Remembering Toronto’s First Automated Traffic Lights: August 8: Snapshots in History

August 9, 2019 | John P.

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The City of Toronto’s history of traffic management has had some interesting milestones, beginning with the institution of Toronto’s first automated traffic lights at Bloor Street and Yonge Street, the heart of the downtown city core, on August 8, 1925.

Page one of the August 8, 1925 issue of the Toronto Daily Star offered readers an article with the following headline: “FLASHING LIGHTS OPERATE TRAFFIC BLOOR AND YONGE: New Electrically Controlled Signal System is Being Given Trial: MANY BLUNDERING: But Motorists Are Quick to Grasp Idea and Find It Facilitates Travel”. Here is an excerpt from that article:

“Vehicular traffic, automatically controlled, made its first appearance on Toronto streets to-day when the new electrically operated signal was set into use on the corner of Bloor and Yonge streets. During the morning…many motorists ran into trouble when they failed to see the shining lights perched fourteen feet above the ground which have replaced the stalwart policeman who formerly controlled the signal in the centre of the street…Under the new system which has been adopted by more than 200 cities of the United States and by several cities in Canada, lights of three different colors, red, yellow and green, have been placed on the corner poles and all these are worked automatically from a signal box on the southeast corner of the intersection. The lights go off and on at half minute intervals, that is the lights directing north and south bound traffic are red for thirty seconds, yellow for fifteen seconds and then green for thirty seconds…The system which was installed by the Crouse-Hinds Company of Toronto has already been installed in Windsor, London, Ontario, and Hamilton, London using it at one intersection, Windsor at six and Hamilton at two…Should it be equally successful on the corner of Yonge and Bloor it is not improbable that all the main intersections will soon be governed by the same system…”

Next to the article on page one was the headline “Traffic Control by Lighting System” over three juxtaposed photographs, namely of the control box at the intersection responsible for controlling the light depicted on each corner of the intersection, and another photograph depicting three horizontally-displayed automated and elevated traffic lights with the accompanying message of “No Left Turn” emblazoned below, while the final photograph depicted a close-up of those same traffic lights with the same “No Left Turn” message. A short article (also on page one) entitled “TORONTO TRIES OUT ELECRICALLLY-CONTROLLED TRAFFIC” was published right below the third photograph. Here is an excerpt from that article:

“Control of motor and pedestrian traffic by electrically controlled lighting system was inaugurated in Toronto to-day, the system being given a trial at the intersection of Bloor and Yonge streets…motorists found the system most beneficial to facilitating speedy crossing of the corner, although…many were caught unawares because they did not know the new system has been installed…”

The August 8, 1925 issue of The Globe newspaper carried an article on page thirteen entitled “AUTOMATIC SIGNALS WILL OPERATE TODAY AT BLOOR AND YONGE: Vehicular and Pedestrian Traffic to Be Regulated by Lights: TESTS MADE LAST NIGHT”. Here is an excerpt from the article:

“Automatic traffic-regulating signals will be in operation today at the intersection of Bloor and Yonge Streets. A test of the “silent” traffic signals were made last night at this intersection. Chief Dickson and Inspector Martin were interested spectators during the time the tests were being made…The new signals will be placed at all four corners of the street…automatically operated from a control box. The signals will direct traffic every 30 seconds each way, with an allowance of three seconds to permit standing cars to get ready to move on…These signals…are equipped for operation from a master tower, which could be erected in a central location, should Chief Dickson decide to place them on all the major thoroughfares…Chief Dickson expressed the desire that pedestrians comply with the traffic regulations…traffic could be speeded up and fewer accidents would result…The introduction of the semaphores…would make more traffic constables available for other police duties…"

To view the articles from the Globe and Mail newspaper in full, please access the Globe and Mail Historical Newspaper Archive database with a valid Toronto Public Library card.

