Tag Archives: Toronto streetcars—check it out!


The blog first appeared on the internet in 2011. Since its inception, over 800 posts have been published that explore the Toronto’s history and its heritage structures, including those that have been demolished and lost forever. The blog’s purpose is to generate an interest in our city’s past and its historic buildings, to prevent remaining heritage sites from being destroyed by developers or indifference on the part of the civic government. During the past few years, Torontonians have become more aware of the importance of preserving the past, but the laws remain weak and ineffective, so our architectural heritage continues to disappear.

As a result of the blog, three books have been published about the topics that have appeared on it: Toronto Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen (published by History Press), Toronto’s Local Movie Theatres of Yesteryear (Dundurn Press), and Toronto Then and Now (Pavilion Press). The latter two books will be available in the spring of 2016. 

Toronto’s Old Movie Theatres

Over 130 posts posts relate stories about the city’s old movie theatres. They include archival and modern photos that depict the theatres’ grand facades, marquees, auditoriums, and  lobbies. There are also present-day images of the locations where the theatres once existed. The great movie palaces of the early decades of the 20th century (e.g. Shea’s Hippodrome, Pantages, Victoria, Tivoli etc.) are explored, as well as the more modern film palaces such as the University and the Odeon Carlton. The following is a link to the posts about the old movie theatres of Toronto.

Heritage Buildings and Sites

Famous heritage building such as Toronto’s First City Hall, the Old City Hall, St. Lawrence Hall, Osgoode Hall, Campbell House, Mackenzie House, St. James Cathedral, Union Station, St. Michael’s Cathedral, and the St. Lawrence Market have been researched and documented. Other sites, some of them less known, are also explored: Farr House, Oddfellow’s Temple, Grossman’s Tavern, Waverly Hotel, Gooderham Building, and the Bellevue Fire Station. Structures that no longer exist are included — a part of lost Toronto. The following is a link to a list of the sites included on this blog:

Toronto’s 19th-Century Streetscapes

Several streets that possess timeless qualities have been researched. They harken back to the more tranquil days of the 19th century. Below are the links to access the posts about these unique avenues of downtown Toronto.

Draper Street:

Wilcocks Street:

Bulwer Street:

Glasgow Street: 

Huron Street:

Toronto Disasters

Three of the greatest disasters that Toronto suffered are chronicled on the blog. In 1914, the “RMS Empress of Ireland” sank in fourteen minutes in the icy waters of the St. Lawrence River. More passengers lost their lives than on the Titanic, yet few Canadian know about this maritime tragedy. Many of those who perished were from Toronto.

In 1949, a lake steamer named the “S S Noronic” caught fire in Toronto Harbour and 122 people lost their lives.

In 1954, Hurricane Hazel flooded the Humber and Don Valley, and over 100 drowned in the flood waters.

Below are the links to read about these events.

Empress of Ireland:


Hurricane Hazel: 

History of Toronto Streetcars and Toronto Island Ferries

Posts on Streetcars:

A post about the Toronto Island Ferries

Posts on the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE)

Memories of War-Time Toronto During the 1940s

Sunnyside Beach and Amusement Park

Snow storm of December 1944, the largest amount of snow to ever descend on Toronto.

Toyland at Eaton’s (Queen and and Yonge Street Store) and Eaton’s Santa Claus Parade

The village on Manitou Road on Centre Island

The Author of this Blog

Doug Taylor was a member of the faculty of the Lakeshore Teachers’ College (York University) and the Ontario Teacher Education College, where he shared his love of history with promising young teachers-to-be. During the 1970s, he conducted walking tours of Toronto’s historic districts for university students, during the days when such tours were rare. He also led tours of Chinatown, the Kensington Market, and the Necropolis Cemetery.

Now retired, he lives in downtown Toronto, within walking distance of Toronto’s historic neighbourhoods. Since retiring, he has written ten books, all of them employing the history of his native city as either the subject or the background for the story.  He continues to promote the history of the city he loves through his books and his blog. He can be contacted at

To view the Home Page for this blog:

The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” is one of the books that was written incorporating the research material from this blog. It explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  


   To place an order for this book: .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)


Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s former movie theatres will be released in June, 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating history.

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will be released on June 1, 2016. For further information follow the link to  here  or to contact the publisher directly:–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21.



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Toronto streetcars—from Omnibus to Red Rocket


One of Toronto’s newest “red rockets,” northbound on Spadina Avenue on July 10, 2015. 

