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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

Text by James Bow, revised December 2017.

Canada's first subway opened with much fanfare on March 30, 1954, marking a great step forward for public transportation in the City of Toronto. The subway beneath Yonge Street from Union Station to Eglinton Avenue represented the culmination of years of planning, design and construction, from proposals that first surfaced around 1910, reappeared in 1942, and were approved by referendum in 1946. Torontonians now had a modern and rapid transit service connecting the city's downtown to its northern suburbs. A new era had dawned.

The YONGE subway also represented the end of an era. As the opening ceremonies wound down, streetcars stopped running on Yonge Street and Avenue Road. The once mighty BAY streetcar ceased operation and was replaced by an extended DUPONT line. The portion of the YONGE streetcar that wasn't replaced by a subway was replaced by a trolley bus, and several downtown trippers that ran in from the east and western parts of the city were consolidated with the main east-west routes, and transferred downtown via subway. The CHURCH streetcar survived a few more weeks, but was bussed the following May, with the TTC blaming power shortages for the change.

At the time, the streetcars were seen as yesterday's transit option. The future lay in more subways and, where subways weren't appropriate, in buses and trolley buses. Although the only other streetcar abandonment to occur in the next six years would be the conversion of the OAKWOOD streetcar to an extension of the OSSINGTON trolley bus on January 1, 1960, the changes to Toronto's streetcar network signaled that subsequent subway construction meant further contractions to the streetcar network, and the City of Toronto was planning the next line.

A Controversy Over the East-West Alignment

The 1946 city-wide referendum that approved the construction of the Yonge subway called for the next rapid transit line to be built beneath or near Queen Street, however there were some in the city that suggested that a different route be taken. Although Queen Street was seen as Toronto's main east-west thoroughfare, the TTC noted that traffic was increasing along Bloor Street as the eastern and western suburbs built up from the lake. With ridership increasing rapidly on the BLOOR and DANFORTH streetcars, possibly passing the QUEEN and KINGSTON ROAD services, some TTC planners argued that the east-west subway should be built beneath Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue, with a new line running beneath University Avenue to help transfer some of those passengers downtown.

The municipality of Metropolitan Toronto, however, with half of its seats controlled by City of Toronto Aldermen, argued that the 1946 referendum had called for a subway beneath Queen Street (it actually called for a streetcar subway, rather than a full rapid transit line, but this fact was glossed over), and with the Toronto Transit Commission now requiring municipal subsidies to pay for further subway construction, the TTC should not "go rogue" and overrule the will of the people.

Metro Planners couldn't ignore the fact that suburban development was increasing traffic on Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue, however. Lake Ontario blocked development to the south of Queen Street, and the northeastern angle of the shoreline east of the Beaches meant that Queen Street petered out as a thoroughfare at Victoria Park, while subsequent development routed new commuters down Kingston Road and, increasingly, Danforth Avenue. So, Metro planners proposed a compromise, called "the Flying U". The east-west subway would start in the west at the Bloor-Keele intersection, head east to Christie but then turn south on Grace Street to Queen. In the east, the subway would start at Woodbine and Danforth, head west to Pape, then turn south to Queen. The subway would then enter the downtown in both directions via Queen Street. The plan was put to Metro Council in 1958 and approved by a strong majority of councilors, both Toronto and suburban. On November 16, 1959, at a special ceremony at the corner of Queen and Yonge, Ontario Premier Leslie Frost officially broke ground on the nearly 4 kilometre first phase of the QUEEN subway.

The Queen Subway Opens

Construction of the QUEEN line began at Union Station, as the TTC built a narrow tunnel beneath University Avenue to connect the YONGE subway with the Queen line near Osgoode Hall, allowing the QUEEN line to use Davisville Yards to store equipment, at least for its first phase. The QUEEN subway itself was built using cut-and-cover techniques beneath Queen Street through the downtown, from McCaul Street in the west to Mutual Street in the east, but then the line veered north behind the shops on the north side of the street. At these points, the line shifted north, operating in an open cut west from McCaul to Bathurst and east from Mutual to Parliament. Although construction through the downtown was disruptive, especially to passengers of diverted streetcars, it continued without incident, and the first phase of the QUEEN line opened to the public on February 28, 1963, with Ontario Premier John Robarts flipping the ceremonial switch to officially start service.

