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61 Nortown (1954-1985)

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Text by James Bow
Compiled by Jeffrey Kay

Serving Toronto’s Promontory

The 61 NORTOWN trolley bus had the distinction of being the only trolley bus route in Toronto which didn’t have a streetcar among its ancestors. This former U-shaped route operating from the Toronto city limit on Mount Pleasant Road (Doncliffe Loop, at Glen Echo Road) to the corresponding position on Avenue Road (Roe Loop, at Roe Avenue) via Mount Pleasant, Eglinton Avenue, and Avenue Road counted among its predecessors only buses.

Toronto’s annexation of the town of North Toronto in 1912 created an urban promontory centred on Yonge Street that was awkward for public transit. Streetcar service along Yonge was an obvious start, but North Toronto was too wide to expect all residents to walk to Yonge, and yet too narrow to support an east-west feeder route.

The solution was a series of L-shaped and U-shaped feeders fitting within the city limits. For the first of these, the Mount Pleasant route (see that page) started running in 1921. Farther north, beginning in September 1930, was the Eglinton route. At first this ran south on Mount Pleasant Road from Strathallan Boulevard to Eglinton Avenue, west on Eglinton crossing Yonge, and north again on Avenue Road to Glenview Avenue, the city limit, where Avenue Road then also ended. There were no loops; the buses had to “wye” using the cross street at each end of the route.

Otter Loop

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Richard Leitch took these photographs of Otter loop’s shelter during a visit in 2005. The TTC sold the property to the city for $1, and the shelter still stands while the city figures out what to do with the property. The Toronto Architectural Conservancy is working to preserve it (press release here).

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The view inside the shelter.

In 1936 a new loop at nearby Otter Crescent replaced the Glenview wye; this also came to be used by the premium Hill Coach service to the downtown. The eastern end of the Eglinton bus was altered repeatedly, looping on-street from 1935 on. In 1940 this on-street loop was extended to also reach the city limit, via Rochester, St. Ives, and St. Leonards Avenues; in 1944 a rush-hour branch was added extending past the city limit via Blythwood Avenue to Sunnybrook Hospital, this becoming a separate route in 1948.

By now the TTC had also created another U-shaped feeder route, the Lawrence bus. This started at Ronan and Snowdon Avenues and ran south along Ronan, west along Lawrence Avenue, and north on Elm Road to Melrose; the west end was later extended reach the city limit at Roe Avenue. Presumably Ronan was used rather than Mount Pleasant because the latter was too close to Yonge; and while Avenue Road now also reached Roe, it was outside the city limits while Elm was just inside.

Toronto’s Subway Changes Everything

The situation changed totally in 1954, when the TTC’s mandate was extended to all of Metro Toronto just as completion of the Yonge subway to Eglinton was imminent. The Lawrence bus now went to the wrong place: users at both ends of its route would prefer a through service to Eglinton station. And the TTC was now free to use all of Avenue Road. The obvious solution was to eliminate the U-shaped Lawrence bus route, extend the Eglinton service up Avenue Road to Roe, and make a matching extension at the other end. Rather than jogging over to Ronan, this time the route was run up Mount Pleasant to the city limit at Glen Echo Road; perhaps because there was already a Glen Echo Loop on Yonge Street nearby, the new loop was named Doncliffe Loop after nearby Doncliffe Drive, where Mount Pleasant actually ends. Since the route no longer primarily ran along Eglinton, it was renamed Nortown (later 61 Nortown). And in view of the traffic expected, it became a trolley bus route.

The Nortown route came into being on March 7, 1954. Although opened three weeks before the Yonge subway, it, along with the Yonge trolley bus (later 97 Yonge), were linked very strongly with new rapid transit service. At their start, they were touted as “high tech” feeders into the new Eglinton terminal, helping to bring suburban commuters into downtown Toronto. These two routes also represented a separate trolley bus division operating out of the former Eglinton carhouse (now the Eglinton garage). An Eglinton West trolley bus would have represented a link between the Lansdowne and Eglinton divisions, but plans for this route fell through and the North Toronto routes remained separated from the rest of the system ever since.

Toronto Grows Up and Out

As Toronto grew outward, the Nortown trolley bus became less seen as a suburban gateway into the subway. The subway was extended north of Eglinton in 1973 and, by then, Nortown was primarily a neighbourhood route serving the community of North Toronto. No move was ever made to extend trolley coach service. When development expanded north on Avenue Road, the TTC created a short shuttle bus named 1 Armour Heights. The modest suburban terminal of Roe Loop was made into a two-lane loop with vehicles running on the left, one route looping clockwise and the other anticlockwise; thus passengers could transfer from one route to the other by simply stepping across an island between the two lanes. At the north end, the Armour Heights route initially looped through residential streets, but this drew objections; rather than acquiring property for an off-street loop, the TTC elected to have the small buses U-turn in the width of Avenue Road.

Although its northeastern terminus was just two blocks away from Glen Echo Loop, the Nortown bus never used this facility. Doncliffe Loop remained (and remains) a modest off-street loop almost at the northern end of Mount Pleasant Road. The only connection with the Yonge trolley bus, which also operated out of Eglinton garage, was either at Eglinton Station, or using non-revenue wires over Lawrence Avenue between Yonge and Mount Pleasant. When the Yonge trolley bus was converted to diesel operation in 1973, these wires on Lawrence were taken down.

