolley fan of a boss back then and while still on the clock, he and I went down to photograph the last day of the loop! Seems to me it was a Saturday afternoon. He was shooting movies and I was clicking away with my olde 2 1/4 square. That was a long time ago!

    As to tracks paved with paving stones (setts), some jobs could last for decades in unbroken grout. It was the grout that was the weak link in the chain as it would deteriorate and therefore cause the setts to loosen and then the road surface fail. Then water would seep down below grade causing the wooden ties supporting the rails to rot and thereby allowing the track to dip and the cars to sway.

    True that the TTC no longer uses girder rail, rolled with a lip, for other than intersections, but I would be surprised if it isn’t available somewhere in the world. I’ll have to do some ‘googling’ to see out of curiosity sake. For many years the TTC’s powers that once were claimed that they didn’t want to change from girder rail to tee rail. Even though ‘T’ rail is cheaper and more readily available and with sett paving no longer the norm, girder rail afforded an easy way to measure rail wear at carstops, for as the rail wore down, the ball (head) of the rail would become so thin that it could quickly be determined when to replace it. Seemingly not quite so simple an observation with ‘T’ railed track.

    Too, with setts, an air compressor and breaker guns were sometimes unnecessary to do a joint repair as track bars, strong backs, picks and shovels were all that would be needed to dig up a small site for fixing. I remember too a time that we were unable to complete a job WB at Dundas east of Victoria. The track was dug up but the rails could not be renewed until the next day and we were not going to leave the track excavated overnight, so at the last part of our shift we temporarily repaved the track with the setts we had removed earlier and then filled in around them with fine crushed gravel laid in dry. It survived quite well until the next day with traffic pounding over it all night. When our work resumed the next a.m. it was a simple matter to remove the loose gravel and stones, repair the track and then relay the setts, properly grouted in, when the rail job was done.

    And finally since we got onto the topic of favourite Toronto PCC cars, mine were the 4675 to 4699 ex Loiusville/Cleveland cars. Their being ‘MU-able’, with two by two leather seats, window crank windows, green glassed upper sashes, low profile full length roof shroud and symmetrical windshields always made me think they were the classiest PCCs in North America!

    With that said though, my all time favourite PCCs were the 1936 cars from Chicago with their pleasing as delivered colour scheme and their large air electric style windows. Being two man and having 3 doors at the front, two centre doors, a single rear door and full width bodies they were extremely efficient crowd swallowers.



  17. Actually, the Eaton’s Special bus operated counterclockwise – even worse, nothing but left turns across traffic! My mother used the bus on all our shipping excursions downtown – no malls in those days – and we rode it 2 or 3 times a month in the mid-1940s. It may have been 10 cents when it quit but not when we rode. You could buy tickets for it at a small booth by the exits where the bus stopped in both the main store and the College St store.

    Those old escalators existed in one well in the main store as well in the 1940’s – located, as you walked in the central entrance from Queen between Yonge and James, to the right just past the perfume counters.

    At the Annex store of the tunnel, on the left, was a small booth where they sold soft ice cream (far in advance of Dairy Queen and much much better tasting) that was served in deep tulip Sundae dishes with long handled spoons. Unfortunately that didn’t survive much past the early 1950’s. Unlike that was the donut machine booth that made fresh donuts while you watched – full size, not Tiny Tom – which lasted until the Queen St store closed, not surviving the move to Dundas. So much is gone.


  18. The Eaton’s bus travelled between the Queen St. store and the College St. store and even had its own route sign: “EATON’S SPECIAL”. There are photos of the buses on Hayter St. at the south entrance of the College St. store and on Albert St. The ones on Albert are usually seen in the background of a streetcar photo. It’s too bad the the section of track on Bay between Louisa and Queen was abandoned after the Dundas-Docks service ended. It would have made Bay a very useful diversion route between Dundas & Queen to this day.

    City Boy at Heart: The Ford was closed down in 1973 – Emmanuel Jacques’ murder was in 1976 which prompted the Yonge St. “clean-up”. It was another boy that was murdered at the Ford Hotel. An ex-Birmingham streetcar was parked next to the site of the Ford Hotel for some years as a boutique and a record outlet (known as the “Record Rocket”) in the mid-1970s.


  19. Cobblestone haters are missing the forest for the trees. Toronto is renowned in North America for its shoddy streetscaping on it’s main streets — few street trees, all asphalt and concrete, yellow traffic lights, overhead electric wiring, newsboxes all over the place. It’s defended as “messy urbanism” but it’s pretty much just messy. Live elsewhere for a while and you will realize this whenever you return home.

    All I’m saying is that the concrete ROW’s are a lost opportunity. I’m not asking for grass (Lyon) or fountains (Houston) here, just better paving. More stylish cities (I could name 100 of them) use textured and colored paving in places like a transit ROW that simulates the look of cobblestones without the tripping, loose stones, bumpy ride, plowing issues, etc. Very shallow indentations. I’ve ridden on it on bikes and cars with no complaints. See here and here, etc. You would construct it exactly as you do the concrete and rails now, only color and pattern the topping. (And no, what they did on St. Clair does not count.)

