The Radial Railway Arrives
On November 19, 1896, between nine and ten o'clock in the
evening, the first railway car ever seen in
Richmond Hill arrived
on the newly laid rails of the
Metropolitan Street Railway Company. The
Metropolitan was an electric line, running up
Yonge Street from the
Toronto city limits to a terminus at the corner of
Lorne Avenue in the
|Car 71 of the
Metropolitan Railway, southbound through
Carriage Works on the left or east side of
After half a century of being bypassed by the steam
Richmond Hill now
welcomed the interurban electric line as its link with the mainstream of
industrial and commercial activity. These suburban streetcar-electric rail
hybrids were known as
radial railways in
southern Ontario because of the way they "radiated" out from Toronto and other
The village initially pinned its hopes on the aptly
Toronto and Richmond Hill Electric Railway. Awarded a
the County of York in
1892 and incorporated by provincial legislation in 1894, the T&RH
unfortunately ran afoul of the Township of York, which refused it permission to
build within the township.
1 The T&RH was forced to withdraw in
favour of a rival line - the
Metropolitan Street Railway Company.
had established horse-car service along
Yonge Street between
Toronto and the then-separate community of North Toronto as early as 1885. It
converted to electric motive power in 1890 and reached the southern brow of
Hogg's Hollow in 1892. Four years later, with a provincial charter and approval
Council, it determined to extend sixteen kilometres (about ten miles)
farther north, to
|Northbound on the
Metropolitan line at
Yonge Street and
Drive. City of Toronto Archives
Bright and early on the morning of Monday, October
26, 1896, less than forty-eight hours after signing an agreement with the
company, contractors Carran and Hussey of Pittsburgh began moving work crews
into place along
Yonge Street - one
Richmond Hill, a
Thornhill, and a third at
Willowdale. Workers were engaged on the spot, with between three and four
hundred employed at the peak of construction. Speed was essential, since Carran
and Hussey had agreed to complete the job by November 20, "bar accidents over
which they have no control."
The first week set a heady pace. Late on Monday afternoon,
workers unloaded thirty cars of railway ties. On Tuesday these ties were
distributed along the route. On Wednesday a special crew arrived from
Pittsburgh to plant poles and string overhead wires. Construction watching
became the favourite sport of local residents. "The drive along the route is a
very interesting sight," observed the
York Gazette, "as it is but rare such a
chance occurs to see so many men at work in such a continuous line."
Metropolitan Car 56 at the
Hill station,Yonge Street and
Work was not always harmonious. Wednesday of the second
week brought the threat of a strike, as workers dropped their tools and
demanded an advance on wages. An alert and resourceful construction
superintendent placated the men by offering an immediate pay raise from $1 to
$1.25 a day. That was enough. According to
The Liberal, the men went back to work
singing "He's a jolly good fellow."
|Northbound on Yonge from the
Construction continued. During the third week the
crew encountered some heavy going near
Richmond Hill, where
special ploughs were employed to clear large boulders out of the way.
Meanwhile, the iron rails, each 90 metres (295 feet) long and weighing 275
kilograms (about 600 pounds), were hauled six at a time by horsedrawn wagon
from the steam railway station at
Carran and Hussey fulfilled their contractual obligations
with less than three hours to spare when they brought the first radial car into
Richmond Hill in the
evening of November 19. Few village residents cared that this first car was
horsedrawn (gaps in the overhead wiring had forced the contractors to bring out
horses for the inaugural run), and everyone applauded as Motorman McGee
"trotted the beasts into the terminal village in racehorse style."
|Looking north from the corner of
along the east side of
Yonge Street, from
bakery to beyond
St. Mary Immaculate Roman Catholic Church.
The first "electric car" would not arrive in the
village until January 14, but when it came, "it naturally created quite an
The Liberal, "and many of our citizens
joined the party from the city for a short ride."
There was certainly cause for celebration. After
almost half a century of failed efforts,
Richmond Hill finally
had its railway. The line had been built without cost to the village, and it
promised considerable material benefits.
To show their gratitude,
residents entertained railway officials and county councillors at a gala
banquet on January 27. Some 140 villagers and guests sat down to dinner at the
Masonic Hall, where
toasts were proposed, speeches were made, and thank-yous lavishly heaped on all
who helped bring the radial railway to town. "Three months ago, electric cars
Richmond Hill by
January sounded like a fairy tale," mused
Switzer, "but to-day they are an actual fact."
Regular electric service to
Richmond Hill began
on February 1. The company offered four round trips daily between its local
terminus on the northeast corner of
Yonge Street and
Lorne Avenue and
Toronto's northern limits - then at the CPR crosstown tracks. A one-way trip
took just forty-five minutes, compared with more than three hours for
venerable stagecoach line. Single fare was forty cents: a return trip
sixty-five cents. By the end of the year, the line boasted luxurious new cars
manufactured by the Pullman Palace Car Company.
Metropolitan brought instant change to
stagecoach went out of business as travellers switched to the big dark-green
radial cars - teenagers coming into town to attend
school, salesmen on their regular rounds, young couples and entire
families setting off to see the sights. The village's general trade increased
35 per cent over the next two years, while population jumped from 629 to 741
between 1901 and 1911.
