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What if the Queen Subway was built instead of the Bloor-Danforth?

A History of the Queen Subway and its Effect on Toronto's Streetcar System

By James Bow.

A Controversy over the East-West Alignment.

The first subway in Canada opened with much fanfare on March 30, 1954, marking a great step forward in terms of public transportation in the City of Toronto. However, this change did not come without sacrifice. The celebrations obscured the fact that the line, operating up Yonge Street from Union station to Eglinton, meant as much of an end of an era as it did a beginning. Soon after the opening, streetcars stopped running on Yonge Street, Church Street and Avenue Road. The once-mighty Bay streetcar ceased operation and was replaced by an extended Dupont line. This was the beginning of a long series of contractions in the Toronto Transit Commission's streetcar network that would continue for the next twenty years.

After the opening of the Yonge subway, plans turned towards the construction of the east-west line. Originally, the TTC had proposed a streetcar-subway along Queen Street, but increasing traffic on the Bloor streetcar made them take a controversial step and attempt to change their proposal to a subway beneath Bloor Street. This proposal received plenty of political heat, and did not last very long. The City of Toronto reminded the TTC that the 1946 referendum approving subway construction on Yonge also approved subway construction along Queen Street, not Bloor Street. The end to the debate came when Metro Toronto pointed out that the TTC needed Council to subsidize new subway development to the tune of 5%, and thus the Bloor-Danforth proposal was overruled. Construction on a full-fledged subway along Queen Street began in the spring of 1955, and the 7 km line from Trinity Park to Greenwood Avenue opened on April 1, 1961. On this date, more cuts to the TTC's streetcar network occurred.

The Queen Subway Opens

First cut, of course, were streetcars on Queen Street for the length of the subway. Track was soon removed from Strachan Avenue to Greenwood. Buses replaced streetcars on Dundas Street, and tracks were removed from Lansdowne to Broadview. The conversion to buses allowed the Dundas route to be extended east of Broadview to Greenwood Avenue and south to Greenwood station. Suburban buses which previously terminated at Broadview and Danforth replaced streetcar service on Broadview south of the Danforth, connecting with the subway at Broadview station.

The subway also resulted in a number of route alterations, and even the creation of new routes. In the east end of Toronto, the once-mighty Queen line operated as a shuttle between Greenwood station and Neville Park. Buses, operating the length of Queen Street, replaced this residential route every night after the subway shut down. Kingston Road cars plied between Bingham Loop and Greenwood station 24 hours a day while the 24-hour Coxwell route found itself extended to the terminus of the subway.

King cars continued to operate along King Street west from Broadview station, but service was extended past Vincent loop to Dundas and Runnymede, replacing this leg of the Dundas streetcar. Service on Pape and Carlaw Avenues was replaced by buses as the Harbord streetcars were cut back to Spadina station. The tracks on Carlaw, Riverdale and Pape were maintained for diversions. Parliament found itself truncated, operating between Bloor Street and Parliament station only.

At the west end, Long Branch was extended along the Queensway and Queen Street to loop in Strachan station on a temporary basis. Bathurst was split in two, with the "Bathurst" route trundling between Bathurst station to St. Clair, and "Fort" handling the portion of the route south of the subway to the Exhibition. Service along Adelaide Street was abandoned. Surprisingly enough, new service was started on Dufferin Street, between Strachan station and Queen to the Exhibition's western loop.

Carlton cars continued to wind their way across the city from High Park to Luttrell Loop while Bloor became the undisputed champion of streetcar lines in Toronto, operating along its route from Jane to Luttrell at very high frequencies and very near capacity. St. Clair and Earlscourt continued their various route arrangements on St. Clair, while Rogers Road continued to ply between Oakwood Loop and Bicknell. The Oakwood streetcar had been abandoned earlier that year, replaced by an extension of the Ossington trolley bus (which now ran into Strachan station). Oakwood's abandonment had nothing to do with subway openings, and was just part of the TTC's policy to gradually replace its streetcar routes with buses and trolley coaches.

A surprise survivor was the Dupont route. Despite its proximity to the Yonge line, Dupont wasn't abandoned, and continued operating between Christie Loop and the Ferry Docks. Transfers with the subway were made at City Hall station on the Queen line and Union station on the Yonge line, but both without off-street transferring facilities.

With these changes, Russell (Connaught) carhouse was shut down, having been isolated from the rest of the streetcar system; Danforth Carhouse took over most of that division's operations. These and other cutbacks over the next two years resulted in a large surplus of PCC and Peter Witt vehicles. The Peter Witt cars were, by and large, scrapped, while many PCCs were sold, most notably to Alexandria, Egypt.

