A subway fit for a Queen

Part of the beauty and the identity crisis of Toronto is that it’s Canada’s largest metropolis, but it’s not really a global city. Sure, it’s all kinds of multicultural and the population clocks in at 2.6 million, good for 4th or 5th on the North American charts (us and Chicago keep swapping places), but it really isn’t in the conversation as a world city. It’s a bit of a catch 22, but part of that second or third tier class comes down to our meagre 3.5 subway lines. Don’t get me wrong, I like Toronto exactly where it is on the world stage. I like it because of its size, it’s like a medium sized University; you want to have legitimacy and reputation in the world, but you don’t want to just be a number, y’know? I also think part of  Toronto’s charm is its “big fish in a small pond” undercurrent and its “Inferiority complex? Who said inferiority complex? Did New York say that? Did Montreal say that?” sentiments.  Regardless, I really wish we had some more subways, subways, subways. Actually, I more wish that city officials went that route 70 years ago, I’m not sure that’s a viable solution now. Had they gone through with it, we wouldn’t have ended up with Lower Queen Station, the lone, abandoned remnant of the downtown subway line that never was (but always wanted to be)


 

Horatio Hocken (mayoral candidate and Hogtown Crier Award for Best Name 2015) was all about subways back in the first decades of the 20th century, but he couldn’t get the public to swing his way on the subject of subways during his mayoral campaigns. Other cities around the world were introducing their first underground electric train rapid transit systems (London in the 1890s, Paris in 1900, New York in 1904). The first outlines for subways in Toronto were proposed in 1910.  That first outline looked like this:

1910
Isn’t this AWESOME?! Note that there’s a line going up Yonge(ish) and two other lines, one along Bloor and one along Queen. If you’re a Torontonian, I bet you’re salivating.

 

This proposal didn’t really stick. It was seen as unnecessary for Toronto’s needs, and crazy expensive ($23 million in 1910 dollars, which is about $575 million today), and so the Queen subway line dream went back to sleep for a while. Toronto began to legitimately consider subways during WWII, when downtown streets began to get unbearably congested. So one of the first seriously considered plans was put forward in 1942.This first plan included a subway line under Bay Street that ran between Union and St. Clair, and an east-west line that ran along Adelaide, zigzagged up to Richmond, then finally to Queen as it headed east. They didn’t have a comprehensive funding plan, and the city also thought it was too complicated as the initial plan for a subway, so it got rejected. Down, but not out.

When the TTC submitted the new plan to the city in 1944, it included a rapid transit subway from Union to Eglinton under or roughly following Yonge St, and a “surface car subway” line that started at Dundas & Crawford, but quickly cut down to Queen, roughly following Queen to Logan. A large chunk of it would be partially underground, in a kind of trench, but between University and Church it would entirely underground.

1944
The 1944 proposal. Yes, it is awesome. Yes, it’s too late to try and put it in place now.

 

Let me backtrack for a second, because at this point I myself got confused about what the difference between rapid transit subways and surface car subways are. You’re probably a lot sharper than I am, but let me break it down. “Subway” really just means tunnel (a way that is sub, if you will), even though the has become synonymous with the trains and underground train systems. So when there were literally no transit subways in the 40s, they had to clarify between a rapid transit subways (subway trains as we know them), and surface car subways, which are subterranean tracks (or ways, if you will) for streetcars to go along.  Actually, in 1946 the plan for the Queen line was to use it for streetcars, with the option to re-purpose it for rapid transit cars if the need arose in the future.

Back to the almost Queen line. This beautiful plan never got off the ground. The Yonge line, which was far more important to relieve the traffic pressure, was going to cost 28 million dollars. The Queen route came in at 19 million dollars. The entire plan got approved by the city, but provincial and federal funding they had counted on didn’t come through as they expected, and they had to substantially chop the budget. The Queen route got the ax, but they still partially built a section of the tunnel that was to be called City Hall station (which can be seen on the map above, near old city hall), now known as Lower Queen.

An image of what the 1944 proposal would’ve looked like. There’s a surface car subway coming out from City Hall station

 

Construction started for the subway in 1949 and it opened by 1954. By that point there was already more talk about where to next invest in subway infrastructure. Poor Queen line got shafted again, as the city was all about a Bloor/Danforth rapid transit subway (to be fair, the streetcars running along Bloor/Danforth were crazy overloaded, so it was probably the right thing to be all about). The University line (1963) and the first chunk of the Bloor Danforth line (1966) trumped a Queen line and ate up lots of transit money and time.

While the Queen line may have been shoved aside, it didn’t quietly slink away. It was brought to the table again in 1966 (trumped by the northern extension of the Yonge line) and again in 1973 (trumped by the northern extension of the University line). In the 1973, it would have cost $400 million, and the city was actually more interested in investing in options that would encourage people to live and work outside the downtown core, so that was seen as an exorbitant cost that wasn’t really addressing an important need, and was also seen as oppositional to the ethos of city expansion.

Unfortunately it hasn’t really gained any traction since, and transit solutions now are focused on relieving the pressure of all the folks commuting in from the GTA. On the plus side, Lower Queen still exists today. It’s not as complete as this abandoned subway station, but it’s still very much down there, hidden behind a locked door at Queen Station. If you want some more info or to see some awesome, creepy pictures, check out this blogTO article and this other blog post. I guess if you’re feeling forlorn about a lack of Queen Street subway like I am, you could always break into Lower Queen station and imagine what it would be like. Beautiful, right?


Just a head’s up to all you faithful readers, next week there won’t be a post because I’m ditching this frigid city to bask in some Caribbean warmth. So I’ll catch you with a fresh post or two the week of March 2nd. Happy February, Hogtowners!

 

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