Editorial Archive

65 YEARS YONGE!

TTC's first Gloucester car 5000 3/9/19 6:00 AM

It was dubbed “S” Day. On March 30, 1954, the TTC opened a new era in transportation for the nation with the operation of Canada’s First Subway. The original Yonge line stretched 7.4 kilometres from Eglinton to Union, with 10 more stations in between: Davisville, St Clair, Summerhill, Rosedale, Bloor, Wellesley, College, Dundas, Queen and King.

The following story is from the March 2004 Coupler, Vol. 79, No. 3.

On Aug. 9, 1953, Metropolitan Toronto Chairman Fred Gardiner went on air to update the residents of the newly formed Metro community on the status of their first subway. Here’s what he said ...

CKEY RADIO, AUG. 9, 1953. GARDINER — “Tonight I will discuss our public transportation system. The original system was operated by horse cars, which were later developed into electric cars, which were operated by power generated by a steam plant located just east of Yonge Street on the north shore of Toronto Bay. Since that time, power has been supplied from the Hydro Electric System at Niagara Falls.

In 1920 – by provincial legislation – the City of Toronto established the Toronto Transportation Commission to own and operate a public transportation system within the city limits and to enjoy a monopoly with respect to public passenger transportation service within the City of Toronto. The TTC purchased the Toronto Railway Company for $11.5 million (plus) $33 million (in borrowed debentures issued by the City of Toronto) to rehabilitate the system.

By 1953, the TTC had paid off its original debenture debt of $44 million and had accumulated a surplus of $4 million. In performing this miracle of successful operation, the TTC has always operated with the lowest fare structure of any public transit system in North America.

Until August 1951, the fare was four tickets for 25 cents. Since that time, the fare has been three tickets for 25 cents or 10 cents for a single cash fare. That fare compares most favourably with fares of 20 cents in Detroit and 20 cents in Chicago and with the New York Subway fare of 10 cents, which was recently increased to 15 cents in order to  attempt to wipe out the annual deficit, which New York City had to absorb of approximately $40 million per year.

The accomplishments of the TTC in its 30 years of operation have earned it the enviable reputation of being the best operated public transportation system in North America ...”

Seven months later, a new era in Canada’s transportation history began – the era of Rapid  Transit. And the first subway train rolled south from Eglinton Station.

Light winked green, first train began to roll

Despite a weather forecast of a late snowfall in Toronto, March 30, 1954 turned out to be a clear, crisp day. A crowd of about 5,000 gathered around a special canvas band shell on Chaplin Crescent, opposite Davisville Station (later the site of the William C. McBrien Building, the TTC’s future head office). Other Torontonians eagerly gathered at the 12 new Yonge Street subway stations – Eglinton, Davisville, St Clair, Summerhill, Rosedale, Bloor, Wellesley, College, Dundas, Queen, King and finally Union – for their first subway ride.

At 10 a.m., the Royal Regiment of Canada struck up the band for the throngs of spectators awaiting the main players: Ontario Prime Minister (Premier) Leslie Frost, Toronto Mayor Allan Lamport, Metropolitan Toronto Chairman Fred Gardiner and TTC Chairman William C. McBrien. The Toronto Telegram described the day’s key moment: “A high point of the opening ceremony came when the Mayor and Premier Frost joined to push a gleaming stainless steel switch that activated a symbolic signal light. The light winked green and the first train began to roll.”

A train of freshly painted red and gold-lined cars left Eglinton Station for Union on the new 7.4-km (4.6-mile) Yonge Subway. Everything smelled new. Chrome rails sparkled. Tiles gleamed. The blue lamps in the tunnels flashed by brightly. Forty seconds between stations (Eglinton to Union in 12 minutes). People had never travelled so fast between intersections on the surface – not with Yonge Street traffic choking travel time the way it did.

More than 250,000 passengers rode the subway that day. One newspaper reporter described the first ride as “a cross between a streetcar ride, a train ride and a drop down a laundry chute.”

The subway employed thousands

This was Canada’s first Rapid Transit system. The subway – as it was to be better known – was hailed for bringing greater comfort and convenience through its enclosed, weather-protected stations and more regular, traffic-free service. Four-and-a-half years earlier, thousands had once again crammed onto Yonge Street – this time between Wellington and Front – to watch Lieutenant Governor Ray Lawson push the lever to drive the first soldier pile into the ground. With that, construction began on the Yonge Subway.

“The difficulties faced in constructing a subway through the very heart of a busy and populous city are most apparent, and of necessity there was substantial temporary inconvenience to many of our businessmen and other citizens. The Commission cannot pay too high a tribute to the forbearance and public spirit, which those most affected manifested under these trying circumstances,” were the words of William C. McBrien.

Construction was expected to employ thousands and was considered an important contribution to the post-war period. That was Sept. 8, 1949.

It was “another step in the forward march of Toronto’s progress.” Another link in the city’s transportation network, which also included Canada’s coast-to-coast railway, a major railway centre, a busy port and the nation’s most hectic airport.

No longer just a dream

Into Toronto’s first subway went 24,000 tons of steel, 4,200 tons of rail, 240,000 tons of gravel, 170,000 tons of sand and 1.4 million bags of cement. And out of it came 3,000 jobs a year – 21,000 person years of work.

In 1954, Coupler calculated: “If the amount of lumber required for the job was placed end to end in the form of planks 12 inches wide and two inches thick, they would stretch half way from Toronto to Vancouver.”

The Telegram called it “a magnificent feat of planning, engineering, administration and organization” ... “It’s Dream No Longer – Seeing’s Believing!”

The G-cars

Almost three million people visited the Canadian National Exhibition in 1953. Reason being one of the most popular exhibits that year came especially from England: two shiny red and gold-trimmed Gloucesters – Canada’s first subway cars.

The exhibit was of special delight to children who could be seen doing “gymnastics on the poles and straps.” After a brief showing at Hillcrest for employees and the media, the two vehicles – products of the Gloucester Railway Carriage & Wagon Co. Ltd. – were put on display at the CNE. The first cars were slightly longer than 57 feet and a good eight feet longer than other proposed models. Each weighed a hefty 85,000 pounds and seated 62 passengers.

An eight-car train could carry about 40,000 riders an hour each way. Four motors, each 68 horse power, drove each car. That’s enough traction power to move a train a maximum speed of 88.5 kilometres per hour (55 miles per hour). Gloucesters #5000 and #5001 were transported across the Atlantic Ocean and unloaded in Montreal on July 26, 1953. From there they were shipped to Toronto by rail.

Two years earlier, the tenders for subway cars were opened by McBrien. When prices were quoted too high by Canadian and American car builders, Commission General Manager W.E.P. Duncan and Equipment Assistant Manager John Inglis flew to Europe to visit car builders in France, Belgium and the United Kingdom. The U.K. won out.

The TTC ordered a total of 104 cars at a cost of $11.5 million. Coupler reported: “The cars are designed to provide fast, comfortable service. Attractive and ample lighting,  automatically controlled heating and ventilation and special car body insulation methods to reduce noise and vibration, all combined to make Toronto’s cars among the world’s finest.”

Photo: In 1954, Eglinton Operator Frederick Hulme posed with the TTC’s first Gloucester subway car #5000. Mr. Hulme retired in 1980. He died 10 years later. (TTC/Toronto Archives)

Original Yonge Subway map.

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