Nortown Fades

On Sunday, April 21, 1985, the TTC split the route into two branches operating out of Eglinton Station. Before then, it made sense to keep them together when their operating intervals were the same, but traffic on Avenue Road was picking up while Mount Pleasant patronage remained static. The number 61 was retained for what was now the NORTOWN WEST route, while the NORTOWN EAST became route 103. However, while the change was made immediately on the platform signs at Eglinton station and the next edition of the system map, there was a delay in obtaining new destination blinds for the trolley buses themselves, and until early 1986 they displayed the old route’s short-turn branch signs: 61B NORTOWN in the west, 61C NORTOWN in the east.

The change required a short length of new overhead at Eglinton station, the last new trolley bus overhead that the TTC erected. At the time, trolley buses running east on Eglinton could go straight past the station or turn into platform 3, 4, 7, or 8; but trolley buses running west could only go straight past or turn into platform 8. From platforms 3 and 4, wires led onto Yonge Street, either north and then east onto Eglinton, or south to Berwick and into the garage (and from there, the only exit led north on Duplex and, again, east on Eglinton). From 7 and 8, the only exit was onto a separate pair of wires on Duplex Avenue, and then west on Eglinton. Thus there was no way for a westbound trolley bus on Eglinton to call at the station and then turn back east on Eglinton, unless its poles were shifted manually to different wires. To make this move possible, a new curve was added from the westbound wires on Eglinton into platform 4.

By the time the lines were converted to diesel buses at the end of 1991, NORTOWN WEST was operating at nearly twice the frequency as Nortown East, which generally saw 15 minute intervals.

The Nortown trolley bus originally had two short-turn loops: wires were put up at the Otter Loop from the old Eglinton bus, and at Eglinton station an eastbound trolley bus could turn back west. Rush-hour trolley buses operated regularly between these two points; for a time starting in 1956, they were replaced by buses to allow overtaking between the short-turns and the through runs.

The schedule varied over the years: sometimes the short-turns ran to Roe Loop, like the 61 NORTOWN WEST after the route was split, but then designated 61B. Otter Loop continued in scheduled use on and off through 1970. After the split, this short-turn had the designation 61A, but it was never again used in scheduled service. The loop for years after abandonment, complete with lit waiting shelter, even though no bus served it (it is convenient for a bus loading on Avenue Road, however).

After conversion to diesel buses, 61 NORTOWN WEST was changed to 61 Avenue Road North on February 17, 1992. Nortown East followed suit on October 9, 1994, with a name change to 103 Mount Pleasant North. The short 1 ARMOUR HEIGHTS route was eliminated by extending the 61 over its route at the times it had operated, forming a new 61A branch; at other times the 61 NORTOWN still used Roe Loop until September 7, 2004 when the 61A became the only branch. With full-size buses, the U-turn operation at the Avenue Road/Bombay Avenue intersection became more difficult, and in January 2003 the TTC opened an off-street loop at the southeast corner of the intersection.


A Chronological History of 61 NORTOWN

March 7 1954

Trolley Coaches on the new NORTOWN route replace diesel buses on the old EGLINTON and LAWRENCE routes. Coaches run from Doncliffe Loop at Mt. Pleasant & Glen Echo south on Mt. Pleasant, west on Eglinton and north on Avenue Road to the new Roe Loop on the northwest corner of Avenue Road & Old Orchard. The next day, a rush hour short turn service is introduced on the Avenue Road section of the line between Otter Loop and the yet-to-be-opened Eglinton Subway Terminal (Bay 7).

NORTOWN

R   O   E
DONCLIFFE

7 days a week, 18 hours a day

NORTOWN

O T T E R
S U B W A Y

Monday to Friday, rush hours only

March 30, 1954

At 1:30 p.m., operation through the newly opened Eglinton Subway Terminal begins. Eastbound coaches to Doncliffe serve Bay 4 and westbound coach to Roe and short turn coaches to Otter serve Bay 7.

April 2, 1956

Effective this date trolley coaches on the Otter-Subway short turn service are replaced by gasoline buses during the A.M. Rush Period only. This will enable heavily loaded trolley coaches to by-pass the short-turn buses when picking up short haul passengers at a stop south of Otter Loop. It is unknown how long this bus operation continued. Subway.

Autumn 1956

Route number 61 assigned to NORTOWN.

NORTOWN

61

R   O   E
DONCLIFFE

7 days a week, 18 hours a day

NORTOWN

61A

O T T E R
S U B W A Y

Monday to Friday, rush hours only

NORTOWN

61B

R   O   E
S U B W A Y

Occasional Short Turns

NORTOWN

61C

DONCLIFFE
S U B W A Y

Occasional Short Turns

December 29, 1957

Westbound coaches now use Bay 8 at the Eglinton Subway Terminal.

October 28, 1961

“Due to throat widening and sidewalk installation at Old Orchard and Avenue Rd. buses were substituted over the entire route looping via east on Old Orchard, north on Elm, west on Roe and south on Avenue Rd.”

It is not known when the gasoline bus substitution ended; it is possible it ran right through to 1962. However, alongside the above announcement, there is a pencilled notation that says they were considering eliminating the gasoline buses on this route for good in 1961, but no note as to whether they followed through or not.

January 7, 1971

Rush hour short turn service extended north from Otter to Roe.

NORTOWN

61

R   O   E
DONCLIFFE

7 days a week, 18 hours a day

NORTOWN

61B

R   O   E
EGLINTON STN

Monday to Friday, rush hours only

April 20, 1985

Last day of service under the NORTOWN name. Service is split at Eglinton Station into the 61 NORTOWN WEST route and the 103 NORTOWN EAST route.


61 Nortown Image Archive

References

  • Filey, Mike, The TTC Story: The First Seventy-Five Years, Dundurn Press, Toronto (Ontario) 1996.
  • Toronto Transit Commission, Trolley Coach CC&F and Flyer Coaches, The Toronto Transit Commission, Toronto (Ontario), January 1987.