The first phase of the QUEEN line ran from Bathurst to Parliament, with stops at Bathurst, Spadina, Beverly, Osgoode (University Avenue), City Hall (Yonge), Sherbourne and Parliament. Passengers transferred to and from the YONGE and QUEEN subway lines at City Hall-Yonge. Service was immediately popular, although an unexpected result was the number of YONGE passengers from the northern suburbs who transferred at QUEEN to access the eastern and western parts of downtown Toronto. Passengers on the QUEEN line didn't just come in from the ends, but out from the centre as well, broadening the downtown catchment area.

The QUEEN subway had a profound effect on the Toronto streetcar network, with the immediate abandonment of streetcar service on Queen Street from Bathurst to Parliament. The QUEEN route was cut to operate from Neville Park to Parliament station only, as was the KINGSTON ROAD car. KINGSTON ROAD TRIPPER service along King Street ended entirely. At the west end, the LONG BRANCH streetcar was extended from Humber Loop east to Bathurst station. Similarly, streetcar service on Bathurst Street was split, with BATHURST cars plying the tracks from Bathurst Station to St. Clair and FORT cars operating from Bathurst Station to the Exhibition. BATHURST service on Adelaide Street was removed and tracks removed from Adelaide from Bathurst to Victoria. Tracks on Richmond Street were paved over as well.

The KING car was similarly split by the subway, with the main route cut to operate from Vincent Loop near the Bloor/Dundas intersection to Parliament and north to Parliament station, and the remainder of the service operated as BROADVIEW, from Erindale Loop to Parliament Station via Queen. PARLIAMENT service was also cut back to Parliament Station at Queen.

Service continued on the DUPONT route, however, and the TTC added a new streetcar route called DUFFERIN, operating from Bathurst Station via Queen and Dufferin to Dufferin Gate. The significant expansion of suburban bus service occurring around this time, coupled with streetcars rendered surplus due to abandonments meant that the TTC was unable to convert all of the streetcar routes it wanted to bus operation. DUPONT in particular was a busy route, and would have required buses the TTC did not have if it were changed. All other streetcar services were retained, but it was a stay of execution. The TTC was already hard at work on the next phase of QUEEN's construction.

The Big Extension

The first phase of the QUEEN subway line was nearly four kilometres long. The next phase completed the Flying U with 12.5 kilometres of new subway. To the east, the QUEEN line became elevated, and crossed over the Don River on a bridge before diving underground near Broadview and turning north via Pape to Danforth and then east on Danforth to Woodbine. To the west, the QUEEN line continued through an open cut until it dove underground through Trinity Bellwoods Park, tunneling beneath Grace Street and north of Bloor to Keele. Thanks to an infusion of cash from the provincial government, work was completed within three years, and the QUEEN extension opened to the public on February 26, 1966. The new stops opened were Bellwoods Park (Dundas), Grace (College), Christie, Ossington, Dufferin, Lansdowne, Vincent and Keele in the west and Broadview, Bolton, Gerrard, Pape, Donlands, Greenwood, Coxwell and Woodbine in the east.

The impact on Toronto's streetcar network was even greater than in 1963. The HARBORD streetcar was abandoned and replaced by buses between Wellesley and Ossington stations. The BROADVIEW streetcar was also abandoned, replaced by buses extended south to turn at Broadview station. The BATHURST car was abandoned as suburban buses extended south of St. Clair to Bathurst station (although Bathurst tracks from Dupont to St. Clair were retained to maintain the DUPONT streetcar's connection to Hillcrest and St. Clair carhouse). The DUNDAS streetcar was shortened to a shuttle route operating between Runnymede Loop and Vincent station, while buses ran along Dundas Street from Vincent to Gerrard station via Carlaw. The QUEEN and KINGSTON ROAD streetcars were shortened from Parliament Station to Bolton, and the COXWELL streetcar was extended west from Coxwell and Queen to join them at Bolton.

