153 years ago on Yonge Street
On Sept. 11, 1861, Canada’s first street railway line was opened for service, between Yorkville Town Hall (at today’s Yonge and Davenport intersection) and the St. Lawrence Hall at King and Jarvis. The service was operated by the privately-owned Toronto Street Railway Company (TSR), which earlier in 1861 had been granted a 30-year franchise to operate public transportation in the city of Toronto. Service in Toronto began a few months before similar street railway service in Montreal. By the 1870s, street railways were common in cities and towns throughout Canada.
The horse-drawn, wooden cars were 4.8 metres (16 feet) long with open platforms on each end and drop-down windows. They ran on rails laid to the same 1495-mm track gauge that is used today. During winter months, the snow was not cleared from the unpaved roads, and horse-drawn enclosed sleighs were substituted for the cars. A layer of pea straw was scattered on the floor of the sleigh for warmth.
After the TSR’s 30-year franchise ended in 1891, a different private company, the Toronto Railway Company (TRC), was awarded a new 30-year franchise, which included electrification of streetcar operations, completed in 1894. At the end of the TRC franchise in 1921, the TTC was established to operate a publicly-owned transit service.