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A Brief History of the TTC's ex-Civic Railway Cars

Text by James Bow

The Toronto Civic Railway was established in 1911 by the City of Toronto to build streetcar lines in the areas of the city that the Toronto Railway Company refused to serve. Five lines were built between 1912 and 1917, including DANFORTH (running from Broadview to Luttrell), GERRARD (running from Greenwood, via Gerrard, Coxwell and Gerrard to Main), ST. CLAIR (running from Yonge to near Caledonia), LANSDOWNE (running from St. Clair to the CPR tracks) and BLOOR WEST (running from Dundas to Runnymede). It was a small precursor to the Toronto Transportation Commission, a city-owned corporation set up to operate all streetcar service within the City of Toronto following the expiration of the Toronto Railway Company’s franchise on August 31, 1921.

The TCR All-Time Roster

 Fleet               Class
Numbers  Date  Make TCR TTC Notes
=======  ====  ==== === === =============================================
  1-4    NO12  McGC  A   -  cancelled order for OCTC; r/n 120-123, MY16
  5      1912  McGC         to TTC S-18, 1923
  6      1913  McGC         to TTC S-19, 1923
  7      1915  McGC         to TTC S-20, 1923

 50-52   JA15  PC&C  D   F  to TTC 2200-2204 (E), 1923; 55 preserved HCRR
 53-56   OC15  PC&C  E   F  to TTC 2206-2212 (E), 1923
 57      JA17  PC&C  D   F  to TTC 2214, 1923
 60-84   JL20  JGB   G   G  to TTC 2216-2264 (E), 1923

100-106  AU13  NC&M  B   H  to TTC 2128-2140 (E), 1923
107-112  AU13  NC&M  C   H  to TTC 2142-2152 (E), 1923
113-119  AU13  NC&M  B   H  to TTC 2154-2166 (E), 1923
120-123  NO12  McGC  A   I  x-1-4, MY16; to TTC 2120-2126 (E), 1923

200-212  FE18  PC&C  F   J  Birneys; to TTC 2168-2192 (E), 1923

JGB   J.G. Brill Company                  Philadelphia PA
McGC  McGuire-Cummings Manufacturing Co.  Paris IL
NC&M  Niles Car & Manufacturing Company   Niles OH
PC&C  Preston Car & Coach Company         Preston ON

(E)  Even numbers only

HCRR  Halton County Radial Railway       Rockwood ON
TTC   Toronto Transportation Commission  Toronto ON

Buying the Cars

Between November 1912 and July 1920, some seventy vehicles were purchased. The first six (numbered 1-6) included four double-trucked passenger cars (numbered 1-4, then renumbered 120-123 in May 1916) and two snow sweepers (numbered 5&6) built by the McGuire-Cummings Manufacturing Company of Paris, Illinois. This was followed up by twenty passenger cars built by Niles Car & Manufacturing Company of Niles, OH, delivered on August 1913. All of these cars were a departure for Toronto, in that the city had gone outside its borders for the bulk of its service equipment. By comparison, the Toronto Railway Company had built almost all of its streetcars from scratch.

As the Toronto Civic Railway network grew, more service cars were needed. A third snow sweeper was purchased from McGuire-Cummins in 1915. Also that year, seven large double-truck passenger cars were purchased from Preston Car & Coach Company of Preston, Ontario. An eighth car was added to the order and arrived in January 1917.

The final order for streetcars from the TCR was made to the J.G. Brill Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Twenty-five shorter single-truck cars arrived in July 1920.

Incorporated into the TTC

When the Toronto Transportation Commission took over streetcar operations from the Toronto Railway Company and the Toronto Civic Railway on September 1, 1921, ownership of the entire TCR fleet was transferred to the TTC. As the TCR was city-owned, like the TTC, it could be argued that the TTC already owned these vehicles. Also, the Civic cars were newer than most of the TRC fleet, and they’d been better maintained during their service lives. They were in better condition and could be put to use immediately on services elsewhere in Toronto.

