Saturday, March 30, 2013

# 38 ~ The Yonge Street Subway Line, Then and Now

On March 30, 1954, Canada's first subway line officially opened to the public. The original Toronto subway line ran for 7.4 kilometres (4.6 miles) from Union Station to Eglinton Station.
Proposals for a public transportation train route in Toronto came as early as 1911, but it wasn't until January 1, 1946, that Torontonians gave their approval for a new subway.  On that date, a public referendum was held during that year's municipal election, and the referendum results were overwhelmingly in favour of a new subway.
An allotment of $28.9 million was set aside for construction, with an additional $3.5 million for rolling stock. The single subway line would run from Union Station as for north as Eglinton Avenue, which was the northern hinterland of Toronto, sixty-five years ago. Construction began on September 8, 1949 (two years late due to post-war shortages) with a ceremony emceed by Monty Hall. Ontario’s Lieutenant-Governor Ray Lawson climbed inside a pile driver and pulled the first lever to pound the first beam into place. All the local radio stations carried the entire event live. The official party then moved to the Royal York Hotel while the real workers got started on their labour.
THEN : September 8, 1949, Ontario's Lieutenant-Governor Ray Lawson pulls the first lever to break ground in the construction of Toronto's Yonge Street subway.
 Subway tunnels were constructed using a technique called "cut and cover".  The subway tunnels were cut into the street from above, a stretch of subway was built, and then the whole thing was covered over again.  This technique was chosen because it was far less expensive than a tunnel bore, but it played havoc on downtown traffic.  A large trench was dug into Yonge Street, utilities were relocated, and steel cross beams were welded into place.  These steel beams were used to support heavy timbers that provided a deck so that traffic could return to the street while work proceeded underneath.  A total of 1.3 million cubic metres of material was removed and dumped into Ashbridges Bay, where it created new public space and allowed Toronto city planners to indulge in their favourite hobby ... landfill.  During construction, about 12,700 metric tons of steel and 1.4 million bags of concrete were used to build Toronto's first subway line.
THEN : "Cut and cover" construction along Front Street, near Union Station, in 1949.  If this looks familiar, it's because the Toronto Transit Commission is currently working on adding a new platform for Union Station, and very nearly the same section of Front Street has been torn up for a while now.
THEN : February 27, 1950, excavating for the Yonge Street subway line, near Shuter Street.

THEN : March 20, 1950, pouring concrete to lay tracks under Yonge Street.
On March 30, 1954, Ontario Premier Leslie Frost and Toronto Mayor Allan A. Lamport officially opened the Toronto's first subway line. Trains operated at an average speed of 32 kilometres per hour, which meant that they could travel from Union Station to Eglinton Station in under twenty minutes. The subway was an instant success. The original plan was to operate two-car trains during off peak hours, but this was abandoned in favour of four-car trains, with six-car trains being standard during most periods. During peak rush hour, eight-car trains were used.
THEN : March 30, 1954, saw Toronto's Mayor Lamport (centre) and Ontario Premier Leslie Frost (second from right) chatting with other dignitaries at Davisville subway station.  It was a proud day for commuters in Toronto, in an age when everyone who was anyone wore hats.
THEN : Vintage subway poster showing the original Toronto subway route, from Union station to Eglinton station.
There have of course been several extensions to the original line that ran up Yonge Street from Union Station to Eglinton. The first was an extension in 1963, with a line curving north from Union station, below University Avenue and Queen's Park circle up to Bloor Street, where the subway line turns west. This 1963 extension originally terminated at St. George Subway Station.
THEN : St. George subway station decked out for its grand opening, February 28, 1963.
THEN : On February 28, 1963, the first train through St. George subway station is pictured here.  It's on its way south, to Union Station, then round the loop north again, to the end of the line at Eglinton subway station.
In 1966, the Bloor-Danforth line opened between Keele Street station and Woodbine Avenue station. In 1968, this line was extended again to run from Islington Avenue station to Warden Avenue station. It wasn't until 1980 that two single stops were added. These would be the western most stop – Kipling – and the eastern most stop – Kennedy.
THEN : Toronto Mayor Phil Givens and Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson ride the rocket on the first run of the Bloor / Danforth subway.
Between 1973 and 1974, the Yonge Street subway line was extended north, from Eglinton Avenue to Finch Avenue. Then, in 1978, the subway was extended northwest from St George Station as far as Wilson Avenue. The final, most northwest station, Downsview Station was opened in 1996.
The six stations of the Scarborough Rapid Transit System opened in 1985, and the most recent subway line, along Sheppard Avenue, opened in 1992.
In total, the Toronto subway system now has 69 subway stations, and a constant promise of more to come. In 2010, the average daily ridership of the Toronto subway (excluding, of course, any surface routes) was 948,100, carried through the subway on 706 subway and RT cars.

NOW : One of the new subway trains pulls into Eglinton subway station, heading southbound.
One final fact is a curiosity of history. Exactly three years before the original Yonge Street subway opened on March 30, 1954, the last wooden streetcar in Toronto made its final run. The date was March 30, 1951, and streetcar # 1326, which had been built in 1910, was now obsolete, since the Toronto Transit Commission had obtained fifty new, modern streetcars. Packed with officials and local transit enthusiasts, the old wooden streetcar made its way through downtown Toronto, and was serenaded by a barbershop quartet.
NOW : Toronto Railway Company streetcar # 1326 at the Halton County Radial Railway Museum, near Rockwood, Ontario.



  1. Thank you for sharing informative blog. Keep posting such great piece of Information.
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  3. I have a very similar interest to you. Comparing photos to contrast the differences only a few decades made in this sprawling city is mindblowing, and then to walk around and be able to picture in your head how things looked 20, 50, 100 years ago... spectacular!

    I've tried to get into Heritage Toronto but have been met with no reply so far.

    Interesting fact: the same plebiscite that determined whether the subway would be built also resulted in the construction of the "Clifton Road Extension"; then considered Toronto's first urban expressway, but now more familiar as simply Mount Pleasant Road.

  4. Thanks Justin! I am glad that we can all share our love of history, and thanks for passing on the information on Mount Pleasant Road. Discovering the old images of Toronto in days gone by is a passion I am pleased to share with others ... it's amazing to wander the streets while your imagination overlays how things looked over the last 200 years and more.

  5. I enjoyed your blog and pictures, thanks for posting. A couple of details: Kennedy station is from 1970, not 1980. The Sheppard line opened in 2003, not 1992.

  6. You're right, Kennedy station DID open in 1980. Person after person I've talked to remembers it opening at that time. I assumed it was older because. . . well it's not exactly shiny and new.