By James Bow.
Paris has its catacombs, while London has more than 40 abandoned Underground stations. New York City has its legends of Mole People. But what about Toronto?
Most people don’t think of Toronto harbouring hidden treasures in its subway system… or anywhere for that matter. But even Toronto’s utilitarian subway network has secrets of its own. Not very well kept secrets, judging from the number of web pages which already exist on this subject, but secrets nonetheless. This page expands on our old Subway FAQ entry on Lower Queen and Lower Bay stations and describes Toronto’s Lost Subway Stations in detail. This page will give you an idea of how these stations came to be, and where they stand today.
The Toronto Subway had a Lost Station the moment the subway opened. When the Yonge Subway began operating from Eglinton Station to Union on March 30, 1954, a hollowed-out cavern beneath Queen Station waited for a subway that never came.
When the TTC went to the Toronto residents on January 1, 1946 with a referendum on its subway proposal, there were two lines being voted upon. The first was the Yonge line we know today, running from Union Station, up Yonge Street to the northern terminal at Eglinton. The east-west line was to be a streetcar-subway through which Queen and other streetcars would duck beneath Queen Street traffic from Trinity Park to Logan Avenue. Torontonians approved this plan overwhelmingly and this is the plan that the TTC built to when it started work on the Yonge Subway in 1949.
Beneath Queen Station, an underground streetcar stop was ‘roughed-in’. It is not a subway station as you would picture it. Instead of a deep trench where the tracks would be, the trackbed is not much lower than the platform. Lower Queen Station is also a lot shorter than a typical subway station, designed to handle a few streetcars, rather than a full subway train.
Toronto now has four underground streetcar stations: the streetcar-to-subway interchanges at Union, Spadina and St. Clair West and a streetcar-only underground station beneath Bay Street at Queen’s Quay. The station beneath Queen and Yonge would have been most similar to the Queen’s Quay station, being an intermediate stop within a long tunnel. The Lower Queen platforms are even shorter than the platforms at Queen’s Quay. Another model to consider is the Newark Streetcar Subway. Built around the same time, it was likely built with a similar design in mind.
Built before the TTC’s propensity to build extras into their stations to handle future growth, Lower Queen features space for only an eastbound and westbound track, with no provision for passing tracks or loops (although the 1946 plan called for underground loops at Church (west facing) and Simcoe (east facing) Streets).
Soon after the Yonge Subway opened, there was considerable doubt as to whether or not Lower Queen Station would be used in the mode it had been designed for. By the 1950s, plans for the Queen called for the line to be built as a full-fledged subway instead of a underground streetcar operation. At the same time, the TTC was noticing that suburban traffic was increasing on Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue, and that the Bloor streetcar’s capacity was being taxed far more than the Queen car’s. As a result, in the late 1950s, the TTC made the controversial decision of building the east-west line along Bloor Street. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Queen Subway remained on the books until the 1970s. It was last heard from in a progress report on the North Yonge subway extensions. In the late 1960s and the early 1970s, it and the Spadina Subway jockeyed with each other to be Metropolitan Toronto’s next priority. When the Queen line was last seriously considered as a priority, the TTC anticipated that it would open in 1980, and the last streetcar routes in Toronto would be abandoned at that time.
Hopes for the Queen line were briefly resuscitated in the 1980s when the proposal came forward for a Downtown Relief Line running between Donlands Station and Union Station and bypassing the overused Bloor-Yonge Station. The preferred alignment for this route was south from Donlands station (possibly along the western edge of Greenwood Yards) and southwest along the railway tracks to Union Station and then beneath Front Street to Spadina Avenue, but alternate alignments included entering the downtown via Queen Street or King. A lack of political support, changing travel patterns and improvements to Bloor-Yonge Station caused the Downtown Relief Line to fade from the scene, however.
With cars impeding progress of the Queen Streetcar, proposals to resurrect the streetcar subway idea have emerged now and again. These are not considered seriously, as the downtown core has changed a lot since Lower Queen was roughed in. Pedestrian tunnels and other infrastructure criss-cross Queen Street and make the proposed project rather expensive for its length.
Lower Queen still sits beneath Queen Station. It is connected to the Queen subway station via a locked door leading off of the pedestrian underpass beneath the subway tracks. Rumour has it, a Nightmare on Elm Street movie had a scene filmed there, as the place is extremely dark and spooky. An elevator shaft has been cut into this roughed-in station, and a new underpass now exists where the westbound platform used to be. Work was also required to shore up the walls from water damage.
Queen streetcar subway tunnel Image Archive
Persistent rumours exist that there is a roughed-in station like Lower Queen beneath Osgoode Station on the University line. There are no records to prove this, and this is likely an urban legend. When Osgoode Station was built, sewer pipes and electrical lines were moved to one side of Queen Street to make the construction of a Lower Osgoode station easier (just in case it was built).
Lower Bay (Visit this site for more pictures)
Lower Bay station is far better known to Torontonians, as it is a station that actually saw passengers for the early part of its existence before being abandoned. When the Bloor-Danforth subway was built, the plan was to interline it with Yonge and University. A connection to the west of St. George Station was easily accomplished, and to complete the wye, tracks were built northeast from a junction just north of Museum Station to a station beneath Bay Station on the Bloor Line, before linking up with the Bloor tracks just west of Yonge Station.
