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The Lansdowne Streetcar (Deceased)

Text by James Bow

Today, Lansdowne’s connection with Toronto’s streetcar history is seen only from two short stretches of track, one running from Dundas to College, and another running a short distance south from St. Clair. These stretches bely the many streetcars that plied this street, from Dundas to St. Clair, moving from Lansdowne Carhouse to major routes operating across the city, including BLOOR, CARLTON and HARBORD. Ironic, then, that a street which had tracks for decades saw its own streetcar service exist for far shorter a time. However, this is what happened with the LANSDOWNE streetcar.

The Early Days of Lansdowne Avenue

Lansdowne Avenue’s history dates back to the late 19th century. The street was the westernmost extent of the 32 Park Lots divided up by John Graves Simcoe in the late 18th century, in planning the settlement of the town of York and its surrounding countryside. The street is named for the Marquis of Lansdowne, who served as Canada’s Governor General in 1883. Turn of the century maps show Lansdowne Avenue extending from Queen Street in Parkdale, north through Brockton, to Davenport Road. The street was initially residential, with some low-level commercial use, but industrial developments near the Canadian Pacific tracks brought jobs and demands for service.

In 1910, the Toronto Railway Company began work on building its Lansdowne Carhouse, at the northwest corner of Lansdowne and Paton. This likely led to tracks being laid on the street from Dundas and College north to Royce Avenue. CARLTON streetcars were soon extended north from the College/Lansdowne intersection to Royce.

The Tale of Two Lansdownes

Though the Toronto Railway Company splurged in building Lansdowne Carhouse into a “showcase facility”, when they laid down tracks north to Royce Avenue, they had no intention of joing further, even though the street had been extended north from Davenport to connect with St. Clair Avenue. The level crossing with the Canadian Pacific north of Royce presented a significant obstacle. The tracks were also the where the city’s boundary lay back in 1891 when the Toronto Railway Company received its franchise. As with Danforth Avenue and St. Clair, the Toronto Railway company was not interested in extending service to the newly annexed territories beyond Toronto’s 1891 boundaries. And just as the City of Toronto had decided to build its own streetcar routes on Danforth Avenue, Gerrard Street East and St. Clair, it decided to add service on Lansdowne North.

The LANSDOWNE streetcar was the last route to be built by the Toronto Civic Railway. Construction was originally set to start in 1915 (to the point that equipment was ordered), but the railway encountered delays due to a number of the challenges on the route. The line would cross the Toronto Suburban Railway line on Davenport Road. This was followed by a steep incline and a severe reverse curve. The Ontario Railway Board demanded that safety measures be installed at the crossing to prevent runaway Civic streetcars from smashing into Suburban trams. These included semaphore signals and derails. Delays in getting the crossing equipment, as well as waiting for the Toronto Suburban Railway to change the gauge of its tracks, prevented construction from starting until 1916.

The Civic Railway’s LANSDOWNE line opened to the public on January 16, 1917, operating on double track from a crossover just south of St. Clair to a crossover just north of the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks. Passengers connecting with Toronto Railway Cars further south had to walk about a block to meet their streetcars. However, the LANSDOWNE line did offer a direct connection with the Civic’s ST. CLAIR streetcar, and thus began the Civic Railway’s only free transfer between two routes. Operations continued until the Toronto Transportation Commission assumed the assets of both the Toronto Railway Company and the Toronto Civic Railways on September 1, 1921.

The TTC Takes Over

In spite of the fact that streetcar service on Lansdowne north of the Canadian Pacific Railway was operated by the same company that operated streetcar service on Lansdowne south of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the two lines were not connected. The railway continued to prove a significant obstacle. A walking transfer was established between the two points, and the TTC did set about improving the tracks on Lansdowne Avenue. On February 17, 1922, the TTC opened Royce Loop on the southeast corner of Lansdowne Avenue and Royce Avenue, replacing the wye. COLLEGE cars began looping through there immediately, and HARBORD cars were extended on February 22, replacing their old looping arrangements further south at Lansdowne and Lappin.

