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Part 1 - March 30, 2019:
65 years of Toronto subways



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More than 50 years after the opening of the subway, a train passes through the open section between Eglinton and Davisville Stations, south of the Hillsdale Avenue bridge. (This almost the same view as the photo that appears at the top of part 2 of this article.)


*Note: You can find most of the information in this post elsewhere on the Transit Toronto site. Some additional information comes from the City of Toronto Archives.


Sixty-five years ago today, Tuesday, March 30, 1954, the TTC’s first subway — the first subway line in Canada — opened between Eglinton and Union Station.

In Transit Toronto’s history of the line, James Bow describes the opening:

Ontario Premier Leslie Frost and Toronto Mayor Allan Lamport officially opened the Yonge subway on March 30, 1954. Metro Chairman Frederick Gardiner and TTC Chairman W.C. McBrien were also in attendance. Crowds of people, including politicians from all three levels of government, TTC employees and print, radio and newsreel journalists, and early television video cameras (from CBLT, which had come on air on September 8, 1952), gathered at Davisville station around 11:00 am. to listen to several self-congratulatory speeches. Chairman McBrien’s speech called for the immediate commencement of construction on the Queen Street streetcar subway and several other sweeping measures to reduce downtown congestion, including fringe parking lots, one-way streets and the adoption of staggered working hours. In his words, the Yonge Street subway line was “not the final solution of Toronto’s traffic problems. It is only the start of combating this monster. Many other (rapid transit) lines will have to be built in the future.” The chairman went on to warn that the TTC could not afford to build more subway lines without government assistance, a statement that would be verified in just five years.

“Finally, the premier and the mayor together pushed a lever forward, changing a nearby block signal from amber to green. The subway was officially open.”

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A train heads northbound towards St. Clair station. Woodlawn Avenue is above the tunnel portal. This open cut was decked over for development in the early 1970s. Photo by R. Hill; donated by Rob Hutch.

The premier and mayor didn’t only change the signal, they changed Toronto and its transportation system forever. The subway allowed the TTC to continue moving away from using streetcars as the backbone of its transit network — a movement it started in the late 1940s by abandoning car service along Spadina Avenue, Sherbourne Street and others. It signaled the transit agency’s decision to usher in a more modern era by employing buses and trolley buses — and rapid transit — instead of electric railed vehicles on the streets.

After years of proposals that went nowhere, construction started September 8, 1949. Since the line stretched beneath Yonge Street between College and Front Streets, the TTC chose to build the line using the “cut-and-cover” process — basically digging a trench, temporarily covering it up while construction proceeds, then building a permanent cover once construction is over. Since much of this activity occurred right in the heart of the city, the project attracted intense scrutiny and interest throughout five years of work. The TTC even issued “A sidewalk superintendent’s guide to subway construction” to help passers-by oversee the project.

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Curt Frey and Pat Lavallée donated this photograph (possibly by P. Lambert) of the subway construction north of Church Street. Rosedale Station is under construction in the distance.

James Bow continues our history of the line:

“Over six hundred invited guests boarded a train that departed Davisville station for Eglinton at 11:50 am. At 11:56, the train departed Eglinton for Union, arriving at exactly 12:10 pm. “Eglinton to Union in 12 Minutes” the newspaper headlines cried, although the first trip actually took fourteen minutes. Previously, that trip on the Yonge streetcar took 30 minutes, assuming traffic was favourable. A second train carried the overflow of dignitaries directly from Davisville to Union Station, and the party again moved to the Royal York Hotel. At 1:30 pm. the Yonge subway opened for the public. Those who had taken the streetcar to work took the subway home.”

After the opening ceremonies and the first ceremonial rides, members of the public had to pay the fare — ten cents cash, or three tickets or tokens for a quarter. Nevertheless Torontonians’ intense interest in the line continued: more than 200,000 people rode the subway that day.

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A Gloucester train led by car number 5029 heads southbound from Rosedale Station towards Bloor Station. Photo donated by Curt Frey and Pat Lavalée. The photo provides a closer — and later — view of the site that’s under construction in the previous photo.

Nineteen years later (plus a day), Saturday, March 31, 1973, the TTC extended the line beyond Eglinton to York Mills, and one year after that (less a day), Saturday, March 30, 1974, it stretched the line even further north to Finch, which remains the terminal today. (However, Metrolinx, York Region and the TTC continue to plan for the line reaching Highway 7 in Richmond Hill some time in the future when government funding for transit is more abundant and secure.)

(The TTC also extended the line beyond Union, opening the University subway to St. George, Thursday, February 28, 1963 and the Spadina Subway to Wilson Saturday, January 28, 1978 to Downsview (now Sheppard West) Sunday, March 31 (that date again!), 1996. The TTC and York Region opened a further extension to Vaughan, December 17, 2017.)

Continued in part 2.