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Pioneer Village

<< HIGHWAY 407 | Yonge-University-Spadina | YORK UNIVERSITY >>
Subway Related Properties Page

Text by James Bow

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When it opens late in 2017, Pioneer Village station will take the Toronto subway beyond the boundaries of the current City of Toronto for the first time. For the first time since 1968, a portion of the subway will open outside of the current TTC fare zone. The station, built beneath Steeles Avenue West on the boundary between Toronto and York Region, will act as a suburban gateway, featuring two separate bus terminals (one for TTC vehicles, and another for York Region Transit). People can transfer from here for trips taking them as far west as Brampton, as far north as King City and as far south as Bloor Street. The station also serves York University, located in the northwestern corner of campus, near school buildings and a sports field, and within walking distance of Black Creek Pioneer Village.

Early History

Steeles Avenue began life as a concession road laid out east and west of Yonge Street during the military survey of Upper Canada. Its original names, if it had any, were lost to history, after J.C. Steele bought the Green Bush Hotel at the northwest corner of the street’s intersection with Yonge Street. The hotel predates Steele, who was born in the Bond Lake area in 1837. The Green Bush was built in 1830 and was a gathering place and stop along the Yonge Street highway between the Town of York and the settlements north of there. It also served as a meeting place for those planning the Upper Canada Rebellion in 1837. When Steele purchased the hotel, and the land around it, he clearly made a mark on the place, as the road soon came to be known as “Steele’s Avenue”. It kept the apostrophe well into the 20th century.

One of Steeles Avenue’s claim to fame, being the boundary between the megacity of Toronto and the Region of York, began in 1849, when the government of Canada West (previously Upper Canada) passed the Baldwin Act, also known as the Municipal Corporations Act. This act formalized the county structure of the colony. This act formalized York County, which covered the area roughly between Etobicoke Creek and the Rouge River and stretching from Lake Ontario to Lake Simcoe, minus the incorporated City of Toronto. This act further established the townships that existed within York County, including York Township, Scarborough Township and Etobicoke Township, which were all given a northern boundary along Steeles’ concession route.

Pioneer Village Station is located 900 metres east of the Steeles/Jane intersection. Jane Street was a north-south concession road built paralleling Yonge Street, reaching for the northern part of York County. The area around the Steeles/Jane intersection remained rural through the 19th and early 20th centuries, as the area was far from the major trafficked thoroughfares, including Yonge Street through the village of Thornhill, and Woodbridge further west. Development was further complicated by the presence of the Black Creek flood plains which, following the floods resulting from Hurricane Hazel in October 1954, came under control of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.

Development Pressures Begin

However, as urban sprawl started to affect the areas around the City of Toronto following the Second World War, development pressures started to work at the area. When the Ontario government united the twelve townships and municipalities surrounding the City of Toronto into the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto in 1954, Steeles Avenue increasingly became the dividing line between old city and new suburb. The bulk of the TTC’s services ended south of Steeles, except in cases where the towns and townships north of Steeles contracted for services. With Metropolitan Toronto seeing the bulk of new development, especially in the 1950s and the 1960s, the southern York County townships remained rural, or built low-density suburbs that depended upon the automobile to function. It wouldn’t be until the 1980s that development north of Steeles would start to transform the municipalities there into major urban centre in their own right.

On March 26 1959, the provincial government passed the York University Act, with plans to build a university campus northwest of the Finch/Keele intersection. The first building to be built on these lands, which stretched through most of the superblock towards the Steeles/Jane intersection, opened to students in September 1965. Jane and Steeles, however, were too far and too underdeveloped to justify regular transit service.

The intersection did become the site of a special development, however. In the late 1950s, restoration architect B. Napier Simpson, Jr (1925-1978), convinced Metropolitan Toronto council to preserve key heritage buildings. A site was picked near the Jane/Steeles intersection, based on a core of five buildings built on the site by a Daniel Strong, including a 3-room cabin dating back to 1816. The plan was more heritage properties and artefacts would be moved to the area as development pushed them out of their original locations. Originally called Dalziel Pioneer Park when it opened to the public in 1960, it was soon renamed Black Creek Pioneer Village.

Black Creek Pioneer Village was responsible for the first TTC buses to arrive in the area. On May 19, 1962, summer service began on the PIONEER VILLAGE route. Buses operated on Sundays and holidays only, running from Eglinton station via Yonge and Steeles to the village site, following TTC transfer privileges and charging for the Zone Boundary as buses passed Glen Echo. The service continued until the end of September, and resumed the following year. However, the service did not continue in 1964, likely due to low ridership.