During the construction of the Queen line, the province stepped in and offered more capital subsidies to accelerate subway development, and this enabled eastern and western extensions of the Queen line to start construction before the first segment opened. Two years later, on February 28, 1963, service was extended west along Queen and the Queensway to the Queensway/Royal York intersection, and north up Greenwood and along O'Connor and Eglinton Avenues to Warden in the borough of Scarborough. Once again, this meant a reduction to the TTC's streetcar network.

Streetcars disappeared from King Street, with a new "Roncesvalles" route taking over between Sunnyside station and Runnymede Loop as the western remnant of the line. Tracks were abandoned on King between Spadina Avenue and River Road, while those tracks west of Spadina were kept to allow Bathurst, Dufferin, Fort and Harbord streetcars to enter service. Long Branch cars were cut back to Humber station, and the Queensway lost its streetcar service, although the tracks remained in place to Roncesvalles to connect Long Branch with the rest of the system. Dufferin cars were cut back as well, but continued to operate between Dufferin station and the Exhibition (usually with one car, except during the Exhibition). The new Dufferin bus was extended south to this station in the mid 1960s, and it soon operated at a higher frequency than its lowly streetcar counterpart.

Having been bypassed by the subway on the east end, the Queen and Kingston Road shuttles were no longer considered temporary, and continued out of Greenwood station to their respective termini, as did Coxwell. The Carlton and Bloor streetcars found themselves cut in half, with western and eastern segments operating out of Gerrard and Danforth stations respectively. There was some discussion of replacing these eastern segments with more buses to the suburbs, but the TTC held back on this for the moment. There were also no changes to the Bathurst/Fort routes, the routes on St. Clair, and Dupont.

Subway Construction Stalls But Streetcar Reductions Continue

After 1963, Metro council locked itself in a debate over where the next subway should go. The majority of City of Toronto councilors wanted resources devoted to more subway development, possibly with a new line along Bloor Street. Some Metro and TTC planners, suggesting that the neighbourhoods best suited to subway development had been, by and large, served. These sentiments combined with suburban desires for an expanded suburban bus network and a single fare zone meant deadlock on how capital resources would be allocated to a TTC that was becoming more and more dependent upon Metro and Provincial subsidy.

Extending the termini of existing lines proved itself less politically contentious than building new lines, and satisfied the suburban councils' demands for improved service. To keep subway construction going, Metro Chairman Frederick Gardiner and his successors followed this strategy. The North Yonge extension from Eglinton to York Mills stations (via Glencairn, Lawrence and Glen Echo stations) was approved and opened on June 30, 1967. A further extension to Finch via Sheppard and Empress stations opened on March 30, 1969, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the opening of the original Yonge subway. These extensions did not result in further abandonments of streetcar routes, although electric trolley bus service did end on Yonge Street. This resulted in a surplus of these vehicles, and the abandoned overhead was later put up on the Avenue Road bus route. Another piecemeal subway extension was opened on October 31, 1971, taking the Queen line west to Queensway and Kipling, again without altering the TTC's streetcar network.

Despite this, reductions to the streetcar network continued into the early 1970s, with the Danforth streetcar (the portion of the Bloor streetcar east of the Queen subway) being replaced by buses on Labour Day, 1970. Rogers Road, St. Clair and Gerrard were also targeted for conversion, with other routes to follow until streetcars were completely replaced by buses in 1980. However, these abandonments forced the creation of a community coalition named the Streetcars For Toronto Committee, who succeeded in convincing the TTC to abandon its streetcar abandonment policy. Thus, in 1974, Rogers Road became the last streetcar route to be abandoned under this policy. The TTC embarked on an extensive rebuilding program for its PCCs, and went looking for a builder to construct the next generation of streetcars. Mount Pleasant did end its brief existence in 1976, but this was due to a conflict between the Metro Roads Department and the TTC. Trolley buses later took over this route.

Streetcar Abandonments Stopped.

With the TTC's new policy in place when the Spadina subway opened in 1975, only minor changes to the streetcar network occurred. The controversial Spadina subway was a compromise to the suburban councilors in return for the axing of the Spadina Expressway project south of Eglinton Avenue. This subway ran along the median of the expressway from Wilson Avenue to Eglinton and then followed the expressway's proposed route beneath Northeimer Ravine and Casa Loma to the CP railway tracks. There, it turned and followed Davenport Road to Yonge Street, terminating beneath the Yonge subway's Bloor station (tracks continued south to connect with the Yonge line for carbarn trips).