The CARLTON streetcar was split in three, with a COLLEGE route operating from High Park Loop to Grace Station, a rump CARLTON route operating from Grace Station to Gerrard and a GERRARD route operating from Gerrard Station to Main Street Loop. BLOOR was similarly split, with the rump service operating from Christie Station to Pape Station, and BLOOR WEST and DANFORTH streetcar shuttles connecting the ends of the QUEEN subway with the former terminuses at Jane and Luttrell respectively. These last two routes were temporary, however, as the TTC continued to deal with a bus shortage and streetcar surplus ahead of the phase 3 extension of the QUEEN line.

One other change to note was the extension of the ANNETTE trolley bus south from Dupont via Christie to Christie station, leaving the DUPONT streetcar still operating through old Christie loop.

Into the Suburbs

Provincial funding not only allowed phase 2 of the QUEEN subway to open at once, it accelerated further extensions to the QUEEN line. As the municipalities within Metropolitan Toronto jockeyed for improved transit, and debated over the next subway line, the Metro Chairman found it was politically easier to simply extend the current lines further into the suburbs. Work was already underway on the east and west extensions of the QUEEN line as Phase 2 opened and, on May 11, 1968, the new extensions opened. To the west, the line continued just north of Bloor Street, with stops at High Park, Runnymede, Jane, Old Mill, Royal York and Islington in the Borough of Etobicoke. To the east, new stops were placed at Main Street, Victoria Park and at the intersection of Warden and St. Clair.

These extensions spelt the end of the BLOOR WEST and DANFORTH streetcar shuttles, but surprisingly meant few other streetcar abandonments. There were no parallel services that could be abandoned that had not already been abandoned, and even with the sale of surplus air-electric PCCs to Alexandria, Egypt, there were still a large number of streetcars that could still operate. The only other changes to the network included routing the GERRARD streetcar into Main Street station, and the conversion of the DUNDAS streetcar into the JUNCTION trolley bus.

With Etobicoke and Scarborough now served by subway extensions, attention turned to the north, and work commenced on extending the YONGE subway north of Eglinton Avenue into North York. While labour disputes delayed construction, the TTC were able to open the line to York Mills on March 31, 1973, with an intermediate stop at Lawrence. This extension spelt the end of the YONGE trolley bus, which was replaced with diesel buses and extended north. There were no concurrent streetcar abandonments, in part because Metro council's mood around streetcars had changed.

A New Direction for Subways and Streetcars in Toronto

In 1967, a provincial reorganization of Metropolitan Toronto gave more council support to the suburban municipalities. The new balance of power led Metro Council to instruct the TTC to end its system of zone fares, uniting all of Metropolitan Toronto under a single fare zone in 1972. It also shifted support away from further subway development downtown, giving higher priority to a new line to the northwest, within the median of the Spadina Expressway, then under construction.

At the same time, a grassroots movement began within the City of Toronto itself, questioning Metropolitan Toronto's policy of new expressway construction, and demanding an urban form that was friendlier to the average pedestrian. This grassroots movement successfully put a stop to the Spadina Expressway, forcing the provincial government to end construction at Eglinton Avenue. It was also fertile ground for the development of the Streetcars for Toronto Committee, which lobbied the TTC to end its policy of ending Toronto's remaining streetcar routes.

At a raucous meeting of the TTC, in April 1972, the commission agreed to abandon its streetcar abandonment policy and to begin a search for the next generation of streetcars. The last streetcar route to be abandoned under the TTC's abandonment policy would be ROGERS ROAD, replaced in July 1974 by a new branch of the OSSINGTON trolley bus (although a further abandonment would occur of the eastern section of the ST. CLAIR streetcar on Mount Pleasant Road in 1976, with that part of the route replaced by trolley buses. Also that year, a surplus of trolley bus equipment caused by the elimination of the YONGE trolley bus due to the North Yonge extension was taken care of by converting the DUNDAS bus route to trolley bus operation).

