When I was a child in the 1940s, for obvious reasons, no one referred to Toronto streetcars as “red-rockets. However, despite their sedate speed, our family associated them with adventure as they transported us to exotic locales. Today, the places we visited no longer qualify as “exotic,” or even special. They included High Park, Woodbine Beach, Kew Beach, Sunnyside, the CNE, the Humber River Valley, and the ferry docks, where we journeyed across the harbour to the Toronto Islands. Residents of Toronto today consider these destinations far from spectacular, but in the days prior to mass automobile ownership, trips to these places were the highlight of the summer season.
Today, I easily recall the sound of the old metal streetcar wheels on the tracks, the clicking sound of their engines, and the clanging of their bells. I remember the smell of the distinctive odour from their engines’ motor oil. After a monumental journey on the old Bay Streetcar, I remember standing beside my father as we peered down into the engine room of the Trillium ferry boat as we crossed Toronto Harbour. As a child, I thought the pistons of the ferry’s engine were enormous, surely possessing the power to rocket us to the moon.
I also fondly remember that one year, in the month of June, the church that our family attended hired a private streetcar to transport everyone to the Sunday School picnic at Kew Beach beside Lake Ontario. The streetcar ride was the highlight of the excursion. Another year we travelled on a one-way streetcar to the town of Weston for a picnic beside the Humber River.
The streetcars in Toronto of old remain among my favourite memories of childhood. I am grateful that our city has retained them, as so many urban areas, much to their later regret, phased them out. When I was a child, our family lived on Keele Street, not far from the western terminus of the Rogers Road Streetcar line. To travel to the ferry docks, we boarded the Rogers Road car and travelled to the end of the line at Oakwood and St. Clair Avenue.
This is the type of streetcar that we boarded in the 1940s, at Rogers Road and Bicknell Avenue, to travel to the end of the line at Oakwood and St. Clair Avenues.
To continue our journey, at Oakwood and St. Clair, we boarded a Bay streetcar, which transported us to the ferry docks on the lakefront. It one of the Peter Witt cars, which first arrived in Toronto in the early 1920s. They remained in service on Yonge Street until the subway opened in March of 1954.
This photo was taken by Brian Willcox. It shows a Peter Witt streetcar being employed as a tourist car on Queen Street West in the 1970s. The grass in front of the New City Hall is visible in the background.
At St. Clair and Oakwood, when we boarded the Bay streetcar, which was a Peter Witt streetcar, we enviously watched the new sleek PCC cars that were on the St. Clair route. We longed to journey on the new modern streetcars, seen in the above picture. This picture was also taken by Brian Willcox, and shows a PCC car in service on Queen Street, the Old City hall in the background.
The “Red Rockets” of today, are soon to be replaced by new cars during 2013. I hope they retain a few of these streetcar to use as tourist cars during the summer months. For many Torontonians, these streetcars are the only ones that they remember.
To view other posts about Toronto’s past, its streetcars, and its historic buildings:
Toronto’s streetcars during past decades:
Historic pictures from a book published by City of Toronto in 1912
A and A Records on Yonge Street and vinyl recording covers of Broadway shows
Military hero of the War of 1812 who near the corner of Spadina and Queen West.
Photos of the surroundings of the CN Tower and and the St. Lawrence Market in 1977
The old Dominion Bank Building at King and Yonge Street
The Canada Life Building on University and Queen Street West.
Campbell House at the corner of Queen Street West and University Avenue
A study of Osgoode Hall
Toronto’s first City Hall, now a part of the St. Lawrence Market
The St. Lawrence Hall on King Street
History of Trinity Bellwoods Park
A history of Toronto’s famous ferry boats to the Toronto Islands
Toronto’s Old City Hall at Bay and Queen Streets
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