With the opening, "Bay" returned as a route name for the cars operating south from Bay station to York Loop (the Ferry Docks having been moved west to Bay Street a few years beforehand). "Dupont" disappeared as a route as the "Annette" trolley bus was extended east from Christie Loop to meet the subway. Bathurst Cars diverted into a newly constructed terminal at St. Clair West station, along with Earlscourt cars during rush hours. Earlscourt was on its way to being phased out, with St. Clair providing the bulk of service on this street. When the new CLRVs started replacing the PCC cars on the streets of Toronto, and route numbers replaced route names on the rollsigns, Earlscourt disappeared as an independent route on St. Clair Avenue.

Up to this point, all streetcars were stored in one of three carhouses. Danforth Carhouse serviced the Queen, Kingston Road and Coxwell Routes and shared Bloor and Carlton with Roncesvalles while Roncesvalles Carhouse serviced cars operating on the isolated Long Branch and Dufferin routes as well as the Roncesvalles route. Wychwood Carhouse handled St. Clair, Bathurst and Dupont routes. There was some suggestion that Roncesvalles be shut down, and its operations parceled out to the Danforth and Wychwood carhouses, but as the carhouses were more or less balanced in their operations, no such action was taken.

Expansion Proposals Into the 1980s

Talks began on expansions to the TTC's streetcar network in 1975, when the TTC proposed a LRT route between the Queen subway's eastern terminus at Warden, and the developing Scarborough Town Centre. The Streetcars for Toronto Committee also convinced the TTC to consider returning streetcars to a dedicated Spadina route. Both proposals were delayed, or abandoned altogether, thanks to community concerns, or interference from the province. In the case of the Scarborough RT, the provincial government convinced the TTC to change the line's design to a new Intermediate Capacity Transit System that their crown corporation, UTDC, was developing. While this was happening, the two of the four last extensions to the subway for the next 16 years opened in 1980, with the Queen line's western terminus being moved to Sherway Gardens, and the eastern terminus being moved to Kennedy.

Proposals for more lines were coming from council and planners as a result of continued suburban growth. One comprehensive plan was Network 2011, which proposed lines on Sheppard Avenue, Eglinton Avenue, and a Downtown Relief line connecting Danforth station on the Queen line to Bloor station on the Yonge line, perhaps as an extension of the Spadina subway. Concerned at the expense of new subway construction, the city was looking for alternatives, and the province wanted the Scarborough ICTS line to showcase one such alternative. The TTC agreed to the design change, much to its later regret, and the Scarborough RT began operating, three years late, in March 1985.

The ICTS experiment never caught on, and the province, Metro and the TTC turned their attention back to more subway construction. Talks delayed construction even further. Meanwhile, the Spadina LRT proposal moved through the community consultation process almost as slowly as new subway development. The first phase of this, the Harbourfront LRT, extended the Bay streetcar west from York Loop on newly constructed private right-of-way to the CNE, where it shared Exhibition loop with Fort cars (this loop was later revamped, due to construction of a National Trade Centre and also in anticipation of further expansion west, possibly to Sunnyside station on the Queen line). This expansion preceded an extensive redevelopment of the Toronto's waterfront and old railway lands. The placement of the Skydome encouraged the, to date, last expansion of the old Yonge line, west from Union station along Front, past a Simcoe/Skydome station to its new terminus at Spadina Avenue, which opened concurrent with the Harbourfront LRT, in June 1989.

The last expansion of the subway network occurred on March 30, 1996, taking the Spadina line from Wilson to Downsview, a connection "from nowhere to nowhere" in anticipation of an extension to York University, and a westward extension of a Sheppard subway, both of which may never materialize. The Spadina LRT opened to the public on July 27 1997. Sharing tracks with the Harbord cars from Spadina station to Harbord Street, this new route travels on private right-of-way from a loop at Queens Quay and Spadina, all the way north to Dupont station at Davenport Road on the Spadina subway.

