Route 512 - The St Clair Streetcar

CLRV 4178 departing St. Clair Station

CLRV 4178 departs St. Clair Station for its westbound run to Keele.

Text by James Bow.

See Also:

The Route

The St Clair streetcar begins at St. Clair Station, in a loop just east of Yonge Street. Travelling west on private right-of-way in the centre of the street, it dives underground just past Spadina to loop through the St. Clair West Station interchange. Passing track switches at Bathurst, Vaughan and Wychwood, and short-turn loops at Oakwood and Lansdowne (as well as abandoned tracks at Old Weston Road (Townsley Loop)), the line finally turns back at Gunns Loop, a block west of Keele Street. There, passengers can transfer onto the 71 RUNNYMEDE bus for service along St. Clair to Runnymede.

The route has two branches; the main branch, from Keele to Yonge, operates whenever the subway is open, while additional morning rush-hour service is provided between Earlscourt Loop (at Lansdowne) and St. Clair Station. Buses on the 312 ST. CLAIR NIGHT route serve the street, running from St. Clair station west to Jane and south on Jane to Jane station. St. Clair streetcars can also be seen entering service from Roncesvalles Carhouse via King and Bathurst and, if you ask politely, some drivers may pick you up on Bathurst Street and take you to St Clair West Station.

A History of Streetcars on St Clair

From the beginning of the twentieth century, St Clair Avenue developed as a major arterial road at the edge of the City of Toronto. The settlements of College Heights, Wychwood, Silverthorn, Earlscourt, Fairbank and Forest Hill were quick to spring up along the street, but public transit service didn’t follow. This was also the case in other parts of the city, including East Toronto along the Danforth, and Bloor West Village.

The reason for the lack of service was because Toronto was late in annexing the area into itself. The Toronto Railway Company, a private corporation now well into its thirty-year license to operate streetcars within the city, argued that their original charter only covered land within the Toronto City Limits as they were in 1891. The probable reason behind their use of this legal technicality was a reluctance to spend money on new lines when it was uncertain whether or not the Toronto Railway Company would be reaping their benefits a decade later. Ironically, the TRC’s intransigence served only to convince Toronto City Council that the TRC’s license shouldn’t be renewed past 1921.

But the year was 1911, and the city of Toronto resolved that they were not going to wait ten years before a new company would expand streetcar services into the annexed parts of the city. Instead, they went it alone, and formed the Toronto Civic Railway which started construction on five lines, the second of which was St. Clair.

Construction began in September 1911. A temporary material and supply yard was built at the west end of the line, near Davenport Road and the Grand Trunk (now Canadian National) tracks. Work on the line started at Yonge Street, and continued west. Despite the fact that St. Clair was a very straight street, the many hills and valleys created an undulating character that required a considerable amount of earthmoving, slowing down the project considerably. In particular, the Nordheimer Ravine just east of Bathurst Street gave the engineers nightmares, proving near impossible to fill before the decision was made to bridge it instead. After two years, the residents were getting restless; with the entire line complete except for the gap at the Nordheimer Ravine, the TCR built a temporary bridge to the north of the street and ran the tracks across it gauntlet fashion. Service finally began on Monday, August 25, 1913, with no fanfare; officials were doubtless glad just to be done with the route. Work continued on the permanent bridge, which opened for streetcar traffic on Saturday, June 20, 1914.

The cars were stored at the newly opened St. Clair Carhouse on Wychwood Avenue, and the line boasted fine private right-of-way down the middle of the street. Track was laid on a deep gravel bed, with two inches of crushed stone around the rails. Cars began operating at 6 minute intervals during the day, but by 1918, service was increased to 2 minutes during rush hours. St. Clair was also the only line in the Toronto Civic Railway to offer transfers; it just so happened that the Lansdowne route, constructed later, made a connection with the line at Lansdowne Avenue; the only case of a TCR route connecting with another.

The TTC Takes Over

The transfer of all streetcar services to the Toronto Transportation Commission brought significant changes on the route. Starting Monday, December 26, 1921, St Clair cars were cut back to crossovers between Yonge and Avenue Road, while the single-ended Avenue Road cars operated along the rest of the route to a newly constructed Caledonia Loop at Station Street. This was only a temporary revision; by July 1, 1923, St. Clair cars were operating along the full route again, to Lawton Loop at Yonge Street and Lawton Avenue (now a parkette). Avenue Road Cars continued to provide additional service west of Avenue Road, and this line was later renamed Bay. Finally, on December 1, 1924, the St. Clair streetcar was extended east along St. Clair to Mount Pleasant Road, looping at Moore Park Loop (also now a parkette). On November 4, 1925, after official opening ceremonies had taken place the day before, the second phase of this extension brought the route up Mount Pleasant to Eglinton Avenue, replacing most of an experimental TTC trolley bus route.