The Bay Station arrangement was similar in many ways to the arrangement of St. George Station. Both stations were to be connections between the Bloor-Danforth and University subway lines (Lower Bay can be considered a University Subway station). The only difference is that, at St. George Station, the Bloor-Danforth line station sits beneath the University line station and, at Bay Station, this situation is reversed. The lower level of Bay Station was built to the same architecture and tile scheme as the upper level.
Lower Bay Station was open to the public for six months, when the Bloor-Danforth subway opened in 1966. The operating arrangements had a train starting from Eglinton Station, going ‘around the bend’ at Union, turning left at Museum and going through upper St. George Station before getting onto the Bloor-Danforth line and arriving at Keele. This train would then reverse direction and take the Bloor-Danforth line all the way to Woodbine (via lower St. George and upper Bay) before reversing direction again, taking the wye through Lower Bay Station, returning to the Yonge-University line and heading back to Eglinton. Every second train would reverse this wye arrangement, going to Woodbine first, and then Keele, so that every second train on the Bloor-Danforth subway went either downtown, or crosstown.
It is said that the operational difficulty of managing the wye caused the arrangement to be abandoned after six months, but that’s a simplistic assessment. With the Bloor-Danforth subway interlined with the Yonge line, a single disabled train was enough to bring the entire subway system to a halt. Furthermore, this arrangement proved frustrating for some passengers, despite the installation of automatic “Next Train” destination display signs at every station.
Consider a passenger at Bay Station. If he wants to travel west, the choice is clear: stand at the Upper Bay westbound platform and wait for the Bloor-Danforth train to Keele. If he wants to go downtown, his choice is also clear: stand at the Lower Bay westbound platform and wait for the University train to Eglinton. But what if he wants to go east? What then? The eastbound platforms at Lower Bay and Upper Bay will both take him to Woodbine, so which platform does he wait on? Or does he park himself halfway up the steps between the two platforms and sprint for the first train to arrive? A similar frustrating arrangement presented itself to passengers hoping to go west from St. George Station.
Six months after the wye arrangement was dropped, the TTC surveyed its passengers. Around 20% wanted to keep the interlining, while another 20% preferred keeping the two lines separate. The remaining 60% did not care one way or the other. (See more about this survey here) This, combined with all of the difficulties described above, convinced the TTC to keep the two lines separate. Lower Bay Station was kept shut to the general public. The stairwells between the two platforms were boarded over temporarily until the Spadina Line opened, and the prospect of interlining became even less likely. At that time, the stairwells were permanently walled over. You can still access Lower Bay Station if you have a key, and you can still see it from the front-end window of a westbound train just after leaving Yonge.
The track connecting Museum Station with Yonge Station is used occasionally to transfer equipment from Greenwood Yards to Wilson, and the abandoned Lower Bay Station has provided unexpected benefits in terms of a place for film companies to shoot subway scenes. Chances are, if you are seeing a subway station on a Canadian television commercial, it’s actually Lower Bay Station. The station has also subbed for New York and Chicago subway stations in a number of movies, both big screen and made-for-TV. The station has also allowed the TTC to test new subway signs, test platform improvements, and to store used equipment.
Late in the 1990s, there was a proposal to tentatively reintegrate Bloor and Yonge service by running three or four special trains from Kipling and Kennedy Stations through the wye and downtown until they got to Finch — Lower Bay station would be on view to passengers heading from Kennedy, but the trains would not have stopped there to board or deliver passengers. The TTC shelved this proposal in 1995 for further study, and nothing has been done with it since.
In February and March 2007, the TTC did do something similar, as it diverted Bloor-Danforth trains to Museum station to get around tunnel repair work on the Bloor-Danforth line between Bay and St. George. The Bloor-Danforth route was officially split in two with passengers required to change trains at Museum. Bloor-Danforth trains turned back at the Osgoode and St. Andrews pocket tracks to get back to their routes and subway headways were increased from four minutes to six minutes to accommodate the heavy traffic on the University line. The TTC launched a media blitz around these weekend diversions to try and minimize disruptions, using the chance to see the lost station as a hook. Railfans and a number of other curious passengers made special trips on the subway on those weekends to catch a glimpse of a station that had been out of the public eye for forty years.
Two charters have visited Lower Bay Station: the Gloucester Farewell train in 1990 and the Montreal Farewell train in 1999. The deterioration of the station between 1990 and 1999 is marked, with several lights having burned out, and the whole place becoming a lot grimier. But with the general public not allowed into the station and this situation unlikely to change for some time, there is no incentive for the TTC to work hard to keep the place clean and bright.
Lost Stations - Lower Bay Image Archive
Allen Station (Lower Eglinton West)
Work had already started on the Eglinton West subway from Eglinton West (Allen) Station to Black Creek Drive when the newly elected Harris Conservatives cancelled the project in 1995. The hole that had been dug near Eglinton West Station was filled in, making Allen Station a possibility for the third lost station on the TTC network — although work at the time was concentrating on the tail track, and not the station itself. Although work never progressed far enough for the station to reach the ‘roughed-in’ stage, the obvious similarities between this project and Lower Queen will remain until work begins on the Eglinton LRT subway and trains start rolling again.
- Bromley, John F. and Jack May Fifty Years of Progressive Transit, Electric Railroaders’ Association, New York (New York), 1973.
- Brown, James A. and Brian West, ‘All about the Bloor-Danforth Subway’ UCRS Newsletter, March 1966, p50-56, The Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto (Ontario), 1966.