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The Hillcrest Complex

Hillcrest Plan

Click on the thumbnail above for an old plan of the TTC's Hillcrest facility. Plan courtesy Mike's Transit Shop.

Text by James Bow with additional facts by Godfrey Mallion; photos by George Davidson, except where noted.

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On the southwest corner of Bathurst and Davenport, stretching south to the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks and tucked away behind a long fence and a series of old brick buildings, is the TTC's Hillcrest Complex. A lot of activity takes place behind this fence. Several buildings occupy the site, employing hundreds of TTC workers. Hillcrest has helped the TTC rebuild and maintain its entire fleet of streetcars and buses for over seventy-five years.

A History of Hillcrest

When the Toronto Transportation Commission took over streetcar operations from the Toronto Railway Company, the top priority was updating and repairing the dilapidated network. The tracks, streetcars, and even many of the TRC's buildings had been allowed to deteriorate as the end of that company's charter approached. The Toronto Railway Shops on Front Street between George and Sherbourne had been built in 1882 (by the Toronto Street Railway, the precursor to the TRC) to construct, repair, and store small horse cars and were now totally inadequate for the new equipment the TTC hoped to receive. Worse, the TRC's maintenance facilities weren't all located in the George Street shops, but were scattered across several properties on Front Street between Yonge and Sherbourne. Rather than rebuild these shops, the TTC decided to replace them outright with a single complex. This would give the TTC a truly modern facility, and consolidating these operations would improve efficiency.

The property that became the site of the new complex was, at the turn of the twentieth century, part of a 23-acre farm. Twelve years later, the Toronto Driving Club leased the southern portion and set up the Hillcrest Race Track. This venture lasted for only a few years. In 1921, the TTC was able to purchase this property to construct the modern and spacious new facility. The site was chosen because it was close to the geographic centre of the city, and thus would be close to the centre of all of the streetcar network that the TTC hoped to build.

After three years of construction, the new facility was ready. The equipment was moved to Hillcrest starting on March 13, 1924, and the old TRC facility was slowly abandoned. The Motor Shops were moved on March 14, followed by the Rolling Stock Department on April 16. The Emergency Section was moved from its offices on Scott Street on May 13, and the School of Instruction and the Roadmasters' offices followed on June 9. Once the move was complete, the rebuilding of the aging TRC fleet could occur in earnest.

The shops boasted the most up-to-date facilities. Maintenance bays were well spaced to allow work on one vehicle to continue without hampering work in the next bay. A transfer table moved streetcars from the entrance track to the various bays. In 1925, Davenport Garage opened at the north end of the site, adding a full-facility bus garage and two 10,000-gallon gasoline storage tanks to the site.

Hillcrest Starts Working

By 1925, Hillcrest Shops were in action, repairing and enhancing the TTC's streetcar fleet. Tasks included reequipping a number of large Witts with wide-treaded wheels for operation on the Lake Simcoe Radial line (1928), installing treadle doors in 100 small Witts (2700-2898) for pay-enter operation (1933) and adding illuminated run numbers(1935). When two-man operation of streetcars was eliminated (1936), Hillcrest was responsible for removing the partition blocking off the motorman's cab in the front vestibule of the large Witt cars.

Hillcrest's responsibility was not limited to just streetcars. As the TTC's bus fleet increased, more buses were placed over the repair pits for maintenance and reconstruction. Among the notable jobs were thirty-two surplus inter-city buses from Grey Coach, converted into city buses in 1952.

Enhancements to the Hillcrest complex continued, as the TTC vacated other aging properties. In the mid 1950s, as the TTC prepared to leave its old head office on 35 Yonge Street, two departments -- the Research Department and the Engineering Department -- moved to Hillcrest rather than the new headquarters being built over Davisville station on the Yonge subway line. In May 1963, the maintenance facilities were modified, with the repair pits extended to handle larger vehicles.

Transit Control

In April 1968, the TTC opened its new Transit Control Centre and, by September 1969, this centre had taken over the subway signal and switch operations, which had previously been handled by Davisville Tower. Two months later, Transit Control took over the signal and switch operations from St. George Control Tower. Since then, the TTC has added 24 subway/SRT stations to the existing system. Including the four new stations on the Sheppard subway line, the system will have almost doubled in size in 30 years. Built using '50s and '60s electro-mechanical technology, the current facility has long passed its design life of 25 years.

The TTC's School of Instruction continued to operate in Hillcrest, using Toronto Railway Company car 2108 to train operators before replacing this car with Peter Witt 2300 in March 1951. PCC training cars followed, until the TTC stopped relying on a single vehicle. In January 1974, the School of Instruction was renamed as the Operations Training Centre.

And still modifications continued. In February 1979, a new watchman's station and entrance gate was built at the Bathurst Street entrance. In August 1985, Duncan Shops, a new building for heavy bus maintenance, began construction. The shops were named in honour of W.E.P. Duncan, General Manager of Operations and General Manager of Subway Construction during the construction of the original Yonge subway. The complex opened in July 1987, at which time, the original Hillcrest Shop building was named Harvey Shops, named after D.W. Harvey, a General Manager who fostered the development of Toronto's PCCs.