The TCR fleet featured several differences from the streetcars built by the Toronto Railway company and the Peter Witt cars the TTC purchased once it took over streetcar operations in 1921. The Civic cars were made of wood, and some were shorter than other service cars, as the areas they served were largely suburban or residential and had lower ridership. All the cars were double-ended. The TCR did not invest in building turning loops, and so its cars changed ends at the end of the line and used crossovers to reverse direction. Therefore, the TCR cars were largely seen on the routes which did not have turning curves. As the TTC was busy acquiring and upgrading streetcar services throughout the city, rebuilding tracks, the double-ended arrangement allowed the TTC to provide temporary service on routes until turning loops were added or rebuilt.

An example of such an operation was the temporary KINGSTON ROAD route, established on Kingston Road from Queen Street to Victoria Park while the TTC rebuilt and incorporated the former Toronto & York Radial Railway line to TTC standards. Until Bingham loop was built and opened to streetcars, ex-Civic cars in the 100-119 Niles class operated between crossovers. On July 1, 1923, Bingham loop opened, and the Niles ex-Civic cars were replaced by single-ended streetcars operating on the QUEEN route. A similar operation was performed on Yonge Street between Woodlawn Avenue and Glen Echo starting on August 16, 1922, while the TTC converted the former Metropolitan Railway tracks to an extension of the YONGE streetcar line. YONGE cars replaced the ex-Civicx on November 2, 1922.

Another radial operation that saw ex-Civic cars was the MIMICO route, stretching along Lake Shore road from Roncesvalles to the village of Port Credit. Once acquired from the T&YRR, the TTC assigned ex-Civic cars 1-4 here, alongside an assortment of cars acquired from the T&YRR. This continued until 1928 when the section east of Etobicoke Creek was double-tracked, given turning loops and incorporated into the LAKE SHORE streetcar. The shortened PORT CREDIT remnant was then served by the remaining T&YRR cars and the ex-Civics assigned elsewhere, although TTC car 2120 (ex Civic #1, was converted to a snow sweeper in 1930 and reassigned to the PORT CREDIT route.

The short Ex-Civic Birney cars 60-84 (renumbered 2216-2264 by the TTC) are also used on the newly built PAPE route starting on July 27, 1922. While this short route running from Gerrard to Danforth via Carlaw, Riverside and Pape was never a part of the TCR network, the tracks opened without turning loops on either end and so the Birneys travelled from crossover to crossover until December 15, 1923, when Lipton loop opened north of Danforth Avenue and rerouted COLLEGE and HARBORD cars replaced PAPE service.

Longer-Term Assignments

The ex-Civic cars also saw use on more permanent routes. The ASHBRIDGE streetcar, built by the Toronto Railway Company in 1917, operated between two stub-ended terminals, and so was a natural haunt of the double-ended Civics until the route was bussed in 1924. In addition, PARLIAMENT cars looped downtown on most days but, on Sundays, were cut back to a crossover at Queen Street, and so Civic cars were used there. The Sunday and Holiday short-turn service continued until 1940.

Civic cars continued to operate on LANSDOWNE NORTH, which remained unchanged when it was opened by the TCR as “LANSDOWNE” in 1917. The presence of the Canadian Pacific railway tracks north of Royce Avenue (today’s Dupont Street) prevented the TTC from linking this stub route with the tracks on Lansdowne Avenue south of the tracks, and so the two services operated as separate routes. With no space for a turning loop at the south end, crossovers were maintained. Even when an underpass was built and the two LANSDOWNE routes joined into one on April 3, 1933, ex-Civic cars remained, operating from a newly opened loop at St. Clair Avenue to a crossover on Lansdowne just north of College Street. It was only when a new on-street looping arrangement was established (through the extension of College Street tracks from Lansdowne to Dundas on May 9, 1940) that single-ended cars replaced the ex-Civic double-enders.

Then there was DAVENPORT, a short route operating from Bathurst Street to Dovercourt Road which was part of a converted Toronto Suburban Railway line that was left over when DOVERCOURT streetcars started operating on Davenport west of Dovercourt. With no space for turning loops, and with ridership light, the shorter double-ended Birney-built Civic cars proved ideal for this service, until the line was bussed on January 1, 1941, and the tracks paved over.

Weston and Spadina

However, by far the greatest use of the ex-Civic railway cars came on two routes: WESTON, running from Keele and Dundas via north on Keele and northwest on Weston Road to the north end of the Town of Weston, and SPADINA, operating from Bloor Street to Fleet.

