On August 31, 1921, the franchise of the Toronto Railway Company (TRC) expired, and on September 1, the Toronto Transportation Commission, which had been planning for this moment since the preceding summer, immediately began operations and put into place plans to unify, rehabilitate, and extend the city’s transportation services.

The assets of the TRC and other predecessor companies had been acquired for $11,483,500, but it was a mixed blessing for the new Commission. Much of the rolling stock, in the form of old wooden streetcars, was obsolete and did not meet safety standards for passengers and operators. The TTC quickly purchased several hundred new steel-bodied Peter Witt streetcars of the latest type.

 

A row of streetcars on tracks outside the open doors of a one-storey garage.
Peter Witt cars seen at the St. Clair Carhouse (now known as the Wychwood Barns). The Peter Witt cars had a larger passenger capacity and were much faster for passengers to board and alight. As with all other streetcars at the time, they required two crew members to operate. The first Witt cars debuted on the Broadview route on October 2, 1921 and, by the autumn of 1923, 575 new cars were operating on seven routes.
January 10, 1922
Fonds 16, Series 560, Item 441

 

 

Policeman on dark brown horse in front of red streetcar with yellow trim.
It takes a colour photograph to show how spiffy the new Peter Witt cars were. This image shows a police horse and officer in 1930s era uniform in front of restored Witt streetcar 2766 at Hillcrest Yard.
October 27, 2008
Photographer: Anne de Haas
Fonds 540, Item 217.
Several rows of streetcars in front of a large brick garage.
Worn-out wood-bodied ex-Toronto Railway Company streetcars are lined up at the Eglinton yard prior to being sold for scrap
August 22, 1923
Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 2490.

 

 

The newly formed Toronto Transportation Commission acquired the assets of various predecessor companies, including the Toronto Railway Company and the Toronto Civic Railway. Unfortunately, most of the assets were not fit for continued use, and the TTC planned to sell the oldest and most decrepit rolling stock for scrap. In a strange twist of fate, a number of the old streetcars found a new life in northern Ontario.

 

A long line of flat, roofless train cars with streetcars on them.
Old horse cars loaded on CPR flatcars for transportation to Haileybury for use as emergency housing
October 10, 1922
Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 1576.

 

On October 4, 1922, the town of Haileybury, located on the shores of Lake Timiskaming, became engulfed in flames. The town, comprised of some 3,000 people, was forced to evacuate, and soon almost all of its buildings were burned to the ground. Eventually the fire covered 650 square miles and affected 18 townships, killing 43 people. It finally came to an end on October 5 when the winds died and snow began to fall. With thousands of people now homeless, the TTC decided to offer 87 of its old horse-cars to be used as temporary housing. On October 11, the cars were shipped via Canadian Pacific flatcars to the scene of the disaster. Sixty of the cars remained in Haileybury, while others went to North Cobalt, Charlton, Thornloe, and Heaslip. With their weatherproof doors and windows, and built-in coal stoves, the cars provided very serviceable temporary homes for the hard-hit families.

Back in Toronto, existing tracks were badly worn, especially at intersections, and overhead equipment needed a complete overhaul. The TTC’s goal was to use the most modern methods and materials to ensure satisfactory service and a long life for the system. Apart from the intricate feats of engineering required to design, construct, and install the track arrangements at intersections, the TTC also built streetcar-turning loops at the ends of lines. These loops replaced the old wyes, which required streetcars to make a three-point turn, and had been a source of annoying and time-consuming delays.

 

Many men digging the road up around a network of streetcar tracks.
In what looks like a scene of organized chaos, TTC staff work on the intersection of Spadina Avenue and Queen Street.
May 2, 1922
Fonds 16, Series 560, Item 480.

 

Many men digging the road up around a network of streetcar tracks going in every direction.
The complicated juncture of King Street, Queen Street and Roncesvalles Avenue would be an engineering challenge for anyone. It took just nine hours and 10 minutes for the TTC construction gang to remove the old network of tracks and replace it with an even more complicated maze. The new layout contained 266,185 pounds of steel, and if stretched end to end, was equal to 2,240 feet of single track. This intersection has been rebuilt several times since then, most recently in 2021.
April 19, 1923
Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 2043.

 

A huge task for the TTC was to rehabilitate the worn and dangerous streetcar tracks it inherited. Miles of track, roadbed, and overhead wiring needed to be replaced, and the Commission promised to get the job done by 1923. More than 3,000 men, with hundreds of trucks, steam shovels and cement mixers, worked day and night to construct 115 miles of track and lay 120 intersections.

 

Men with jackhammers are breaking up the brick road around streetcar tracks.
View looking east on Queen Street, from east of the Don River bridge. The track switch in the middle distance led to a short-lived streetcar line on Don Roadway and Commissioners Street.
June 5, 1923
Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 2217.
A boy in knee-length pants and a cap stands with his hands in his pockets. Behind him, men are constructing a road.
What child could resist this fascinating scene on Dundas Street, looking west from Bellwoods Avenue. The boy is standing on the temporary track, laid in the curb lane that was used to allow streetcars to slowly bypass the construction in the middle of the street.
June 13, 1923
Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 2271.

 

Men are digging up the brick road around streetcar tracks. They are smiling at the camera.
View looking east on Dundas Street from Ossington Avenue. Piles of granite setts, used to pave the trackway, are stacked on the sidewalk on the left.
July 6, 1923
Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 2352.

 

A row of men wearing metal welding helmets are putting together two sets of streetcar tracks on a road.
Work continued after 1923, when new routes were added outside of the downtown core. Here a team of welders, with Welding Car W-23, work on the brand-new Oakwood Avenue trackage, part of the TTC-operated Township of York Railways.
October 11, 1924
Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 3440.

 

Large square timbers are laid in rows between streetcar tracks on a road.
View on Mount Pleasant Road, looking south from Heath Street. The crane on the right is mounted on a streetcar flat car, and is operating on temporary track during the construction.
August 24, 1925
Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 3998.

 

At the end of a route, a streetcar must somehow get itself turned around. In the pre-TTC era, the usual terminal turn-around was a “wye.” The TTC decided to replace most wye’s with loops, allowing the driver to change direction with a gentle curve and no dangerous backing-up required.

 

Long, curving lines of streetcar tracks cross two straight rows of tracks.
Wye at Kingston Road and Walter Street, east of Main Street. The former side-of-the-road single-track alignment of the radial line is being replaced by double tracks in the centre of the road.
December 2, 1922
Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 1813.

 

A streetcar drives around a large oval of tracks with a lawn in the centre and houses in the background.
Peter Witt streetcar in the Lawton Loop, on the west side of Yonge Street, north of St. Clair Avenue
May 18, 1923
Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 2140.

 

Another streetcar loop was built at the north-east corner of Mount Pleasant Road and St. Clair Avenue in 1924. This loop was abandoned in 1976, and in 1984 was converted into the Loring-Wyle Parkette, featuring the sculpture of two Toronto artists who lived nearby.

 

Horse-drawn wagons stand beside a curved ditch excavated in the road for streetcar track construction.
Moore Park Loop
October 30, 1924
Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 3492.