Text by James Bow
(Special thanks to Steve Munro and Nathan Ng for their assistance in crafting this article)
Bloor-Yonge station is the busiest by far on Toronto’s subway network. TTC statistics for 2014 showed that as many as 409,220 passengers pass through the station’s three subway platforms on an average weekday, over 132,000 more than the next busiest station on the network (St. George). It plays a part in the daily commute of a sizable percentage of the TTC’s ridership.
And yet Bloor-Yonge hides its importance in the TTC network. It doesn’t have the architectural prominence of Downsview station. Its platforms are compact to the point of being cramped. And, while the BLOOR-DANFORTH line has been criticized as being like a toilet, it was this station specifically that received the architectural assessment, from Canadian painter Harold Barling Town in February 1985. The Toronto Star quoted him as saying, “it looks like a vast urinal with no relief”.
The station is a pinch-point in the TTC’s subway network, designed at a time when the TTC expected far fewer people to use it than do now. The TTC has long considered ways of relieving the pressure on the station, but the solution, if any comes, will likely cost billions.
It is only in the last half-century that the Bloor-Yonge intersection has become the (?) heart of the City of Toronto. Yonge Street has always been Toronto’s main street, but, while Bloor was a major east-west thoroughfare, Queen Street was seen in the early part of the 20th century as the most important crossroads to Yonge. This was reflected in the early plans for the Toronto subway, with east-west lines running under Queen Street instead of Bloor. When the YONGE subway opened in March 30, 1954, it did so with a streetcar-subway platform roughed in under Queen subway station.
Queen Street was Toronto’s first east-west main street because Toronto’s growth started from Lake Ontario and gradually moved north. Active plans to put a subway beneath Queen Street didn’t really fade out until the 1970s, and have only recently rematerialized with political support for the Downtown Relief subway line. However, the topology of the Lake Ontario shoreline put a limit on the amount of suburban growth Queen Street would see from the east. With the shoreline curving northeast from Ashbridge’s Bay, Queen Street ended just east of Victoria Park, and the suburban developments in Scarborough Township tended to route their traffic onto Danforth Avenue, the eastern equivalent of Bloor Street. The growth of Toronto’s downtown north also shifted travel patterns. All of this meant that Queen Street ceased to be the central artery into the core.
At the time, downtown Toronto was concentrated south of Dundas Street. Even College was relatively underdeveloped. Like the other stations of the original YONGE SUBWAY, Bloor station was modestly built. Designed by Charles B. Dolphin (a British-Canadian architect whose works include the TTC’s headquarters building at Davisville), the station featured two side platforms and a single entrance onto the south side of Bloor Street, built into the first floor of a low-rise commercial building. As with the other stations on the original Yonge line, the station was adorned with shiny Vitrolite tiles, following the line’s pattern using yellow background tiles and blue trim.
However, Bloor station did have a feature that distinguished it from the downtown subway stations, which hinted that the TTC foresaw the need for a strong connection between the north-south subway and east-west transit services at this location. Whereas Queen had a roughed-in underground platform to serve a streetcar-subway that was never built, Bloor had a similar transferway, except it was on the surface and active.
Before 1954, Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue were served not only by the BLOOR STREETCAR, but by a number of tripper services whose job it was to ferry suburban commuters from the east end of the city along Danforth Avenue and Bloor Street before turning south onto Broadview, Parliament and Church. From the west, similar tripper and regular services operated on Bay, Bathurst and Roncesvalles. When the YONGE subway opened, the eastern trippers were consolidated into a single DANFORTH service and routed, along with the BLOOR STREETCAR into a transferway inthe middle of Bloor Street, just east of Yonge. This island, within the fare paid zone of Bloor station, had stairways to both platforms of the Yonge subway, via short passageways marked by a pair of round pillars where the station platforms passed beneath Bloor Street. These round pillars were wrapped in fluted stainless steel, a feature that was extended to other columns on the Bloor station platform during renovations in the 1980s.
