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A visual history of Toronto streetcars

Posted by Derek Flack / May 27, 2011

Toronto Streetcar History TTCA visual history of Toronto streetcars struck me as the perfect choice for my Friday archive dive after getting a chance to ride around on a Toronto Rocket subway yesterday. While these subways may be the pinnacle of modern TTC technology, streetcars are the foundation upon which the system was built, starting all the way back in the 1870s with horse-drawn cars.

Those weren't operated by the TTC, which was founded in 1920 as the Toronto Transportation Commission ("transportation" would change to "transit" in 1954). Prior to the advent of our current transit commission, Toronto was serviced by a variety of other companies, including (but not limited to) the Toronto Street Railways (1861-91), the Toronto Railway Company (1891-1921), and the Toronto Suburban Railway Company (1894-1911).

With the introduction of the Peter Witt cars in 1921, our streetcar history becomes somewhat easier to follow. In 1938 Toronto's original red rockets, the Presidents' Conference Committee (PCC) streetcars are introduced, to stay officially on the rails until 1995. In and around the middle of that period, the Witts are decommissioned (1963) and, with the rise of subway transportation in the city, a plan to abandon Toronto's streetcar program is hatched, only to be cancelled in 1972. Post PCC streetcars, the Canadian Light Rail Vehicle (CLRV) is introduced in 1977 and the Articulated Light Rail Vehicle (ALRV) in 1987.

Despite the putatively straightforward timeline, there's a wealth of nuanced and fascinating information about the city's streetcars to be found from a number of sources. Here are a few of the more noteworthy ones.

PHOTOS

1880s

Horse-drawn streetcar
201111-Horse_drawn_streetcar_Toronto_1885.jpg

Two-horse car at old North Toronto Station
20111-Two_horse_car_at_old_North_Toronto_station1889.jpg

1890s

Seaton village single-horse car
20110103-1890-Seaton_Village_single-horse_car_1890.jpg

Installation of streetcar tracks at King and Yonge streets
20110103-1892-Special_track_work_installation_for_electric_cars,_King_and_Yonge_Streets,_looking_north,_August_1892.jpg

Toronto Railway Company (TCR) car No. 316
20110103-1893-Toronto_Railway_Company_car_No._316.jpg

1900s

TCR car amidst Boer War celebrations on Yonge Street
20101227-1900-Yonge_Street_crowd_celebrating_the_end_of_the_Boer_War.jpg

1910s

TCR car at Yonge and Queen
20101220-1910-QueenYongeWilliamJames.jpg

Laying track near Queen and Bay
20101220-1911-Queen_and_Terauley_view_west.jpg

TRC car (via Chuckmans' postcard collection)
2011527-1913-TRC-cars.jpg

Toronto Civic Railway car at the Halton County Radial Railway (via the Wikimedia Commons)
2011527-HCRY-Toronto-Civic-Railways.jpg

1920s

Peter Witt car near Queen and Woodbine
2011528-Toronto_Transit_(Queen-Woodbine).jpg

Peter Witt car at Queen and Bay
20100822-1923_Toronto_QueenSt_and_Bay_NW.jpg

Peter Witt and Queen and James streets
20100822-1924_Toronto_QueenW_lookingEastfromJamesSt.jpg

1930s

Peter Witt car at Yonge and Bloor
20101129-Yonge,_south_from_Bloor,_1938.jpg

1940s

Peter Witt cars at Union Station
20101214-Street_railway_cars_in_front_of_Union_Station1943.jpg

Interior of a Presidents' Conference Committee (PCC) car in 1942
2011527-PCC-int-1942.jpg

1960s

A snowy Peter Witt car
2011527-snowy-witt-1963.jpg

Peter Witt Interior (1963, post modification to remove conductor)
2011527-witt-int-1963-2.jpg

Opposite angle to above
2011527-witt-int-1963.jpg

PCC car
2011527-pcc-1966-int.jpg

PCC car 4310
2011527-pcc-4310-front-1963.jpg

A PCC at the Humber Loop in 1967
20100814-ttc1967.jpg

PCC cars on Bloor prior to the construction of the subway (postcard)
2011527-streetcars-bloor-early60s.jpg

1970s

Ditto
2011527-Carlton-line-590.jpg

1980s

CLRV (Canadian Light Rail Vehicle) on Queen (via the New York City Subway Resource)
2011527-1982-streetcar-4504-15-NYC-Sub-resources.jpg

1990s

504 Streetcar (via the Wikimedia Commons)
2011528-Streetcar-504King1999.jpg

2000s

PCC at the Halton County Radial Railway (via bigdaddyhame)
2011528-pcc-halton-bdh.jpg

CLRV 4059 (via the Wikimedia Commons)
2011530-CLRV_4059_Glamour_Shot.jpg

ARLV (Articulated Light Rail Vehicle)
2011527-ALRV-TorontoTram3-2000s.jpg

CRLV 4152 and PCC 4500 (via the Wikimedia Commons)
2011527-CLRV_4152_and_PCC_4500.jpg

Other posts in the series:

Photos from the Toronto Archives unless otherwise marked.

