Historicist: A New Home for Coaches
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Historicist: A New Home for Coaches

As the Toronto Coach Terminal approaches its 80th anniversary, a look back at its beginning.

Acting Premier, Attorney-General W.H. Price, severing silk tape that officially dispatched the first coach from the Bay Street motor coach terminal, December 19, 1931. Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 9028.

The gold scissors were ready. The red, green, and gray ribbons on the platform were taut for the ceremonial cut. Standing in for Ontario Premier George Stewart Henry, Attorney General W.H. Price finished addressing the crowd in the waiting room. At 12:30 p.m. on December 19, 1931, Price took the gilded shears, snipped the tri-coloured ribbon, and officially opened the new Gray Coach Lines Terminal. Onlookers witnessed the culmination of several years of effort to improve the comfort of coach operators and bus passengers passing through Toronto, just in time for that year’s Christmas rush.

Eighty years on, the structure we now know as the Toronto Coach Terminal may not be, as the Globe hailed it, “the latest advance in the progress of rubber-tired transportation,” but it still functions as a gateway to the city.

Motor coach #503, taken at a distance of 30 feet, with Bay Street in the background, May 21, 1930. Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 7662.

During the 1920s, buses appeared to be the future of passenger travel. When the TTC added motor vehicles to enhance its streetcar service within Toronto, it also launched coach service to suburban destinations. As the decade wore on, the coaches gradually supplanted the radial railways that serviced outlying areas and routes were extended as far as Buffalo and Muskoka. Service expansion was aided by the development of Ontario’s provincial highway network, which was viewed as an important method of stimulating growth outside of cities by reducing social isolation, transporting agricultural products, and encouraging tourism. Coach service was touted by route operators as an affordable way for travellers who lacked automobiles to see the countryside via the new roads. By 1927, the TTC spun off its intercity and local sightseeing routes into a new company, Gray Coach Lines.

Gray Coach Lines Terminal during its open air period, June 11, 1928. Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 5917.

Facilities equipped to handle coaches correspondingly appeared in Toronto. Until the mid-1920s, operators had to load and unload passengers either along streets or in bare-bones terminals. The TTC had facilities behind its headquarters at the northeast corner of Yonge and Front that were expanded in 1928, but the site was primarily for local and sightseeing needs. Intercity routes found a home when the TTC signed a contract with Trinity College in 1927 to rent land for a terminal at Bay and Edward. A ticket office and waiting room were opened on the site, but passengers had to board buses from open-air wooden platforms, which would have been unpleasant in bad weather. Such drawbacks didn’t deter passengers—between June 1928 and June 1929, Gray Coach traffic rose by 350 per cent.

Faced with lacklustre facilities and increasing demand, the TTC decided to, in its words, “march with the times” and construct a new intercity terminal with modern amenities at the Bay-Edward site. As work was about to commence in July 1931, the TTC boasted that the terminal would provide jobs to construction workers and tradesmen hit hard by the Great Depression.