This connection may well have helped doom the Queen subway line, as ridership increased on the streetcars serving Bloor station, so much so that TTC planners advocated building the east-west subway beneath Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue. After a contentious debate within Metropolitan Toronto council, this proposal prevailed, and construction began on the BLOOR-DANFORTH SUBWAY, and the UNIVERSITY line to connect to it.
Building a new subway to connect with an existing one was not easy. The YONGE subway was located close to the surface, so the designers pushed the BLOOR-DANFORTH line under Bloor station, near the north end, and north of Bloor Street. (In fact, the Bloor subway line at this point is at an east-southeast angle, as it curves from a north-of-Bloor alignment to an alignment beneath Bloor Street). This required the construction of wide passageways at the north end of the station, leading back from the southbound and northbound platforms, above where the BLOOR-DANFORTH platform was being built. These passageways led to two sets of stairs and escalators leading down to BLOOR-DANFORTH trains. In addition, these passageways were connected via stairs and escalators up to a new concourse level with collectors’ booths and fare turnstiles leading to an exit onto the north side of Bloor Street East.
As extensive as the renovations were, they were less ambitious than earlier plans, which called for extending the interchange passageway from the southbound platform the length of the BLOOR-DANFORTH platform to a set of stairs and a new exit facing onto Yonge Street north of Bloor. (Some of these changes would come later.) The decision to install a single centre platform in Yonge station was criticized later for making the station cramped in the face of the facility’s crowds, but it was likely all that could be built, given the limited budget the TTC had to work with, and the topology around the station, in the site of an old stream. The single centre platform was the easiest way to connect both eastbound and westbound BLOOR trains with northbound and southbound YONGE trains, using a minimum of stairwells and digging.
The TTC was obliged to identify which stairway led to which platform, so that passengers didn’t get lost changing trains, and did so using a number of signs including small but prominent illuminated signs showing a single letter beside each stairwell: “N” for those stairs leading to the northbound platform and “S” for those stairs leading to the southbound platform. A large sign in the middle of the BLOOR-DANFORTH platform explained this, although this was eventually removed. The “N” and “S” signs remain in place.
Yonge station on the BLOOR-DANFORTH line was built with ceramic tiles rather than the Vitrolite on the original Bloor station, but the TTC managed not only to maintain its tile colour pattern, but to get the new station to roughly match the colour scheme of the old, with yellow background tiles and blue trim.
During the expansion of Bloor-Yonge station, the TTC also added washrooms to the original Bloor station, in the area where Yonge and Bloor platforms connected. It had previously only provided washrooms on the subway line at Eglinton, but it was installing were more on the BLOOR-DANFORTH line at the soon-to-be-terminal stations of Islington and Warden.
Yonge Station Opens
The opening of the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway was celebrated with a public ceremony on February 25, 1966. At the new mezzanine linking the two station platforms, public officials gathered to cut a ribbon, unveil a plaque and flip a ceremonial switch to officially launch BLOOR-DANFORTH service. Dignitaries included Ontario Premier John Roberts and his predecessor, Leslie Frost, Toronto Mayor Philip Givens, Metro Chairman William G. Allen, TTC Chairman Ralph Day and the Prime Minister of Canada, Lester B. Pearson. After the speeches, dignitaries and visitors descended the steps and boarded the ceremonial first train leaving Yonge station for a reception at Greenwood Yards.
Though Yonge and Bloor station shared entrances, they were officially separate, unlike subsequent interchange stations which shared the same name between each line’s platform. The new entrance to the station, on the north side of Bloor Street East, displayed a sign for “YONGE BLOOR” above its doors. This identity crisis was played out on the station’s transfer machines, with some entrances displaying “YONGE” and others displaying “BLOOR”. Even the transfers within the northern concourse differed. When a new entrance was installed leading from the west end of the Yonge station platform to the east side of Yonge Street, transfers there displayed “YONGE WEST”. It’s only after the mid 1990s, when new transfer machines were installed that issued slips of heat-treated paper with the “Bloor-Yonge” monicker identifying the interchange.
