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The Startling Saga of the Christie Street Subway

Did you know that we almost had a subway running on Christie? At least, for three weeks in 1960, that was the TTC’s plan.

At the end of the 1950s, the Toronto Transit Commission was considering the next steps for its subway network. Work was already underway on the UNIVERSITY subway, which was the first phase of the Bloor-Danforth-University subway wye that eventually opened in February 1966. Among the plans for future subways after the opening of the BLOOR-DANFORTH line would have been the SPADINA subway operating from the Spadina/Bloor intersection (or possibly the wye itself) and northwest in the median of the planned Spadina Expressway to the Downsview Area.

However, according to a news report from the Globe and Mail on April 2, 1960, the TTC abruptly changed plans. Instead of following the expressway route through the Cedarvale and Nordheimer ravines south from Eglinton Avenue, Commissioners at a closed meeting the week before called for the route to leave Cedervale Park, cut through a residential neighbourhood and head south on Christie Street to terminate at Christie station on the BLOOR-DANFORTH line. A second phase of this project would take the Christie Street subway south on Grace Street to join the planned QUEEN subway line at Trinity Bellwoods Park.

The decision sparked a furor, calling parts of the Bloor-Danforth-University wye into question, enraging Metro Chairman Fredrick Gardiner into suggesting that Metro should take over the TTC. Initially, the commissioners did not put forward an explanation for their change in plans, but it came out that the commissioners acted in response to concerns from outside experts on the ability of the Bloor-Danforth-University subway wye to handle traffic from both the BLOOR-DANFORTH and the SPADINA subway lines (Globe and Mail, April 22, 1960). Three weeks after the initial decision, the TTC Commissioners voted to restore the original Spadina Road alignment (Globe and Mail, April 27, 1960), but in so doing, voted to cut funding for the eastern leg of the Bloor-Danforth-University wye (between Museum and Bay stations), suggesting that the SPADINA subway would eventually be linked with the UNIVERSITY line at St. George, rendering the wye useless. This sparked a war of words with former Toronto Mayor and TTC Commissioner Allan Lamport who opposed the cancelling of integrated subway operation. He speculated that the change had “the very serious stink of a land proposition” and suggested he would seek a court injunction to reverse the decision (Globe and Mail, May 4, 1960).

Norman Wilson, a consultant who helped design the early stages of Toronto’s subway network, and who supported the Christie Street alignment, resigned his consultancy during this period (Globe and Mail, May 11, 1960).

For the next three months, recriminations flew during raucous meetings, causing the the Globe and Mail to issue several editorials, one of which called for the TTC Commissioners to be fired (Globe and Mail, April 29, 1960). Though the TTC would eventually restore support for the original alignment of the SPADINA subway, debates continued around the feasibility of the subway wye, with commissioners questioning whether integrated operation of the BLOOR-DANFORTH and YONGE-UNIVERSITY lines was possible. Eventually, Metro Council intervened in June 1960, voting to support the subway wye construction. That decision brought much of the controversy to a close. No decision was made by Metro at the time on whether the SPADINA subway should follow the ravine alignment or Christie Street, although Metro approved a motion to purchase land near St. Michael’s College in support of the ravine alignment. The wye would be built, and fail to deliver on its promise, possibly due to design flaws and lack of support from the TTC, and Lower Bay station would be closed to the public. Commissioners did unanimously ask Norman Wilson to reconsider his decision to quit his seat on the TTC’s board of consultants (Globe and Mail, July 1, 1960).

The controversy sounds eerily familiar today, as Toronto City Council and the TTC debate the merits of the Relief Line, the Scarborough subway extension, and the suburban LRT network. It is discouraging that the arguments continue to be heated 58 years after meetings where TTC Commissioners and former mayors demanded apologies, talked over each other, and threatened legal action over the location of new subway lines. One difference, though, is that at the time the TTC Commission was a body that operated independently of Metro Toronto. Even though Allan Lamport was a former mayor of Toronto, he wasn’t serving on any council seat at the time. The TTC’s independent commissioners would be replaced by sitting municipal politicians in the late 1980s to try and bring more accountability to the TTC — as suggested by the Globe and Mail and at Metro council meetings at the time. Now the refrain is to get the politicians off the TTC Commission and restore the agency’s independence. In some ways, the more things change, the more they stay the same, and the pendulum swings back and forth, but making no progress.