Forgive the belated posting, but this November marked the 35th anniversary of Streetcars for Toronto’s (SfT) successful fight to keep the streetcar on the streets of Toronto. In my opinion, this is on par (though perhaps not as glamorous) with the “Stop the Spadina Expressway” battle as one of the most significant civic victories in Toronto’s history. The people behind this movement deserve our thanks and praise.
In the Fall of 1971, the TTC had planned in principle to phase out Toronto’s vast streetcar network, completely eradicating it by 1980 and replacing it with diesel buses and trolley coaches. In the Summer of 1972, two City of Toronto aldermen, William Kilbourn and Paul Pickett, called a public meeting to discuss the retention of the streetcar. There, a call for the formation of a committee was made, and The Streetcars for Toronto Committee was subsequently born.
The chairman was Andrew Biemiller, a Professor of Child Psychology with the University of Toronto. The Vice-Chair was Steve Munro, then a computer programmer, now Toronto’s pre-eminent transit advocate and Jane Jacobs Prize winner for his activism.
Other members included:
• Mike Filey, columnist with the Toronto Sun and author of several books on Toronto’s history, including “The TTC Story: the first 75 years”
• Ross Bobak & Chris Prentice, then university students
• Robert Wightman, then a secondary school teacher
• Howard Levine, then an urban planner, later became a member of City Council
• John F. Bromley, transit historian
• Greg Gormick, currently a transit consultant and contributing editor to Railway Age magazine
SfT decided to focus on a thoroughly researched, technically correct report instead of organizing mass protests. “A Brief for the Retention of Streetcar Service in Toronto”, an 18 page document (along with a 1 page news release of facts) based on social, economic, engineering and land-use planning principles was released three weeks before the Nov. 7th, 1972 TTC meeting, allowing for the issue to develop in visibility and importance.
At the Nov. 7th meeting, the TTC voted unanimously to retain the streetcar system.
Toronto’s streetcar system is important in two ways: tangibly, it is “pound for pound, the best transit vehicle ever produced” (TTC General Manager J.H. Kearns in Nov. 1972). How many other cities were inspired to revive, maintain or create streetcar systems because Toronto kept it’s own? Would we even have our Transit City plan today? Intangibly, the streetcar line holds neighbourhoods together and has become one of Toronto’s most iconographic symbols.
Can you really imagine Toronto’s streets without streetcars?
The success of these concerned citizens is a testament to the power of civil society, and in some ways helped to create the atmosphere of civic concern and action that Spacing, the TPSC, TEA and the Rocket Riders, among others, now thrive in. It brings me to that oft used, but eternally relevant quote from Margaret Mead – “never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Thank you to all the members of Streetcars for Toronto, for being concerned and determined enough to change our world.
photo of PCC in 1974 by Joe Testagrose