The policy change to retain and re-invest in Toronto's streetcar network coincided with a growing realization that subway construction was getting increasingly expensive, and the high-density urban neighbourhoods that the subway was most effectively designed to serve had been, by and large, served. There was still vast tracts of low-density suburban land that needed rapid transit access, and planners for Metropolitan Toronto thought long and hard about how to provide that access.

The provincial government, which agreed to back Toronto's new emphasis on public transportation by paying for three-quarters of the capital costs of transit agencies throughout the province, set up a crown corporation called the Ontario Transportation Development Corporation (OTDC) to help build the next generation of Toronto's streetcars. They also set about trying to solve the question of intermediate capacity rapid transit service. After briefly flirting with personal rapid transit and maglev trains, a proposal materialized to use streetcars on high-speed private rights-of-way to handle suburban rapid transit development. As part of this proposal, the provincial government offered support for connecting the developing Scarborough Town Centre to the eastern end of the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway via a high-speed streetcar trunk route. At the Scarborough Town Centre, the line would eventually branch out to serve several different neighbourhoods throughout northern and eastern Scarborough.

The Last Subway Extensions

So, in the early 1970s, as the North Yonge extension opened, work began on the SPADINA subway. The first phase broke ground on Front Street, west of Union station, and work proceeded via cut and cover beneath Front and Spadina Avenue and then north on Spadina Road along the alignment of the cancelled Spadina Expressway. On January 28, 1978, the first phase of the SPADINA subway opened, with stops at the CN Tower, Queen/Spadina (where passengers could change to QUEEN line trains), College West, Bloor West, Dupont, St. Clair West and Eglinton West.

As opposed to previous subway openings in Toronto, the changes to Toronto's streetcar network were negligible. The DUPONT streetcar was cut back to a small terminal at Dupont station and renamed BAY while the ANNETTE trolley bus was extended from Christie to Dupont station and renamed DUPONT. Service on Christie Street was replaced by a new CHRISTIE bus operating between Christie Station and St. Clair West station. The BATHURST bus service was split at St. Clair West station. The only tracks that were abandoned was a small stretch along Dupont Street between Bathurst and Christie, as BAY cars still needed tracks on Dupont and Bathurst to connect with the carhouse at St. Clair. At the same time as the subway opened, the first of the new Canadian Light Rail Vehicles started plying Toronto's streetcar network.

Work continued on what the TTC advertised would be the final extensions of the Toronto subway network for some time. A short extension of the QUEEN subway was underway, taking the line from Islington to Kipling, easing congestion at Islington's bus terminal and providing access to acres of new parking. The second phase of the SPADINA subway continued, this time in the median of the Spadina Expressway, from Eglinton Avenue towards Wilson and a new yard being built beside the Downsview Air Force Base. Both extensions opened at the same time on November 22, 1980. The SPADINA extension added stops at Glencairn, Lawrence West, Yorkdale and Wilson.

Now the TTC's focus was on the construction of its nescient LRT network in Scarborough, operating from a new terminal above Warden station and paralleling the old Canadian Northern Railroad and Uxbridge subdivision tracks to Ellesmere Road before turning east on an elevated structure towards the Scarborough Town Centre. Work proceeded quickly, on time and on budget, and the new trunk line opened for service on March 24, 1984. Stops on the route included at Kennedy, Moore Park, Lawrence East, Ellesmere, Midland, Scarborough Centre and McCowan, with a new streetcar yard built east of McCowan, allowing for a further extension east towards Centennial College and the Malvern neighbourhood.

Subways Versus Streetcars

While the SCARBOROUGH LRT opened on time and on budget, and for far less money than a comparable subway extension, many suburban politicians were slow to embrace the "new" old technology. North York mayor Mel Lastman bridled at the suggestion that his hoped-for new downtown could be served by a streetcar along Sheppard Avenue. He felt only a subway would do, and he campaigned hard for the project.