To view the articles from the Toronto Daily Star newspaper in full, please access the Toronto Star Historical Newspaper Archive database with a valid Toronto Public Library card

Visit the City of Toronto’s website for information on “Types on Traffic Signal System”. Then click on “History of Traffic Systems in Toronto” to review the City of Toronto’s experiences in employing different technologies. During June 1963, Metropolitan Toronto installed “the world’s first full-scale, real-time, automatic traffic control computer”. However, problems hampered its full implementation until 1964. The traffic computer was having problems in the mid-1970s and the decision was made in 1978 that a replacement traffic control system was required. The resulting traffic control centre was constructed within the Sheppard Subway Station and became functional in the early 1980s. For further information, please access the following article references in either the Globe and Mail Historical Newspaper Archive database or the Toronto Star Historical Newspaper Archive database with a valid Toronto Public Library card:

  • “Traffic-Light Control By Computer Aug 31”, Globe & Mail, May 7 1963, page 29.
  • “Traffic-Minded Brain Arrives at City Hall”, Globe & Mail, June 22 1963, page 5.
  • “Remote Control Traffic Lights Start Aug 25”, Globe & Mail, August 7 1963, page 5.
  • “Traffic Brain May Turn Out Water Tax Bills”, Globe & Mail, August 21 1963, page 5.
  • “Traffic Brain in ‘Jam’”, Toronto Daily Star, August 21, 1963, page 22.
  • “Computer Traffic Light System Under Eye of Visiting Engineers”, Globe & Mail, August 26 1963, page 5.
  • “Traffic Brain Stalls”, Globe & Mail, October 2 1963, page 5.
  • “Parts Holdup Delays Traffic Brain Debut”, Globe & Mail, November 7 1963, page 5.
  • “Bugs Bother Brain, Traffic Tests Continue”, Globe & Mail, May 27 1964, page 38.
  • “Traffic in Toronto” [Letter to Editor], Globe & Mail, June 16 1964, page 6.
  • “Traffic Computer Tourist Attraction”, Globe & Mail, June 17 1964, page 12.
  • “AUTOMATION PROVIDES WORK FOR GUIDES”, Globe & Mail, July 22 1964, page 8.
  • “A PLAN TO PREVENT COMPUTER SMOKE”, Globe & Mail, October 6 1964, page 10.
  • “EXPRESSWAY LINK HARD ON COMPUTER”, Globe & Mail, November 14 1964, page 14.
  • “Traffic computer is dying of old age”, Toronto Star, April 9, 1976, page A12.


Please review the following images from the City of Toronto Archives:

City of Toronto Archives Fonds 1266 Item 10067
Automatic traffic signal, King & Yonge. (March 10, 1927) Credit: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 10067.


City of Toronto Archives Fonds 1034 Item 816
A policeman in fur busby directs traffic at Bloor and Yonge in front of Stollery's men's and boys clothing, with Humphrey gas arc lamps extending from the windows [circa 1922?]. Credit: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1034, Item 816.


City of Toronto Archives Fonds 1244 Item 1008
Policeman, corner of King and Yonge streets (1912). Credit: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1008.


City of Toronto Archives Fonds 1257 Series 1057 Item 1881
Traffic Policeman [Between 1910 and 1930?]. Credit: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 1881.


Please enjoy the following image from the Toronto Star Photograph Archive that was published in the April 9, 1976 issue of the Toronto Star newspaper on page A12 along with article referenced above:

The beast-Metro's traffic computer-is dying of old age and one of Frank Abel's jobs is to keep it ticking over until a replacement can take over in 1978  tspa_0115496f
“The beast-Metro's traffic computer-is dying of old age and one of Frank Abel's jobs is to keep it ticking over until a replacement can take over in 1978. The computer; which controls 1,150 sets of traffic lights; broke down 13 times in March. Because of its great age; it is difficult to find replacement parts.” Photo by Dick Darrell. Toronto Star Photograph Archive, 1976.