Only Child on Toronto Public Transit construction then and now

The older (since 1980s) Toronto streetcars which Only Child likes

The older (since 1980s) Toronto streetcars which Only Child likes

I am rewriting the chapter “City Travels with Mom” in my memoir and it got me thinking about construction for public transit then and now. Here is an excerpt from my memoir about construction for the first subway line in Toronto.

During the first line, the Yonge-to-Eglinton subway’s building phase, Mom and I would emerge from Eaton’s or Simpson’s department stores at Queen and Yonge Streets into a deconstructive mess. Yonge Street had become the big Toronto dig, with the construction crews using the “cut and cover” method of tunnelling sections at a time, digging by hand and leaving heavy timber coverings supported by “steel cross members” for walkways. In winter, the Queen and Yonge corner was snow, slosh, mud and cold. (excerpted from You Can Go Home – Digging up the Dirt, ©2014 Sharon A. Crawford).

What a difference from today. This summer Toronto is experiencing the worst constructive mess and milieu in my lifetime. Just for public transit alone, there is a big LRT (much of it underground) being built in the northern part of the city. Although it is necessary to get the people in this overloaded city moving, the actual construction is causing problems. The tunnelling method is different (see, but intersections where it is occurring have slowdowns and stoppages of some sort happening. This drives motorists into residential areas and may be partly to blame for the death of a seven-year-old girl hit by a car in one of these residential areas.

Toronto Transit (TTC) is also bringing in new streamlined streetcars which I hate. I’ve posted about this before. The first of these streetcars go on the Spadina Ave. line August 31, so now we get intersections completely closed for upgrades to the tracks. The TTC has removed the old streetcars and temporarily put on buses.

Then there is the construction further downtown on Front St. and Queen’s Quay. On Front St. it is the renovation of Union Station – both the choo-train part and a new subway train station underground. Both, especially the subway train station with its so narrow platforms, were needed and at least it is being done in stages. But what convoluted passageways for pedestrians – lots of outside stairs up and down to get to streets. And the street itself for one long block is completely closed to traffic – there are a couple of make-shift crossways from Union Station to the Royal York Hotel across Front Street. Maybe I should be thankful I’m travelling by bus leaving for my holidays but am returning by train, late at night, so will have to check out the latest walk-around for then so I can get to the subway without problems to come home.
Queen’s Quay is being changed to more of a pedestrian-friendly walkway with fewer lanes for vehicles. Despite the stairs business outside Union Station, this Queen’s Quay issue is much more of a nuisance and as far as I’m concerned bad for the tourist industry last year and this year as Harbourfront Centre and all its summer activities go on there now. I went down once this summer and that may be it – just because of all the construction. It was so bad there was a cop directing pedestrian traffic in the middle of the blocked-off street. At that point, vehicles weren’t allowed. The buses (again temporarily replacing streetcars) have their routes fractured. You literally have to get the bus going west at one end of the closed block and the bus going east at the other end and never the two shall meet. I decided I could do better with the 10-minute or so walk from Union Station (even with all its stairs at one end and crossing the pseudo-highways – with lights – near the other end). Some people have found their own way through this Queen’s Quay mess rather than the marked off ones. And I don’t blame them.
And into this milieu is the Gardner Expressway – an up-high overhead expressway built over 50 years ago and now crumbling. That end of the Gardner near Union Station and Queen’s Quay is also going through construction
Many of these updates/upgrades renovations are for the PanAm Games coming to Toronto in July 2014. With all due respect to the games, this pre-construction is driving us all nuts. And I don’t mean just motorists but also pedestrians and cyclists.
I suppose this is all due to our over-expanding city (people-wise and condo-wise – many built and being built in…you guessed it…downtown Toronto).
No wonder I relish my little corner of Toronto, especially out in my garden (when the rain isn’t falling down, but that’s another story). You can actually see a few butterflies and hear the birds sing. Of course, we also get racoons and squirrels…


Sharon A. Crawford
Only Child Writes


Filed under Mother and Child, Only child memoir, Public Transportation, Railways, Road Construction, Toronto, Toronto public transit, Train Stations, Union Station Toronto

2 responses to “Only Child on Toronto Public Transit construction then and now

  1. Bob Martin

    I’ve got to agree with you on the state of construction in Toronto this summer. Could call it a necessary evil (although personally I shan’t because you may remember that I now live on a pension after working almost 30 years for what use to be known as the Construction Safety Association of Ontario. That organization, funded through what is now the WSIB, has a long history and provides some good memories.

    And subway memories are what I wanted to share with you. I would have been six when the Yonge St. subway opened. I too, watched the construction but a little farther north than Yonge and Queen. My grandparents lived on Chaplin Cres., which ran west from Davisville south of Eglinton. Davisville was on the east side, hence the name of the station.

    The cutting, covering and dust seemed constant but in October 1954 the
    trains began to run. On the first day I was at the official opening when, with a loud whistle the first sleek (for those days, not so much now) southbound train out of Eglinton came around the bend into Davisville station. The official ceremony took place there and I was one of the lucky few who got on to that first train for the ride to Union Station for more speeches, none of which I remember.

    But I do remember being there and wanted to share this with you and your readers!!

  2. Hi Bob:

    Wow! You actually were there on the first subway train. I missed doing that and can’t really nail down exactly when my parents and i rode the red rocket back in the mid-1950s.

    I’ve just decided I will ride the old streetcars (where they haven’t been replaced temporarily by buses) this summer and fall before they all disappear and we get the new and sleek models which as I mentioned I hate. They are a poor copy of the newer subway cars on Toronto’s Yonge – University Line and the VIVA buses up your way. At least all the old streetcars won’t disappear until sometime in 2017. I have also taken photos of the old streetcars at their end-of line stops (fortunately got the Spadina one a few years ago and also the College one – that’s the photo in this week’s post – at the High Park end-of-line stop. I took it a couple of years ago.) If the photos turn out I’ll post some in future blog posts.

    Thanks for sharing your first TTC ride.



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