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Wychwood Barns – Former Toronto streetcar barns given a new life through adaptive reuse

May 2023

Like all big cities, Toronto, Ontario, has long had an extensive public transportation system. Starting in 1849, the City of Toronto gave Williams Omnibus Bus Lines, owned by local cabinetmaker Burt Williams, a licence to operate the first mass transportation system in the city. Starting with an initial complement of four six-passenger horse-drawn stagecoaches, it operated from St. Lawrence Market, near the waterfront, to the Red Lion Hotel in Yorkville.

In 1861, the city gave a 30-year licence to the newly-created Toronto Street Railways. As indicated by their name, this was a street railway, with horse-drawn cars pulled along railway tracks. Over the next 51 years, a variety of other private street railway companies served the residents of Toronto until the creation of the city-owned of the Toronto Civic Railways in 1912, one of the predecessor companies that makes up the current Toronto Transit Commission (TTC).

The Toronto Civic Railways (TCR) company was created to serve newly annexed villages that the privately-owned Toronto Railway Company refused to serve. One of these areas was the former Village of Bracondale Hill, which had been annexed in 1909.

In 1912, the TCR built a repair shop at Wychwood Avenue, south of St. Clair Avenue. It was officially known as the St. Clair Carhouse, but informally known as the Wychwood Carhouse or Wychwood Barns.

Initially consisting of three service bays, a second three-bay barn was added in 1916. After the TTC assumed control over all Toronto routes in 1921, including those of the TCR, three more barns were added, two of them with three bays plus a repair shop and the third with two bays. The brick structures were two-stories high, with an exposed interior steel structure.

A series of switches moved streetcars on to spur lines along Wychwood Avenue, leading into the carhouse and the storage tracks on south of the barns.

After 66 years, the carhouse closed as a service facility in 1978, but was used as a storage facility until the 1990s. In 1996, abandoned and facing demolition, the Wychwood Barns were instead sold to the City of Toronto for a token $1, and then leased to the not-for-profit Toronto Artscape, Inc, also for the nominal fee of $1.

Toronto Artscape restored and renovated the aging transit barns, using government grants and privately-donated funds. On 20 November 2008, the 60,000-square-foot Artscape Wychwood Barns officially opened as a community centre, containing artist housing and studios, community office space, a theatre, a greenhouse and farmer’s market. The roof and south wall of Barn 5 were removed, with the steel structure creating an arcade.

The surrounding area where the storage tracks once sat is now a public park with children’s play area, a beach volleyball court, dog park and plenty of open space.

A short section of disused tracks remains along Wychwood Avenue.

Sources: Artscape Wychwood Barns – Artscape Venues, Wychwood Barns – Wikipedia, Bracondale Hill – Wikipedia, Toronto Transit Commission – Wikipedia, Toronto Transportation Commission – Wikipedia, Toronto Street Railway – Wikipedia, Toronto Civic Railways – Wikipedia.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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