With Yonge station in place, the streetcar transferway was abandoned. The island platforms were demolished, the tracks paved over and the road lanes straightened. The stairs to the subway platform were filled in. The platform passages around the stainless steel-clad columns remained in place, providing extra floor space, but most of the space around the stairs was walled in and turned into storage rooms. On the surface, only indents in the sidewalk allowance offer any indication that the transferway existed.
With two subways now serving the Bloor/Yonge intersection, it wasn’t long before development in the area bloomed. In 1972, construction began on the Hudson Bay Centre, a 35-storey, 135-metre- [443-foot-] tall tower at the northeast corner of Bloor and Yonge, holding the headquarters of the department store company and more than 46,452 square metres [500,000 square feet] of commercial and retail space. The northern concourse level of Bloor-Yonge station was incorporated into the building, and the exit onto the north side of Bloor Street East was replaced by entrances into the Hudson Bay Centre’s retail level. The tower and its stores opened to the public in 1974. Further developments, including Cumberland Terrace, were linked together with underground tunnels, producing a satellite underground city around the Bloor/Yonge intersection akin to the downtown’s PATH network.
Development at the intersection, population growth and a downtown commercial boom in the 1970s dramatically increased ridership on the two subway lines, raising serious capacity issues at the Bloor/Yonge interchange. By 1982, the TTC was reporting that the Yonge subway at Bloor was operating over the station’s maximum capacity of 34,000 passengers per hour, and St. George station was not that far behind. To deal with this, TTC and Metropolitan planners proposed building a Downtown Relief subway line from the vicinity of Pape station south and west to downtown Toronto near Union station. The line, with fewer stops en-route, could intercept passengers from Scarborough and route them downtown away from the Bloor/Yonge pinch point.
The cost of the Downtown Relief subway line, along with the rest of the Network 2011 proposal, and suburban reluctance to increase the subway capacity (and correlating development capacity) of Toronto’s downtown led to the Downtown Relief subway proposal to fade out of priority. With capacity problems continuing at Bloor-Yonge and the other downtown stations, the TTC considered ways of dealing with these issues without a separate subway line. If the DRL couldn’t be built to relieve the Bloor/Yonge interchange, perhaps the Bloor/Yonge interchange could be changed…
The Billion Dollar Proposed Makeover.
In response to the lack of progress on the Downtown Relief subway line, TTC planners considered ways to increase the YONGE subway’s capacity from 34,000 passengers per direction per hour. They quickly ran into a number of challenges. At the time, subway trains were operating at frequencies of every 130 seconds. Getting it to 120 seconds was considered difficult, and getting it below that would require major construction. The crossovers at the Finch and Wilson terminals physically could not move trains out faster than 120 seconds. The TTC hoped it could get frequencies as high as every 90 seconds, by modifying the terminals, or linking the two ends of the subway together, creating a gigantic loop. However, the sheer number of passengers exiting at key stations would increase dwell times, making shorter headways impossible. Bloor station was especially problematic, as it had narrow platforms that hadn’t been substantially expanded since it opened in 1954, and most of the platform’s exits were at the north end of the station, resulting in crowds that slowed down the clearing of the platform. How could the TTC get passengers onto and off of arriving trains faster?
One technique the TTC considered is known as the Spanish Solution. (The Barcelona Metro uses this concept widely, resulting in the name.) Under this plan, trains arrive at a station with platforms on either side of each track. Doors open on both sides of the train, and detraining passengers leave via one platform while incoming passengers get on from the other. Theoretically, this could cut dwell times by half. The TTC were so enamoured by this solution that, when it decided to renovate Kennedy station on the SCARBOROUGH RT to install a crossover and eliminate a turning loop, it boasted that the new arrangement with platforms on either side of the single track was an excellent opportunity to test the Spanish Solutionand show how it could speed up loading and unloading times at Bloor-Yonge.
However, Bloor station had two narrow side platforms beside two tracks. Installing a centre platform between those tracks would require pulling the tracks apart, and cutting into the walls of the side platforms. There was also a question of how to connect this centre platform to the rest of the station — a second platform for Yonge station on the BLOOR-DANFORTH line perhaps? All told, the project was expected to cost close to a billion dollars and require the complete shutdown of the station for at least six months.
