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A Brief History of Toronto and its Railways.

by R.L.Kennedy


The history of what is now Toronto, Ontario, dates back more than 200 years to the time when John Graves Simcoe, the first lieutenant-governor of the province of Upper Canada moved the capital here from Newark (later, Niagara, now Niagara-on-the-Lake) in 1791, naming it York. The land had been purchased by the British in 1787 from the Mississaugas.

The town was a mere 30-acre, ten-block grid bounded by George, Berkeley, Palace (now Front), and Duke (now part of Adelaide) streets. Lot Street, (now Queen Street) was surveyed as the base line from which the concessions of York Township stretched north, east and west at standard 1.25 mile miles apart, with five farm lots of 200 acres each between them. Lot Street to the Second Concession from the Bay (now, Bloor Street), was laid out in 100 acre park lots and given to officials, veterans of the American revolutionary war. The 3rd Concession was what is now St.Clair Avenue.

Roads were few, Indian trails and rivers being more common. One of the first being a road from the Town of York west to St.John's Creek (Humber River) where the military Garrison Reserve was located. In 1799 work began on a road to be called Dundas Street running from York along Lot west to Ossington, north to Dundas and west to the Grand River. Later known as the Dundas Highway or, Highway 5 it eventually reached London. Travel before 1816 was by horseback; in that year the first stage line was established on Dundas Street. Next came Lake Shore Road, begun in March 1805 it commenced at Lot and Peter Streets and went west to the Humber River. Estates along this road included West Lodge, Elm Grove, High Park and Sunnyside. John George Howard, bought the 165-acre High Park estate in 1836 where he lived in Colborne Lodge. He would in 1873 give it all to the City of Toronto, which added to it, finally resulting in the present-day 400 acre High Park. His old villa, Sunnyside, was taken over by the Sisters of St.Joseph to operate Sacred Heart Orphanage. In 1921 it became St.Joseph's Hospital, and remains a respected hospital in the community and beyond.

Stagecoach service between York and Niagara existed by 1825, but roads were poor everywhere. In 1833 money was allotted to macadamize the three roads into York: Kingston Road from the east, (which ran along what is now Queen Street East to Yonge Street.) Yonge Street from the north and Dundas Street from the west. Toll gates were part of arrangement. In 1837 the West Toronto Macadamized Road sets about improving the Lake Shore Road for about two miles. Dundas was macadamized for about 16 miles by 1842.

John MacAdam, a Scottish engineer, came up with the method of road making named after him; it used layers of crushed stone and wasn't much of an improvement being easily disturbed. In 1854, E.P.Hooley, a surveyor in Nottingham, England, noticed that a spilled barrel of tar formed a smooth, tough surface over a crushed stone roadbed. He called it tarmacadam and thus was born the forerunner of modern highways.

In 1841 the Weston Road Company began building a plank road from the Peacock Tavern in West Toronto through Weston to Thistletown, Clairville, and Coleraine; completing a total of 18 miles by 1846. The Yorkville and Vaughan Plank Road Company began in 1849 to plank a road from Potter's Field cemetery in Yorkville, at Yonge Street, along Davenport Road west to Bathurst Street, north and northwest along Vaughan Road to Dufferin Street and Eglinton Avenue, up Dufferin through Vaughan Township. In 1850 the Davenport Road Company improved a road from Queen Street and Crookshank's Lane (Bathurst Street) north to Davenport and west to the Weston Plank Road. Wooden plank roads were expensive to maintain, didn't last long and soon fell out of favour.

The Town of York in 1834 became the City of Toronto; its boundary extending to what is now Bloor and Dufferin Streets. A new fort (the present preserved one) was erected in 1841 with Stanley Barracks, the living quarters. The Municipal Corporations Act of 1849 under Robert Baldwin established the system under which in 1850 York Township was created. It extended from Scarborough to the Humber River, from the lake to Vaughan and Markham. Over the decades many divisions of York Township created new municipalities, only to have the process reversed with annexations and amalgamations.


Railways were about to enter the scene and change it forever.

First came the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Rail Road running from downtown Toronto through Parkdale and Brockton on its way to Machell's Corners (now, Aurora) reaching there on May 16,1853. It went on to Allandale and Collingwood, a lake harbour.