On the western end, the termini shifted around as the TTC contended with a grade crossing over Canadian National railroad tracks. Cars continued to loop at Caledonia Loop, forcing people who wanted to travel further west to cross the tracks on foot to Dovercourt cars waiting at Prescott Loop; these took them to Old Weston Road. This gap was eventually bridged and, on October 29, 1931, service was extended to Townsley Loop (Old Weston Road) and on to Keele Loop on May 14, 1932.

The St. Clair streetcar and its Bathurst and Bay companions would use no less than three different western loops, all in close proximity to each other. Keele Loop, just north of the Keele Street, St Clair Avenue intersection, saw most of the service, but many cars travelled north on Keele Street and onto Weston Road, to Northlands Loop at the Toronto City Limits. Starting September 1, 1943, rush hour service continued further north on Weston Road, to Avon Loop, at Rogers Road; this service continued until February 25, 1966, almost two decades after the Weston streetcar was abandoned in 1948.

In 1928, the TTC began to remove the central private right-of-way, replacing it with paved trackage instead. The first section to go was between Bathurst Street and Dufferin. In 1929, the section between Dufferin and Lansdowne was paved over. Lansdowne to Caledonia went in 1931, while the last section, between Bathurst and Yonge, fell in 1935. The TTC would later come to regret this decision; in 1974, the TTC attempted to keep the automobiles off the streetcar tracks by painting yellow stripes across them. Continued problems with congestion would lead the TTC to invest millions in reinstating a private right-of-way starting in 2005. More on that later.

The surprising number of short turn loops on this line today says much about the number of streetcar lines that shared trackage with St. Clair. Bay cars provided additional service from the western loop to Avenue Road, before heading downtown. Bathurst cars also picked up passengers along St. Clair Avenue before turning south at Vaughan Road. Oakwood and Rogers Road streetcars connected with the line at Oakwood Loop, and Rogers Road provided a rush-hour connection with the Yonge subway when it opened in 1954. Dovercourt and, later, Harbord cars would connect with the line at Old Weston Road; today, the only legacy of this service is the rarely used Townsley short-turn loop, which lost its streetcar tracks in 2008 (after having them blocked off a few years previously). Finally Earlscourt Cars shadowed the St. Clair route, sometimes bolstering St. Clair service between Earlscourt (Lansdowne) loop and Yonge, while other times handling the Mount Pleasant section while St. Clair concentrated on Yonge Street and points west.

One by one, these lines all fell, until St. Clair stood alone. The Dovercourt cars were replaced by an extension of the Harbord streetcar in 1941, and then the Lansdowne streetcar transformed into a trolley bus route in 1947. Weston Road fell in 1948, followed by Yonge and Bay (and tracks along Avenue Road) with the opening of the subway in 1954. Oakwood fell to an extension of the Ossington trolley bus in 1961. Harbord cars pulled back from St. Clair in 1957, leaving behind Townsley Loop before disappearing entirely in 1966. That same year, the Bathurst streetcar was cut back to Bloor Street only, although the tracks on Bathurst between Bloor and St. Clair remained. Finally, Rogers Road disappeared in 1974 so that the TTC would have enough streetcars to staff the fleet while it looked for the next generation. In 1975, the section of the St. Clair streetcar east of Yonge was lopped off to form an independent Mount Pleasant route, but politics intervened, and the line was converted to trolley coach operation in 1976.

With only three routes operating out of St. Clair Carhouse on Wychwood Avenue (a truncated Bathurst, Earlscourt and St. Clair), it wasn’t long before the TTC decided to consolidate its operations and moved its off-duty streetcars to Roncesvalles.

St. Clair Carries On Alone

Finally, in 1978, things stabilized. St. Clair West Station opened as part of the Spadina Subway, accomplishing what the first engineers failed to do - stabilizing the crossing over the Nordheimer Ravine. In the early 1980s, the line’s faithful companion, Earlscourt, disappeared as an independent operation, killed by the route-name restructuring brought about by the new CLRVs. There was no reduction in service, however; Earlscourt’s legacy continued as a rush-hour branch of the St. Clair service.