However, regular transit service was on its way. When the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway extended to Islington on May 11, 1968, service on the 83 TRETHEWEY route was extended north on Jane from Moss Park to Steeles Avenue. On November 3, 1969, the 60 STEELES route opened for service, meeting the 83 TRETHEWEY buses at Jane, although the following year, the TTC complained about low ridership in its Riders News. However, ridership did increase as development continued. York University expanded, and apartments and stores extended north on Jane Street.

The Pull of other Developments

In the years following, transit service to the Jane/Steeles intersection was driven more by development that existed beyond the intersection rather than at the intersection itself. 35 JANE and, later, 195 JANE ROCKET buses passed through the intersection to serve industry to the southwest, and York University to the southeast. 60 STEELES WEST buses were extended past Jane on July 21, 1974, and were operating at full service on the first day.

There was even pull to the north, albeit slowly. Although Black Creek continued to limit development on Jane north of Steeles, the Town of Vaughan did contract the TTC to extend 35 JANE north of Steeles to Langstaff starting April 18, 1988. Weekday, early evening and Saturday service began on September 1, 1999.

On January 28, 1978, the SPADINA subway opened to the public, reaching out to the northwest of Metropolitan Toronto. The subway did shift some of the focus of local transit away from the YONGE subway terminal at Finch. At the time, there were no plans to bring the subway closer to the Jane/Steeles intersection. The 117 ALNESS route, which launched on September 6, 1983, to reduce pressure on the YONGE subway by operating from the Jane/Steeles intersection via transit-only lanes on Dufferin Street and Allan Road, lost its Steeles Avenue branch on April 16, 1984.

By this time, Metropolitan Toronto was considering the Network 2011 subway expansion plan. This proposal called for the SPADINA subway to be extended from Wilson to Downsview station, to meet the western leg of the SHEPPARD subway. In spite of Metropolitan council agreeing to the plan, the newly elected provincial government of David Petersen balked at the costs and, in 1989, considered an alternate proposal extending the Spadina subway further north via Dufferin and then east via the Hydro right-of-way to join the YONGE subway at Finch, forming a large belt line. In the months and years that followed, York University and the City of Vaughan lobbied for the belt line to be expanded north and east, passing through the campus and along Steeles Avenue to serve their developments. In 1994, the provincial government of Bob Rae proposed extending the Spadina subway to Steeles West station, near the current Pioneer Village station site, as part of its expansion proposals. However, the Rae government was defeated, and progress on this extension stalled.

As the new government of Mike Harris cut spending, the City of Vaughan continued to campaign for the extension, and proposed taking it further. The City was planning to build a new downtown around the Jane/Highway 7 intersection, and felt that a subway extension beyond Steeles to the site of the new downtown would be a good anchor for it. By this point, the population growth of Vaughan and southern York Region made it a compelling political prize. Both the Conservative and Liberal parties promised support for Vaughan’s plans and the eventual subway extension.

When The Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty took power in 2003, with Ontario Finance Minister Greg Sorbara hailing from the riding, support for the subway extension to Vaughan became overwhelming and, during their 2007 budget, the Ontario government announced funding support for the line. Construction began in 2009. The subway would pass Steeles Avenue 900 metres east of Jane Street at a station initially named Steeles West.

Station Name, Design and Art

If Steeles West had retained its name, it would have been the first station named with a “West” suffix before the initial station had been named. It was named so in anticipation of an extension of the YONGE subway north from Finch, either into a Steeles Avenue belt line and, as plans changed, towards Richmond Hill. However, in September 2012, the TTC came under pressure to change the name of the station to “Black Creek Pioneer Village”, even though the heritage park was located nearly half a kilometre west of the station site. This lengthy name would have required alterations to the design of the station’s entrance. Initially designed with the words “Steeles West” along its curving roof line, the new name was so long, the visible portion along the roof was likely to read only “EEK PIO”. Commissioners voted to allow the name change, and allowed the architect to shorten the display to just Pioneer Village. That name was eventually adopted as the official name of the station, to adorn the station walls.

The TTC gave the contract to designing Pioneer Village station to SGA/IBI Group Architects, in a joint venture with Alsop Architects. Pioneer Village was, according to the TTC and the station’s architect, “to become a new civic landmark with unique and world-class architecture, straddling the border of Toronto and York Region and anchoring a corner of York University Campus.” The station would feature two transit terminal (a TTC terminal to the southeast and a regional transit hub to the northwest), parking for 1,900 commuters, and would serve up to 20,000 subway passengers per day.

The station was built in a largely undeveloped location, and the station architects hoped that it would form a new focal point that would act as a catalyst for future development in the surrounding area. According to the architects, the station was designed to feature a “fluid, continuous connection from the surface level down to the platform from both ends of the station… …With this station, the Design Team seek to transform the everyday journey into an experience of joy and delight.” The station straddles the intersection of North West Gate, with entrances at the southeast and northwest corners. The regional terminal is located north of Steeles, offering links to the commuter parking lot in the hydro right-of-way north of Steeles. The TTC terminal is located south of Steeles.