Discussion

40 Comments

Love / May 27, 2011 at 01:09 pm
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Love articles like this, thanks for posting this.
Melissa / May 27, 2011 at 01:17 pm
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This is very cool - takes time to find pictures like that, well done!
Myron / May 27, 2011 at 02:03 pm
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Note that the ALRV #4900 looks a little different, specifically the pixel route sign - this was the trial vehicle sent by the manufacturer. As I recall, the reason it is orange is not due to a TTC color scheme test, but was the colors of the Swiss factory that built it, and they just slapped TTC logos on it.
Alan / May 27, 2011 at 02:13 pm
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The 1970's PCC picture is at Coxwell and Gerrard (see modern-day view on Google maps here: http://tinyurl.com/3okz43e)
Theraisa K / May 27, 2011 at 02:48 pm
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It would be so neat to have seen Toronto back in the early days. These photos make me appreciate the many different modes of transportation we have today!
buk / May 27, 2011 at 02:52 pm
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great aritcle.

but the deeper question is why would a metropolitain city like toronto still use right of way transit. the streetcar is dated and aged and seriously needs to go.
Swarley replying to a comment from buk / May 27, 2011 at 02:57 pm
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I assume you're willing to donate the $300M/km or so for subway lines then?
Stephen / May 27, 2011 at 03:05 pm
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Love this article and all of the other articles you guys do on Toronto's history. So cool!
m replying to a comment from buk / May 27, 2011 at 03:45 pm
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if streetcars are outdated then why are dozens of cities worldwide rebuilding their streetcar networks
W. K. Lis / May 27, 2011 at 04:46 pm
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Mt. Pleasant between St. Clair subway station and Eglinton used to have 4 streetcars running on it during the day. Streetcars used to run on it 24 hours a day under 1976. They were replaced by trolley buses and diesel buses. Today the 76 Mt. Pleasant bus has only 1 bus during the day, and NONE after 7 PM every day.

Transit users don't like buses, but like streetcars as seen on Mt. Pleasant, and in history in other cities. That is TRANSIT USERS, not automobile users such as our mayor.
Fantomex replying to a comment from buk / May 28, 2011 at 12:03 am
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Or you're willing to rethink your vote for Rob Ford (if you voted for him?)
wallah / May 28, 2011 at 01:34 am
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Great article that brings back so many fond memories. The only thing missing might be Jane Station. ;-) Folks would transfer there from bus to street car to get to Keele subway station, which was the end of the line until sometime around the end of the sixties.
Paul / May 28, 2011 at 03:00 pm
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Great photos that bring back a lot of memories. In addition to changes in the vehicles themselves, readers may be interested to read about what happened to so many of the old streetcar routes that have come & gone over the last century or so. Transit Toronto has a wealth of information on this topic and many more:

http://transit.toronto.on.ca/streetcar/4100.shtml
DanBro / May 31, 2011 at 12:57 am
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I love the pic of an ad 'Get a Horse @ 7:45A... --- now it's get a car cause the TTC is so pack(ed) -- I am also a cyclist.
Fantomex replying to a comment from DanBro / June 15, 2011 at 03:05 am
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The 'Get A Horse' is in reference to the races and the now demolished Greenwood racetrack, not what you're talking about.
DanBro / June 15, 2011 at 10:58 am
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The 'Get A Horse' ---- I knew that I was making a 'joke' LOL
Julián-tai chi- / July 19, 2011 at 01:31 pm
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Thanks for posting this.
Fantomex replying to a comment from DanBro / July 24, 2011 at 11:15 pm
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@DanBro: Sorry.

Can I just come out and say it? I LOVE STREETCARS, and I wish that they could be put <i>EVERYWHERE</i> in Toronto. Long live the streetcar, and screw Rob Ford and anybody else that wants to get rid of them!
Fantomex replying to a comment from DanBro / July 25, 2011 at 12:27 am
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@DanBro: Sorry.

Can I just come out and say it? I LOVE STREETCARS, and I wish that they could be put <i>EVERYWHERE</i> in Toronto. Long live the streetcar, and screw Rob Ford and anybody else that wants to get rid of them!
Fantomex replying to a comment from DanBro / July 25, 2011 at 03:52 pm
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@DanBro: Sorry.

