TORONTO — When Mahia Anhara reflects on her earliest days in Toronto, the sight of a striking blue train will always loom large.
The now 24-year-old used to board the city's Scarborough Rapid Transit line regularly to travel from her home in the city's east end to her more centrally located school. The once cutting-edge vehicles on their elevated tracks were long past their heyday when Anhara became a frequent rider, but she said they represented both novelty and improvement over the infrastructure available in her home country of Bangladesh.
On Saturday, Anhara was among more than a hundred people who attended an official goodbye party the city's transit operator held for the once iconic, now decommissioned line.
"I think this was the first transit I took when I first came to Canada and moved to Scarborough," she said in an interview, referencing the commonly used name for her east-Toronto community. "So this does hold a lot of big memories for me."
Saturday's gathering, held at a transit station in east Toronto, was meant to mark the official end of the line for the SRT.
The six-stop line was slated to close this November, more than 38 years after its 1985 launch, but the Toronto Transit Commission accelerated those plans this past summer. The rear car of a train separated from the rest of the vehicle and derailed on July 24, sending five people to hospital with minor injuries.
The TTC deliberately invoked nostalgia for the sendoff, inviting visitors to board one of two former SRT vehicles parked on a station platform while listening to music from the 1980s, browsing offerings from local artists and acquiring SRT parts and other memorabilia at a silent auction intended to benefit the United Way.
Those on hand included Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow, who reflected on what the now defunct service once offered the city.
"I have fond memories of riding (the SRT), and the panoramic view of Scarborough," Chow said. "The SRT really showed us how transit not only took us home, to work and to school, but shaped our landscape... it makes it a community hub."
Many attendees shared their memories of using the line for everything from work commutes to shopping excursions.
Marian O'Friel, 50, was once a regular rider while living in the city of Markham, Ont., north of Toronto.
"It was nice and convenient, getting in and out. And it was always comfortable to ride," she said. "A bit full at times but always pleasant."
TTC worker Peter Ali had similar memories, noting the SRT was long the sole transit option for a part of the city that has historically lacked reliable public transit access.
"When I came to this country this was the only way to get downtown," he said. "It's farewell like anything else. Nothing lasts forever."
Public transit for Scarborough has long been a hot-button issue in Toronto politics, with multiple proposals for various subway expansions tabled and shelved over the years.
Chow, now tasked with shepherding future proposals through city council, said the SRT's closure in July was a "wake-up call" for all levels of government to better fund municipal transit systems.
She also said the city will be asking the provincial government to help fund the conversion of the SRT rail line into a road dedicated to buses.
"The premier of Ontario has promised a new deal, a sustainable funding source so we can build subway lines, RTs and busways... for all Scarborough residents to have rapid, fast, affordable and reliable public transit," Chow said.
Ali said the decommissioning of the SRT in July affected hundreds of people, noting the lack of reliable local options. The TTC ran shuttle buses to replace the SRT after the July derailment, and permanent bus routes serving the areas once covered by the line are expected to be in place by late November.
"Come wintertime, we're going to see how good the buses are," Ali said. "Right now, we're just going by, 'let's see.'"
This report from The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2023.
Kiernan Green, The Canadian Press