Route 502 and 503 - The Kingston Road Streetcars

1990s Bathurst Transfer

Text and photos by James Bow, except where noted.

The Route

The 502 Downtowner cars operate between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays. Starting at McCaul Loop on McCaul Street north of Queen, streetcars proceed south on McCaul and east on Queen to Kingston Road, where they turn northeast and follow Kingston Road to Victoria Park Avenue. At Victoria Park, cars turn around inside Bingham Loop, a suburban streetcar loop nestled amongst residential housing.

CLRVs at Bingham Loop

CLRV 4056 waits at Bingham Loop while one of its compatriots departs for either York Street or McCaul. Photo by Rob Hutch.

The Downtowner's rush-hours-only cousin, the 503 Kingston Road Tripper, follows the 502 route from Kingston Road and Victoria Park to Queen and King, where it turns southwest on King and follows this street to Church. There, it loops through Downtown Toronto via Church, Wellington and York before starting its return trip to Bingham Loop along King Street. Service on the Kingston Road portion of both these routes is replaced during the evenings, weekends and nights by an extension of the 22 Coxwell bus.

A 'tripper' car is streetcar-lingo for a rush-hour service vehicle. The term dates back from before the 1940s when several streetcar routes in Toronto had alternate 'tripper' services supplementing the base route. The 503 service is called the Kingston Road 'Tripper' because the 502 Downtowner route was, until 1974, named Kingston Road. When the TTC extended the Kingston Road Streetcar along Queen and Bathurst streets to Bathurst Station, they made the name change to promote the new direct downtown connection from the Bloor subway. This extended service degenerated to a rush-hours only branch before long and was dropped altogether in the mid-1980s, returning the 502 route back to its pre-1974 McCaul-Bingham configuration. The name still hasn't been changed back to 'Kingston Road'.

Kingston Road's Suburban History

The earliest ancestor of the Kingston Road streetcar was a suburban service begun by the Toronto and Scarboro Electric Railway Light and Power Company, incorporated on August 18, 1892. Operated by a board of directors including some prestigious members of Toronto society, cars began trundling up a single track on the north side of Kingston Road from Queen to Blantyre Avenue on July 1, 1893. At this time, East Toronto, as the area was formally known, was fairly well built up, and prospects looked good for the new company. Branches opened, extending service south on the west side of Blantyre to Queen Street that same year(for summers only) and up Walter and Main Streets to Gerrard in 1894.

The combination of an unlucky accident, and competition from the Toronto Railway Company's new line along Queen Street brought hard times to the company. In 1898, management fought back by extending service further east, into the rural reaches of Scarborough, and abandoning the Blantyre track. By July 12, 1901, cars had reached Midland Avenue (location of the Half Way House, a historic building now residing at the Black Creek Pioneer Village) and on August 24, 1906, the line reached its easternmost terminus at West Hill, near today's Fairwood Crescent.

Despite the fact that, by this time, the line was owned by the same people who ran the Toronto Railway Company, the Kingston Road route remained a sleepy suburban line. Competition from the Toronto Civic Railway cars on Gerrard brought about the demise of the branch along Walter, Lyall, Kimberly and Gerrard Streets.

When Kingston Road was Queen and Queen Was Beach

When the City of Toronto acquired direct control over its streetcars with the Toronto Transportation Commission, the city extended its authority over the portion of Kingston Road between Queen Street and Victoria Park. The old Scarboro track was removed from Queen to Victoria Park and a set of double tracks laid down in its place and a new loop was constructed between Victoria Park and Bingham Avenue.On January 12, 1927, the Commission acquired the operations of the Toronto and York radial lines (which included the Mimico route, the services on North Yonge, and the Scarboro route) and set about incorporating these lines into its system. A connection was made at Victoria Park to the Scarboro line. On January 27, 1928, a year later, the Scarboro route was cut back again, this time to to Birchmount Avenue, where the TTC laid double tracks to a new loop. On November 18, 1928, the TTC ran city cars to Birchmount Loop at 12 minute intervals; the remains of the Scarborough line maintained 30 minute headways, using some of the oldest cars on the system. Never very strong, the depression was the last straw for the Scarboro line, and cars stopped running in 1936.

Kingston Road at Dufferin

In the early 1950s, Kingston Road tripper cars ran to Dufferin Loop, as this picture illustrates. Witt 2748 is heading west along an industrial section of King Street. This photo was taken by Peter Lambert and is donated from Curt Frey's collection.

