Lansdowne Carhouse & Garage

Garage wall

(Above) The southern wall of Lansdowne used to have a web of wires blocking the sky. The wires were gone by the year 2000 and the garage was quiet. By 2013, the lot was cleared for redevelopment. Sean Marshall photo. (Below) Western Flyer rebuild coach 9303 and comrade pose outside of Lansdowne garage in 1984. Photo by John J. Guion.

Garage in use

Article by Walter Hoffmann, revised by James Bow

Lansdowne Carhouse stood at the corner of Lansdowne Avenue and Paton Road, north of Bloor Street, in Toronto’s west end. Closed as as an active division since February 17, 1996, Lansdowne Carhouse stood for years as a silent, lonely reminder of the extensive network of carhouses and streetcar lines that once served West Toronto during its rapid industrial growth during the late nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries.

A Brief History of Lansdowne Carhouse

The Toronto Railway Company (TRC) began work on Lansdowne Carhouse around 1910. We know this, because according to Louis Pursley, an old “U” class wooden trailer (formerly a TRC horse car), no 102, was burnt at the carhouse prior to its opening, which was on May 17, 1911. (All such trailers were retired by the TTC by March, 1922). Pursley also notes that Lansdowne was considered by the TRC as its “showpiece” facility. Indeed, it contained many features that justified such a designation. The first was its sheer size. At 465 feet in length, the brick carhouse was among the largest in the city. By 1914, the original yard was enlarged, eventually incorporating twelve outside yard tracks, in addition to thirteen within the brick building itself. Pursley also notes that Lansdowne was, in fact, the first TRC facility designed to store cars outside.

The carhouse also had another interesting feature. It was unique among city carbarns due to the fact that its ladder track was contained within the facility. Inside, a series of catwalks ran at the level of the cars’ roofs in order that signs could be replaced. In addition to the carhouse, a small cushion and stove storage building was built on the northwest portion of the property. That building survived into the early 1950s. By 1914 however, Lansdowne was able to hold approximately 102 large cars, 94 small cars, and 18 ex-horsedrawn TRC trailers. At this time, the BLOOR, BATHURST, SPADINA, COLLEGE, HARBORD, and SHERBOURNE routes operated out of the division. BELT LINE cars began operating from there in 1921.

The TTC Takes Over

In September 1921, wen the Toronto Transportation Commission took over streetcar operations from private companies like the TRC, it encountered properties and assets that were in poor repair after years of deferred maintenance. With Lansdowne, however, the TTC had a pleasant surprise: little work needed to be done on the facility. Lansdowne was modern, and more importantly, contained enough room to store the new Witt cars entering service. Thus Lansdowne became the only TRC facility that was retained by the TTC over the long term. Other facilities like Yorkville carhouse were closed within a couple of years. The nearby Dundas carbarn remained an active facility only until October 1931, and stored Witt trailers until 1938 before being shut down completely.

So Lansdowne Carhouse became a receiving point and storage yard for the TTC’s newly arrived Peter Witt cars. The TTC rebuilt the wye at the intersection of Royce (today known as Dupont) and Lansdowne into a loop on the southwest corner of the intersection. Opening on February 17, 1922, the loop easily handled Large Witts operating on the COLLEGE route. Lansdowne became the main dispatch point for this major route.

Ironically, Lansdowne never housed the LANSDOWNE streetcar line. Prior to the early-1930’s, LANSDOWNE operated as two routes, split by the level crossing with the Canadian Pacific railway’s mainline north of Dupont. The route south had been built by the TRC, while the route north to St. Clair was opened in 1915 by the Toronto Civic Railway (TCR). When the TTC took over, it continued to operate LANSDOWNE NORTH out of its St. Clair (Wychwood) carhouse. When the underpass to the CPR mainline was completed in July, 1931, the LANSDOWNE NORTH route was extended south to Dupont, but the two lines were not physically connected until April, 1933, at which point the two routes were finally unified from St. Clair to Dundas. When this happened, St. Clair carhouse retained responsibility for the whole LANSDOWNE service, until June 1947, when trolley buses replaced streetcars on Lansdowne Avenue. At that time, Lansdowne Carhouse (and Garage) finally took possession of its namesake route.

Unique Characteristics

Another unique feature of Lansdowne was the nearby presence of its own electrical sub-station, known as the Lansdowne Sub-station. It was located on Lansdowne, south of Bloor Street, and provided power to streetcars and TC operations in the area. The sub-station came on-line in January, 1956, and provided approximately 13,000 volts of AC current. From the outside, the sub-station was designed to look like a residence, and became one of a network of twenty-two such substations, seven of which were owned by the Toronto Hydro Electric System, now known as Toronto Hydro. (It is not known whether this facility still exists).

The track configurations immediately surrounding Lansdowne changed over time. According to track maps provided by John Bromley, we can trace the changes during the years 1936-1945. In 1936, Lansdowne was supplemented a small storage yard immediately south of the facility, on Wade Avenue. Here, a small yard existed along a private right-of-way that connected Bloor Street and Lansdowne Avenue to the yard. The yard itself ran in an east-west configuration, perpendicular to Lansdowne yard proper. By 1945, the yard remained, except that the connection to Bloor was severed. This yard would remain in use well into the trolley coach era, and would be used to store the trolley buses when they were taken out of service in 1991, prior to their transfer to Wychwood carhouse, and the eventual scrap heap.

