Exploring in and around the Leslie Barns
Industrial Meets A Neighbourhood Public Space
There are places in Toronto that are clearly "industrial", others "residential", or perhaps "recreational". But over time, many cities have realized that although an area or a building is dedicated to a specific function, it can still include, or be surrounded by attractive and welcoming public space.
This is the story of the Leslie Barns: a facility built specifically to store and maintain the Toronto Transit Commission's extra-long, new streetcars known as the "Flexities". But the Leslie Barns has managed to incorporate a much friendlier environment around the industrial area than we often saw in years gone by, complete with trails, landscaping and even "peek-a-boo panels" that permit those walking by to watch activity inside the yard!
Even the name "Leslie Barns" reminds us of the face of Toronto's past as well as the future. Leslie Street was named after a local farmer and landowner in the area; now it leads to one of the most advanced transportation maintenance facilities in the world. In addition, although originally referred to as the Leslie "carhouse", the name was changed to "barns" to reflect an older, more charming term for a place to store vehicles like streetcars and buses.
Inside the Facility
On a total land of 26,000 square metres (6.4 acres) and located at the South-east corner of Leslie Street and Lake Shore Boulevard East, the total facility consists of four buildings: the Carhouse, the Traction Power Substation, the Yard Control Huts, and the Irrigation Hut. With indoor service bays for 30 Flexity streetcars at once, 100 more in the yard and 8.3 km (5.2 mi) of track on the property, Leslie Barns will be the new home of over 100 Flexity streetcars.
Meeting the Requirements of Our New Generation of Streetcars
When it came time for Toronto to add to its aging streetcar fleet, the streetcars ordered in 2009 were a model much longer than previous cars (see article on page 18). These new Flexity Outlook streetcars also required a different kind of facilities for maintenance. For example, some of their operating equipment has to be accessed via the roof, other parts, underneath.
The biggest challenge, however, was the size. They would not fit into the old "car houses" when it was time to repair them or even clean them. For that reason, when the first shipment of the long "Flexity Outlook" cars arrived, some were stored on the CNE grounds.
Toronto Carhouses for Nearly 100 Years
For over 100 years, Toronto's streetcars have been stored and maintained in specially equipped "carhouses" located in the city. There used to be 8 such carhouses in Toronto, such as the Danforth Carhouse at the corner of Danforth and Coxwell (which is no longer there), and the Russell Carhouse, which you still see at the corner of Queen Street East at Connaught. In fact, the Russell and the Roncesvalles carhouses are the only ones that remain.
Knowing that the new Flexity streetcars would not fit into either of these existing carhouses, the TTC, after an extensive search, finalized the Leslie Barns location in 2009. A Toronto local firm, Strasman Architects, was commissioned to design the site, ensuring it was built to strict Toronto Green Development Standards.
The new storage facility was the first carhouse to be built for Toronto's streetcars in 93 years!
What Happens Inside the Leslie Barns?
The main car station is a seven-track, run-through facility with 30 vehicle repair positions and over 218,500 sf of floor space provided on two main levels. Up to 20 streetcars can be repaired at one time and the service bays accommodate a twotiered maintenance system.
Think of the carhouse like a car wash - streetcars enter and travel through the building in one direction to be cleaned and serviced. They enter through the west end of the barns and move east down a service line, where they turn back on the outdoor track to exit on Leslie at Commissioners Street. Assuming there’s no major repairs required, the whole process takes about 14 hrs. Most of the cars enter service along the new track on Leslie at about 7:25 a.m. and return to the garage around 9 p.m.
There are many other interesting things that happen inside the Barns. For example, there is a special testing site just for brakes, and a paint station with lots of bright red paint.
Memories of Riding Toronto's Streetcars: Arriving at Union Station for the First Time to Live in Toronto
After arriving at Front Street, the Yonge streetcars looped around Union Station. Thus, many immigrants caught their first sight of the city from their windows.
My father arrived as a young man in Toronto in 1921, from a small village on Canada's east coast. It was the first year that the Peter Witt cars commenced operating in the city. He viewed them as modern and up-to-date. When he departed Union Station and boarded a Yonge streetcar, it was a warm day in May
Despite the brass plaque on the ledge of the window, I am certain that he stuck his head out to gawk at the skyscrapers on Yonge Street, especially those between Front and Queen Streets. The sight of the enormous Loew's Theatre (the Elgin), north of Queen, and the Pantages (the Ed Mirvish) caught his imagination. Years later, he told me that on that occasion he had vowed to visit them as soon as possible. An older brother, who had been in Toronto for several years, had told him about the "naughty" vaudeville shows.
Riding the streetcar through the war years
For many decades, the Yonge [street] cars were the main means of journeying to the St. Lawrence Market on Front Street. During World War I and World War II, thousands of soldiers departed for overseas and returned home, after the wars, from Union Station. Many of these men and women travelled to the station or journeyed away from it on the Yonge streetcars.
During the 1940s, I rode on them to attend the circus at Maple Leaf Gardens and to visit Santa Claus at Eaton's Toyland. When I was a teenager, I attended theatres such as the Tivoli, Imperial, Loew's Downtown, Loew's Uptown, Downtown, Biltmore, Savoy, Odeon Hyland, and the Hollywood via the Yonge cars.