Service on Kingston Road west of Birchmount Avenue remained strong, however, even though Scarborough residents had to pay a second fare to continue their ride past Victoria Park Avenue. At this time, service was being handled by the Queen Streetcar, operating first from Roncesvalles, and then from a new loop on McCaul Street (making the Queen Streetcar of 1928 look very much like the Downtowner Streetcar of today). Service on Queen Street to Neville Park was handled by the Beach Streetcar. This arrangement continued until August 2, 1937, when the truncated Lake Shore line was merged into the Beach route, producing a line running from Neville Park to Sunnyside Loop which the TTC renamed Queen. The old Queen car finally became known as the Kingston Road Streetcar. The Beach name lingered until 1948 on a rush-hour tripper service along Queen and King to loop via Church, Wellington and York; after 1948, this service was handed to the Kingston Road tripper, along with the remains of the old Dovercourt tripper route. The western terminus of the Kingston Road streetcar would shift from that time into the 1970s, with tripper cars using the downtown loop of Church, Wellington and York, Dufferin Loop at the CNE and Roncesvalles Carhouse before settling back into its downtown terminus.

PCC 4300

PCC 4300 sits in Connaught carhouse in the mid 1970s, showing off the 'Downtowner' rollsign. Photo donated from the Brad O'Brien collection.

The biggest change to the McCaul branch of the Kingston Road streetcar came on April 2, 1973, when the service was extended from McCaul farther west along Queen and then north on Bathurst to Bathurst Station. Renamed 'Downtowner' to promote its new direct-downtown service from the Bloor-Danforth subway, this operation didn't catch on. On September 4, 1974, the Bathurst Station branch of the Downtowner car was cut back to rush-hours only, with base service returning to McCaul Loop. When McCaul Loop was rebuilt between 1976 and 1978 with the construction of the Village by the Grange, base service was temporarily extended to Wolesley Loop just north of Queen and Bathurst, but returned to McCaul Loop when it reopened. All Downtowner service was cut back to McCaul Loop on March 9, 1984, although the line retained the name given to it when service was extended.

From the beginning of TTC service on Kingston Road, the downtown connection only took place during the rush hours and midday on the weekdays. For evenings, weekends and nights, Coxwell cars were extended along Kingston Road to Bingham and, later, Birchmount loops. Among the streetcar casualties resulting from the opening of the Bloor-Danforth Subway in 1966 was the Coxwell Streetcar. When streetcar service on Coxwell disappeared, the TTC experimented with using every second Queen car to maintain streetcar service on Kingston Road during evenings and weekends. During that period, night service was basically eliminated, save for a single streetcar departing from Bingham Loop for Long Branch every Sunday morning at 1:02 AM. As night services went, this was probably the most infrequent with one car appearing every 168 hours.

The Queen-Bingham experiment was not successful, failing to meet the travel patterns of Kingston Road residents and contributing to the instability of Queen car scheduling during evenings and weekends. The Queen car returned to its normal route on May 22, 1966, and the Coxwell bus was extended over the old Kingston Road-Coxwell route to Bingham Loop, with night service reinstated. During the experiment, however, the Bingham-Long Branch service was the longest single streetcar trip in Toronto, at 15.8 miles. This arrangement exists to this day, handled by the 22 Coxwell bus.

The 1950s and the 60s further reduced streetcar service on Kingston Road. On July 1, 1954, the TTC implemented a new fare structure and, with it, streetcar service was cut back from Birchmount Loop to Victoria Park. Frequencies continued to drop on the Kingston Road streetcars, despite various experiments such as the extension of the regular route to Bathurst Station and the renaming of the line 'Downtowner'. Somehow, however, the Kingston Road Streetcars managed to hang on, and they are still operating.

The Future

The two Kingston Road streetcars are the two least profitable streetcar routes in the TTC, and so their future should be seen as less secure than any other route in the system. As long as they don't slip above the maximum permissible subsidy, however, the TTC should continue to maintain these routes. Recently, the TTC has studied proposals to, alternately, expand streetcar service into the evenings, replace the streetcars entirely with an extension of the Coxwell bus, or even combine the two routes into a single, more frequent route along Queen Street. None of these proposals provided benefits beyond what the current arrangements offer.

One thing that would ensure future service along Kingston Road would be the conversion of the Coxwell bus to streetcar operation. This was considered in the TTC's 'Opportunities for New Streetcar Routes' report, and it would have returned the special Kingston Road-Coxwell streetcars that plied both streets during evenings, weekends and nights until February 28, 1966. Unfortunately, despite the fact that only one kilometre of new track would have to be laid, the TTC deemed that ridership would not have justified the conversion... at least for now.


502 Downtowner / 503 Kingston Road Image Archive


References

  • Bromley, John F., TTC '28, The Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto (Ontario), 1979.
  • Bromley, John F., and Jack May Fifty Years of Progressive Transit, Electric Railroaders' Association, New York (New York), 1978.
  • Stamp, Robert M., Riding the Radials: Toronto's Suburban Electric Streetcar Lines, The Boston Mills Press, Erin (Ontario), 1989.
  • The files of Ray Corley.

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