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Chapter 10
Rails through Richmond Hill
Table of Contents

Title Page
Author's Preface
1 The Road through Richmond Hill
2 First Peoples on the Land
3 The European Settlers Arrive
4 From Miles' Hill to Richmond Hill: The Birth of a Community
5 Tories and Reformers
6 Stagecoach Lines and Railway Tracks
7 The Neighbours at Mid-Century
8 Fire Brigades and Fence Viewers
9 Picture Post Card Village of the 1880s and 1890s
10 Rails through Richmond Hill
The Radial Railway Arrives
A Ride on the Big Green Cars
Stops along the Line
Bond Lake Park
Through the Highlands of York to Bond Lake Park
Radial Days in Richmond Hill
Summer Romance at Bond Lake Park
Electrical News at the Turn of the Century
Electric Lights for the Village
Heritage sites in New Gormley
" Gormley Gleanings"
The Belated Arrival of the Age of Steam
11 The Flowering of Richmond Hill
12 The Village Transformed
Table of Illustrations

The Radial Railway Arrives

Car 71 of the Metropolitan Railway, southbound through Richmond Hill, with the Trench Carriage Works on the left or east side of Yonge Street.
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 heart of Richmond Hill.

After half a century of being bypassed by the steam railway, 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 city centres.

The village initially pinned its hopes on the aptly named Toronto and Richmond Hill Electric Railway. Awarded a franchise by 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.

Northbound on the Metropolitan line at Yonge Street and Major Mackenzie Drive. City of Toronto Archives
The Metropolitan 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 from York County Council, it determined to extend sixteen kilometres (about ten miles) farther north, to Richmond Hill.

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 crew at Richmond Hill, a second at 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." 2

Boarding Metropolitan Car 56 at the Richmond Hill station,Yonge Street and Lorne Avenue.
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." 3

Northbound on Yonge from the intersection of Arnold Crescent and Lorne Avenue.
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." 4

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 Maple.

Looking north from the corner of Dunlop Street, along the east side of Yonge Street, from the Richmond Hill bakery to beyond St. Mary Immaculate Roman Catholic Church.
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." 5

The first "electric car" would not arrive in the village until January 14, but when it came, "it naturally created quite an excitement," reported The Liberal, "and many of our citizens joined the party from the city for a short ride." 6

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, Richmond Hill 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 in Richmond Hill by January sounded like a fairy tale," mused J.A.E. Switzer, "but to-day they are an actual fact." 7

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 John Thompson's 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.

The Metropolitan brought instant change to Richmond Hill.Thompson's stagecoach went out of business as travellers switched to the big dark-green radial cars - teenagers coming into town to attend high 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." 8

"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 once, Richmond Hill residents were prepared to accept the word of a city newspaper. "The World is right," echoed 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.

Yet Richmond Hill proved merely a temporary northern terminus for the burgeoning Metropolitan Railway. With favourable provincial legislation, support from York County Council, and accelerating passenger and freight business, the Metropolitan scarcely paused for breath as it pushed north up Yonge Street - reaching Oak Ridges,Aurora, and Newmarket in 1899, Jackson's Point in 1907, and Sutton in 1909.

Metropolitan Railway (later the Toronto and York Radial Railway Company) power house at Bond Lake.
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 Metropolitan 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.

Schomberg and Aurora Railway station at Oak Ridges.
Just north of Bond Lake, the mainline tracks of the Metropolitan were joined by the Schomberg and Aurora branch line. The station where the two lines connected was located on the west side of Yonge Street, immediately north of Bond Crescent, where the Queen's Dairy Restaurant now sits. The community to the north of Bond Crescent continued to be called Oak Ridges; the one to the south came to be known as Schomberg Junction during the lifetime of the radial railway.

The old Schomberg and Aurora Railway station station at Oak Ridges, pictured as a fish and chip restaurant in the 1950s. Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library
The Schomberg and Aurora cut across the King Township countryside, not touching another village or hamlet until it reached Schomberg, 22.5 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.

But 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.

The old Metropolitan (Toronto and York) car barns at Bond Lake, pictured as a service station in the 1950s. Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library
That same year, 1904, both the Metropolitan and the Schomberg 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 Schomberg and Aurora branch from steam to electricity in 1916.

Track map of the Metropolitan Division of the Toronto and York Radial Railway.Upper Canada Railway Society,Newsletter,March/April1973. Photo by Roger Carlsen
Meanwhile, the main line of the Metropolitan (or 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 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 ease.

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 line, the 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 Richmond Hill.


1. 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).

3. York Gazette,October 29, 1906.

4. The Liberal,July 5,1978.

5. Toronto World,November 20, 1896.

6. The Liberal,January 21, 1897.

7. Ibid., January 28, 1897.

8. York Gazette,November 5, 1896.

9. The Liberal,January 14, 1897.

10. Canadian Engineering News,December 1899,p. 260.


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Copyright Richmond Hill Public Library Board, 1991