The pioneer OS&H, nicknamed the Oats, Straw and Hay later became the Northern Railway of Canada in 1858, then in 1879, merging with the Hamilton & Northwestern to become the Northern & Northwestern. Eventually, it wound up as part of the Canadian National Railways.

In 1855 the Great Western Railway built a line from Hamilton to Toronto passing through Parkdale just to the north of Lake Shore Road. In 1878 a suburban service was begun between Mimico, Swansea, High Park and Toronto. It wasn't until November 10, 1879 that a station was opened in Parkdale between Jameson and Close Avenues.

In 1856 the Grand Trunk Railway made its way from Toronto next to the OS&H between Parkdale and Brockton through West Toronto and Weston en route to Stratford and London. Still, it wasn't until June 1882 that a station was erected in Parkdale.

In 1871 the Toronto, Grey & Bruce Railway went through Parkdale from downtown Toronto to West Toronto and Weston enroute to Orangeville. It was January 1883 before trains were stopping in Parkdale.

October 7, 1878 a station was opened on the south side of Queen Street just east of Dufferin Street at the Northern Railway crossing .

Five railways passed through Parkdale, four of them across Queen Street at Dufferin. This became such a problem that a subway (underpass) was begun in January 1884 and completed the following year. King Street subway, well east of Dufferin Street (at Atlantic Avenue) was built in 1889. The debt of these two subways, $20,000 and $15,500 led the way towards annexation by Toronto.

The Credit Valley Railway built west from Parkdale through West Toronto to St.Thomas where it connected with American railways leading to Chicago and via Streetsville to Orangeville. It first began operating from Parkdale in 1877 as far as Milton and to Streetsville and Orangeville September 1, 1879. Soon afterwards opened a station near the southwest corner of Queen and Dufferin. May 17, 1880 service was extended to downtown Toronto.

The Ontario and Quebec arrived in Toronto in 1884 providing competition for the Grand Trunk from Montreal and beyond. The O&Q was under control of the Canadian Pacific Railway as was the CV and the TG&B. Using the existing TG&B from Toronto the CPR built a new main line northward from Bolton to Sudbury connecting with the main line to western Canada in 1908.

Canadian Northern Railway provided more competition with its main line between Toronto and Ottawa and another between Toronto and North Bay connecting to western Canada. Part of the Mackenzie and Mann empire which fell into financial difficulties in the early 1900's and wound up being taken over by the federal government along with the Grand Trunk forming Canadian National Railways. This soon resulted in abandonment of the Toronto-Ottawa line which duplicated the former GTR as well as the CPR lines.


Village of Parkdale became a municipality on January 1, 1879, comprising 487 acres bounded by Dufferin on the east, Roncesvalles on the west, Lake Ontario on the south, while the northern limit was along the southwest property line of the GTR from Dufferin to Jameson Avenue North (now Lansdowne) thence west to Ronvesvalles between what is now Wright and Fermanagh Avenues. This followed a lengthy debate over whether or not Parkdale should stay as it was, become incorporated as a village (requiring a minimum population of 750), or seek annexation to the City of Toronto.

A toll-gate located on the Lake Shore Road in the middle of Parkdale became a sore point with residents. Unable to get its removal they set about extending King Street west to Roncesvalles allowing free access to High Park. This they did, at the same time leasing Queen Street from York County to get the toll-gate moved. It was moved all right, to King and Roncesvalles!

The population grew rapidly, it was over 2,000 by 1883, and in January 1886 it became the Town of Parkdale. Parkdale paved 12 miles of its roads with six-inch cedar blocks imbedded in sand. A large waterworks was opened May 24, 1882 just west of Roncesvalles. Sewer, fire and police were all improved. Street lighting was by manufactured gas, piped in by Consumers Gas of Toronto. By October 1879 it had been run along Queen Street as far as Jameson Avenue. In August 1880, Consumers advised that King Street would get gas as far west as Dowling Avenue. Gas continued in exclusive use until September 1888 when electricity came to Parkdale, through the Toronto Electric Light Company.

Between 1850 and 1868 the lots between Bloor and Queen to the west of Dufferin were laid out for development. The main north-south road was known as Brockton Road. Other early roads were Roncesvalles and Sorauren Avenues and Indian Road.