At the same time, the retirement of premier Bill Davis in 1984, and the subsequent defeat of the Progressive Conservative government in 1985 created considerable uncertainty for provincial support for Toronto's transit plans. There were also deficits to deal with, and rapid transit development slowed. The lack of money did favour the construction of cheaper LRTs, however, especially since their success was proven in Scarborough.

On July 18, 1987, the TTC opened North York Centre station, an infill station between Finch and Sheppard stations to support North York's new downtown. At the same time, to support the redeveloping Harbourfront lands, the TTC temporarily closed and bussed the BAY streetcar south of Wellington for a new project. A tunnel was built beneath Bay Street from Union station south to Queen's Quay, and from there, turning west and emerging onto a private right-of-way on Queen's Quay as far as Spadina. On June 22, 1990, this tunnel opened, and HARBOURFRONT streetcar service began, while BAY cars looped via Front, Scott and Wellington.

This tipped the balance. If LRTs were good enough for downtown Toronto as well as subways, it was good enough for the suburban municipalities. Plans to build the Sheppard rapid transit line as an LRT took root. However, the city still had to cope with a recession, and cutbacks in government funding.

The Lean Years

Blooming deficits and a hard recession in the early 1990s cut into the TTC's ridership and government support. One of the first casualties of the cutbacks was Toronto's trolley bus network. Years of quiet neglect had reduced the quality of its infrastructure, and delays in purchasing new equipment left the system at the end of its useful life. Only the presence of leased trolley buses from Edmonton prevented the system from shutting down completely. The TTC announced its intention to end trolley bus service early in 1992, but Edmonton held the TTC to the terms of its lease, meaning that the TTC would have paid to let the Edmonton buses sit idle for another year. Rather than waste that money, the trolley buses on the OSSINGTON and DUPONT route were given a reprieve until the end of 1992 when the lease ran out and trolley bus service ended in Toronto.

Through the recession of the early 1990s, the TTC struggled to maintain its system as ridership dropped 20% in the face of service cuts and fare increases. The low point came on August 11, 1995 when a subway train operated by a driver with inadequate training rolled past a red signal whose emergency stopping lever failed to stop the train, ploughing into the train in front of it. This fatal accident highlighted the problems the TTC was having with maintenance, and led TTC Commissioner David Gunn to declare that a State of Good Repair was the system's highest priority, above plans to expand the system's rapid transit network. Among the initiatives that took place in 1996, subway service was stabllized at five minute intervals or better. Used GM New Look buses were bought from Montreal to quickly bolster service. The TTC's safety record improved, and the riders slowly came back.

In the next two years, two expansion projects opened to the public. On March 31, 1996, the TTC extended the SPADINA subway from Wilson to Downsview to meet the planned SHEPPARD LRT. Although the extension shortened the bus trip of a number of routes that fed into Wilson from the north, the expansion was criticized as an extension "from nowhere to nowhere", but its proponents saw it as an important step towards achieving the goals set out by the Network 2011 plan. The provincial government had announced that funding for the SHEPPARD LRT would continue, so Downsview's usefulness would be enhanced once the LRT extended west to meet it.

On July 27, 1997, another extension took place. The BAY streetcar had been taken offline in 1992 for an upgrade. The City of Toronto and the TTC were extending the subway tunnel beneath Bay Street north from Union Station to north of Queen Street, with intermediate stops at King and Queen (with transfers here to the YONGE-SPADINA subway), bringing the number of downtown LRT underground stations to four. At the same time, the tracks north of Queen were placed in a private right of way while tracks on private right-of-way were built along Queen's Quay west from Spadina to the Exhibition. The new BAY streetcar opened to the public with considerable fanfare, highlighting a new sense of optimism at the TTC, as the year saw increased ridership and a sense that perhaps the commission had turned a corner.

The success of the BAY streetcar upgrade led to further improvements. The LONG BRANCH streetcar was upgraded to private right-of-way from Humber to Long Branch. Further improvements on Queen, with curb bump outs and track diversions around left turn lanes, helped give streetcars priority over cars. On July 20, 2000, the LONG BRANCH improvements were unveiled to the public with another ceremony. Then, on November 22, 2002, the SHEPPARD LRT opened, and Toronto's rapid transit network took another big step forward.

