A Streetcar Named St. Clair
It was 101 years ago today that streetcars made their first appearance on St. Clair West. Although controversial at times—including a few years back when the streetcar right-of-way was built—the streetcar has always been important to our neighbourhood’s character. Prior to the streetcar’s arrival, only a few people even lived on St. Clair West. Once the cars started rolling, the area developed at a rapid pace and is now the thriving business district we know and love. The development wasn’t just because of streetcars of course, but there is no denying the vital role that both light and heavy rail have played in building St. Clair West.
Before the railway era, St. Clair Avenue was literally not on the map of Toronto. This 1868 military sketch shows that the northern limit of the city was Bloor Street and the area above Davenport Avenue, where St. Clair is located, was not even marked:
An interesting note: if you strain your eyes you can just make out the letters “TP” at various points along Davenport Avenue, indicating toll points. Road tolls are a contentious issue now but back in the 1850s, road companies used tolls to pay for planking and macadam (crushed stone) in an attempt to make the roads usable. Despite the tolls, the companies failed financially and in their efforts to create passable thoroughfares. As one writer noted rather bleakly, the roads in the 1850s were “innocent of every attempt at paving, and remarkable only for their utter desolation in winter through snow drifts, their discomfort in spring owing to quantities of mud with which they abounded and their all but impassibility in summer from the clouds of dust always arising.”
In the 1850s the railways arrived in the area between Bloor, Dufferin, Keele and Davenport/St. Clair, but the area east of Dufferin along St. Clair was still largely undeveloped. It wasn’t until the 1880s that the area south of St. Clair and east of Dufferin began to be divided into lots and sold, although development was more intense west of Dufferin in the area known then and now as the Junction. What did it cost for a lot back then? A mere $25, with installment plans available if needed.
Where rail is laid, business soon follows. A thriving business and industrial sector sprouted up around the Junction, making it attractive to the city of Toronto. Both the Junction and the Oakwood area were annexed by the city of Toronto in 1909. The Oakwood area was very sparsely populated at the time, with only 5 people listed as living on St. Clair east of Dufferin.
For its part, St. Clair remained a dirt road until after annexation when the city of Toronto decided to the road was ideal for one of its first five streetcar routes. The route was planned for the stretch from Yonge Street in the east to Caledonia Park Road in the west. Construction began on the route in September, 1911 but it was not completed until August 25, 1913, in part because of the challenges of crossing ravines at Winona Drive and Lauder Avenue where the now buried Garrison Creek once flowed.
Some fast facts:
• When it opened, the St. Clair car cost 2 cents for adults, 1 cent for children under 9, with babes in arms travelling for free.
• In 1913, the cars ran every 6 minutes during the day and every 4 minutes during rush hour.
• The original St. Clair car had its own right-of-way, which the city began to dismantle in 1928. Why? The reason will sound familiar to anyone who lives in the area: conflicts with increasingly popular automobiles. According to the writers of St. Clair West in Pictures, the removal of the right-of-way was a decision the TTC would soon regret and would not rectify until 2005 and the recreation of a dedicated transit lane.
A building boom occurred in the period after the streetcar was installed, with many buildings from that period still standing. The St. Clair West area has gone through ups and downs in the years since, as has the city as a whole, but it has maintained its unique character, helped in no small part by its iconic streetcar. Celebrate 101 years of connectivity with a Streetcar print from Vintage Home Boutique. These can be customized to include your street name.
• Historical information and military sketch. St. Clair West in Pictures: a history of the
• communities of Canton, Davenport, Earlscourt and Oakwood. 3rd Edition. Nancy Byers and Barbara Myrvold. Toronto Public Library.
• Picture of Treadle Car on Oakwood near St. Clair, 1925 . City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 3670
• St. Clair Streetcar print, sold exclusively at Vintage Home Boutique