The Massey works, which opened in 1878 at King and Strachan provided employment as did the railways. Postal service began December 1, 1877.

Steam boats also provided some transportation to Parkdale residents with a service from Toronto to a park at the Humber, stopping at a new wharf at the foot of Dufferin Street.

In 1884, Toronto Telephone and Manufacturing Company erected poles, strung wires and began telephone service.

Parkdale was always primarily a residential area and took steps to prohibit objectionable industries. Few industries ever located in Parkdale, the large employers were all beyond its boundaries. Massey Manufacturing Company (400 workers), John Inglis (100), John Abel (200) and Ontario Bolt Works. The largest industry in Parkdale was the Gutta Percha & Rubber Manufacturing Company, established in 1883 on West Lodge Avenue next to, and served by the CPR. It made hose, belting, rubber boots and many other products and once was the largest all-Canadian rubber company. It was closed in 1960.

Annexation remained in peoples minds as the City of Toronto annexed Sunnyside, a mere 108 acres, to the west of Parkdale. Brockton was annexed in 1884 and Yorkville in 1883. It came on March 23, 1889 when Parkdale's 557 acres and 5,651 residents, joined Toronto.

Brockton was in 1852 a small village located a little west of Dufferin Street on Dundas where a toll gate was situated. It later stretched between Bloor and Lake Shore Road. Brockton was incorporated in 1876, became a town in 1881 and was annexed in 1884.

Carlton Village was a tiny gathering of about 30 buildings clustered around (Old) Weston Road and St.Clair Avenue dating from 1851. The Grand Trunk Railway station opened in 1857 and growth began; a post office was established in 1858 and by 1864 the population was about 150. A gravel pit and brick making were early activities in Carlton. In 1885 the GTR opened a station on (Old) Weston Road, below St.Clair Avenue. It later became the CNR West Toronto station.

Davenport Village in 1857 the OS&H built a unique little station at Davenport Road, along which development took place between Old Weston Road and Bathurst Street. At Dufferin Street, a 20-room mansion was erected in 1855 for John Ross, then president of the Grand Trunk Railway. The 1865 population of about 50, grew to 120 by 1875. It became the Northern Railway of Canada and the crossing of the CPR line was known as the Northern diamond and more recently Davenport diamond. The CNR took over old Northern Railway and January 10, 1932 opened a new station a little to the north at St.Clair Avenue on an overpass just west of Caledonia Road. It operated until 1986.

West Toronto Junction known as Toronto Junction to the CPR, it centered on the Junction of railway lines at (Old) Weston Road between Davenport and Dundas. Keele and Dundas is the center of the business district still known as the Junction. The boundary was north from Bloor Street, south of the CPR tracks and west to Elizabeth Street (now Runnymede Road).

The area was long settled when it became incorporated in June 1887 as the Village of West Toronto Junction, quickly changing to a Town, March 23, 1889, at which time its boundary expanded to include the unincorporated Carlton and Davenport, adding about 58 acres and 1,200 people. The name was shortened June 22, 1891 to Town of West Toronto. Once again it changed, this time to a City, April 14, 1908; finally being annexed to the City of Toronto, May 1, 1909, at which time it consisted of 1600 acres of land and 12,000 residents.

A post office was established in 1884. Population of 1887 was 879, it exploded to 5,000 two years later. Land developers boasted of the two nearby stations of the CPR and GTR where over 20 trains a day provided easy access to Toronto. Consumers Gas Company placed gas lamps on Weston and Davenport Roads in1889. Miles of planked sidewalks, graded roads and electric light and telephone service all followed in the 1890's. Arc lights replaced gas lamps on streets. A race track existed southwest of Keele and Dundas Street for 30 years (1857) before West Toronto was incorporated. The first four Queen's Plates were held there at Carlton Park.

