Home » History » Public Transit Started Rolling in North York in 1828

This photo, from 1912, shows a Toronto and York Radial Railway streetcar on Yonge Street (looking south on Yonge Street at Sherwood Avenue). - Public domain/courtesy of Toronto Public Library
This photo, from 1912, shows a Toronto and York Radial Railway streetcar on Yonge Street (looking south on Yonge Street at Sherwood Avenue). - Public domain/courtesy of Toronto Public Library

Public Transit Started Rolling in North York in 1828

Stage coaches gave way to streetcars in 1890, writes Susan Goldenberg

Public transit through North York began in 1828 with stage coaches from Toronto up to Lake Simcoe. Heated, electric streetcars with a smoking section and a speed of 12 miles per hour took over in 1890. The single-track line, used by both northbound and southbound streetcars, ran along the west side of Yonge Street to York Mills, where it crossed to the east side. A switch enabled one or the other to move onto a siding to prevent collisions.

They were known as radials because they radiated from a central point to points within the community, then to suburban and rural areas. They were prevalent in Canada and the U.S. between 1900 and 1925.

The streetcars carried mail, newspapers and freight as well as people. There was a “motorman” and a conductor. They obligingly stopped en route to pick up parcels for people farther along the line, mailed letters and watched over young schoolchildren.

The motormen usually didn’t apply the brake as the car gained momentum going down the hill to Hogg’s Hollow in the York Mills area. According to folklore, a passenger nervously once asked, “If this car should leave the rails, where would we be?” The driver’s quick response was, “I’d be in heaven in a minute. I don’t know where you would be.”

The Toronto Transit Commission was established in 1921, taking over all the privately-owned lines by various rail companies throughout the city, including North York’s.

In March 1930, streetcars were replaced by buses on the Yonge Street route. This service was unpopular and was replaced four months later by the North Yonge Radial Line — eight lightweight double-ended cars operating from the North Toronto city limits at Hogg’s Hollow to Richmond Hill.

North York owned 55 per cent of the system while Richmond Hill, Markham and Vaughan shared the remainder. The system used about 200,000 kilowatt hours of power per month, which was supplied by North York power stations.

On Sunday, Oct. 10, 1948, the last radial car rattled along Yonge Street. It was replaced by the modern diesel bus.

Written by Susan Goldenberg.

Originally published on February 25, 2021, on toronto.com.