The Situation in 2000

The present day sees the TTC operating with 16 streetcar routes over several kilometres of track. It's a sharp drop from 1954, but nowhere near as sharp a drop experienced by American cities that abandoned streetcar service altogether. Toronto also boasts three heavy-rail subway routes and one ICTS line. Proposals to expand the subway network have come and gone, as have governments to support them, but work is continuing on a Sheppard subway from Yonge to Don Mills. The next priority is a toss-up between an extension of the Spadina subway north to York University, or an extension of the Sheppard subway east to Scarborough Centre. Although a Downtown Relief line was proposed along Bloor Street as part of a major rapid-transit expansion proposal, subsequent proposals have not included it; rapid transit construction would appear to favour the suburbs, these days. Even the outer suburbs are getting involved, with proposals to extend the Yonge line north of Steeles Avenue, and the Queen line west to Dixie. York Region and Mississauga operate extensive bus operations to the current termini of these lines.

There can be no doubt that the subway has influenced the development of Toronto in a great way. Toronto's vibrant downtown sits as a cross at the bottom of Toronto, with arms radiating up Yonge Street and out both ways on Queen Street. North York has successfully launched its new downtown core between Finch and Sheppard stations, and was careful to locate its new city hall close to the Empress subway station. Before amalgamation, the other municipalities in Metro also tried to build their own downtowns, with various levels of success. Scarborough attempted to build its own downtown at the Scarborough Town Centre station on the Scarborough RT, but this hasn't quite taken. Etobicoke was long in debate over its plans for a downtown on the Queensway between Kipling and Royal York stations, while York's dreams of a downtown rested upon an Eglinton subway or a northwest extension of the Yonge line that has yet to be built. East York never developed plans to construct its own downtown, but the presence of the subway along Greenwood and O'Connor Avenues appears to be doing this for them.

The Yonge subway is arguably the backbone of the Toronto system, serving two successful downtowns, and pointing towards the burgeoning York Region. The Spadina subway finds itself underused, an appendage of the Yonge line, although plans to extend it to York University and into York Region make it more popular. Mississauga, Etobicoke and Scarborough have come to depend heavily on the Queen line, but Mississauga and Etobicoke have complained that the line doesn't go far enough to serve the majority of their citizens, while Scarborough finds the Scarborough RT a poor substitute to an eastward extension of the Queen line. The streetcars in Toronto continue to carry more than their share of the TTC's surface passengers, proving their worth every day. In particular, although the demands on the Bloor streetcar diminished after the Queen East extension channelled the Scarborough commuters onto the subway, 40-50000 passengers still take this streetcar every workday. The character of the street has developed as the years have gone by, with the Bloor West Village gaining a reputation as a place for artisans, coffee-houses, and bohemian clubs. The Bloor streetcar is seen as being a key element of Bloor Street's distinctive character.

With the opening of the Spadina LRT, there was talk of expanding the streetcar network further. Cutbacks in 1996 made a number of streetcars surplus and, as a result, a Conversion to Streetcars Report examined the possibility of reconverting the King and Dundas bus routes back to streetcar operation. Other proposals have included extending the St. Clair streetcar to Runnymede, connecting with the Roncesvalles streetcar line. Of those proposals, one bore fruit. To support the development boom in Harbourfront and to help in the revitalization of the rest of the Waterfront, the TTC recommended that $13 million be spent on less than a kilometre of new track to connect Exhibition loop with Dufferin loop. This allowed the Bay streetcar to be extended west of Exhibition loop, along private right-of-way to Dufferin, up Dufferin to King and along the existing King tracks to Sunnyside station. The proposals surrounding the 2008 Olympic bid and the Port Lands revitalization plan may see this long leg of the Bay streetcar become a separate Waterfront LRT, running along Queens Quay East, possibly as far as Ashbridge's Bay.

As always, expansion of the TTC network depends on the will of the planners, the charisma of the politicians, and the availability of funding. All three of these elements are unpredictable, so we must expect uncertainty as we carry into the future.

Conclusions and Authors Notes

The design of the alternate subway network makes a couple of key assumptions. One is that, just as in the real world, subway construction in this parallel universe ended in 1980, with one exception. Secondly, that the disappearance of the University subway from the picture would have caused the other subway projects to move up the queue.

Without the University subway, construction could have started on a crosstown line as early as 1959 (the early ending of the crosstown subway debate might have gotten shovels in the ground earlier), resulting in an opening date as early as 1961. The crosstown subway could have entered Etobicoke and Scarborough as early as 1963 and attention would have turned to the North Yonge extensions earlier. With the extension to Finch taking place earlier, it is possible that the cost saving idea of eliminating the mid-concession stations might not have been required. With Spadina opening earlier, and the Kipling and Kennedy extensions of the Queen line opening earlier, a further extension to Sherway could have closed the book on subway construction in 1980.