Industrial development began in 1887 when the Canada Wire Mattress Company relocated from Toronto, followed by the Dodge Wood Split Pulley Company (Dodge Manufacturing Company) in 1888. It was a pattern that was to bring many industries and employment to the Junction. The presence of two major railways, the CPR and GTR, both of whose tracks entered their new plant, was the reason Wilkinson Plough Company relocated from Aurora in 1894. It was to attract many more industries. The Campbell Mill (Queen City Flour Mills, Maple Leaf Milling) was another served by both railways. In 1888 came the Heintzman Piano Factory from Toronto. In 1962 it moved to Hanover. In 1899, the Canada Cycle and Motor Company merged an existing bicycle plant at 207 (Old) Weston Road, north of St.Clair Avenue and four leading Canadian manufacturers whose annual production totaled 40,000 bicycles and employed 1,700. CCM bicycles were a household name for well over half a century. CCM built the Ivanhoe electric automobile, and then the Russell, named for their general manager, Thomas Alexander Russell. In 1906 it had 300 employees. The plant was expanded and Russell Motor Car Company created in 1911, boasting that it was the only all-Canadian owned automobile manufacturer. In 1915 Willys-Overland of Toledo, Ohio took over the automobile plant ending production of the Russell, replacing it will the Willys automobile until 1933. The plant became Acme Screw & Gear. (Bicycles and skates continued to be made by CCM.) Pugsley Dingman Company built the Comfort Soap Works and with modern machinery produced 90 bars per minute. Its popular products were shipped all over Canada.

The largest industry in the area was Canada Foundry, a subsidiary of Canadian General Electric, located on more than 40 acres at Davenport Road and Lansdowne Avenue between the Northern Railway on the west and the CPR on the south. Built in 1901 it produced heavy products, including steam locomotives! It all closed in the 1980's.

Port of West Toronto was created in 1898 to permit customs clearance of imported goods, at the urging of H.A.Lozier Co. of Toldeo, Ohio, manufacturers of the popular Cleveland bicycle and employer of 700 workers. It was this company that shortly was merged into CCM. Bonded goods arriving by freight, express or mail consigned to recipients in West Toronto was distinct advantage in attracting more industry. Following annexation Toronto became the only city in all of North America to have two customs ports.

In 1903 Union Stock Yards opened a 35-acre site at Keele & St.Clair, immediately north of the CPR shops. It too was served by both railways; however the reluctant GTR had to be forced into handling live stock. It took the chartering of the Junction Terminal Railway to convince the GTR to amend its ways. The USY was re-named Ontario Stock Yards in 1944 when the Ontario Government took over from private shareholders. It finally closed in December 1993.

Gunn's Ltd. began operations in 1907. William Harris moved his Harris Abattoir from Toronto to West Toronto in 1913. Swift Canadian acquired Levack, the first West Toronto slaughter house, in June 1911. In August 1927, Harris Abattoir and William Davies Co. became Canada Packers, absorbing Gunn's and Matthews & Blackwell.

The CPR moved its shops from Parkdale to West Toronto in 1890, at first bringing 275 employees, quickly growing to 1,000. The shops were expanded a number of times.

Fairbank and Forest Hill

Toronto Belt Land Corporation Limited formed in 1889 to develop and sell building lots in Fairbank and Forest Hill. Along with this came the Toronto Belt Line Railway to transport people to and from their new homes and work in Toronto. Service began in July 1892 over two loops of tracks, one running from downtown Toronto up the Don Valley, west through Moore Park, Forest Hill, Fairbank, connecting with the Northern Railway, then south to Davenport and Parkdale returning eastward to Toronto, a distance of 16 miles. The Humber loop ran from Toronto west to Parkdale, thence over another line, this one (GTR) led to Carlton, then over its own right-of-way west from Weston Road to the Humber River and south through the Humber Valley to Swansea where it connected again with the GTR to head east and once again reach downtown Toronto, a distance of 14 miles.

The railway soon failed, its frequent passenger service having been cut back, while freight was almost non-existent. Real estate sales continued for many years, much of the land around Fairbank. Clearly, it was this aspect of the enterprise that was uppermost in the minds of the promoters.

Earlscourt and Oakwood

St.Clair Avenue, the next concession road above Bloor Street became a new development area in the early 1900's. The area west of Dufferin Street became known as Earlscourt, and east of Dufferin to about Winona Drive became known as Oakwood. Farther east near Bathurst Street were Bracondale and Wychwood. None of these had any railway service except for the street railway!