Artistic Statement

Pioneer Village featured a special art installation by Berlin-based artists Tim and Jan Elder. Their art piece is called LightSpell. Incorporated into the lighting of the station, the art piece is an interactive installation where passengers can control a suspended array of 62 light elements. Each element contains 16 individually controllable lights and can produce all letters of the alphabet, an assortment of special characters and the numbers 0 through 9. Passengers can type in words or messages, and the station lights automatically adjust so that the illumination of the space below remains constant.

In the artist’s words, “…LightSpell is an experiment in public interaction and will entail various aspects regarding the freedom of the individual versus the interest of the larger group. It is a democratic installation: Whatever message by an individual is projected the installation always serves the demands of thecommunity of other waiting people by providing light for everybody.”

Construction Delays

When construction launched on the SPADINA subway extension into Vaughan, plans called for the extension to open to the public in 2015. Unexpectedly cold winters contributed to lengthy delays, and further time was lost following a fatal accident during construction. With further concerns over how contractors at some of the stations, particularly Pioneer Village, were not meeting deadlines, the TTC fielded a report that highlighted a number of costly delays that would push the opening of the extension beyond 2016, and put the project hundreds of millions of dollars over budget. As a result of these delays, two senior TTC executives tied to the project resigned. The TTC also decided to assign oversight for the remaining construction to a single bidder, officially pushing the opening of the extension to late 2017.

By March 2017, tunnelling and trackwork were complete, and work equipment started to move along the rails to test the clearance. Power to the third rail was turned on and, on April 4, 2017, the first Toronto Rocket train moved slowly north of Downsview (Sheppard West) station up the line to Vaughan. As work progressed, the TTC released more pictures of the stations, and finally announced that the opening of the extension would be set for Sunday, December 17, 2017.


Service Notes (as of December 17, 2017):

  • Off-site Resources:
  • Line: 1 YONGE-UNIVERSITY-SPADINA
  • Address: 185 Northwest Gate (south entrance) / 2800 Steeles Avenue West (north entrance)
  • Opening: December 17, 2017
  • Average Weekday Ridership: Not opened yet
  • Hours of Operation:
    First Train to Finch: 5:55 a.m. weekdays, 5:54 a.m. Saturdays and holidays, 7:54 a.m. Sundays
    Last Train to Finch: 1:08 a.m. weekdays, 1:09 a.m. weekends and holidays
    First Train to Vaughan: 6:00 a.m. weekdays, 6:03 a.m. Saturdays and holidays, 7:52 a.m. Sundays
    Last Train to Vaughan: 2:32 a.m. weekdays, 2:26 a.m. weekends and holidays
  • Entrances: 2
    • Northwest entrance, located on the north side of Steeles Avenue west, just west of North West Gate, with stairs, escalator, and elevator linking to a concourse level with connections to bus terminals and station platform. (Wheelchair accessible)
    • Southeast entrance, located on the south side of Steeles Avenue West, just east of North West Gate, leading directly to the TTC bus terminal with stairs, escalator, and elevator linking to a concourse level with connections to the station platform. (Automatic entrance) (Wheelchair accessible)
  • Wheelchair Accessible Since: On Opening
  • Elevators (Not open yet):
    • Southeast entrance to concourse
    • Northwest entrance to concourse
    • North end subway platform to concourse
    • South end subway platform to concourse
  • Escalators (Not open yet):
    • Southeast entrance to concourse
    • Northwest entrance to concourse
    • North end subway platform to concourse
    • South end subway platform to concourse
  • Parking: 1 lot, 358 spaces, plus 10 PPUDO spaces.
  • Washrooms: None
  • One centre platform

TTC Surface Route Connections:

Regional Transit Connections

Document Archive


Pioneer Village Station Image Archive

<< HIGHWAY 407 | Yonge-University-Spadina | YORK UNIVERSITY >>
Subway Related Properties Page

References

  • Haskill, Scott, ‘Toronto Subway Expansion’, Rail and Transit, March 1993, p3-5, The Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto (Ontario).
  • Immen, Wallace, ‘Ambitious plan in works to give Vaughan a “heart”’, Globe and Mail, April 10, 2000, pA?, Toronto (Ontario).
  • Mackenzie, Robert, ‘See the Design for the Future Steeles West Station, March 9, Transit Toronto, February 28, 2011, Online Toronto (Ontario).
  • White, Patrick, ‘Boring Project Excites Rob Ford, Globe and Mail, June 17, 2011, online edition, Toronto (Ontario).