Can I just come out and say it? I LOVE STREETCARS, and I wish that they could be put <i>EVERYWHERE</i> in Toronto. Long live the streetcar, and screw Rob Ford and anybody else that wants to get rid of them!
Fantomex replying to a comment from Fantomex / July 25, 2011 at 04:15 pm
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My computer's a bit wonky, everybody-sorry about the triple post.
Robbie / November 11, 2011 at 11:37 am
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Re the photo of the Woodbine car --
"1920s Peter Witt car near Queen and Woodbine"
it is on Connaught Ave. heading north toward Queen, looks like it has just pulled out of the Connaught car barns (Russell yard). The buildings on the right of the photo are still there, on west side of Connaught Ave. just south of Ashbridge Estate.
Thanks for posting these photos.
Nike Air Max Classic BW / January 13, 2012 at 06:42 am
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That's an all round amazingly written blog...
Ken Newton / January 30, 2012 at 09:47 am
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I think the inventor of one popular generation of streetcars was named DeWitt and he produced these streetcars in Cleveland.
pulsa / January 30, 2012 at 10:30 am
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Thank god some bloggers can still write. Thanks for this blog post.
kamera nikon dslr bm / February 13, 2012 at 12:03 pm
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That was a really fun read!!
traduceri engleza / February 18, 2012 at 10:56 pm
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This makes great sense.
cheap commercial landlords insurance / March 4, 2012 at 11:53 am
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Some enlightening post!!!
liz / March 11, 2012 at 11:44 am
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My Great Grandfather was a Street car conductor in 1901...sometime around 1902 he was badly beaten in a robbery on the streetcar and suffered a brain injury...any idea where to look for a report on a streetcar assault way back then?
Comenzi EASTBAY / March 19, 2012 at 08:29 am
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What a frankly fun post...
LaryOly replying to a comment from liz / March 26, 2012 at 03:54 pm
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The Toronto Star has "Pages of the Past".

That's all the back-issues of the Star, saved in PDF format. That way, you can search by keyword, date range, etc.

You pay a fee for a block of time (as little as 2 hours), and you can research to your heart's content. Also, if you know how to save PDFs, you can get a copy of the articles you find.

Only the Star has this feature. For the other Toronto papers, including defunct ones like The Telegram, you'll have to go to the Toronto Reference Library (after the strike is over), and search through the microfilmed back issues of them. This is far more time-consuming, since there's no proper index of content for them. Your best bet is to try "Pages of the Past" first, note the dates of the articles you find, and then use those dates as a guideline when you're searching the microfilmed newspapers.
kırtasiye / March 29, 2012 at 11:03 am
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What a frankly amazing article!!!
William Grant / June 18, 2012 at 08:50 am
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Memories,memories I drove TRCs (wooden cars) .Peter Witts,PCCs.Started at Danforth division 1950 retired 1989.In the 50tys worked on every bus line in the GTA.Loved my job,
Bill
tom / December 30, 2012 at 12:35 am
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Thanks. Brings back many memories.
As a young boy i used to collect streetcar transfers because they were all different colours.
Colleen / January 31, 2013 at 11:38 pm
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I Loved these Pictures It brought back a lot of
Memmories of my life in T.O. Thanks for Posting Them.
Gordon / April 2, 2013 at 06:27 pm
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One reason the PCC was fazed out was the constant brake failures and the resulting injury and damage. 90% of a streetcar,s braking is the reverse polarity of the electric motors. The constant starting and stopping in heavy traffic takes a severe toll on the motors and braking ability. Perhaps streetcars are better served on a right-of-way, rather than in busy cities.
Jordan / July 7, 2013 at 11:06 pm
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The ALRV prototype was actually manufactured at Kingston, Ontario by the UTDC, Urban Transportation Development Corporation in Millhaven. There was a streetcar test track there for testing it and yes, it was painted in the original UTDC colours..
cecilia ellis / January 11, 2014 at 12:27 pm
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I remember riding the Bay St streetcar which looped at Sunnyside - this in 1942. I was 10 and with my sister, we would go on the rides at Sunnyside or use the Sunnyside Pool on a Saturday. Great childhood memories - safe City, few cars, the whole world was ours it seemed. aah!
Borte replying to a comment from cecilia ellis / March 17, 2014 at 01:16 pm
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Your post made me smile

:)
Bob Andrews / March 31, 2014 at 07:46 am
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That's a fantastic historical picture of the "316" Toronto Railway Company (TCR) car No. 316. Feel a bit sorry for the poor employee on the front demonstrating the fishnet safety fender. I guess there was no such thing as health & safety in those days, wouldn't get away with it now !

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