Other proposed solutions, such as splitting the tracks and running one in a second tunnel and into a new station beneath either Park Road or Yonge Street were also considered, but dismissed as even more expensive. The new connections with the BLOOR-DANFORTH station were long, complicated and impractical due to the topology and the surrounding development. With the cost of upgrading the station approaching the cost of building a completely new subway line, action on the Spanish Solution stalled.
However, the TTC was able to make changes to Bloor station to ease some of the crowding, thanks to a new development near the Bloor-Yonge intersection. In 1989, ground broke for a new tower that became the Xerox Centre, located directly above the station. Working with the TTC, the construction lifted the roof off the station, temporarily, and the TTC took the opportunity to widen the side platforms and remove most of the centre columns, theoretically making a centre platform more feasible. The Xerox Centre revamped the original entrance to Bloor Station, giving the south concourse access to Hayden Street as well as Bloor Street East. The hope was that this would reduce overcrowding at the north end of the station, but this did not pan out, as not enough people wanted to leave the station by the south entrance. The total cost of the renovation came to $33 million. The Xerox Centre opened to the public in 1991.
The TTC also took the opportunity to update the look of Bloor station, removing the Vitrolite tiles and installing white ceramic tiles with lighter blue trim. Yonge station remained almost untouched, save for a new exit and automatic entrance built into the west end of the centre platform, leading up to a concourse level, fare gates, and then further up to a street entrance on the east side of Yonge, across from, and just south of, Cumberland Street.
These renovations were largely complete by 1992, and helped ease some of the crowding issues for the station. What also helped, albeit in a less nice way, was the early 1990s recession, which reduced the number of jobs in downtown Toronto, and reduced ridership on the TTC by almost 20%. Suddenly, Bloor-Yonge station’s capacity issues were no longer a pressing concern.
Return to Overcrowding
After 2000, TTC ridership started increasing. By 2009, it was approaching record levels, and overcrowing became an issue for Bloor-Yonge station again. In November 2009, the TTC instituted crowd-control measures during the rush hours, for safety reasons, and to try and speed up the arrival and departure of Yonge trains. Temporary barriers were installed in the west mezzanine so that riders coming from BLOOR-DANFORTH trains up the stairway closest to the southbound YONGE platform are guided south along the wall of the southbound platform to at least two car-lengths down the platform. Riders coming up the stairway farthest from the platform had the choice to join the southbound flow, or swing north to leave the station via the north concourse. Riders arriving on southbound trains were moved north on the platform on the other side of these barriers, avoiding the southbound flow, before being directed into the west mezzanine.
The TTC backed this arrangement up with staff placed at key spots directing people to follow the right path, keeping the flow moving. More staff members were placed on the platform next to the doors of incoming trains, ensuring that waiting passengers allowed disembarking passengers to leave the train first before getting on board, and to encourage passengers not to rush the doors. The TTC also scheduled four “gap trains” (a practise also performed in the mid-to-late 1980s) to depart empty from Davisville and run express to Bloor, taking passengers on board quickly and effectively clearing any backlogs.
These changes allowed the TTC to push as many as 29 southbound trains through Bloor station during the height of the rush hour, very close to the two-minute frequencies cited as the design limit of the line. Despite initial confusion over the new arrangements, the crowd-control measure proved to be a success. Within a month, the TTC announced that the program had been made permanent, although the number of gap trains was reduced to just two in early 2016, as the TTC increased running times and used the former gap trains to maintain service frequencies. That number decreased to just one as the morning short-turn service was extended north from St. Clair West station to Glencairn.
Changes to Come?
While these changes were taking place, Yonge station on the BLOOR-DANFORTH line maintained much of its original look past its fiftieth anniversary. In September 2007, the station was placed third in priority behind Pape and Dufferin in the TTC’s Station Modernization Program. This program to modernize the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway stations with additional exits, elevators and new looks would have only protected the original look of Woodbine, Coxwell, High Park and Keele stations, and so likely would have changed the appearance of Yonge station considerably. Other changes included a new set of stairs from the station platform to the southbound mezzanine level and new public washrooms. Funding for this renovation did not come through, however, and renovation plans are stalled, even as other stations moved forward under the TTC’s accessibility program. However, in 2014, the TTC announced changes to its station signage to improve passenger navigation and accessibility, and used Bloor-Yonge station to launch the new look.
