When The Barns Were A Workplace

Wychwood Barns, 1924.The first of the Wychwood Carbarns was built in 1913. At the turn of the 20th century Toronto was growing rapidly and streetcars were essential to its expansion. Subsequently four more barns were added to serve ten TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) routes and house as many as 167 streetcars. The TTC closed the facility in 1986.

Hundreds of workers were employed at the Wychwood site in its heyday. The northern-most barn, along Benson Ave., was the workshop. The floor in the shop was made of wood block, which was a forgiving and absorbent work surface. Repairs and rebuilding which required electric welding and braising were done there. Union membership certificate.Major repairs using rivets would have made too much racket in this residential neighbourhood, so that was done at Hillcrest. Peter Caddick, a machinist now retired, worked at both Hillcrest and Wychwood. Peter was hired in 1956 as a bench-fitter, and the rate of pay for that skilled trade was then $1.60/hr. He specialized in the treadle. He says, “It’s an old-fashioned mechanism, a bit complex. When the doors closed, the steps would fold up and away. I fixed those. When I used to see a car going by on the street that I’d worked on in the shop, I was proud to say, ‘I worked on that.’” In the repair shop streetcars, and later buses, could be torn down to the shell. Workers would rebuild them, weld them, reupholster them, and put them back together like new. The TTC had a tradesman for every skill. Now, according to Peter, “…everything is more modular. You pull out the whole piece and just replace it.”

The other four barns were for overnight or off-peak storage for streetcars. The barn farthest south had a drive-through streetcar wash. John Wood remembers as a kid visiting his Dad, who drove the night car. “Sometimes my Dad would put me on the car when it went through that huge washing machine. That was a real thrill.”

In the 1950s the TTC wouldn’t hire drivers unless they had lived in Toronto for at least a year, so that they knew the city. There was a full complement of cars leaving the Wychwood Barns on several routes all day, and there were four night cars on St. Clair (in the 50s and 60s); that shift ran from 11 p.m. until 8 a.m.   Drivers were expected to show up 15 or 20 minutes early, before their shift began, for uniform inspection. The brass buttons on their uniform had to be polished and their badge with their employee number had to be gleaming and pinned on their hat, which they had to wear at all times. They couldn’t get on their streetcar until they passed inspection.

John Wood with framed TTC badges.

John Wood with his TTC badges

There was a great deal of camaraderie amongst drivers and they liked recounting work-related jokes. Barbara Squire remembers her father laughing when he retold this: “They had cars where the conductor was in the middle of the cars (the Peter Witt cars). One day when it was raining a lady came on the car with a poodle. She asked the conductor, ‘Can my dog sit up on the seat with me?’ The conductor responded politely, ‘Yes, ma’am, as long as he keeps all four paws on the floor.’”

Children went down to meet their dads at work in that front part of the building which was the office and lunchroom, or sat outside and waited for them to come off shift. Joanne Walker recalls one particular meeting. “My dad was an old-fashioned kind of father who believed that a boyfriend had to request his permission to ask for a daughter’s hand in marriage, so that’s where my husband went to talk to him. That was in 1970. Oh, yeah, he was nervous. He went down to the Wychwood Barns, with all the guys there at the shift change, and he and my Dad sat on a bench at the tables, and my boyfriend got the grilling that fathers used to like to give.”

The community

This neighbourhood itself became known as a TTC dormitory. Between the Hillcrest yards at Davenport, and the St. Clair barns at Wychwood, hundreds of the workers employed there lived nearby. Neighbours would sit out on their front porches together in slacks and sleeveless undershirts, drinking Carling’s Red Cap beer as they heard stories from the older residents about how the area developed. Some of the houses had been dragged to these streets in the 1920s from somewhere else. Most of the land at the top of the hill was pig and chicken farms before the streetcar lines were built, and people could shoot rabbits from their front porches.

TTC soccer team.

TTC Soccer Team

John Wood started at the TTC in 1946, the year he married, and drove the St. Clair streetcar for 25 years. The couple first lived in an apartment on St. Clair Ave. W., and then moved to Cherrywood, where the three Wood children grew up. Their friends and neighbours on Atlas, Humewood, Cherrywood, all worked for the TTC and they all hung out together. They even vacationed together on Manitoulin Island and at a cottage in Coburg. There they had horseshoe tournaments and in the evenings played music on homemade instruments. The Wood family was the first to own a TV, so on Saturday night everyone would come to their house to watch the hockey game and play poker after. And they’d all go dancing down at the Mapleleaf Ballroom on St. Clair. Everybody shopped at the IGA, which was where the Goodwill store is now. Where the Shoppers’ Drug Mart is used to be Kresge’s five and dime, the local department store. There were several movie theatres on St. Clair, like the old Vaughan theatre. A roller rink operated on the site of that tall apartment building at Christie and Benson. “You didn’t have to go too far to do anything,” remembers son John, who has moved back to the neighbourhood.

The old baseball stadium used to be at the foot of Bathurst and fans from the community used to get to the games by TTC. The streetcar that used to go from St. Clair down Bathurst was the old Peter Witt car, and on the way to the game, one resident recalls, “you could see everyone holding on tight down that hill as the driver kept turning and turning that wheel to get the brakes to hold.”

The TTC held picnics and Christmas parties for employees and their families at the barns. There were TTC leagues for baseball and soccer in which worksites competed against each other. There were bowling leagues. The TTC mixed bowling league, which included the wives, bowled at the Sterling Bowling Lanes, at Vaughan Road and Oakwood. At the Bowl Away Bowling Alley, on the corner of Bathurst and St. Clair, workers and bosses met every Friday night in a TTC bowling league. Peter Caddick was a member of that league: “It made for good relations – I think to work well you have to have good relations. The union has been the best thing for the workers, because you know sometimes the management could be autocratic. But with the union you couldn’t get fired except for a good reason. Later the Bowl Away burned down. We all went up there to watch the fire. A kid who was cleaning the alleys accidentally tipped over a barrel of solvent and the whole place went up. That was the end of the bowling league.”

Sterling bowling league.

The Sterling Bowling League

This area of the city was built up with the coming of the streetcar and it has always been an important part of the neighbourhood. As John Wood puts it, “I grew up in this area, where my father drove the St. Clair car and then when I was a teenager my parents moved to Mississauga. I couldn’t sleep because it was too quiet there. Later I moved to Lakeshore Blvd., which still had a streetcar then. And that first night in my apartment where I could hear that streetcar there, it was like, ‘Ahhh….now I can sleep.’”

Peter Caddick summarizes: “The thing about working for the TTC is, it made us an integral part of the city. We were the lifeblood. We’re proud of that.”

– Schuster Gindin
Thanks for their memories and memorabilia to
Peter Caddick
John Wood
Barbara Squire
Joanne Walker
and City of Toronto Archives

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