    And of course this would only be done downtown in long stretches. In the inner suburbs it would just be at stations. Any traffic calming effect downtown is desirable, not negative — or did I miss the part where downtown was converted to street racing? Don’t you want drivers to realize they are on a transit ROW and pay a little bit more attention to their surroundings?

    Stop setting the bar so low, Toronto. It shows.


  20. The latest thing in Europe on the track allowance is artificial turf, several Spanish cities are using it, as are some in France. And, it’s low level so emergency vehicles can drive on it as and when necessary. I saw a photo somewhere of track with green concrete (and no, it wasn’t moss or mold) so at least it would look like grass. Too late to dress up St Clair, Spadina and Queen’s Quay??


  21. To Robert Lubinski…thank you. I did make an error. The Ford Hotel one was Kirk Deasley. One ended the Ford Hotel, the other ended a seedier Yonge Street.

    I’ve been reading all the entries and it’s amazing all the memories that flow from just a few pictures. Maybe because the current (I can’t say our — I haven’t lived in the city for years) mayor and his ilk can’t relate to these downtown images in our minds. They lived in far reaching areas of the “burbs”and probably would not have made the trip to the center of the city except by car.


  22. Thanks for sharing some pictures from Canada’s centennial year, the Summer of Love, also likely the last summer ever during which you could put Toronto Maple Leafs and Stanley Cup champions in the same phrase. If you are a 60s car buff, can you spot the Ford Galaxie 500, Mercury Comet, and a couple of Canadian Pontiacs (Laurentian, Strato Chief or Parisienne) in these pictures?


  23. The Ex-Birmingham car that became the boutique next to the Ford Hotel was 4716. This car later end up in a Farmers’ Market in Thornhill and was finally scrapped in 2004 (if my notes are correct!!)


  24. Thank you, Steve, for the photos.

    On a very marginally related note, the magazine Branchlines (January 2012) has a photo and small article on the ride-on train that Eaton’s had in their Toyland just after the war. (I don’t want to hijack the thread.)


  25. Does anyone know what the reasoning was behind the installation of the Elizabeth/Albert trackage? It seems rather out of place on such small side streets when the Dundas/Bay routing was so close-by. Also what was the exact track layout (including special work)? I’ve never seen it fully documented. I gather there was only a single track on the section of Elizabeth between the two cross streets. I assume from the various photos that the turns between Dundas/Elizabeth were only E-to-S and N-to-W and that the turns at Bay were only to enter the loop S-to-E and exit W-to-N.

    Steve: In the same timeframe in the Archives there are photos illustrating traffic congestion (some of it involving horses) in the area of Bay and Dundas and surrounding streets. I suspect that the Elizabeth approach was used to avoid this. Lou Pursley’s book “Toronto Trolley Car Story” mentions congestion on Bay between Dundas and Albert as a reason for this arrangement.

    As for the intersections at Bay, there is one Archives shot of Louisa and Bay showing a Y intersection indicating that the loop could be used by cars from the south as well as from the north in its original configuration.

    If I understand the history correctly then the loop operated counter-clockwise from Bay, then was extended and reversed via Elizabeth, then was cut back to the original route via Bay (although now clockwise). What an unusual life for a loop!

    BTW, my Dad says he worked at O’Keefe’s Brewery for a year in his youth before getting hired by IBM.


  26. Hi Steve

    I want to raise a couple of points about Dennis Rankin’s post where he mentioned girder rail. (Dennis may wonder why I am doing it here instead of an email back to him, but it is something that I thought others might be interested in as well.)

    I believe that girder rail is still rolled in Europe and it may be making a comeback here. There was a small piece in, as I recall, July’s “Railpace” Magazine stating that the US Department of Transport was involved in talks with domestic steel producers about rolling girder rail. DOT feels that there are enough existing and planned systems to make it worth someone’s efforts to produce it again.


  27. When the TTC installed the original City Hall Loop (it opened August 30th 1921 but was not officially used until September 24th, although a few COLLEGE cars may have been short-turned as early as September 1, 1921 when TTC took over from TRC), the Louisa St portion was part of a through track from Yonge St that was more or less a continuation of trackage on Shuter St that ran west from Victoria.

    Cars from either direction on Queen could use those streets to loop, from the west via Queen, York, Richmond, Victoria, Yonge, Louisa, Bay and west on Queen, from the east via Queen, Victoria, etc etc and east on Queen. The latter possibility was eliminated when the Bay St jog at Queen was eliminated in 1922, but cars from the west could make this move until the City Hall Loop was reversed. The loop re-opened on November 3, 1930.

    If readers don’t have a copy of Fifty Years of Progressive Transit the maps book in a pocket at the back clearly shows this. The TPL used to have it on their shelves, but whether with or without the map book is unknown to me, as I’ve never had to borrow a copy. There is also a track map in TTC ’28 showing the same trackage in that year but without the S to E connection at Bay and Queen.

