Text by Robert Lubinski
For many decades, TTC streetcars and buses were a familiar sight in the St. Lawrence neighbourhood of Toronto. Up until 1980, the buses of Gray Coach Lines, the interurban bus operator owned by the TTC were a common sight, shuttling between the Sherbourne Garage and the Coach Terminal on Bay Street. The Sherbourne Garage was situated at Sherbourne and the Esplanade, and was at one time at the heart of Toronto’s street railway operations.
The Sherbourne Garage dated back to 1894, when it was built by the Toronto Railway Company (TRC), the privately-owned street railway franchise. The TRC built a large complex at this site, including a sub-station (power house), motor shops and stores building. The TRC constructed hundreds of its own streetcars here in the early 1900s. As the streetcar system expanded, so did the Sherbourne facility, with the addition of a brass foundry and new machine shop. When the TTC took over transit operations in Toronto in 1921, it sought a new, larger facility and in 1924 opened the Hillcrest Shops on Bathurst Street at Davenport Road, relegating the TRC building to a freight depot for the Lake Simcoe Radial Line, then as a Stores warehouse from 1933 until 1945.
At around that time, the motor shops were converted to a bus garage, operating several TTC bus routes around the east end of Toronto, including the ASHBRIDGE, MAIN and BROADVIEW buses, as well as a garage for interurban Gray Coach service. The remainder of the property, between George and Frederick Streets, continued to be used for the storage and scrapping of retired streetcars. In the 1950s, the TTC’s surplus streetcars, wooden cars made redundant by the purchase of new streamlined PCC cars, and Peter Witt cars and trailers by the opening of the Yonge Subway, were decommissioned and scrapped at the George Street Yard. This yard was closed in the early 1960s, but the old motor shops continued to be used as a TTC garage until 1967 when the streetcar carhouse at Danforth & Coxwell was converted to a bus facility. At that time, Gray Coach Lines became the sole occupant, along with early GO Transit bus operations for a few years starting in the early 1970s. Gray Coach continued to use the garage until its new facility on Commissioners Street was ready for occupancy at the beginning of 1980, ending almost 90 years of continuous use for the old red brick building.
The Grey Coach garage was demolished to make way for the housing, but of the old TRC complex, the power house still stands at the corner of Front & Frederick streets, as the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People (originally the Young People’s Theatre), a reminder of when the St. Lawrence area was the hub of Toronto’s streetcar system.
Interestingly, in the early 1950s, the upstairs level of the Sherbourne bus garage had a full-size subway station entrance mock-up built in it, so that the TTC could test the design of station entrances, passenger flow, and colour schemes for subway stations.