Originally published in the Richmond Hill Liberal (November 2018)
by Andrea Kulesh, President
Historically, Yonge Street has undergone constant improvement since its early beginnings. Currently, the town is experiencing construction of the new Metrolinx transportation system, “an integrated multimodal regional system that puts the traveller’s needs first.” In 1795, John Graves Simcoe, Upper Canada’s first Lieutenant-Governor, made similar plans, by engineering a highway using Aboriginal trails leading to Lake Simcoe, naming it after his friend, Sir George Yonge. This route would be a protected inland passage which had strategic and commercial potential. His troops cut away heavy bush to create a safe route for military and settlers alike.
Beginning as a muddy, stumpy walking trail, it slowly evolved and in the later 1800s was given a flattened gravel surface. People walked, rode horses and wagons to reach the new land opened up to settlers who were building farms, villages and towns along the route.
In 1894, the Metropolitan Street Railway Company proposed a new technology — an electric service connecting towns north of the city. Construction was completed in 1897 and Richmond Hill welcomed the new Radial Line as a link with established industrial and commercial activity. The line began in north Toronto and in time, eventually made its way to Sutton on Lake Simcoe. Service was four daily round trips between Richmond Hill and Toronto’s city limits. A one-way trip took 45 minutes, for 40 cents (65 cents, return).
In early 1930, the TYRR Metropolitan Division decided that the service was no longer viable and was closed down. The line was losing money and road competition was the main reason. Between 1925 and 1930, auto and truck traffic increased along Yonge Street from 4,925 to 11,163 per day, and bus traffic from two to 188 per day. Reeves from Richmond Hill, Markham, Vaughan and North York joined together and began the North Yonge Railway using the abandoned lines, with the new service beginning in July 1930. For 18 years this electric “streetcar” continued to move people around for work and pleasure, finally ending in October 1948 — replaced with TTC buses. This was the last surviving Toronto “Radial” — the end of an era, a mode of transportation that indeed put the “traveller’s needs first.”
—Andrea Kulesh is president of the Richmond Hill Historical Society and has been a member since 2004. The society can be found at www.rhhs.ca.