    Both books are out of print but copies show up from time to time on eBay.


  28. Thanks for the references, John. The earlier existence of a longer Louisa Street track finally explains the origins of this entire loop. It would be interesting to know why this track was originally created, and the Shuter Street track for that matter, but now I’m getting off topic. Looks like I’m in the market for those books!


  29. The original Louisa St track was to allow COLLEGE cars coming down Yonge St to short-turn and go back up Bay. This was put in in conjunction with the original Bay St trackage, as far as I know (of course it wasn’t called Bay originally but was known as Terauley St). City Ball Loop was for the same reason, once COLLEGE cars were moved off Yonge to Bay.

    Steve: One thing for everyone to remember is that the “Yonge Street corridor”, to use planning jargon, embraced several north-south streets on which many routes found their way to the business district because they would not all fit on Yonge itself. A web of east-west connections provided loops for these routes on a variety of major and minor streets.


  30. I’d like to lend a few recollections regarding this thread’s subsidiary topic: Eaton’s Queen Street Store.

    First, one of a less satisfactory sort, then the more satisfactory material.

    My mother was a sewing hobbyist. I always noticed, when accompanying her on shopping trips to Eaton’s, that at least some of the bolts of cloth in Eaton’s bore a bit of a surface residue of greasy dust. I don’t remember whether that was in the Annex or the main store, but it may help to explain why she generally preferred Simpson’s to Eaton’s. Simpson’s seemed to be a generally brighter, cleaner, store for its apparently renovated interior, once into the 1960’s, anyway.

    At Eaton’s, I marvelled at the operation of the doughnut machine someone else has mentioned. I do, too, recall an ancient escalator, plus at least one elevator delightfully still being manually operated when, it seemed, every other elevator anywhere I went was fully automatic. I was impressed by the grace, smoothness and precision with which the operators extended themselves to guide open and closed the car’s doors, no matter how crowded the car, and how the operators could flawlessly call out the floors and a summary of their contents. A game I played was to peer out the elevator’s small window and try to anticipate the moments of passing, then gain a fleeting glimpse of, the sales floors as the car would pass them by if not stopping, as a few times did happen.

    The ancient escalator made an intrusive clattering sound, and the space between its treads and service well, at the top of travel, was a source of concern for me—whether or not it needed to be—that it might be wide enough that my small feet might get caught if I wasn’t careful to step off in good time; but its tall wooden rails with which the treads were covered, were excellent for draining snow and slush from winter boots.

    The best thing about the Queen Street store, to me, was the instrument that was the centrepiece of displays atop the main counter in the watch and clock department: a mechanical marine chronometer by the renowned Swiss maker of such devices, Ulysse Nardin, complete with tropical woods case and bright metal gimbals. Even though it wasn’t working, it fascinated me and I always wanted to look at it when we’d go to the store. Once, a kind sales clerk took from behind her counter a small step stool so I could better see the face and gimbal mount. To the best of my knowledge, it was never on display in the Eaton Centre store.

    As well come to mind, are the places in the store where the floors contained some short uphill and downhill sections, and how there were not the same number of floors everywhere in the store: told to me, by mother, that the reason for those traits, was that the store had been assembled from several buildings which were joined together. At Christmastime, the Eaton’s family member who operated the electric train set in Toyland seemed to be having as much fun as were the children: I hope that wasn’t just the spirit of marketing that was in evidence, there. Finally: the excellent Christmastime window displays mounted by both Eaton’s and Simpson’s, are a long-gone Toronto tradition the city is somehow the poorer for, that they are gone.

    B. Ramsay


  31. “Finally: the excellent Christmastime window displays mounted by both Eaton’s and Simpson’s, are a long-gone Toronto tradition the city is somehow the poorer for, that they are gone.”

    The Bay still mounts Christmas window displays.

    Steve: Although these displays have been around rather a long time.


  32. I have one rather bizaar memory about the King car. I remember walking with my family south on Yonge at the intersection at King and some young operator with collar length hair somehow mangeged to stand straight up while obviously keeping his left foot on the deadman pedal while the car was IN MOTION! He didn’t stand very long but that still was quite a sight to an 11 year old. What he stood up for I’ll never know.


  33. Cobbles are annoyingly uneven.

    Brick, however, is pretty decent to drive on, if it hasn’t been rutted by super-heavy trucks.


  34. Granite pavers can be laid to be very even. It’s done to perfection throughout Europe. It would be great to have some sections of streetcar tracks today where granite blocks are used once again between the tracks, perhaps in finer styles. Do it in the most visible and prominent areas in the city. In Toronto, streetcars are so ingrained in our culture that we should be doing more inventive and beautiful things with their infrastructure rather than making everything as purely functional and bland as possible. The ROW projects are on the right track, and hopefully the existing small section of granite blocks on Queen’s Quay can be relaid (and expanded) when it comes to reconstructing the ROW.


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