Coxwell transfer during World War II.
Text by James Bow.
The Route at the Time of its Abandonment
The Coxwell Streetcar operated from a loop at the corner of Danforth and Coxwell, south on Coxwell to a loop on Queen Street. During evenings and weekends, service was extended along Queen Street and Kingston Road to Bingham Loop. Service was frequent, and operated 24 hours a day.
A History of Streetcars on Coxwell
At the turn of the century, Coxwell Avenue was a quiet, dirt road. Located to the east of the City of Toronto and to the west of the Village of East Toronto, it did not see significant construction until well into the 20th century. Ironically, of all the major north-south streets of East Toronto, it would become the most significant -- and the only one to boast its own streetcar route.
Tracks arrived on Coxwell Avenue because of the split that occurs on Gerrard Street at Coxwell, with Upper Gerrard (running east from Coxwell) located well north of Lower Gerrard (running west from Coxwell) The split nature of Gerrard Street was the result several ravines cutting back from the old Lake Iroquois shoreline, as well as established development from the villages of 'Little Norway' and 'East Toronto'. When the City of Toronto annexed this territory, it saw a need to link the emerging residential area south of the Grand Trunk rail line via a roadway. As Eastwood Road (which extended east from the Lower Gerrard/Coxwell intersection) traversed some very uneven topography, and stopped abruptly at Woodbine, the road was seen as unsuitable as a thoroughfare or a streetcar route. So, 'Upper' Gerrard Street was created. When the Toronto Civic Railway built its Gerrard line east from Greenwood Avenue to Main Street in old East Toronto, it jogged its line up Coxwell Avenue between the upper and lower halves of Gerrard Street.
When the Toronto Civic Railway built its Danforth line, the company also built a single track on Coxwell between Gerrard and Danforth. This allowed Gerrard cars to make use of the Danforth carhouse and vacate the original facility that they had been using at Gerrard Street and Morton Road. No revenue service was inaugurated on this track, however, despite the TCR's plans to create a transfer between the Gerrard and Coxwell lines. The TCR envisioned such a transfer at the Main/Danforth intersection, but the presence of the CNR yards at Main Street frustrated those efforts. The TCR may have felt that the transfer would serve more people if it was located on East Toronto's 'Main Street', closer to the centre of the village, so they did not make use of the track that was already available on Coxwell.
In Name as well as in Spirit
It was when the Toronto Transportation Commission gained control over TCR and TRC rail lines that Coxwell's streetcar history really starts. The TTC set about connecting the Civic lines to the rest of the system, and started building tracks up Coxwell from Queen to Gerrard. The single track line from Gerrard to the Danforth was double tracked and the Danforth Carhouse was significantly expanded.
On Sunday, October 1, 1921, the former TRC Gerrard route was realigned to run from Gerrard and Main, via Gerrard Street and Coxwell Avenue to a crossover at Queen Street and Coxwell appeared as an independent route between Danforth and Queen. On July 1, 1923, service on Gerrard was realigned to operate through Downtown Toronto.
Coxwell's long history with Kingston Road began on July 1, 1923, as Sunday, holiday and night cars were extended east on Queen and northeast up Kingston Road to a new Bingham loop. This service replaced Queen streetcars which operated downtown. On August 2, 1937, when the Beach cars were extended to Parkside Loop and renamed Queen, the newly renamed Kingston Road cars were merged with Coxwell cars during evenings and weekends. This service originally maintained the name Kingston Road but was renamed Kingston Road-Coxwell on February 2, 1948. A Saturday tripper service remained, with additional Coxwell cars operating from Danforth to Woodbine Loops. This service ended on November 27, 1965.
Until 1940, the Coxwell Streetcar operated between crossovers at Danforth Avenue and Queen Street, making use of double-ended equipment. To speed up service, the TTC built loops at Danforth Avenue (Danforth Loop in 1936) and Queen Street (Coxwell Loop in 1940) and brought in single-ended streetcars. Coxwell Loop was interesting in that it only accepts cars arriving from the north and only ever sent them back north again, despite the fact that cars turned out onto Queen Street as they left the loop. The intersection of Queen and Coxwell was a full 'T' (with west-to-north and east-to-north switches), but the loop tracks bypassed this intersection and turned the cars 180'. To this day, the loop-exit tracks join the west-to-north turning tracks on the curve.
