Ever wonder what the TTC was like 100 years ago? Take a trip back in time with this new exhibit

From the first motorized buses, to women drivers in wartime and accessible vehicles, Toronto’s public transit system has seen many milestones over its more than 100 years in service — and it’s all on display in a new exhibit

“Chances are, you’re going to be familiar with at least some of the pictures, some of the neighbourhoods that are shown in the exhibit,” said Michele Dale, the supervisor of collection management and standards at the City of Toronto Archives.

Located at 255 Spadina Road, the free exhibit, titled 100 Years of Moving Toronto, features photographs and artifacts from the TTC that start in the 1920s with the expansion of the streetcar network.

Then the exhibit moves on to the Depression and the Second World War all the way to the start of the pandemic in 2020. 

TTC staff work on the intersection of Spadina Avenue and Queen Street West on May 2, 1922. (Toronto Archives & TTC)

“To go way back to that time and to realize how far we’ve come, it’s really an eye opener,” Dale said. 

The show also honours milestones like the hiring of Irma James, the first Black female streetcar driver.

Irma James, the TTC’s first Black female streetcar driver in the 1970s. (Toronto Archives & TTC)

In addition, it includes little-known facts — for example, TTC operators were not permitted to wear eyeglasses on the job until 1922.

The exhibit will be open on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m until Aug. 12. The TTC is also hanging historical photographs and maps in 12 subway stations across the city. They’ll remain in place until July.

TTC Route Map on May 1, 1955. (Toronto Archives & TTC)

“What we were hoping is that people who would be looking at these photographs in the stations might strike up a conversation with somebody beside them about what they were looking at,” said Dale. 

“The TTC was part of the great expansion of the city and wherever the TTC went, the city expanded with it,” she added. 

Crowds gather along Yonge Street in front of the Eaton’s department store on Sept. 28, 1949 to watch workers begin the excavation work for the city’s first subway line. (Toronto Archives & TTC)

Kevin Brown, an instructor at the Wilson Operations Training Centre who has been working at the TTC for 37 years, is looking forward to seeing the show. His father also worked as a trainer at the same facility after the Second World War. His mother was a streetcar operator during the war. 

Kevin Brown, an instructor at the TTC’s Wilson Operations Training Centre, is looking forward to seeing the exhibit. Both his father and mother worked for the transit system. (CBC)

Brown says he enjoys learning about the part the TTC played in the history of Toronto and further exploring the personal connection it holds for him. 

“I plan on visiting the exhibits and also perhaps seeing my family members in there. That would be quite interesting to see,” he said. 

Mrs. McCutcheon, Mrs. Wilkinson, and Mrs. Martin, the first three women bus drivers to qualify with the Toronto Transportation Commission and Gray Coach Lines. Photo taken on Aug. 5, 1943. (Toronto Archives & TTC)

The official 100-year anniversary was on Sept 1, 2021, but Toronto Archives was unable to host the event in-person due to the pandemic. Instead, the full exhibit was shared online

“I think that people will come and get a renewed appreciation for just what an incredible service it is, and how lucky we are here in Toronto,” Dale said.

Young woman using a wheelchair boarding a second-generation Wheel-Trans bus in 1982. (Toronto Archives & TTC)

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