On April 2, 1922, service began on the second LANSDOWNE streetcar, operating Sundays only from Royce Loop via south on Lansdowne to wye at Dundas Street. The service replaced a leg of the COLLEGE car, which had been cut back on Sundays. The two routes were known internally as LANSDOWNE NORTH and LANSDOWNE SOUTH, but it appears that the public never saw anything other than LANSDOWNE on the roll signs. They were just supposed to figure it out for themselves.

The safety features at the Davenport/Lansdowne crossing required the use of two-man cars on the LANSDOWNE NORTH line for many years. The signals for southbound LANSDOWNE cars were set to “Stop” by default and, to proceed, the conductor would have to get off the streetcar, unlock the controls at the base of the semaphore, pull the lever which set the Davenport signal to “Stop” and aligned the derails, allowing his car to proceed. After the LANSDOWNE car went through the crossing, the conductor was obliged to reset the signal, clearing DAVENPORT cars to “Go”, and then run down the hill to catch his streetcar. Fortunately, northbound cars needed no such signals, but with cars operating on a round trip of every sixteen minutes, this meant a lot of running for the conductor over his nine-hour shift. This arrangement continued until 1933, when the brakes of the streetcars were deemed strong enough, and conditions safe enough to remove the signals. Two-man operation changed to one-man operation as a result on June 3 of that year.

Summer Extensions and Night Car Cutbacks.

Despite being limited to a largely residential street, LANSDOWNE SOUTH was let out on occasion to play. On May 24, 1923, LANSDOWNE service was extended from Lansdowne and Dundas via west on Dundas, west on Howard Park, south on Roncesvalles and west on lake Shore to Humber loop. This service was provided during evenings, Saturday afternoons and all day Sundays and holidays. LANSDOWNE cars bore “SUNNYSIDE” as their destination signs, and it provided a much appreciated link with the Sunnyside Amusement Park and the city’s western beaches. Two-man ex-Toronto Railway company cars were used to handle the crowds. The service continued until October 14, 1923, but resumed on June 1, 1924. Ridership dipped the following year, however, and when service ended (after being offered only on Sundays and the occasional fair-weather Saturday) on August 31, 1924, it would not resume for another 17 years.

In spite of the modest ridership, Lansdowne Avenue residents enjoyed full 24 hour service on both routes (with the southern portion covered by an extension of the BLOOR streetcar), although the cost of operating the particularly short night route on LANSDOWNE NORTH proved to be a burden for the TTC. On August 25, 1925, the TTC established a LANSDOWNE NIGHT BUS, operating from Dundas to St. Clair. This bus would continue to operate through the 1930s, and be extended to Townsley Loop at Old Weston Road and St. Clair in 1942. Sunday service was also replaced by a through bus service on April 17, 1932 (holiday service would also be replaced, starting with Christmas of that year). Night streetcars would not return until June 7, 1942, when rubber and gasoline shortages resulting from World War II led the Dominion government to order the TTC to suspend bus services and restore streetcar operations, where possible.

Bringing the Two Together and Making them One.

The LANSDOWNE NORTH service continued to require double-ended cars into the 1930s. Even though, on May 19, 1931, a new loop opened at the southwest corner of St. Clair and Lansdowne (replacing the old crossover), the crossover remained at the south end while the city of Toronto and Canadian Pacific worked on removing the level crossing. Finally, On July 5, 1931, the new underpass was opened to the public, and tracks extended south on Lansdowne to Royce Avenue. Surprisingly, the two routes were not united right away. Cars on LANSDOWNE NORTH continued to turn back at a newly installed crossover at Royce Avenue, even though the tracks were all connected, but at least the walking transfer between the two lines had been shortened considerably.

It’s possible that the different levels of ridership on each leg of the route led the TTC to keep the two separate, at least to start, but on April 3, 1933, LANSDOWNE NORTH and LANSDOWNE SOUTH finally became one, operating seven days a week as LANSDOWNE from the loop at St. Clair Avenue via south on Lansdowne to a crossover installed at College Street. Two-man ex-Civic Railway double-ended cars continued to be used. Even though through streetcar service was now on offer, night buses continued to operate.