Other measures to increase the capacity of the YONGE subway today include an upgraded signal system that will allow for automatic train control. Once this is in place, it becomes feasible to add an additional 50-foot-long car in the middle of the Toronto Rocket trains plying the line, allowing the trains to completely fill up the station (though this is complicated by carhouses and pocket-tracks in the system designed for 450-feet-long trains). In addition to this, the opening of the SPADINA subway extension to York University and Vaughan will intercept as many as 1,300 passengers who’d previously entered the Yonge subway at Finch station via Finch and Steeles West buses during the morning rush hours.
But these measures do little more than to push back questions of Bloor-Yonge station’s capacity over the short term. As the Greater Toronto Area grows, as the TTC’s ridership increases, and as Metrolinx and York Region push for an extension of the Yonge subway from Finch to Langstaff, overcrowding will again be a critical problem. TTC planners now acknowledge that expanding Bloor-Yonge station is not feasible, and they, City of Toronto planners and Metrolinx note that a long-term solution requires the expansion of GO Train service to the north, and a Downtown Relief subway line.
Even after such a line is built, Bloor-Yonge will remain a critical part of the TTC subway network, as a subway crossroads serving not only a major intersection, but acting as a critical transit hub for the region.
- Bloor-Yonge does not feature a major art installation, but there are three items of interest: in the connection platform between the two lines, there is an archival photo of the streetcar transferway, a reproduction of an Edwin McCormick painting commemorating the workers who built the subway, and a plaque dedicated to the opening of the BLOOR-DANFORTH line.
- Bloor-Yonge station is the only transfer station on the Toronto subway where each line’s platform has a different station name (Yonge on the BLOOR-DANFORTH line, Bloor on the YONGE line). Kennedy, St. George and Spadina station have only one name for both lines’ platforms. Sheppard-Yonge station’s Yonge platform was renamed to Sheppard-Yonge from Sheppard when the SHEPPARD line opened in 2002.
- For many years, Bloor-Yonge’s north concourse was the home of the TTC’s Info Booth, where a TTC worker (often a student intern) engaged passengers and helped then navigate the TTC. The booth also offered the latest TTC publications, and every available surface transit timetable. This author was a frequent visitor in the 1980s, and more than once asked for and received a complete set of TTC timetables. Unfortunately, the booth fell victim to budget cuts in early 1990s. The rise of the TTC’s website and online timetables eliminating paper timetables also reduced the need.
- In 1987, it was estimated that the passengers moving through Bloor-Yonge station left as many as 70 bags and bundles of garbage and recycling each day.
Service Notes (as of January 1, 2017):
- Off-Site Resources:
- Line: 1 Yonge - University - Spadina
2 Bloor - Danforth
- Hours of Operation:
First Train Northbound: 6:02 a.m. weekdays, 6:03 a.m. Saturdays/holidays, 8:16 a.m. Sundays.
First Train Southbound: 5:59 a.m. weekdays, 5:58 a.m. Saturdays/holidays, 8:01 a.m. Sundays.
First Train Eastbound: 6:05 a.m. weekdays, 6:12 a.m. Saturdays/holidays, 8:27 a.m. Sundays.
First Train Westbound: 5:55 a.m. weekdays, 6:00 a.m. Saturdays/holidays, 8:08 a.m. Sundays.
Last Train Northbound: 1:53 a.m.
Last Train Southbound: 1:35 a.m.
Last Train Eastbound: 1:54 a.m.
Last Train Westbound: 1:52 a.m.