When the city of Toronto was the small colonial town of York, people travelled by horseback, carriage, wagon, or on foot. Even after the city was incorporated in 1834, these methods of transportation prevailed. However, as the city expanded, these means became inadequate. As a result, in 1849, Burt Williams, a cabinetmaker and undertaker, decided to extend his services and transport the living as well as the dead to their destinations. He built several 6-passenger stagecoaches, which he named the Williams Omnibus Line. It commenced at the St. Lawrence Market, journeyed west on King Street, and then, north on Yonge to the town of Yorkville.

As Toronto’s population grew further, the Omnibus service also became inadequate. In 1861, the Toronto Street Railway Company (TSR), financed by a group of businessmen, commenced operating horse-drawn Hadden streetcars, capable of carrying many more passengers. The first streetcar route was the same as that of the Burt Williams Omnibus Line. The second route established was Queen Street, from the St. Lawrence Market to Ossington Avenue. The 30-year contract of the Toronto Street Railway Company was terminated in 1891.

Next, the Toronto Railway Company (TRC) was granted a 30-year contract to provide transportation services. The same year (1891), the city’s first electric-powered streetcars appeared on Church Street. However, as the city annexed more communities, such as Dovercourt and Earlscourt, the TRC refused to build tracks into the new districts, insisting that servicing these areas was not part of their mandate. Because the TRC’s contract did not terminate until 1921, in 1911 the City of Toronto created the Toronto Civic Railway Company (TCR) and became directly involved in owning and operating streetcars.    

During the years 1912-1917, TCR laid tracks along streets that the TRC were serving but refused to extend. The Danforth line was continued from Broadview to Luttrell, the St. Clair route connected between Avenue Road and Lansdowne Avenue, the Lansdowne line pushed as far south as the CPR tracks, streetcars added on Bloor Street between Dundas and Runnymede, and the Gerrard streetcars extended beyond Greenwood. To meet the needs of the longer routes, the company purchased about 70 new streetcars.

In 1921, the City of Toronto did not renew the TRC’s contract, deciding instead to increase its involvement in the streetcar system by forming the Toronto Transportation Commission (TTC). It inherited the streetcars that the Toronto Civic Railway, which they already owned, and bought the streetcars that the TRC possessed, as their contract had been cancelled. However, the TRC’s cars were in poor condition and needed to be retired. The TTC had foreseen this problems and several years earlier had ordered a fleet of new Peter Witt streetcars, which began arriving in the city in 1921. These were the ponderous square-shaped steel streetcars that became famous on the Yonge Street Line. In 1938, the TTC purchased PCC streetcars (President’s Conference Cars) and they soon became known as the “red rockets.”

In a plebiscite in 1946,  Torontonians voted in favour a subway on Yonge Street  and also on Queen Street. Construction on the Yonge line began in 1949. Unfortunately, the Queen Street line was cancelled as the federal government failed to provide the funding. Does this situation seem familiar? Canada’s first subway opened in 1954, between Union Station and Eglinton Avenue. The same year, the name of the company was changed to the Toronto Transit Commission.

The Peter Witt cars were retired in 1963, but the PCC cars continued until 1995. As these older models were phased out, the CLRV streetcars (Canadian Light Rail Vehicles), as well as an articulated version commenced operating.  In 2014, the first of the new streetcars began service on the Spadina line. These will eventually replace all the CLRV cars that remain in service as of 2015.  


Horse-drawn streetcars operated by the Toronto Street Railway Company in the 1890s. These cars were operated only in the summer as they were not enclosed. View gazes east along Queen Street East from Church Street. The St. Lawrence Hall is visible in the background.

Spad. 1890, Tor Ref.

A winterized streetcar on Spadina Avenue in 1890. Photo, Toronto Reference Library. In that decade, many impressive homes lined Spadina Avenue as it was an affluent residential street.

Yonge, north from King 1911

Electric-powered streetcars first appeared in 1891. This photo shows the cars on Yonge Street, c. 1900. They were essentially larger versions of the horse-drawn streetcar. View gazed north on Yonge from King Street.

looking north up Avenue Rd., Jan 1912

Avenue Road streetcars in 1912. Toronto Archives, F1231, it.1660. These are the same type of streetcars as in the previous photo.