Finally, in April 1999, the northeastern corner of the complex was cleared and construction started on a new Transit Control Centre. When this facility, a three-storey building, opened, it boasted 3,800 square metres of space filled with mechanical, electrical, and computer equipment, offices, and even a training and visitors area. The building replaces the old transit control centre and addresses a system that has almost doubled in size since 1968. The new facility monitors not only train control but traction power, security, fire safety, communications, ventilation and mechanical systems for all TTC operations, including subway/SRT and surface routes.

Greeting New Equipment and Saying Goodbye

Located on the Canadian Pacific mainline through Toronto, Hillcrest Shops were the obvious place to accept new equipment acquired by the TTC. One of the more notable deliveries took place on August 20, 1938, when air-electric PCCs 4001 and 4002 were delivered to Hillcrest Shops. The two cars were unloaded from CPR flat cars with the help of Dump Car W-14. After a thorough inspection in the shops (with included testing on the training loop) both cars were moved to the Canadian National Exhibition on August 25, where they were mobbed like celebrities. While this took place, deliveries to Hillcrest continued, with PCC 4139 rounding out the order on November 23, 1938. The first all-electric PCC was delivered to Hillcrest on December 22, 1947 as part of a 100-car order. The TTC took two months to test this new type of car before accepting the remaining 99 between February and June 1948.

Hillcrest also accepted delivery of Canada's first subway cars. Cars 5000 and 5001 were produced in Gloucester and were shipped from England to Montreal before being sent by rail to Toronto where they arrived at Hillcrest shops on July 30, 1953. After preliminary inspections and cleaning, the cars were displayed at the north end of Hillcrest Shops for the public and the press. Near the end of August, the cars were placed on top of Brill streetcar trucks and towed on the streetcar tracks down Bathurst Street to the Exhibition. There, they were placed back onto their own trucks and put on display at the CNE from August 28 until September 12.

Cars 5000 and 5001 were the only cars to be delivered to Hillcrest Shops. All remaining cars of that order were delivered directly to the Davisville Yards using the Canadian National Belt Line. Although subsequent deliveries were made to Davisville Yards, Hillcrest continued to maintain Toronto's subway equipment until 1966, when Greenwood Yards opened, with its own maintenance facility.

In December 1977, the TTC accepted delivery of its first CLRV. Much was made of this delivery, as it was the first delivery of a new streetcar in several years, and it was a clear sign of the TTC's renewed commitment to its streetcars. Comparisons were made to the delivery of the first PCC cars on August 20, 1938. This special delivery was echoed in August 1982 with the delivery of a prototype ALRV. Finally, on November 11, 2011, Hillcrest was the site the public could come and see a mock-up of the new Toronto LRVs. Prototypes and production models started arriving late in 2013 and early in 2014, occasionally rolling out for the public ahead of their official entrance into service on August 31, 2014.

As well as accepting new equipment, Hillcrest Shops have been responsible for some significant rebuilds. In 1972, when the TTC abandoned its streetcar abandonment policy, additional personnel had to be hired so that the aging PCC fleet might be rehabilitated. Another batch of PCCs were rebuilt in the late 1980s, followed by the last two on the system in 1999. The transfer table at Hillcrest has also seen CLRVs and numerous buses. Hillcrest has also seen numerous vehicles depart Commission property. Hillcrest has also seen the departure of dozens of streetcars, from the last wooden Toronto Railway car (#1326 in June 1954, to a group of enthusiasts in Rockwood who would set up the Halton County railway museum) to dozens of air-electric PCCs in 1967 to Alexandra, Egypt. Hillcrest stored the TTC's trolley buses as they waited to head to the scrapheap and, more recently, housed rail-grinders W-30 and W-31 before sending them off to the Halton County railway museum.

Repurposing for the Future

The uses of Hillcrest have changed over time. In the 1980s, the TTC purchased land on the west side of the property and erected the W.E.P. Duncan Building, which was given the task of overhauling the TTC's bus fleet, and the H.C. Patten Building, which handled the processing of fares. At the time, the Hillcrest Shop was officially renamed the David W. Harvey Shop. Other buildings followed, including the J.G. Inglis office building, and a new Transit Control Centre, named the Gunn Building after former Chief General Manager David Gunn.

Over time, however, the Duncan and Patton Buildings saw their usefulness diminish, especially as the TTC's fare media needs changed, and bus garages took over more of the TTC's bus overhaul duties. In 2018, the TTC announced it was considering a repurposing of these buildings as part of a general upgrade of the Hillcrest complex. The Harvey Shops could be used to service the TTC's initial fleet of battery-electric buses. The old Davenport bus garage had been sitting unused for years by this point, and the historic nature of the building means the TTC has to preserve it, but it too could be repurposed as a transit museum. The facility may also be used as storage space for the Flexity streetcars, as ridership demands may require the TTC to purchase more streetcars than can currently be housed at Roncesvalles, Russel or Leslie Barns.

Hillcrest was originally built as a modern streetcar repair facility located near the middle of the TTC's streetcar network. It has done its job and then some. Although well north of most of the TTC's current streetcar network, it remains an important facility to the TTC, responsible for keeping the Commission's streetcars, buses, and subways operating.

Hillcrest Shops Image Archive


Special thanks must also go to Godfrey Mallion, who supplied key information from an article that will be published in a 2003 issue of the Toronto Transportation Society's newsletter, Transfer Points.

Special thanks to Mark Brader for his corrections to this article.

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