Coxwell became the only predominantly north-south route in the East Toronto Area. This was because it was the only major street in the area not to have a grade crossing with the Canadian National mainline tracks running just south of the Danforth. As a result, the street developed a strong commercial base that other streets in East Toronto did not have, and it quickly overtook East Toronto's 'Main Street' in prominance.
Service on Coxwell was handled by double ended Birneys until 1940, when a loop was constructed at Queen and Coxwell, replacing the crossover. Single-ended Witts and then PCCs operated between the loop at Danforth and the loop at Queen during midday weekdays. During evenings, nights and weekends, Coxwell cars were replaced by the Kingston Road-Coxwell service running from Danforth Loop, via Coxwell, Queen and Kingston Road to Birchmount on February 2, 1948. On July 1, 1954, the streetcars were cut back to Bingham Loop, reflecting a new fare-zone structure and the new bus platform built into Bingham Loop connecting the streetcar to suburban buses.
The Last Days and Why they Came
When the Bloor-Danforth subway opened on February 28, 1966, the TTC did not consider retaining streetcar service on Coxwell, despite the fact that tracks remained over the whole of the line. No tracks were ever connected to the subway, however, and the TTC showed no interest in making such a connection. With the TTC's policy of gradual abandonment of its streetcar fleet, they simply weren't interested in maintaining the streetcar route.
There may have been no Coxwell Streetcar, and the switch into Queen-Coxwell loop was plugged, but the tracks from Upper Gerrard to the Danforth remained in place for over a year after the Bloor-Danforth subway opened. While the Danforth shuttles continued to operate from Danforth Carhouse (as did Carlton cars) the tracks on Coxwell were used to allow cars to enter into service (tracks also remained in place on Danforth from Woodbine to Coxwell). A number of Carlton cars also short turned using Coxwell to Danforth Loop. In 1967, the tracks were paved over, and Danforth and Carlton cars had to use the Danforth tracks to Hillingdon to access Danforth Carhouse. The loop at Queen and Coxwell was reactivated, and short-turning Carlton cars went there instead. When the Bloor-Danforth subway was extended, Danforth Carhouse was converted to full bus operation, and Carlton cars were transferred to Connaught. The tracks on Coxwell south of Gerrard became important for carhouse movements.
Today, tracks still exist on the former Kingston Road-Coxwell line from Upper Gerrard all the way south. It is still not uncommon to see a short-turning Carlton car stationed in Coxwell Loop at Queen, and the tracks remain vital for getting Carlton cars based at Connaught Carhouse into service quickly. The track is currently being rebuilt as part of the regular maintenance schedule, and should remain in place for the foreseeable future. Coxwell may be a bus route, but the spirit of the streetcars remain very strong.
...And Coxwell may yet regain its streetcars. In 1996, the TTC commissioned a report on the least expensive bus routes to convert to streetcars, and the Coxwell line came out on top. Only 1 km of new track would be required to restore streetcar service. The TTC did not immediately recommend the idea, however. For one thing, Coxwell's passenger count is too low to justify streetcar service, and the street is too narrow to allow for private right-of-way operation (Coxwell Avenue is not East Toronto's version of Spadina).For another, there is concern that the current transfer facilities at Coxwell Station are insufficient for streetcar use, adding the cost of building a new loop to the project. The TTC couldn't deny the advantages of reinstatement, however (including reestablishing the continuity of vehicle-type on Kingston Road), and the fact that it could easily be done. Perhaps in the future, if more money becomes available, streetcars could return to Coxwell in name as well as in spirit.
Remembering the Coxwell Streetcar
- Bromley, John F., and Jack May Fifty Years of Progressive Transit, Electric Railroaders' Association, New York (New York), 1978.
- Hood, J. William, The Toronto Civic Railways: An Illustrated History, The Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto (Ontario), 1986.
Thanks to John Bromley and Ray Corley for their corrections to this web page.