Lansdowne acted as the base for SPADINA and WESTON cars. As a result, the carhouse stored the vast majority of the TTC’s double-ended cars. These were the wooden Preston cars inherited from the Toronto Civic Railways. These cars were originally numbered 200-212 under TCR livery, but were renumbered in the 2100’s when the TTC took over. These cars would eventually disappear as the streetcar routes they operated on were either abandoned, in the case of SPADINA, or were converted to trolley bus operation. This is what occurred in 1947, when LANSDOWNE became a trolley bus route. The trolley bus era, however, would give Lansdowne a new role to play in Toronto transit history.

The Trolley Coach Era

Starting in 1947, Lansdowne became the home of the TTC’s post-war, modern trolley buses. As more streetcar routes were converted to trolley bus operation, Lansdowne became home to an ever growing fleet. These were the Can-Car (CCF) trolley coaches, and by 1948, Lansdowne held 85 such vehicles. The routes they traversed were OSSINGTON (replacing part of the DOVERCOURT car line), and ANNETTE, in addition to LANSDOWNE and WESTON. The trolley buses’ arrival led to the removal of three yard tracks, and alterations to two pits within the carhouse itself. Things would stay this way until the opening of the BLOOR-DANFORTH SUBWAY in February 1966.

The new subway led to a drastic change in Lansdowne’s role. For one, it became a subway division in addition to a trolley coach facility (thereby giving Lansdowne, along with Eglinton, the distinction of having served in four different transit functions: streetcar, trolley coach, subway, and diesel bus). The subway crews (it is thought at least four) posted here were most likely assigned to trainsets that were stored in the still-existing Vincent subway yard, one subway stop away at Dundas West station. It is believed this arrangement ceased upon the opening of Wilson Yard on the Spadina line in 1978.

As streetcar lines such as HARBORD and BLOOR were abandoned, Lansdowne, as a carhouse, became redundant. Nonetheless, it did retain storage tracks for some cars, even though they were not assigned to any regular runs. Only Danforth Carhouse retained any active cars. By 1967, Lansdowne had been disconnected from the rest of the streetcar network. It was at this time that the diesel buses moved in, and a new diesel-fuel pumping platform constructed at the western end of the yard was built.

The Diesel Buses Arrive

This new period in Lansdowne’s history also saw the modernization of the trolley bus fleet, thanks to the rebuilding of the CCF trolleys by Western Flyer Coach Ltd of Winnipeg. Eventually, 151 of these vehicles were rebuilt. By 1976, when 6 BAY was electrified from diesel operation, Lansdowne became the pre-eminent trolley coach facility in Toronto.

But by the 1990s, however, the trolley bus fleet had deteriorated to the point where further rebuilding was out of the question. Coupled with a decaying overhead network, and tight finances resulting from government deficits and recession, the decision was made in 1991 to eliminate trolley bus operation on all routes, except for BAY and ANNETTE. These last two routes would use leased trolley coaches from Edmonton until July 16, 1993. These last trolley buses operated out of Lansdowne until that final day, when the trolley buses were either scrapped or returned to Edmonton. Now only diesel buses prowled the garage.

The end, however, was in sight. By this time, Lansdowne Garage was over eighty years old. Service cuts resulting from declining ridership and government subsidy meant that the TTC’s bus fleet was contracting. The pressure was on for the TTC to consolidate its operating divisions. When the provincial government ended all subsidies for public transportation on February 17, 1996, the TTC implemented service cuts that rendered Lansdowne surplus as an operating division. The remaining buses were moved off to other garages, like Queensway, Arrow Road and Wilson, and Lansdowne garage was shuttered.

Decline and Demolition

Lansdowne Garage stayed as an abandoned facility for several years after 1996. Like St. Clair Carhouse, it was considered of historic interest, and designated by the City of Toronto as a historical building. There was talk about redeveloping the site in some way that preserved the architecture, perhaps as some sort of community building. However, the area was redeveloping, and the economic pressures were too much to protect Lansdowne. The walls were knocked down in the fall of 2003 and the place left as a fenced-off field (the fence was given an artistic treatment, however, so as not to be a blight on the community).

Soil remediation issues have delayed redevelopment of the site, but it is only a matter of time before buildings rise again on the site, and the last vestiges of this area’s public transit heritage disappears.


Lansdowne Carhouse and Garage Image Archive


References

  • Bromley, John F. and Jack May, Fifty Years of Progressive Transit, Electric Railroaders’ Association, New York (New York) 1975.
  • ‘Conversion Completed on Danforth and Lansdowne Carhouses to Garage Operations’ Coupler, September 1967,Toronto Transit Commission, Toronto (Ontario).
  • Hood, J. William, The Toronto Civic Railways: An Illustrated History, The Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto (Ontario), 1986.
  • ‘New Automatic Sub-Station in Service On Lansdowne Avenue’ Coupler, February 1956,Toronto Transit Commission, Toronto (Ontario).
  • Partridge, Larry, Mind the Doors, Please, The Boston Mills Press, Erin (Ontario), 1983.
  • ‘PCC 25 year retrospective’ Upper Canada Railway Society Newsletter, November 1963 p162-74, The Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto (Ontario), 1963
  • Pursley, Louis H., Street Railways of Toronto 1861-1921, Ira Swett, INTERURBANS, Los Angeles (California), 1958.
  • Pursley, Louis H., The Toronto Trolley Car Story, INTERURBANS, Los Angeles (California), 1961.
  • Wickson, Ted. ‘TTC Lansdowne Garage Closed’. Rail and Transit, March, 1996. P 4., The Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto (Ontario), 1996