Ten Years of Spadina Streetcars

Today, July 27, 2007, marks the tenth anniversary of the Spadina streetcar/LRT.  Despite the transit crises of past weeks, we celebrate an important birthday for the Spadina line and for our transit system.

I started writing this piece for the Jane’s Walk series back in late April, but there was just too much else going on, and it didn’t get finished in time.

Without Jane Jacobs and the many who fought beside her, there would be no Spadina streetcar, the heart of the Annex would be an expressway, and the renaissance of Spadina south from College would not have happened.  Indeed, had the road designers had their way, Dundas would be widened out to six lanes through downtown to the DVP, and much of Chinatown would be arterial roads bereft of late 19th century architecture.

The many condos whose populations fill the King-Spadina-Front area would not be there because western downtown would be like so many other expressway cities, a sterile land of interchanges and new office blocks, but no people. Continue reading

Jane’s Walk 2: My Home Streetcar Lines — Mt. Pleasant & St. Clair

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. Continue reading

Jane’s Walk 1: The Early Days of the Streetcar System

Before I start to write about individual parts of the streetcar system, here’s a bit of historical background.  Today, people see only the network downtown, small one compared with the size of Toronto, not to mention the GTA, but the system was much larger before the combined effects of automobiles, suburbanization, expressways and subways.  This is not going to be an exhaustive history (much has been written on this including books cited at the end), but will give a taste of what was once in our city.  I will bring in more details when I write about neighbourhoods and their streetcars.

Please be sure to read the string of comments that has accumulated at the end of this post.  Many readers have added information that I had left out in the interest of space, or had simply not known of before.

Streetcars have been around in Toronto for a long time especially if you count the horse car days.  The Toronto Street Railway was granted a 30-year franchise in 1861, and began its operations with a short line in the oldest part of the city running to the St. Lawrence Hall and Market, the City Hall before the “old” City Hall of the 1890s still standing at Queen & Bay.  The Market Gallery (now showing an exhibit from the Spadina Expressway battle) was the original Council Chamber, although only the shell of the building remains. Continue reading

Jane’s Walk

Friday, May 4th will be Jane Jacobs’ birthday, and in her honour on Saturday, May 5th there will be many walks around neighbourhoods in the city.  You can read all the details at the event’s website.

In 2005, I received the Jane Jacobs Prize in recognition of decades of work as a transit advocate in Toronto, especially for my part in saving the streetcar system and urging that Toronto make better use of this mode of transport.  It took a long time, but with Transit City there’s some hope we may see an LRT network in the suburbs.  Better late than never.

Jane’s Walk arose from the combined desire of the prizewinners to do something in Jane’s memory, something that would be informal, that would not turn into a nightmare of publicity and organization, something that people could all do in their own way.  Her love of neighbourhoods and of observing the city around us made the choice obvious — walks through neighbourhoods conducted by people who know and love them.

When we started talking about this, I was asked about a “walk” (well, a ride) of the streetcar system.  This brings serious problems both because it’s impossible to visit all the places I would go in only 90 minutes, and the last thing the TTC needs is a crowd of people showing up at random locations all trying to pile into the Saturday afternoon service.  I spend enough time griping about service quality, and would never live it down if the TTC could trace a string of delays to my tour group.  Chartering a streetcar is expensive, almost verges on the territory of “formal tour”, and has the tiny problem that you can’t visit places the streetcars don’t run any more.

My contribution to Jane’s Walk will be a series of pieces here suggesting places you might like to visit in a trip around the city that are mostly related to the streetcar system.  I don’t know yet how many there will be, and some may be written after May 5th has come and gone.  The advantage of a self-conducted tour is that you can do it any time!  Originally, I had thought of linking my writing to the actual walks planned by others, but the way they are shaping up we would miss parts of the city completely.

All of these will be filed here under the topic “Jane’s Walk” and you will be able to pull them up at any time from the menu in the sidebar.