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Gone but not forgotten - traces of former rail lines in Toronto

The Belt Line Railways

In the early 1900's there were two commuter railroad lines circling the (at that time) limits of the city. One such line ran east off the Newmarket Sub at Fairbank, crossing the city roughly parallel to Eglinton Avenue, then southeastward to connect with the Bala Sub in the Don Valley. This line was abandoned in the 1970's and converted to a bicycle trail. The old railway bridge over Yonge Street still can be found over the Davisville TTC Yard.

The second route ran west from the CN Weston Sub at Keele to roughly the Humber River, then south to connect with the CN Oakville Sub in Swansea, just east of South Kingsway Drive. Virtually all of this right of way has been obliterated, except for a small amount of grade just north of the CN tracks at the Queensway.

You can still see where the line went in this aerial photograph from the University of Toronto Library.

The Toronto Grey Bruce Railway

If you are wondering why the Parkdale Corridor is so wide, it's because there once were four different rail lines in this corridor:

What makes this interesting is, the TGBR crossed the GTR and CVR tracks at Parkdale and took a more southerly route, passing just east of old Fort York to its terminus on the waterfront. After the turn of the century this route became an industrial line which crossed the CN Oakville Sub at Cabin E, west of Strachan Avenue and just east of the Exhibition grounds. In the 1980's improvement program, the interlocking plant and the diamonds were removed in favour of a set of standard crossovers. The Cabin E plant today goes by the name of Fort York. You can still trace the old alignment from Parkdale to the harbourfront.

With the merger of the CVR and TGBR into the Canadian Pacific system, the TGBR trackage between Parkdale and West Toronto became a secondary track serving the industries on the east side of the corridor. Today the industries have closed, and the tracks are barely visible north of the Dundas Ave overpass.

Former track alignments in downtown Toronto

Until landfill projects in the 1920's, Toronto's shoreline reached almost to Front Street. The railway corridor east from downtown ran along the shoreline, roughly parallel to the Esplanade, to the Don River. The current alignment runs south of the first rail corridor. Until the 1980's it was possible to trace the original trackage, which remained as an industrial spur. Some of the original alignment can still be seen in the vicinity of the Gooderham foundry, near Parliament Street.

The Canadian Northern Ontario Railway

Only one main line route into downtown Toronto has vanished since the early 1900's. The Canadian Northern Ontario Railway was the first rail line driven up the Don Valley. It turned northeastwards and climbed up from the Don Valley at Todmorden Mills, passing south of today's Agincourt area and north of Ajax, Whitby, and Oshawa.

This rail line was part of the ill-fated Canadian Northern, which was one of the bankrupt railroads from which the Canadian National system was formed. CN had a much better route to Montreal - the old Grand Trunk mainline. CP had two routes of its own running east from Toronto, and there were simply too many lines in one area. The CNOR was the first to fall.

The route of this railway can be easily traced on a good road map. The roadbed can still be seen paralleling the current TTC Danforth Subway in the open cut sections east of Victoria Park Station, and alongside the CP Belleville Sub in the Metro Zoo area of Scarborough. Ron Brown's excellent book gives a more detailed tour of this line's remaining traces.

The Toronto Suburban Railway

The TSR was an electric interurban railway running from West Toronto to Guelph. Its Toronto station was located in the Junction area, at the northeast corner of St. Clair Avenue and Weston Road. Its line ran roughly parallel to the CP Galt Sub to Islington, and then along Dundas Street into the hinterlands. The right of way has mostly vanished, but the odd bridge abutment remains. The alleyways behind the buildings on the south side of Dundas west of Islington Avenue owe their dimensions to the right-of-way.

The Geco Branch

The portion of the CNOR immediately east of the CN Uxbridge Sub lasted for many years as an industrial line serving the booming factory areas in Scarborough. A connection was later built south to the CN Kingston Subdivision, creating a circular route for local switchers from CN's Danforth and Don Yards. This line was closed in 1996.

Traces of the GTR

East of Toronto, the original Grand Trunk right of way changed in many places over the years, as CN eased curves and moved to higher ground. Many bits of the old alignment are still visible east of the city. The most noticeable is east of Oshawa, where the CP and CN lines come together on either side of Highway 401. If you look carefully, you'll see the old embankment parallel to the CP Belleville Subdivision between Harmony Road and Courtice Road, on the north side of Highway 401. The original GTR alignment ran ruler-straight to Bowmanville. By the time the GT Darlington Station was built in the 1890's, the line had changed, but the old embankments were left untouched...and they are still there.


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Paul Cordingley
Toronto Canada
Our email address: pcordingley"insert the at"
Copyright Paul Cordingley 1997
Last Revised May 5, 2005
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