Repurposing TTC’s Hillcrest Complex

Written by John Thompson, Canadian Contributing Editor
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Major changes are in store for the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) Hillcrest Complex, the traditional nerve center of its operations. A recently completed report examined the future of the complex, which is being affected by technological changes. It was prompted, in part, by the impending partial redundancy of two major buildings. But though significant changes are coming down the track, Hillcrest Complex, will continue playing a major part in TTC’s operations, as it has for almost a century.

The 32-acre facility in midtown Toronto was opened in the mid-1920s. At that time, its primary role was as the system’s main streetcar heavy overhaul facility, in the Hillcrest Shop. Other functions were added over the years.

A major change came in the 1980s, when the W.E.P. Duncan Building (bus overhaul) and H.C. Patten Building (fares processing) were erected on newly purchased land on the west side of the complex.

The Hillcrest Shop was renamed the David W. Harvey Shop about this time, followed by the J.G. Inglis Building (offices) and Gunn Building (Transit Control Centre). All of these structures were named in honor of former General Managers, the latter, Chief General Manager David Gunn.

Harvey Shop.

The Patten Building was opened in the 1980s as a central facility for the storage and processing of fare media (cash, tickets, tokens, passes and transfers) that was formerly performed in the McBrien Building, the TTC’s head office at Yonge Street and Davisville Avenue. This role has been greatly diminished in recent years with the advent of electronic fare media, such as the Presto card, and the use of credit and debit cards for fare purchases. Although cash transactions will likely continue, they will be on a greatly reduced scale.

The Patten Building could be difficult to adapt for reuse, as it was purpose-built; with security being the primary concern, few windows were installed. The TTC is studying its future.

The Duncan Building, incidentally, replaced an obsolete, makeshift bus overhaul garage, Parkdale, in West Toronto.

The Harvey Shop’s function as the overhaul facility for the Canadian Light Rail Vehicles (CLRVs) and Articulated Light Rail Vehicles (ALRVs) is gradually winding down as these cars are replaced by new Bombardier Flexity Outlook low-floor cars; about half of the 204-car order is currently on TTC property.

The new Leslie Carhouse was purpose-built as a maintenance and overhaul facility for the new LRVs. The Harvey Shop transfer table, which moves cars to maintenance bays on each side, can only accommodate vehicles up to about 55 feet in length. A small addition on the east side of the Harvey building was constructed to accommodate the 75-foot ALRVs, which began arriving about 30 years ago.

Harvey Shop will serve as a backup facility for the Leslie Carhouse, with truck and motor overhauls being performed here. Similar work is done for subway car equipment. Body work for buses is another activity, taking some of the load off the Duncan bus shop.

The TTC is cautiously moving into the area of self-contained electric buses (the Commission’s trolley buses were retired in 1993). The expertise of the Harvey electrical staff would be useful in their maintenance.

The Davenport Garage in the complex has not been used in several years. It is one of the original 1920s structures, and will be kept. One plan is to repurpose it for Training and Vehicle Engineering staff. Conversion to a transit museum for the public is another option.

Another possible future use for Hillcrest is an operating division for the nearby St. Clair streetcar route. Its cars have been based at the west-end Roncesvalles Division since the St. Clair Carhouse closed in 1978, resulting in more than six miles of non-revenue operation for vehicles entering and leaving service. Recently-assigned Flexities have a similar run-in from the Leslie Carhouse.

Construction of additional trackage in the Hillcrest Yard, and the resulting realignment of parking lots and other requirements, would be involved.

A new Streetcar Way Building is being constructed, for rail bending purposes.

The Inglis Building will maintain its role as an office facility, although some departments and functions may be shifted.

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