Text by James Bow
On March 30, 2004, the Yonge subway will be fifty years old. Sometimes it feels as though the Yonge subway was always around, but other times it seems hard to believe that this line will soon be around for a half-century. Much has been written about the planning and construction of Canada's first subway, and of the developments that occurred since. The original look of all but one of the stations has been dramatically altered through renovation, and even the remaining station (Eglinton), while retaining some of its original features, is undergoing significant construction to replace its aging facilities.
But the Yonge subway has changed in other subtle and not-so-subtle ways that have not been referred to in the history books. This article covers some of these developments, and exposes some of the subtler changes that have occurred to this stalwart subway line.
The Vanishing Yonge Subway Open Cut
When the Yonge subway opened in 1954, a significant length of it was exposed to the light of day. Indeed, between the Ellis Portal (just north of Bloor station) and Berwick Avenue (just south of Eglinton station), only short stretches of tracks (a 2000-foot section between Lawton Avenue and Pleasant Boulevard around St. Clair station, and an even shorter stretch beneath the CP railway tracks near the North Toronto railway station) were tunnelled. The portion of the line between Lawton and Berwick Avenues ran alongside Davisville Yards, a large complex which would have been expensive to put underground. The rest of the line operated along an open cut, possibly to save money on tunnelling. In fact, as construction began on the Yonge subway, plans called for the open-cut section to continue south of Bloor Street, to a point just north of Wellesley station, after which the line would dive underground in order to run beneath Yonge Street. However, in order to avoid the expropriation of several properties south of Bloor Street, the portion between Wellesley station and the Ellis Portal was put underground.
The open-cut section between Bloor and St. Clair stations gave passengers a pleasant, open-air travel experience after the featureless tunnels underground. However, as the line aged, the TTC covered over sections of the open cut between St. Clair and Summerhill stations. There were a variety of reasons this was done: to allow development to occur over the line, to reduce noise complaints from neighbouring property owners, to reduce the threat of people ending up on the subway tracks, or items being dropped in front of moving trains, and so on. The two pictures above and the three pictures below offer up a pictorial history of the changes along the route.
In 2009 the concealed bridge at Jackes Avenue was the site of an unusual incident when a construction crew was attempting to install a new gas main. They started with two lengthwise saw cuts along the road, intending these to be the sides of a trench; but when they started lifting the pavement between them, they saw the subway below. They stopped, but now there was a risk of a large piece of concrete falling in. The subway was closed between Eglinton and Bloor/Yonge stations for 6 hours until a temporary patch had been applied. This took the form of metal plates inside the tunnel, supported by shafts run through the concrete from beams lying on the road surface across the cuts.
Between Davisville and Eglinton
Changes are continuing to the original Yonge line, as the subway adjusts to its changing surroundings and its clientele. More stations will be made wheelchair-accessible (as of June 2003, Union, Queen, Dundas, Davisville and Bloor-Yonge were wheelchair-accessible), and some will be expanded with new exits installed to better handle traffic.
In the summer of 2002, the open cut section was decked over between Price Street to Rowanwood Drive, extending the tunnel south by one block. Vertical walls were put into place rather than the technique used between Summerhill and St. Clair. A municipal parking lot was placed on top.
Many of these changes will be logged by railfans, but others might slip under the radar. These lesser known changes today will become a treasure trove of trivia information for the railfans of the future.