trolley bus toronto

Toronto used to ride around on these cool electric buses 100 years ago

Did you know that even a century ago, Toronto was commuting on clean, electric buses?

It was a very different world in 1922. Insulin had just been discovered in Toronto, Germany was on a brief pause from that whole world conquest thing, the White House got its first radio, and the Toronto Transportation Commission (predecessor to the current TTC) was experimenting with newfangled electric trolleys.

Long before the dominant days of the gas-guzzling automobile, resulting climate change concerns and the subsequent Elon Musk era of electric vehicles, cities relied on public transit powered by overhead lines, primarily in the form of streetcars.

Toronto switched from what must have been very smelly horse-drawn streetcars to electric models in the mid-1890s, but it would be another generation before the first electric buses debuted on city streets in the flappers and jazz era of the Roaring Twenties.

A new TTC trolley bus line serving what is now the heart of Midtown Toronto opened in June 1922 along an L-shaped route linking Yonge and Merton with Mount Pleasant and Eglinton.

Four electric trolley coaches plied the line, a limited run of 29-seaters with bodies from streetcar manufacturer Canadian Brill, chassis built by Packard, and motor drives from Westinghouse.

The route was an instant hit with riders, but that same success would prove to be the downfall of the new trolley coach service. Impressed with the ridership, the TTC opted to replace the trolley bus line with streetcar service after just three years, making these some of the shortest-lived vehicles in fleet history.

In a move sure to make transit nerds recoil in horror, the TTC concluded its short experiment with electric buses by selling the vehicles for scrap in 1928. It was assumed for 46 years that all remnants of the coaches had vanished until the stunning find of a mostly intact vehicle on a farm east of Toronto in 1974.

After a brief stay at a museum in nearby Cobourg, the #23 coach was moved to the Halton County Railway Museum in 1978, where it has resided ever since.

The popular railway museum — a must-visit day trip for any transit enthusiast — recently shared photos and video of the restored vehicle as it was transported between storage barns.

Toronto would again ride on buses powered by overhead electric wires with the introduction of a much larger fleet in 1947.

Refurbished trolley buses hit Toronto streets in the late 1960s and early 70s, but the party would eventually come to an end in the early 1990s with the elimination of trolleybuses in favour of diesel-powered buses with added mobility and, of course, emissions.

Lead photo by

@streetcarmuseum


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