Despite all of these changes, St. Clair is one of the healthiest routes on the system. It’s well travelled, and passes through some of the most interesting neighbourhoods in the city. The width of the street has allowed the TTC to take some measures in keeping the automobiles off the tracks, enhancing reliability of the service. St. Clair operates in isolation, connected with the rest of the system by a set of tracks on Bathurst Street that don’t see revenue service. This hasn’t stopped St. Clair from seeing some expansion, however. On Monday, July 27, 1981, the old Keele Loop was closed, and service began on an additional 1100 feet of double track laid down further west to the new loop on Maybank (now called Gunns) Avenue.

Night service on the St. Clair streetcar ended in February 2000, when buses took over the route. The change allowed the TTC to extend night service west of Keele to Jane and south on Jane to Jane Station with no increase in operating costs due to the long layovers St. Clair streetcars had at St Clair Station when the line operated only as far as Keele. That same month, the TTC announced that St. Clair streetcars leaving service would enter Bathurst Station and pick up passengers there in the hopes of increasing service on Bathurst, making use of the long deadhead runs the St. Clair cars already experience.

Private Right-of-Way and the Future

After the success of new streetcar services operating on private right-of-way on Spadina Avenue and Queen’s Quay, the TTC looked at ways of expanding private rights-of-way elsewhere in the system. Quickly, its gaze fell on St. Clair.

Unlike other streetcars operating in downtown Toronto, St. Clair cars plied a street that was significantly wider. Until the 1930s, the line had been operating on private right-of-way. More importantly, the tracks on the route were nearing the end of their design life, and needed rebuilding. The TTC estimated that, if they upgraded the tracks to a private right-of-way, they could upgrade the line into a Spadina-style operation for just $7 million more than had already been budgeted to simply repair the tracks.

As this was a significant enhancement of transit service, requiring changes to the street, the proposal had to go through an environmental assessment process. Despite being supported by the majority of residents who came out to speak at the meetings, the proposal ran into spirited opposition by a group of merchants who referred to themselves as Save Our St. Clair. City council approved the proposal early in 2005, and construction began, only to be stopped by a court injunction, leaving St. Clair Avenue torn up around the Yonge Street intersection.

SOS argued that council’s decision was illegal, since while the St. Clair right-of-way proposal conformed to the 2002 official plan, that plan still had to be ratified by the Ontario Municipal Board, pending appeals. The 1994 official plan made no mention of higher-order transit for St. Clair. The court decision was overturned on appeal, and, while the case was re-heard, the 2002 official plan was ratified by the Ontario Municipal Board. The appeal court found in favour of the city, and construction resumed in May 2006, months behind schedule. The project was originally projected to be complete by the end of 2008. Further delays, problems in coordinating the work crews of the TTC, Toronto Hydro, the Toronto Roads Department, among others, as well as plain bad luck pushed this date back to the end of 2009. Service was only able to resume to Lansdowne Avenue on December 20, 2009, with service to Gunn’s Loop west of Keele unable to start until June 30, 2010.

Now that work on the St. Clair right-of-way is done, the next extension to the Toronto streetcar network could take the St. Clair streetcar to Dundas and Runnymede, to St. Clair and Jane, or possibly even to St. Clair and Scarlett Road. If the Runnymede arrangement is chosen, cars will turn back at a loop that, before 1968, used to see Dundas cars beginning their runs into the city. The TTC believes that with the major redevelopment continuing on the former slaughterhouse lands, the demands for transit will increase. Already, St. Clair west of Runnymede has increased from no service to a branch of the 79 SCARLETT bus. The TTC has asked the City of Toronto to take steps to protect the right of way along St. Clair Avenue and have suggested that if any developer were to pay for the construction of these tracks, they would be happy to run streetcars on them.


512 St Clair Image Archive


References

  • Bromley, John F., and Jack May Fifty Years of Progressive Transit, Electric Railroaders’ Association, New York (New York), 1978.
  • Filey, Mike, Not a One-Horse Town: 125 Years of Toronto and its Streetcars, Gagne Printing, Louiseville (Quebec), 1986.
  • Hood, J. William, The Toronto Civic Railways: An Illustrated History, The Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto (Ontario), 1986.

Thanks to John Bromley and Ray Corley for their corrections to this web page. Thanks to New York City Subway Resources for the use of their images for this page.

About this Page

This page is an article within the Streetcar and LRT division of Transit Toronto articles.

To see more articles within the Streetcar and LRT division, you may return to the Streetcar and LRT division page.

You can also return to the main page for news and other articles in Transit Toronto.