St. Clair Strcar

Streetcars continued to increase in size. This streetcar was operated on St. Clair Avenue by the Toronto Civic Railway Company. Photo was taken in 1913, the year the St. Clair line opened. The streetcar is eastbound and was photographed near Wychwood Avenue.

oct. 30, 1928  s0071_it6396[1]

A Peter Witt streetcar on York Street on October 30, 1928, the Royal York Hotel under construction in the background. These cars commenced service in the city in 1921 and retired in 1963. Toronto Archives, Series 71, S0071, it6396.

20100926-70sCarlton[1] photo-cafletcher

A PCC streetcar heading eastbound on Carlton Street near Church Street. Maple Leaf Garden, the Odeon Carlton Theatre and Eaton’s College Street store are visible in the background. Photo, Ontario Archives. 


A PCC streetcar on Dundas Street West near Huron Street in Chinatown in 1970.

PCC car, Queen and Church St. 1970s

A westbound PCC Streetcar on Queen Street East at Church Street in 1970. 


A Peter Witt streetcar at the Halton County Radial Railway Museum. Visitors to the museum are able to ride aboard these famous old cars.

1920s Peter Witt streetcar, interior

                     Interior of a Peter Witt streetcar at the museum.

1951 PCC Labour Day 2012

A westbound PCC streetcar in the Labour Day Parade in 2012, view gazing east along Queen West at Spadina Avenue. This streetcar is maintained by the TTC to aid tourism and is available for private hire.

                      April 2013     8

A CLRV streetcar on King Street East at Church Street, St. James Cathedral in the background.

April 2013

Articulated light rail vehicles (ALRV) on Queen Street, westbound near Yonge Street.

Queen line, May 2013

                 Interior of a ALRV on Queen Street.

King and Simcoe, 12 July 2013  DSCN0218

A CLRV westbound on Queen West at John Street in 2013, the Princess of Wales Theatre in the background.

Queen looking west at Bathurst, 2013

An articulated light rail vehicles (ALRV) eastbound on Queen Street West near Bathurst Street in July 2013. The marquee of the old Orpheus Theatre is visible on the right-hand side of the photo.

To view the Home Page for this blog:

To view previous blogs about movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern

Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories of the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  


   To place an order for this book: .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Store and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791

Theatres Included in the Book:

Chapter One – The Early Years—Nickelodeons and the First Theatres in Toronto

Theatorium (Red Mill) Theatre—Toronto’s First Movie Experience and First Permanent Movie Theatre, Auditorium (Avenue, PIckford), Colonial Theatre (the Bay), the Photodrome, Revue Theatre, Picture Palace (Royal George), Big Nickel (National, Rio), Madison Theatre (Midtown, Capri, Eden, Bloor Cinema, Bloor Street Hot Docs), Theatre Without a Name (Pastime, Prince Edward, Fox)

Chapter Two – The Great Movie Palaces – The End of the Nickelodeons

Loew’s Yonge Street (Elgin/Winter Garden), Shea’s Hippodrome, The Allen (Tivoli), Pantages (Imperial, Imperial Six, Ed Mirvish), Loew’s Uptown

Chapter Three – Smaller Theatres in the pre-1920s and 1920s

 Oakwood, Broadway, Carlton on Parliament Street, Victory on Yonge Street (Embassy, Astor, Showcase, Federal, New Yorker, Panasonic), Allan’s Danforth (Century, Titania, Music Hall), Parkdale, Alhambra (Baronet, Eve), St. Clair, Standard (Strand, Victory, Golden Harvest), Palace, Bedford (Park), Hudson (Mount Pleasant), Belsize (Crest, Regent), Runnymede

Chapter Four – Theatres During the 1930s, the Great Depression

Grant ,Hollywood, Oriole (Cinema, International Cinema), Eglinton, Casino, Radio City, Paramount, Scarboro, Paradise (Eve’s Paradise), State (Bloordale), Colony, Bellevue (Lux, Elektra, Lido), Kingsway, Pylon (Royal, Golden Princess), Metro

Chapter Five – Theatres in the 1940s – The Second World War and the Post-War Years

University, Odeon Fairlawn, Vaughan, Odeon Danforth, Glendale, Odeon Hyland, Nortown, Willow, Downtown, Odeon Carlton, Donlands, Biltmore, Odeon Humber, Town Cinema

Chapter Six – The 1950s Theatres

Savoy (Coronet), Westwood

Chapter Seven – Cineplex and Multi-screen Complexes

Cineplex Eaton Centre, Cineplex Odeon Varsity, Scotiabank Cineplex, Dundas Square Cineplex, The Bell Lightbox (TIFF)





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