Bracondale and Wychwood, consisting of 575 acres, were annexed to the City of Toronto in February 1909. Earlscourt and Dovercourt were annexed January 1910.


The Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto "Metro" was created on January 1, 1954 consisting of the City of Toronto, Towns of Leaside, Mimico, New Toronto, Weston and York; and the Villages of Forest Hill, Long Branch and Swansea. A further amalgamation in 1967 saw the creation of five Boroughs for the former Townships, some of which took over the towns and villages. Etobicoke, (which took over Long Branch, Mimico and New Toronto); North York; Scarborough and York, (which took over Weston). The City of Toronto took over Forest Hill and Swansea. East York remained a borough, the only one left in Canada!

North York became a city in 1980 and in 1984 so did Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough and York.

The City of Toronto further amalgamated the cities and eliminated Metro effective January 1, 1998.


Street Railways

The Toronto Street Railway Company provided the first public transportation on rails in streets, a horsecar service from 1861 to 1891. Prior to that there were some horsedrawn omnibuses on the roads. The first route was between St.Lawrence Hall and Market at King Street East and Jarvis Street in downtown Toronto and Yorkville Town Hall via Yonge Street commencing service September 11, 1861. This was quickly followed by a second route from St.Lawrence Hall via King, Yonge and Queen which reached what is now Ossington Avenue in 1861 and Gladstone Avenue (City Limits), on single track, September 2, 1879; and double tracked by May 19, 1880. Parkdale and the TSR agreed to an extension into Parkdale and this happened on November 27, 1886 to Sorauren Avenue and in the spring of 1887 to Roncesvalles Avenue. Another line operated from St.Lawrence via King, Yonge, Queen, Ossington, and Dundas to Dufferin, begun December 8, 1881. The Brockton route as it now known was extended on September 25, 1885 along Dundas from Dufferin to Jameson Avenue North (now, Lansdowne). In 1884 track was laid south on Yonge Street from King to Front Street and west to York Street to allow some cars to serve Union Station. All of this was by horse power! In fact, 1,372 of them pulling 264 cars on more than two dozen routes along 68 miles of track in 1891, the last year of their franchise. In 1891 the new subway on King Street allowed the King car to be rerouted along King to Dufferin. In 1892 it was electrified and extended to Roncesvalles.

Shortly after expiry of the TSR franchise the Toronto Railway Company, part of the Mackenzie and Mann empire; which included the Canadian Northern, as well as the Toronto Suburban and the Toronto and York Radial railways, began its thirty year franchise effective September 1, 1891.

Davenport Street Railway Company began electric streetcar service in September 1892 from Keele & Dundas along Davenport to Bathurst.

City & Suburban Electric Railway Company Limited began streetcar service in 1893 from Keele, west on Dundas to Evelyn Crescent and southward.

Toronto Suburban Railway Company Limited, owned by Mackenzie and Mann of Canadian Railway fame acquired the above two operations expanding service to Weston in 1890, and Woodbridge in 1914. Also; to Lambton in1896 and a radial line to Guelph in 1916.

Toronto Civic Railways, owned by the City of Toronto, was created in 1911 to expand streetcar service into areas of growth beyond that served by the Toronto Railway which refused to build new lines into those areas due to the population and to the pending expiry of their franchise. A 3-mile long route along St.Clair Avenue from Yonge Street to Station (Caledonia) Road was opened in August 1913, a time when the area was still lightly developed. St.Clair was unusual in that it was built to a width more than the standard 66 feet. Yonge to Avenue Road was 86 feet while beyond to the GTR it was 100 feet with a 33 foot wide central boulevard. A number of other lines were built in the east and west ends of the city.

The Toronto Transportation Commission was created to take over effective September 1, 1921 the Toronto Railway Company as well as the Toronto Civic Railways.

Township of York Railways was created in 1924 and immediately the TTC was contracted to build and operate the Oakwood and Rogers Road lines. They also acquired the Toronto Suburban Railway's Lambton line on Dundas west of Runnymede and the Weston Road line north of the City Limits at Northlands Ave. to Weston where the Town acquired its share leaving the balance of the line to Woodbridge to the CNR.

Currently, the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) operates streetcars and subway lines as well as far more numerous bus routes throughout Toronto.


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