Before the birth of the TTC in 1921, Toronto had a hodgepodge of transportation services.The history of public transportation services in Toronto started in 1849, when a cabinet maker named H.B. Williams built an omnibus in his shop at 140 Yonge St. This horse-drawn vehicle carried six passengers, each charged a sixpence. The route went from the St. Lawrence Market to the corner of King and Yonge streets, and then went north on Yonge St., terminating at the Red Lion Hotel in Yorkville. So popular was this service that Williams had a fleet of eight omnibuses by 1850. However, he soon faced competition from horse-cars, whose wheels ran along iron rails, providing a faster and smoother ride. In 1862, the new Toronto Street Railway (TSR) Company purchased control of William’s company, and omnibus service came to an end.

Two horses pulling a four-wheeled covered vehicle. There is a man in the front seat holding a whip.
Contemporary painting of H.B. Williams’ omnibus of 1849, held in the John Ross Robertson Collection of the Toronto Public Library.
Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 10180.
On March 26, 1861, the Toronto Street Railway was granted a 30-year franchise by the City of Toronto to provide passenger transportation services. The proposed routes were on Yonge, Queen, and King streets. The Yonge line was the first to open on September 11, running north to the toll gate at Yonge St. and Davenport Rd. The fare was five cents and a separate fare was charged when transferring from one line to another. In 1861, Toronto’s population was 42,000. The TSR owned six miles of track and carried an average of 2,000 passengers a day.
A small streetcar with six windows on each side, and four wheels. It is painted black and white. The sign on the roof says "King Street" and "Toronto Railway."
A closed horse-car operated by the Toronto Street Railway Company in the 1860s and preserved by the TTC as part of its historic collection. This particular car made its maiden journey down Yonge Street from Yorkville on September 10, 1861. The advantage over the omnibus was felt not only by the passengers, but by the horses whose job was considerably easier with wheels riding on rails.
June 22, 1934
Fonds 1128, Series 381, File 272, Id 11284-3.


Demand led the TSR to expand its services so that by 1884 there were 30 miles of track, with service extended to College, Spadina, Church, Front, Sherbourne, Carlton, and Parliament streets. By then Toronto’s population had grown to 105,000 people.


A streetcar pulled by a black horse and a white horse. A man in a winter coat and hat is standing on the step of the streetcar. The sign on the front says "High Park via Queen."
Two horse-car during a layover in Sunnyside near the intersection of King and Queen streets. Note that the Toronto Street Railway employees were not provided with uniforms.
Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 3368.
Streetcars drive down a street lined with brick buildings containing stores.
View looking north on Yonge Street from King Street, with horse-cars travelling both north and south
Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 13350.


Two horses pulling a small streetcar. The driver is wearing a large winter coat and is standing on the front step. The sign says "North Toronto and Union Station."
Two-horse horse-car with Toronto Street Railway Co. conductor J. Gibbons and driver J. Badgerow at the North Toronto station at Cottingham Street
[ca. 1889]
Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 3367.
A small streetcar pulled by one horse. The driver is outside on a platform at the front of the car.
Single horse-car on the Seaton Village via Spadina Avenue route. Horse-cars of the Toronto Street Railway Co. had no stove for heat in the winter. Instead the floor was covered with pea straw to keep the passengers’ feet a little warmer.
Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 3363
A double-decker streetcar with curving staircases at each end.
Suburban areas were served by other companies. In this image we see an electrified streetcar operated by the Toronto and Mimico Railway. This open car was a double-decker, providing for a breezy ride along on Lakeshore Road near the Sacred Heart Orphanage (now St. Joseph’s Health Centre) in Sunnyside.
[ca. 1891]
Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 3370.


In 1891, the Toronto Street Railway’s thirty-year franchise expired and the City took it over, paying the company $1,453,788 for their assets, including carhouses, 68 miles of trackage, 264 streetcars, 99 buses, 100 sleighs, and 1,372 horses. By this time the city’s population was 170,000 and the TSR had been providing transportation services to between 50,000 and 60,000 passengers a day.

Municipal ownership of the rail transportation system lasted only a few months. The franchise was once again put out to tender, and in September 1891 it was awarded to the Toronto Railway Company (TRC). One of the City’s stipulations was that the system was to be completely electrified within three years, and indeed horse-car service was phased out on August 1, 1894. Cash fares remained at five cents, but the TRC introduced free transfers between its own lines.


The front of a streetcar. A a man is lying on on the net attached to the front. The driver stands on an outdoor platform at the front of the streetcar.
When the Toronto Railway Company got its franchise in 1891, it committed to replacing the old horse-cars with electric streetcars. With increased speed came concerns for safety. Early streetcars were equipped with a life-guard to protect pedestrians, constructed with a pipe frame and hung with heavy fishnet. It was not the most efficient mechanism, and indeed, after several fatalities, a new type of automatic fender was installed.
[ca. 1893]
Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 3364.
A small electric streetcar. ON the front is a banner reading "Munro Park, entertainment daily." A man in a driver's uniform stands on the the step, and another in the driver's platform at the front.
Toronto Railway Company open car 375 laying over at Dovercourt and Van Horne (now Dupont Street), at the north end of the Dovercourt route, was a magnet for local children. Unlike their Toronto Street Railway Co. predecessors, the TRC staff were smartly dressed in uniforms.
Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 3382.