Farmers in the area also found their lives affected
by the new rail line. "The villagers and farmers along the route have aroused
from their peaceful humdrum life," observed the
York Gazette in November 1896, a month after
the radial's construction began, "and acknowledge that the impossible has
happened, and that they will be able to make visits to the city, without
delaying the work on their farms by having to take a team away."
"One cannot help thinking that with the electric
cars running," predicted the
Toronto World,Richmond Hill "will
assume more the character of a suburb than an outlying country village." For
Richmond Hill residents
were prepared to accept the word of a city newspaper. "The
World is right,"
The Liberal."Richmond Hill, with
its many advantages, should become Toronto's most popular suburb."
9 And within two years, the radial line
offered special "commutation" or commuter tickets for village residents who
worked in Toronto.
Richmond Hill proved
merely a temporary northern terminus for the burgeoning
Railway. With favourable provincial legislation, support from
Council, and accelerating passenger and freight business, the
Metropolitan scarcely paused for breath as it pushed
Yonge Street -
Oak Ridges,Aurora, and
Newmarket in 1899,
Jackson's Point in 1907, and Sutton in 1909.
Electric power from the company's original generating
station at Davisville proved insufficient as the line continued to push farther
north. To prepare for service beyond
Richmond Hill, the
Railway in 1899 built a new steam powerhouse at
Bond Lake, with a
capacity of almost 1000 horsepower.
Bond Lake was an ideal
spot for the powerhouse, since it contained the large quantities of water
needed in the cooling and condensing phases of the generating process.
Eventually the new facility generated more power than the railway could use,
and the company offered its surplus electricity to nearby communities.
Railway (later the
Toronto and York Radial Railway Company) power house at
Just north of
Bond Lake, the mainline
tracks of the
Metropolitan were joined by the
and Aurora branch line. The station where the two lines connected was
located on the west side of
immediately north of
Bond Crescent, where
the Queen's Dairy Restaurant now sits. The community to the north of
continued to be called
Oak Ridges; the one to
the south came to be known as
Junction during the lifetime of the radial railway.
|Schomberg and Aurora Railway station at
and Aurora cut across the
countryside, not touching another village or hamlet until it reached
kilometres (about fourteen miles) to the northwest. Opening for regular
passenger business in 1904, the S&A ran two daily round trips, and three on
Wednesday market days. The line boasted only one or two passenger coaches, and
its total motive power consisted of two antiquated steam locomotives, popularly
known by the name "Annie Rooney" after an American comic-strip trolley car.
Schomberg and Aurora Railway station station at
Oak Ridges, pictured
as a fish and chip restaurant in the 1950s. Metropolitan Toronto Reference
Schomberg residents were
delighted, for they were now connected directly with
Yonge Street. Village
teenagers rode the line to
high school in
Aurora.Schomberg families used
it to travel to Toronto and back the same day, with enough time in the city to
shop for clothes and necessities unavailable at home.
That same year, 1904, both the
and Aurora were incorporated into the
Toronto and York Radial Railway Company - an emerging
suburban streetcar network controlled by William Mackenzie. With its greater
financial resources, the T&Y purchased new radial cars, extended its
Yonge Street line to
Lake Simcoe in 1907, and converted its
and Aurora branch from steam to electricity in 1916.
Metropolitan (Toronto and York) car barns at
Bond Lake, pictured
as a service station in the 1950s. Metropolitan Toronto Reference
Meanwhile, the main line of the
Toronto and York Radial Railway) dominated
Yonge Street through
Richmond Hill. The
road was constructed to a standard railway gauge of four feet, eight and a half
inches (about one and a half metres), to allow for freight car interchange with
steam railways at North Toronto and
Aurora. From the northern
brow of Hogg's Hollow, track was placed along the east side of
Yonge Street, the side
to the lee of drifting snow.
|Track map of the
Metropolitan Division of the
Toronto and York Radial Railway.Upper Canada Railway Society,Newsletter,March/April1973. Photo by Roger Carlsen
Track for the electric line followed the grade of
the road, on a level with the crown. This resulted in some severe grades,
especially at places like Hogg's Hollow. Even in
Richmond Hill, the
line encountered a steep northbound grade of 4.25 per cent for a distance of
546 metres (about 1800 feet). But the
Metropolitan's cars took such grades with relative
The radial cars picked up their power from overhead
wires, suspended on cedar poles twelve metres (about forty feet) high placed
every thirty metres, or one hundred feet, along the line. Up and down this
Metropolitan's big green cars glided along at average
speeds of about thirty-two kilometres (twenty miles) per hour.
10 The radial era had come to
Engineering News,November 1897,p. 225.
2. For an
account of the Metropolitan and other Toronto area radial lines, see
Robert M. Stamp,Riding the Radials: Toronto's Suburban
Electric Streetcar Lines(Erin:The Boston Mills, Press1989).
York Gazette,October 29, 1906.
The Liberal,July 5,1978.
Toronto World,November 20,
The Liberal,January 21, 1897.
January 28, 1897.
York Gazette,November 5, 1896.
The Liberal,January 14, 1897.
Canadian Engineering News,December 1899,p. 260.
Copyright © Richmond Hill Public Library Board, 1991