- Address: 20 Bloor Street East
- Opened: March 30, 1954 (Bloor station), February 26, 1966 (Yonge station)
- Wheelchair Accessible Since: March 30, 1996
- Average Weekday Ridership: 216,190 (Yonge-University), 193,030 (Bloor-Danforth) (2014)
211,280 (Yonge-University), 189,970 (Bloor-Danforth) (2013)
- 20 Bloor Street East Entrance, (Hudson’s Bay Centre), on the north side of Bloor Street East, 55 metres east of Yonge Street, accessed via the Hudson Bay Centre Retail Concourse level, linking directly to the north concourse/collector level. (Wheelchair Accessible)
- 33 Bloor Street East Entrance, (Xerox Centre), on the south side of Bloor Street East, 73 metres east of Yonge Street, inside the Xerox Centre, with stairs and elevator access to the south concourse/collector level. (Wheelchair Accessible)
- Hayden Street Entrance, (Xerox Centre), on the north side of Hayden Street, 64 metres east of Yonge Street, with elevator and stair access to the south concourse/collector level. (Wheelchair Accessible)
- Yonge Street Automatic Entrance, on the east side of Yonge Street, 62 metres north of Bloor Street East, with stair and escalator access directly to the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway platform. (Not Wheelchair Accessible)
- Yonge Street Entrance, on the east side of Yonge Street, 36 metres north of Bloor Street East, with stair access to the north concourse/collector level via the Hudson Bay Centre Retail Concourse. (Not Wheelchair Accessible)
- Bloor Street East Entrance, on the north side of Bloor Street East, 145 metres east of Yonge Street, with stair access to the north concourse/collector level via the Hudson Bay Centre Retail Concourse.
- Elevators (click here for maintenance schedule):
- North concourse level to southbound Yonge-line platform
- North concourse level to northbound Yonge-line platform
- Northbound Yonge-line platform to Bloor-Danforth platform
- South concourse level to southbound Yonge-line platform
- South concourse level to northbound Yonge-line platform
- Non-TTC elevator from Hudson’s Bay Centre to north concourse level
- Non-TTC elevator from Xerox Centre to south concourse level
- Escalators (click here for maintenance schedule):
- South End Southbound Yonge Platform to South Concourse (Up At All Times)
- South End Northbound Yonge Platform to South Concourse (Up At All Times)
- North End Northbound Yonge Platform to North Concourse (Up At All Times)
- North End Southbound Yonge Platform to North Concourse (Up At All Times)
- Bloor-Danforth Platform to Southbound Yonge Train Level (Up 6am-10am Then Down Until Closing & Sundays & Holidays)
- Bloor-Danforth Platform to Southbound Yonge Train Level (Up At All Times)
- Bloor-Danforth Platform to Northbound Yonge Train Level (Up 6am-10am Then Down Until Closing & Sundays & Holidays)
- Bloor-Danforth Platform to Northbound Yonge Train Level (Up At All Times
- Bloor-Danforth concourse level to Yonge Street (Automatic entrance) (Up At All Times)
- Bloor-Danforth Platform to Automatic Entrance concourse (Up At All Times)
- Washrooms Available
- Forms of fare payment include credit or debit
- Pass Vending Machine available.
- Two side platforms on YONGE line, centre platform on BLOOR-DANFORTH line.
- Token vending machine
TTC Surface Connections:
Former TTC Surface Connections:
Bloor-Yonge Station Image Archive
- Munro, Steve. “The Bloor-Yonge Platform Experiment (Updated).” Steve Munro. Steve Munro, 27 Nov. 2009. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.
- Munro, Steve. “Crowding at Bloor Yonge Station.” Steve Munro. Steve Munro, 16 Feb. 2007. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.
- Munro, Steve. “Expanding Bloor-Yonge Station.” Steve Munro. Steve Munro, 10 Apr. 2007. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.
- Munro, Steve. “Yonge Subway Headway Study 1988 (Part 5).” Steve Munro. Steve Munro, 02 Nov. 2008. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.
- Munro, Steve. “Yonge Subway Headway Study 1988 (Part 7).” Steve Munro. Steve Munro, 03 Nov. 2008. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.
- Ng, Nathan. “Bloor-Yonge.” Station Fixation. Nathan Ng, Apr. 2015. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.