What's in the Archives

Collecting Toronto: Transporting Toronto

A lady running a bicycle and wearing a mutton sleeved blouse

In his business and personal collecting lives, Larry Becker devoted major attention to transportation, both public and private, individual and communal. While buying and selling a wide range of transportation records and collectibles, Becker kept the best Toronto items for his personal collection. Sometimes he even documented transportation-history-in-the-making by riding first-day vehicles and collecting transfers along the route, as he did along the University subway line on February 28, 1963.

Becker's collection of transportation tickets, transfers, and ephemera is superb. Astonishingly, he has preserved tickets and transfers from the days when streetcars were"horsecars." An 1891 red ticket issued by the Toronto Street Railway company even contains a tiny portrait of a horse-drawn vehicle. In 1891, the Toronto Railway Company (TRC) took over the Toronto Street Railway company and began electrifying the street railway system. This process, which occurred between 1892 and 1894, is commemorated here by "car 425"printed on a yellow ticket issued by the TRC in 1893. Because the profit-minded TRC refused to expand its system to less-densely populated areas, such as Riverdale, the City of Toronto established its own Civic Railway in 1912. Finally, in 1921, a completely-public system was established when the Toronto Transportation Commission took over the multitude of public and private street railways then crisscrossing Toronto.

a picture of a streetcar in 1893

Between 1921 and 1953, this TTC operated an expanding streetcar and bus service, issued tickets bearing tiny portraits of its Peter Witt (early 1920s) and PCC "Red Rocket"streetcars (1938- ); sent streetcars all the way up to Lake Simcoe; and even took over the Toronto Ferry Company service to the Toronto Island in 1927. Each of these services is represented here. On January 1, 1954, with the imminent opening of the first subway along Yonge Street, the Toronto Transportation Commission was renamed the Toronto Transit Commission. Several transit "firsts" are documented here, including the opening of the Yonge Street line in 1954 and the University Avenue subway line in 1963, the extension of the Bloor-Danforth line in 1968, and the opening of the Spadina subway line in 1978. In addition to tickets, transfers, and paper ephemera, Becker collected metal tokens, cap badges, and other small TTC artifacts.

Torontonians, like the rest of the world, became bicycle-mad in the late 1890s. Among the items in Becker's bicycle collection are a turn-of-the-century photograph of one of Toronto's first bicycle cops; an ad for the all-important rubber tires that made comfortable riding possible; and an 1896 chromolithographic ad for the Massey-Harris "wheel," with pistol-pointing policemen, mutton-sleeved city girls, and sleekly-striped racers pedaling the Toronto firm's newest models.

Becker's collection of automobilia includes licence plates, such as the very early rubber licence plate assigned to a Rosedale resident between 1906 and 1908, and a large number of road maps tracking the results of the Ontario Motor League's "good roads" campaign across the province. The exceptionally early, 1899 Musson map displayed here shows the extensive, but still unpaved network of roads beckoning urban motorists to explore the countryside in their ultra-modern, pre-SUV horseless carriages. It was only in the next century that automobiles moved from expensive toys to reliable forms of transportation, manifesting both the pluses and minuses of that new status.