Streetcar construction, St. Clair Avenue at Ossington Avenue (now Winona Drive), September 28, 1911. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 62, Item 3.<br />
The TCR’s St. Clair line stretched from Yonge Street to the Grand Trunk Railway tracks at Station Street (now Caledonia Park Road). Construction began in September 1911. St. Clair Avenue was widened so that the line could run on a separate boulevard down the middle. <br />
Residents grew anxious as work dragged out over two years. Riders demanded that service begin, despite TCR officials wanting to wait until problems building the line over the Nordheimer Ravine at Wells Hill were resolved. A temporary one-track wooden trestle was used for a year before a permanent bridge was built.<br />
<strong>Proposed site for St. Clair carhouse, Bracondale Avenue (now Wychwood Avenue), July 31, 1913. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 438.</strong><br><br />
Streetcars were temporarily stored at Station Street until a permanent carhouse could be built. By early 1913, TCR officials favoured a site south of St. Clair between Bracondale Avenue (now Wychwood Avenue) and Christie Street, owned by leather manufacturer J.E. Edwards & Sons. The property was being used as an athletic field.<br />
<strong>Front page photo, the <em>News</em>, August 25, 1913.</strong><br /><br />
One of the most amazing things about the launch of the St. Clair streetcar service on August 25, 1913 was the utter lack of hoopla. There are no reports of free rides, political speeches, religious meetings, flag raisings, cigars, or ice cream. The first car quietly left the temporary carhouse on Station Street around 6 a.m. to make its inaugural run, leaving some residents upset by the absence of any ceremony.<br />
<strong>St. Clair carhouse, January 30, 1915. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 448.</strong><br /><br />
When the St. Clair line launched, there were questions about the status of the still-unfinished carhouse. Press reports hint at NIMBYism—the <em>World</em> suggested the TCR faced difficulty persuading residents “to consent to such a building being erected in a district of pleasant homes.” Rumours flew about the Bracondale/Christie site, as to whether the City would expropriate it for parkland (as city council had once promised) or for the carhouse. <br />
Transit won. Construction began, and was not complete when the first streetcars rolled in on December 31, 1913. The facility was finished by April 1914. Judging from this photo, local kids quickly adopted the site for neighbourhood shinny matches.<br />
<strong>St. Clair carhouse, August 18, 1915. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 278.</strong><br /><br />
A description of the original St. Clair carhouse facility, courtesy of J. William Hood’s book <em>The Toronto Civic Railways: An Illustrated History</em>:<br />
“The carhouse was a simple elongated structure some two hundred feet in length and thirty-eight feet wide, built with a steel frame and walls of concrete, hollow tile, and brick construction. The traffic office and a small storeroom were located in the west, or Christie Street, end of the building, while the remainder contained three storage tracks each holding three cars. Entrance for the cars was off Bracondale Avenue. Each track had a pit for car inspection, with equipment for wheel grinding. A single outside track along the south wall had space for another three cars and the snowsweeper. To reach the carhouse a single-track line was laid along Bracondale from St. Clair Avenue.”<br />
<strong>St. Clair carhouse, looking southwest, July 10, 1924. Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16. Series 71, Item 3254.</strong><br /><br />
A second three-track storage bay was completed in February 1917 to help service the TCR’s new Lansdowne route. A major expansion was made in 1921 after the TTC assumed operations of the facility. Two more storage bays were added to the south side of the barns, while a repair bay was built on the north side of the original structure. Extended yard space allowed the TTC to store 50 streetcars inside the carhouse, and 110 outside.<br />
<strong>St. Clair carhouse yard, looking west, July 10, 1924. Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16. Series 71, Item 3256.</strong><br /><br />
The carhouse remained active until 1978. The TTC then used the site to test new vehicles, such as <a href="http://transit.toronto.on.ca/streetcar/4503.shtml">CLRV streetcars</a>, and to store mothballed vehicles. The tracks were separated from the rest of the network in 1991, and the property was handed over to the city seven years later. The site has been redeveloped into a community hub by Artscape over the past decade.<br />
If it weren’t for the stubbornness of a privately-run transit provider, there’s a good chance nobody would be enjoying this week’s 100th anniversary celebrations for the structure now known as Wychwood Barns. The old carhouse, now a community centre and live-work space for artists, stands as a reminder of why the City of Toronto entered the public-transit business to begin with.
Despite the City’s numerous annexations in the early 20th century, the privately-run Toronto Railway Company (TRC) refused all municipal requests to extend its streetcar service beyond the boundaries that existed when it won its franchise in 1891. When a court upheld the Railway Company’s right to stay within its original territory, voters in the 1911 municipal election gave the City permission to form its own streetcar company, Toronto Civic Railways (TCR), to serve new Torontonians.
The growing string of neighbourhoods along St. Clair Avenue West was fertile ground for a TCR line. Beginning in 1913, the St. Clair carhouse serviced the St. Clair line and many other routes that eventually carried passengers as far as the ferry docks, North Toronto, and Earlscourt. The TCR’s modern repair and storage complex looked especially impressive compared to the aging, decaying facilities of the TRC, which let its system rot as its 30-year franchise wound down.
If your fare is ready, hop into our gallery for a ride through the early days of the St. Clair carhouse.
Additional material from The Toronto Civic Railways: An Illustrated History by J. William Hood (Toronto: Upper Canada Railway Society, 1986), St. Clair West in Pictures by Nancy Byers and Barbara Myrvold (Toronto: Toronto Public Library, 2008), the August 25, 1913 edition of the Toronto Star, and the August 26, 1913 edition of the Toronto World.
CORRECTION: September 11, 2013, 9:40 AM We incorrectly identified Oakwood Avenue as the present name of the former section of Ossington Avenue that intersected St. Clair Avenue West in 1911. The current identity of this street is Winona Drive.