The Beginnings of a Suburban LRT Network.

The SHEPPARD LRT operated underground from just east of Bathurst, beneath the subway at Yonge Street and east, before emerging in the median of Sheppard Avenue just west of Consumers Road. On the surface, it extended to Downsview station to the west and Victoria Park to the east. It featured underground stations at Senlac, Sheppard/Yonge (where connections were provided to the YONGE subway), Willowdale, Bayview, Bessarion, Leslie and Don Mills. With LRT trains able to operate at subway speeds from Bathurst to Don Mills, and then operating on centre reservation right-of-way the rest of the distance, the LRT line offered a quick ride along Sheppard Avenue, and bolstered urban development along Sheppard Avenue generally, and at North York's new downtown in particular. It, along with the SCARBOROUGH LRT continued to tip the balance from subways to LRTs as the technology of choice for extending rapid transit service to the suburbs.

However, funds were still limited, and the Conservative governments of Mike Harris and Ernie Eves were slow in deciding where the next extensions should take place. Scarborough wanted the SHEPPARD LRT extended to meet up with the SCARBOROUGH LRT, either at the Town Centre, or at the gateway to Malvern, east of the Sheppard/Markham Road intersection. The Liberal and Conservative parties, however, courting voters in the 905 region, focused on extending the rapid transit north. The Conservatives discussed a proposal to extend the YONGE subway north from Finch towards Richmond Hill, but did not commit to starting construction immediately, suggesting private investment would be needed to secure the extension. The Liberals, meanwhile, suggested extending the SHEPPARD LRT west and north, through the redeveloping Downsview lands, beneath York University, and into the City of Vaughan. After the Liberals defeated the Conservatives in the 2003 election, they followed through on this proposal, studying alignments to take the SHEPPARD LRT northwest towards Vaughan.

Toronto, meanwhile, started to pursue its own agenda. The success of the private right-of-way on Lake Shore Boulevard convinced them to restore private right-of-way on St. Clair Avenue, although this proposal proved to be more contentious than expected. After lawsuits, and debates during two election campaigns, work proceeded, and St. Clair's new private right-of-way opened for business late in 2009.

At around this time, the City of Toronto and the TTC embarked on an initiative they called the Ridership Growth Strategy. Acknowledging that funds for subways or even underground LRTs might be limited, the City of Toronto and the TTC embarked on incremental changes to improve transit service and grow ridership to over half a billion passengers per year.

This wasn't to say that further underground rapid transit wasn't out of the question, but as the provincial government started work on the western extension of the SHEPPARD LRT, proceeding underground through Downsview Park, Keele Street and York University into Vaughan, the City of Toronto proposed a significant expansion of the rest of the suburban LRT network. The Transit City proposal suggested extending the SCARBOROUGH LRT east to Centennial College and then north to Sheppard East and Progress. There, it would meet the SHEPPARD LRT east extension, built on the surface of Sheppard Avenue from Victoria Park to Conlins Road. A FINCH WEST LRT would operate from an underground terminal at the Keele-Finch station on the SHEPPARD LRT line and emerge to continue at grade west to Humber College. The centerpiece of this proposal, however, would be the EGLINTON-CROSSTOWN LRT, operating underground from Don Mills all the way to Weston Road, with surface alignments running from Weston to Pearson Airport and from Don Mills to Kennedy station.

Any remaining doubts over the advantages of surface LRT construction over underground were dispelled when the SHEPPARD LRT east extension and the SCARBOROUGH LRT extensions opened to the public in the fall of 2013. Soon, they were carrying more riders than initially expected. However the benefits of underground construction remained clear, as congestion along Eglinton Avenue intensified as construction continued on the EGLINTON-CROSSTOWN LRT.