This arrangement continued through the remainder of the 1930s, with only minor changes. When DUNDAS streetcars were rerouted due to reconstruction of the railway bridges west of Lansdowne Avenue, LANSDOWNE cars were extended south to wye at Dundas instead of using the crossover, to provide a more convenient transfer. This happened through the summer of 1937, and from May to November in 1938. On May 24, 1939, the summer extension to Sunnyside was restored, with weekend and holiday cars operating from St. Clair via south on Lansdowne, west on Dundas, west on Howard Park, south on Roncesvalles and west on Lake Shore to Parkside Loop. This service was repeated in the following summers until the end of summer 1946.

War Service

In the 1940s, the final changes to the LANSDOWNE car came into play. The Second World War was now in full swing, and there was work to be done in factories around Lansdowne and Davenport, and elsewhere in the city. On May 9, 1940, the College Street extension from Lansdowne to Dundas opened, and streetcar tracks run through for CARLTON cars. The LANSDOWNE cars were routed through this new on-street loop, operating via west on College, east on Dundas and north on Lansdowne. This allowed the TTC to start operating single-ended cars in service, although these were phased in. It wasn’t until February 12, 1942 that one-man Peter Witt cars replaced all double-ended cars in base service, seven days a week.

The change was likely a prelude to LANSDOWNE’s next extension, that would bring it to its greatest extent. On February 19, 1942, rush hour service was extended via south on Lansdowne, east on Dundas, south on Bathurst and west on Fleet to the eastern entrance of the Canadian National Exhibition grounds. These grounds had been repurposed during the war as an army base, and LANSDOWNE cars joined FORT in serving this important war-time destination. Finally, on June 7, 1942, by order of the Dominion War Commission, streetcars took over night bus operations on LANSDOWNE, operating from the loop at Dundas north to St. Clair and then west on St. Clair to Townsley Loop at Old Weston Road. PCC equipment was assigned to handle these night runs on October 1, 1942.

The Last Days and Why they Came

As the Second World War drew to a close, so too did the wartime assignments of LANSDOWNE. The rush hour extension to the Canadian National Exhibition was discontinued on July 22, 1946. Finally, at 8:02 p.m. on July 19, 1947, Peter Witt car 2726 left St. Clair southbound and Peter Witt car 2766 left Dundas Street northbound to pull into Lansdowne Carhouse for the last time. They were replaced by the first buses of the LANSDOWNE TROLLEY BUS, operating over a longer route from St. Clair south past Dundas to Queen.

LANSDOWNE had fallen, followed quickly by the DOVERCOURT streetcar and the Hallam-Lappin stretch of the HARBORD streetcar to the beginnings of the TTC’s trolley bus network. Following the war, which had seen the TTC’s ridership sharply increase, and yet its maintenance severely limited by wartime restrictions, a lot of rebuilding had to be done, and the TTC did not have much money with which to do it. Trolley buses were seen as an inexpensive way of providing electric transit, especially in more residential areas where ridership might not justify full streetcar service. In LANSDOWNE’s case, the new trolley buses allowed the TTC to extend service south of Dundas to Queen, serving new residents without the cost of adding new tracks. The trolley buses were also adept at negotiating the steep hill north of Davenport Road.

Although the tracks between Davenport and St. Clair were soon removed, the tracks on the rest of Lansdowne remained, and streetcars continued to ply the street for years to come. Lansdowne Carhouse was still a major operating division of the TTC, serving the BLOOR, HARBORD and CARLTON streetcar routes, to name a few. It was only after the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway opened in February 1966 and streetcars vanished from Lansdowne Garage that the tracks started to disappear as well, leaving only ghosts in and around the carhouse site. Today, the single short-turn loop track on Lansdowne between Dundas and College, and Earlscourt Loop at Lansdowne and St. Clair, are the only active reminders that streetcars once plied Lansdowne Avenue.

Lansdowne Streetcar Image Archive


  • Pursley, Louis H. The Toronto Trolley Car Story, 1921-1961. Los Angeles: I.L. Swett, 1961. Print.
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