The SPADINA streetcar was created on July 1, 1923, when the BELT LINE streetcar was replaced. Tracks were added to Spadina south of King Street to Fleet, but without space for a turning loop at either Fleet or Bloor, crossovers were used instead. Cars from the Preston class (200-212, renumbered TTC 2168-2192) operated base service along the route.

The WESTON route began as the KEELE route, operating from a stub-end terminal just north of the Keele/Dundas intersection to the city limits at Northland Drive. When the TTC acquired the Toronto Suburban Railway’s WESTON line, the KEELE route was extended north into the Town of Weston on November 28, 1925. The 20 Niles class cars (100-119, renumbered to 2128-2166, all even numbers) provided all service for the line, which remained single-track with passing sidings north of St. John’s Road.

Decline and Disappearance

Most of the ex-Civic cars continued to operate on their assigned routes and as rush hour extras through the Great Depression and into the Second World War. Three Birney cars were exceptions (ex-Civic #60, 67 and one other). They were purchased by Cornwall, Ontario, for their network. In 1941, several Birney cars from that same class were transferred to Halifax by order of the Canadian government to address war-related equipment shortages there.

The Civic sweepers, numbers 5-7, were re-christened S-18, S-19 and S-20 respectively. They considerable service throughout the TTC’s streetcar network until 1960, when the importance of sweepers diminished, and the cars were sold for scrap.

The WESTON and SPADINA streetcar routes operated with ex-Civic cars well into 1948. The need to upgrade the WESTON service led the TTC to convert the line to trolley bus operation. WESTON streetcars stopped rolling on September 13 and the Niles class cars there were sold for scrap. The SPADINA streetcar continued until October 9, when buses took over, and thirteen of the Preston-class cars were immediately sold for scrap. The two remaining cars, 2184 and 2190, were overhauled and retained for use on a DUFFERIN stub route serving the Canadian National Exhibition, but the route never materialized and these cars were scrapped in November 1949.

Some ex-Civic cars had been converted to work car use, particularly Birney class cars 50-57 (renumbered by the TTC to 2200-2214, all even) — the last cars in the TTC fleet to use hand-brakes. These short Preston-built cars were retired from passenger service in 1926 and stored for five years before being converted to snow scrapers in 1931. Converted with pneumatically-operated snow-blades, they were assigned to the various carhouses on the network and called out during winter storms.

The snow scrapers continued to operate until 1953. Car #2206 was rebuilt into a double-ended rail-grinding car RT-5 for use on the Yonge subway. Cars 2200, 2202, 2208 and 2210 were retired in 1954, although car #2210 was retained by the Halton County Radial Railway museum. Cars 2212 was scrapped in 1955, while cars 2204 and 2214 were rebuilt as surface rail-grinders W-27 and W-28 that year and continued in operation until 1966. That year, W-27 was converted to subway rail-grinder RT-7, replacing RT-5, while W-28 was rebuilt in 1971, and continued operating until 1975.


After almost forty years and thousands of miles on Toronto’s streetcar network, the Toronto Transit Commission had purged itself of its Toronto Civic Railway fleet. Most had fallen to the scrapper’s torch, but a few cars managed to escape. TTC snow scraper #2210, retired from the TTC in 1954, was acquired by the Halton County Radial Railway Museum and restored to its original form as TCR #55. It can be seen at their museum to this day.

Rail-grinder W-28 was also saved by the Halton railway museum in 1975, as was subway rail-grinder RT-7.

Given the historic importance of the TTC’s ex-Civic Railway fleet (these were the first electric streetcars the City of Toronto ever owned, and they provided years of service under unusual conditions in the shadows of the TTC’s Peter Witts and PCC cars), it is a shame that more of these vehicles weren’t preserved. However, these vehicles were built too early, and thus many missed the 1950s and the push by railfans to preserve more of Toronto’s streetcar history. The cars currently on display at the Halton County Radial Railway Museum give only a hint of the variety the TTC inherited from the small but spunky Toronto Civic Railway, and they are greater treasures for that reason.

The Civic Railway Fleet Image Archive


  • Hood, J. William. The Toronto Civic Railways: An Illustrated History. Toronto, Ont.: Upper Canada Railway Society, 1986. Print.
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