Sometimes a journey is all about the destination, and other times, it’s all about how you get there, especially when it is literally the last streetcar on the schedule.
As the TTC gets set to fully retire the last of its old-style streetcars after more than 40 years of service, Sunday was the last chance the public had to ride what have become iconic vehicles that have trundled countless Torontonians to where they needed to go. Properly known as Canadian Light Rail Vehicles (CLRVs), the last three of the old-style streetcars left the Wolsley Loop near Queen and Bathurst Streets around 3 p.m. carrying contest winners and transit enthusiasts to the streetcar barns just off Queen Street East — their final stop after active duty.
The final ride — operating on a express route — had riders delighted and celebrating what made these cars unique, taking photos, enjoying windows that open, dinging the yellow string to request a stop, marvelling at the multicoloured seats and how the drivers would signal when they saw another car.
“It is just such a piece of history. Every time I think of Toronto, I think of those streetcars, especially on Queen Street. It’s going to be a missed centrepiece,” said David Rye, 24, one of the final ride contest winners. “I’m going to miss the bell, the two dings every time one of them passes each other. The newer ones have a built-in speaker that does it, but it’s just not the same. And they just have that look. Like the high floors, which are unfortunate because they are not very accessible, so at least everyone will be able to ride the new ones on every route. Still it’s going to be sad.”
Katherine Abraham, 34, said this was her preferred TTC vehicle. “It’s spacious and I like that you can open the windows, and I like all the single seats. I like to get in, sit alone and put in my headphones and get where I’m going.
“There are no more single seats (on the new streetcars), I don’t think. Actually, there are a couple right at the back, but they are quite wide and someone will sit next to you even though it’s a single seat. That has happened.”
“It’s iconic. It’s a Toronto symbol,” Thishon Jeyathevan, 24, said. “I grew up riding the streetcar my whole life, so it means a lot to ride it one last time.”
Fittingly, along the way, people honked car horns or lined the street, trying to catch photographs and video of the final ride.
These streetcars have been the capillaries that have carried residents through the veins and heart of the city. The first CLRV arrived in 1977 and entered service in 1979 on the 507 Long Branch route. In total, the TTC bought 197 CLRV streetcars, with the final arriving in 1982. The TTC also purchased 52 Articulated Light Rail Vehicles — the longer, bendier cousins that were almost double the length of the CLRVs by 1998. The last of those were retired in September, although you may still occasionally see some of these vehicles.
“They are part of Toronto’s fabric,” said Laurence Lui, a senior service planner at TTC. “The fact that these streetcars have run on these downtown streets that have changed so much over these 40 years — it is an iconic symbol of Toronto and we did want to have an opportunity to say goodbye in a really celebratory way like we are today.
“We are going to be keeping a couple of these older streetcars in our heritage collection like we have done with some of our older streetcar fleet, so you still see it on a celebratory basis on odd days.”
There have been issues with getting the new Bombardier-built streetcars, but Lui says the TTC is on track to receive its allotment of new vehicles.
“A lot of people have been excited to see the new streetcars coming in, and all the benefits we get from the accessibility and all the things we bought the new streetcars for, but I know a lot of people are nostalgic for these older cars,” he said.
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