The City of Toronto worked on building tracks down Cherry Street and, on June 19, 2016, opened the CHERRY streetcar from Parliament Station to Distillery Loop, with further extensions planned to Cherry Beach in the future. The western extension of the SHEPPARD LRT to Vaughan opened to the public on December 17, 2017, with a connection to major regional transit hubs at Highway 407 and in Downtown Vaughan. The FINCH WEST LRT experienced some delays, however, but was still anticipated to open by the end of 2018.

Where Toronto Stands

As of the end of 2017, the City of Toronto has a robust rapid transit network of heavy-rail subways and light rail transit lines. Two more lines will be opening shortly: the surface FINCH WEST LRT in 2018, and the EGLINTON-CROSSTOWN LRT in 2021. This is not to say, however, that things are perfect. Congestion remains thanks to urban sprawl, and car-oriented development in the suburbs. The downtown subway network is strained, and calls for a relief line along Bloor Street from Christie to Pape are continually delayed due to the line's expense. The redevelopment of the eastern Harbourfront and the Port Lands continues, but with little commitment to fund the planned expansion of the streetcar network, and the residents of southern Etobicoke continue to call for improved transit service along Lake Shore Road. Although the private right-of-way has helped here, residents are hoping for a more direct connection to the downtown, possibly via the BAY route along Queen's Quay.

The QUEEN subway and the retained streetcars have had a considerable impact on Toronto's urban form. The presence of the subway allowed the downtown core to expand to the east and the west as well as to the north, with commercial skyscrapers popping up along Queen Street as far west as Spadina Avenue and as far east as Parliament. Meanwhile the retained streetcars have contributed to a vibrant urban streetscape on the streets where they have remained. Bloor Street in particular is noted for its chic urban form, with bars, coffee shops and fashion boutiques, although there are concerns that gentrification is pushing out the old haunts of artists and the less well off.

It's hard to say how the city could have been changed had the Metropolitan council listened to TTC planners and built its east-west subway beneath Bloor Street instead of Queen. It's hard to imagine the downtown without its east-west spine along Queen Street, or a city that could have been as vibrant without its streetcars. The question of a BLOOR-DANFORTH subway is best left to alternate historians, who can speculate all they like, without fear of question.

Reality Versus Fantasy

This article is an update of an older alternative history article speculating on what would happen to the Toronto streetcar network if the QUEEN subway had been built instead of the BLOOR-DANFORTH and UNIVERSITY lines. Now with a few more years of experience behind me, I feared that my earlier work was naïve in its thoughts about the impact of the streetcar network. I liked the streetcars so much, I was loathe to abandon lines that probably would have been abandoned.

Writing this revision, however, I put in an additional challenge: what if the alternate history was written in such a way that the QUEEN subway and the rest of the subway network was built in the same phases, opened at the same time, and with the same lengths as their comparable extensions on the current subway network. This involved additional research as I looked at how long each segment of the current subway network was, and what were realistic termini on the new map at these lengths. I fear there is still a lot of fudging going on, but it's all in good fun.

This alternative history of Toronto's streetcar network has two points of divergence, one more obvious than the other. The first and most obvious was the decision to continue to build the east-west subway beneath Queen Street, rather than beneath University Avenue, Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue. The debate over this decision occurred at Metropolitan council through 1957 and 1958 and got rancorous at times. At one point, the suburban municipalities of Long Branch, Mimico and New Toronto launched a lawsuit against the City of Toronto's decision to proceed with the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway, and construction on the UNIVERSITY line only began after the municipalities' application was dismissed by the courts. I think that if Metropolitan Toronto had decided to favour a QUEEN subway instead, it might have been harder for Toronto's streetcar network to survive.

Although the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway spelt the end of many streetcar routes and the retirement of hundreds of streetcars, its location may have protected the core of Toronto's streetcar network far more than a QUEEN subway would have done. Over and above the fashionable assumption that streetcars were old technology that cities needed to abandon, one of the pressures which resulted in streetcar abandonments in Toronto was the need to expand transit service into Toronto's sprawling suburbs. This expansion could only come in the form of buses, as expanding streetcar routes was more expensive and politically unfeasible. Ironically, this sharp increase in demand for bus service also protected the remaining streetcars, because the TTC had a surplus of streetcars, and a shortage of buses. Anywhere that streetcars could be used, they were used, if only temporarily. An example of this was the BLOOR and DANFORTH streetcar shuttles connecting the end of the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway to the old streetcar suburban terminals at Jane and Luttrell.