After 1980, rapid transit development occurs much as it had before, with the one exception I mentioned. The enthusiasm surrounding the Skydome and Convention Centre projects, plus the presence of a terminal station instead of a through station at Union could have generated enough political will to extend the Yonge subway two stations west to the Skydome project. The final stop at Spadina Avenue mirrors the actual proposals, around that time, to terminate the Downtown Relief line two stations west of Union, at Spadina Avenue.

Had the Toronto subway network been developed in this fashion, it would have altered the city significantly. I have already discussed the affect this alternate design would have had on the streetcar network, but it would have had an impact on future subway priorities as well. Although the Sheppard subway would probably proceed as it has in real life, it is possible that the next favoured project would have the Yonge subway extended northwest paralleling the CN Weston sub. Such a line would be cheaper to build than an Eglinton West subway, and would serve roughly the same purpose -- eventually extending to the airport.

The Downtown Relief line might not have disappeared in this parallel universe. The lack of a University subway puts a strain on the Yonge line's capacity between Queen and Bloor stations. Extending the Yonge subway west to Dufferin station might help cut back on the number of transfers being made at Queen, but you would still have a single rapid transit line providing service to an area which, in the real world, has two. Extending the Spadina subway east along Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue might have helped relieve congestion. Either that or extending the Spadina subway south, express fashion, to Queen station, or possibly down Bay Street to connect via City Hall and Union stations.

It's hard to tell whether or not this alternate subway network would have been better or worse. It would, however, have been different.

APPENDIX A: The streetcar routes as of November 1, 2000, might have been as follows:

  • 501 - Bloor - From Jane Loop east to Danforth station on the Queen line, with direct transfers to the Yonge and Spadina subways at Bloor station.
  • 502 - St Clair - From St. Clair station, west to Keele, via St. Clair West station on the Spadina subway.
  • 503 - Gerrard - From Gerrard station on the Queen line, east on Gerrard, Coxwell, Gerrard, Main and Danforth to Luttrell loop.
  • 504 - Kingston Road - From Greenwood station on the Queen line, east on Queen, and northeast on Kingston Road, looping at Victoria Park.
  • 505 - Queen - From Greenwood station on the Queen line, east on Queen, to Neville Park. This route is replaced by 300 Queen Night bus which operates between Neville Park on the east to Sherway Gardens on the west.
  • 506 - Carlton - From Howard Park Loop east via Howard Park, Dundas, College, Carlton, Parliament and Gerrard to Gerrard station on the Queen line. During the night hours, cars are routed to Runnymede Loop on Dundas Street.
  • 507 - Long Branch - From Humber station on the Queen Route, along Lake Shore Boulevard to Long Branch loop near the Mississauga border.
  • 509 - Harbord - From Spadina station on the Queen subway, this line shares private right-of-way on Spadina Avenue to Harbord, where it turns west, and follows Harbord, Ossington, Bloor, Dovercourt, Davenport and Old Weston Road to Townsley Loop north of St. Clair.
  • 510 - Spadina - From a loop at Queens Quay and Spadina, north on private right-of-way on Spadina, passing Spadina/Front station on the Yonge subway, and looping through Spadina station on the Queen line, north to Dupont station on the Spadina subway.
  • 511 - Bathurst - From Bathurst station on the Queen line, this route travels north of Bathurst Street to St. Clair, looping at St. Clair West station on the Spadina line.
  • 512 - Fort - From Bathurst station on the Queen line, this route travels south on Bathurst and west on Fleet Street to the Exhibition Loop. May soon be interlined with 515 Dufferin South.
  • 513 - Coxwell - From Greenwood station on the Queen line, east on Queen, north on Coxwell, to Danforth, looping at Danforth Carhouse.
  • 514 - Bay - From Bay station on the Spadina subway, south on Bay Street, to Queens Quay, operating past Bay station on the Queen line. There, it turns west on private right-of-way via Queens Quay and Fleet Street to Exhibition loop. There, it proceeds along private right-of-way along the north end of the CNE to Dufferin Street, north on Dufferin to King and west along King to Sunnyside station.
  • 515 - Dufferin South - From Dufferin station on the Queen subway, this stub line travels south on Dufferin Street to the Exhibition West entrance. May soon be interlined with 512 Fort.
  • 516 - Roncesvalles - From Sunnyside station on the Queen subway, this line travels north on Roncesvalles Avenue and Dundas Street, turning back at Runnymede Loop.
  • 517 - Parliament - From Parliament station on the Queen subway, this line travels north on Parliament Street, turning back at Bloor.