Remembering West Toronto
They’re ripping out the diamonds that defined one of the great trainspotting places of my youth. West Toronto, at the intersection of the CN Weston Sub, and CP Galt, North Toronto, and Mactier Subs, 4.5 miles west of Toronto Union Station was first busy, big-city junction I spent time at. The diamonds were sandwiched between CP’s West Toronto station to the south, the CN station to the north, and CP’s Lambton Yard to the west. Old Weston Road crossed the Mactier and Weston Subs at grade just east of the CN station (guarded, of course, by a classic watchman’s tower) and spanned the Galt and North Toronto Subs on a massive steel-truss overpass that afforded a panoramic view of the entire plant as well as the stations, diamonds, freight sheds, factories, and Lambton Yard.
I first saw West Toronto from the windows of passing trains in the late 1950s. Stations, diamonds, a great wooden interlocking tower, signals, freight sheds, tracks and trains in every direction, all in a fleeting glimpse. The interlocking tower that controlled the diamond crossings and sprawling plant (and where Jim Brown once pulled levers to help work his way through university) was gone by the time I made my first photographic expedition to West Toronto in the late-Sixties, but the place was still trainspotting heaven.
Most of my time at West Toronto was spent in the company of Paul Cordingley. In the days before drivers’ licenses and cars, we’d spend hours leaning on the dusty railings of the Old Weston Road overpass observing the mainline action. We’d sprint down to the Old Weston Road crossing for Mactier Sub trains and walk over to the CP station to visit with the operator and watch Nos. 11 and 12, the Toronto sections of The Canadian make their station stops.
In addition to The Canadian, CP scheduled daily Budd RDC Dayliners to and from Windsor and Owen Sound. CN carded several Toronto-Sarnia passenger trains, including the Toronto-Chicago Maple Leaf with run-through Grand Trunk Western 4900-series passenger Geeps; Stratford-Toronto Nos. 658 and 657; Nos. 986 and 987, the Guelph-Toronto commuter train, and Budd cars (Railiners in CN parlance) to Owen Sound.
The Sarnia trains could be Tempo or conventional with whatever power Spadina roundhouse had on hand: RS18s, GP9s, FP9s, F9Bs or FPA4s and FPB4s. Pairs of boiler-equipped, B-B GMD1s and heavyweight coaches typically handled the Stratford and Guelph trains, although Nos. 657 and 658 were occasionally assigned Railiners as advertised in the public timetable. No. 649, the evening run to Sarnia had Budds daily except Saturday, when it ran conventional.
The most unusual passenger train was CP’s “employee Budd,” a single RDC that shuttled workers between Lambton and Toronto Yard, 14.9 miles to the east at Agincourt. The train was established to compensate for the transfer of jobs from Lambton to Toronto Yard in the mid-1960s when few labourers had cars. Available from the Lambton yard office at Keele Street, tickets were five for a dollar and no one seemed to mind if the purchaser was an employee or camera-toting kid headed for the diesel shop.
Passenger trains were West Toronto staples, but the big show was freight. While CN’s Weston Sub saw only the occasional transfer and the comings and goings of yard jobs based out of the small yard just west of the station, West Toronto was — and is — on CP’s two major freight arteries. To the west, the Galt Sub, part of CP’s Windsor-Montreal main, and to the northwest, the Mactier Sub and the transcontinental line to Vancouver. The North Toronto Sub, freight-only except for the Employee Budd, funneled Galt and Mactier Sub traffic to Toronto Yard.
From transfers and locals scooting around with S2s and S3s trailing short trains punctuated by wooden vans, to transcontinental hotshots, CP freights held the stage at West Toronto. And MLW power ruled the show. The variety was endless: new M636s on No. 904, the hot New England freight; braces of RS3s, RS10s, RS18s, FAs, and FBs in solid sets or wild dog’s breakfast lash-ups on London extras; C424s and GP35s on Windsor time freights; SW1200 “pups” ganging up in three- and four-unit sets to wrestle the London Pickup over the road. TH&B and Canadian-built Penn Central/New York Central Geeps took their turns on the CP-TH&B-PC Toronto-Buffalo overnight run-through freight the “Kinnear,” and generally did a flip to Hamilton on the “Starlite” during their daytime layover.
The Toronto Transfer, an around-the-clock job that circled the terminals from Toronto Yard to Lambton to Parkdale on an endless circuit was the near exclusive domain of one-of-a-kind RSD17 No. 8921. The “Empress of Agincourt,” as crews dubbed her in the tradition of CP Steamships, would come lumbering by, frequently with a hundred or more 40-foot boxcars hung on her drawbar. Her performances were often the most impressive of the day.
The train we waited for with the greatest anticipation, though, was No. 955, the northbound Mactier Sub drag freight. “The bullet” invariably got the dregs of whatever was on the shop tracks at Toronto Yard. And while crews might have scowled at their misfortune as they weighed the odds of making Bolton hill without stalling, we reveled in the sight of 955 coming around the curve onto the Mactier Sub with the likes of FAs and leased B&M RS3s.
I haven’t been to West Toronto much in the past few years. The Old Weston Road bridge was torn down decades ago, the CN and CP stations, the gate tower and freight sheds have all followed Jim Brown’s interlocking tower into history. But as construction of the Weston Sub fly-under to replace the diamonds drew closer to completion, I wanted to stop by at least one more time.
Reviving our old tradition, I met Paul at West Toronto a few days before the diamonds were decommissioned in May. It was like old times: walking, watching, waiting. CP did its part dispatching a northbound Mactier Sub drag freight that was surely a descendant of our beloved No. 955: a disheveled pair of GEs (Nos. 9504 and 9598) leading a ragtag collection of boxcars, gons, flats, covered hoppers and auto racks.
The experience sent me in search of an old, never-printed negative of Paul at the CN West Toronto station. In the process, I rediscovered a series of images from an afternoon at West Toronto on August 13, 1969. It was the final day of a four-day visit that began with a ride on CP No. 338 from Galt to Union Station; included a cab ride aboard GO GP40TC 600 from Pickering to Union, and many other remarkable experiences for a couple 14-year-olds on the prowl.
We started the day in question at CN’s Spadina roundhouse, relocated to the CP station at Leaside for several hours, and then headed for our regular West Toronto haunt. The photos are nothing special, but the infrastructure, equipment, and environment — the sectionman’s flower and vegetable gardens, the express sheds and trucks; vintage freight cars, wooden vans and heavyweight coaches — is compelling.