As the TTC planned to route as many riders as possible onto its subways, suburban bus routes tended to be extended to the subway lines and no further. These would easily replace streetcar services that were north, west or east of the BLOOR-DANFORTH line, but the streetcars that were south of the subway were protected because the subway provided a natural break point for travelers, and the shortage of buses made it sensible to retain streetcar service beyond that point. This created a core network of streetcar routes that was essentially shielded by the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway.

A QUEEN subway would expose more of the streetcar network to the demands for suburban bus routes. Bathurst Street and Broadview Avenue realistically could not retain streetcar service under this scenario, although some east-west lines could be protected within the "Flying-U" of the QUEEN line. PARLIAMENT might be protected because there is no pressure to extend suburban bus service along its length, and no call to extend streetcar tracks into a Castle Frank station. Bay Street might also be protected, as its route turns west at Davenport Road. Meeting the subway at Dupont station would give it a natural stopping point and shield.

The other point of divergence comes in the mid 1970s, when the TTC turned to streetcars on private right-of-way to extend rapid transit in the suburbs, only to have the province overturn the TTC's decision and force Metropolitan Toronto to try linear induction technology instead. This produced the Scarborough RT we now have, and we know the history of the teething pains of this untested technology, and the difficulties inherent in expanding the line. If the provincial government hadn't been so interested in fostering a high-tech industry in the manufacture of public transit vehicles, Toronto could have joined the LRT boom that swept through the United States in the early 1980s. The Scarborough LRT could have opened on time and on budget, rather than a year late and $100 million over budget, and the concept of streetcars on private rights-of-way as rapid transit would have been shown to Torontonians.

This, in my view, not only would have seen the construction of more rapid transit in the 1990s, it would have short-circuited the subway vs LRT debate that stalled transit expansion around 2010. We would have had a more expansive rapid transit network in this city, which would have been a great benefit to all Torontonians.

Of course, this is all speculation. That's one of the benefits of being an author of alternative history; you never have to test your assertions. It's not like we could even build a machine that could take us sideways in time.

Alternate History Streetcar Routes

  • 501 KING - Dundas West Stn - Parliament Stn
  • 502 LONG BRANCH - Long Branch - Bathurst Stn
  • 503 COLLEGE - High Park - Grace Stn.
  • 504 CARLTON - Grace Stn - Gerrard Stn.
  • 505 GERRARD - Gerrard Stn - Main Street Stn
  • 506 BLOOR - Christie Stn - Pape Stn
  • 507 ST. CLAIR - St. Clair Stn - Keele
  • 511 BAY - Dupont Stn - Exhibition via Union
  • 512 PARLIAMENT - Parliament Stn - Viaduct Loop
  • 513 DUFFERIN - Bathurst Stn - Exhibition West Entrance
  • 514 FORT - Bathurst Stn - Exhibition East Entrance
  • 515 CHERRY - Parliament Stn - Distillery Loop
  • 521 QUEEN - Bolton Stn - Neville Park
  • 522 KINGSTON RD - Bolton Stn - Bingham
  • 523 COXWELL - Bolton Stn - Coxwell Stn.

Alternate History RT Routes

  • 1 YONGE-SPADINA SUBWAY - Downsview to Finch via Union
  • 2 BLOOR-QUEEN-DANFORTH SUBWAY - Kipling to Warden
  • 3 SCARBOROUGH LRT - Warden to Sheppard East
  • 4 SHEPPARD LRT - Vaughan Centre to Conlins Road
  • 5 FINCH WEST LRT - Humber College to Keele-Finch (opening in 2018)
  • 6 EGLINTON CROSSTOWN LRT - Weston to Kennedy (opening in 2021)