A group of men in uniforms poses in front of a streetcar at the door of a garage.
Toronto Railway Company trainmen posing at the Roncesvalles Carhouse. The TRC’s franchise of 1891 stipulated that no employee had to work more than 10 hours a day, and no adult employee was to be paid less than 15¢ an hour for the first year, and 16-2/3¢ an hour after one year. By the time this picture was taken the wage had risen to 21-½¢ per hour.
[ca. 1905]
Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 3362


By the rules of its franchise, the TRC was obliged to provide services within the boundaries of the city as they had existed in 1891. In the outlying areas, other companies provided rail service, including the Metropolitan Street Railway (north), the Toronto and Mimico Railway, the Toronto and Scarboro Railway, and the Toronto Suburban Street Railway (west). Since the TRC could also build and operate street railways in neighbouring municipalities and in the County of York, it created a subsidiary company called the Toronto and York Radial Railway (T&YRR).


An electric streetcar with large windows. There are passengers inside looking out, and several men in drivers' uniforms are standing in front.
Metropolitan Railway car no. 11 at the Glengrove Avenue stop on Yonge Street in North Toronto
[ca. 1897]
Fonds 16, Series 836, Subseries 4, File 14.


In 1904, the T&YRR merged with or absorbed the Metropolitan, Mimico and Scarboro lines. In doing so, the TRC or the T&YRR were providing services across most of the city. However, there were no free transfers beyond the boundaries of the old city limits of 1891. By 1910, Toronto’s population was 350,000, and the city limits had been extended to include an area nearly twice the size it had been in 1891. Although pressure was put on the Toronto Railway Company to extend service into the new districts, there was no financial incentive for them to do so. With the status quo, the TRC or its own subsidiary collected an additional fare every time a passenger transferred from one line to another.


This transfer has printed ovals on it with both Roman numerals and numbers, crossed out with a red pencil to indicate times. It also shows whether it was used in the a.m. or the p.m. the route a rider was transferring from, and whether the streetcar was going east or west..
Toronto Railway Company transfers for their King St. line and Queen St. line
Fonds 516, Series 2210, File 19.
This transfer has printed ovals on it with both Roman numerals and numbers, crossed out with a red pencil to indicate times. It also shows whether it was used in the a.m. or the p.m. the route a rider was transferring from, and whether the streetcar was going east or west..
This transfer has printed ovals on it with both Roman numerals and numbers, crossed out with a red pencil to indicate times. It also shows whether it was used in the a.m. or the p.m. the route a rider was transferring from, and whether the streetcar was going east or west..
Passengers could use the transfers between the various TRC lines, but not for a free transfer to one of the other lines operating outside of the boundaries of the 1891 city limits.


A busy street lined with office buildings and stores. There is a lot of vehicle and pedestrian traffic.
View looking north on Yonge Street, from King Street. Toronto Railway Co. streetcars, automobiles, horse-drawn wagons, and pedestrians clog Toronto’s main thoroughfare.
[ca. 1910]
Fonds 1661, Series 1038, Item 2.


In 1911, in response to the appeals of suburban citizens for better transportation services, the City constructed and equipped a new street railway called the Toronto Civic Railway. Its routes were on the outlying portions of Danforth Ave., Gerrard St. E., St. Clair Ave. W., Lansdowne Ave., and Bloor St. W., adding 22 miles of street railway trackage. Civic Railway fares were only two cents, but there were no free transfers except between the St. Clair and Lansdowne lines.



Two streetcars sit side by side on the tracks. A line of people is leaving one and lining up to board the other.
Passengers transferring between a TRC car and a Toronto Civic Railway car at St. Clair Ave. W. and Avenue Road
Fonds 16, Series 560, Item 3.
People line up to bard a streetcar in the middle of the street. In the background are stores, including a W. Davies butcher shop.
Passengers getting on Toronto Civic Railway car 6 at St. Clair Ave. W. and Dufferin St.
March 15, 1920
Fonds 1231, Item 226.


Two streetcars sitting on top of an open train car.
New Toronto Civic Railway streetcars being delivered from the manufacturer, and heading for service on the Gerrard line
December 14, 1912
Fonds 1231, Item 286.


A streetcar drives down a street lined with telegraph and electricity poles. There are large houses in the distance.
Toronto Civic Railway streetcar on the Danforth line, looking east from Broadview Ave.
November 11, 1913
Fonds 1231, Item 1767.


A colour-coded map shows the suburban areas outside of downtown Toronto.
Prior to the formation of the TTC in 1921, there was no one-fare unified system for the entire city. The central core was served by the Toronto Railway Company, while the suburbs received service from the Toronto & York Radial Railway Co. (a subsidiary of the TRC), the Toronto Civic Railway, and the Toronto Suburban Railway. Each line of these various companies charged their own fares, making for a baffling and expensive experience for commuters.
January 7, 1930
Fonds 200, Series 726, Item 141.


Men in uniforms standing in front of a streetcar.
Toronto Suburban Railway employees in front of car no. 15 serving the Lambton line
[ca. 1915]
Fonds 543, Series 2476, File 49.
A streetcar drives along a wide road. On the right is a row of stores with large awnings.
The Toronto & York Radial Railway provided service to Scarborough along Kingston Road. This view is looking west from Victoria Park Avenue.
October 16, 1922
Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 1607.


This jumble of services led to dissatisfaction. As the 1921 termination of the Toronto Railway Company’s franchise neared, Toronto’s ratepayers decided to take action. On January 1, 1920 they voted to approve the acquisition by the City of Toronto of all of the various companies in the city, and to establish a civic commission to operate all public transportation in the city.

In June 1920, the Toronto Transportation Commission was incorporated by an Act of the Ontario Legislature. On September 1, 1921, the City acquired all of the assets of the Toronto Railway Company and transferred them and the Civic Railways assets to the TTC. Through this amalgamation the TTC was able to establish a unified one-fare system. Fares were four tickets for 25 cents or a cash fare of 10 cents, with free transfers.