Remembering Toronto’s First Subway: March 30: Snapshots in History

March 30, 2019 | John P.

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Toronto’s first subway underneath Yonge Street officially opened on March 30, 1954. How did the print media capture the moment of that auspicious beginning? Wilfred List, writer of “$50,000,000 Bundle of Joy: TTC Nervous as Expectant Father” in the March 30, 1954 issue of the Globe and Mail on pages 1-2, offered the reader a prelude of what was to come:

“…the TTC waited anxiously last night for the official and public debut today of its $50,000,000 baby – Canada’s first subway…Everything is in readiness, from 10,000,000 tokens that will swing open the turnstiles on the era of rapid transit, to the trained subway car operators, who will introduce the public to the new adventure in underground travel…”

Page 1 of the March 30, 1954 issue of the Toronto Daily Star depicted a bold banner which stated “EGLINTON TO UNION 12 MINUTES”. One of the articles on Page 1 in the March 30, 1954 issue of the Toronto Daily Star was entitled “Frost Asks Lamport ‘Place Your Hand with Mine’ to Start Subway”. Here is an excerpt from that article:

“Premier Leslie Frost poured oil on troubled waters today by asking Mayor [Allan] Lamport to ‘place your hand with mine’ on the control handle and throw the switch to open the subway…Toronto officials have been reported unhappy at being relegated to third place in the opening ceremonies, behind provincial and Metropolitan authorities. Mr. Frost altered the prearranged program with his invitation to the mayor to lend a hand…”

Another article on page 1 of the Toronto Daily Star’s March 30, 1954 issue was entitled “Frost, Gardiner, Lamport Ride with McBrien”. Here is an excerpt from that article:

“Hundreds of dignitaries were as excited as school kids as they rode Toronto’s glistening subway today. The first official ride was completed in a record 12 minutes from Eglinton to Union subway station…Spectators lined the fences of open cuts, and hung over the rails of overhead bridges, waving excitedly, as the eight-car train roared to its destination, its whistle screaming…

Straphangers inside, including Premier Leslie Frost, ‘Metro Mayor’ Fred Gardiner and Mayor Allan Lamport waved back, their faces wreathed in smiles…the dignitaries were shunted sharply down the cars, as the TTC demonstrated how a train comes to an emergency stop – if, perchance, it runs through a red light…”

With a look to the future, then-TTC Chairman W.C. McBrien urged the starting of a Queen Street subway route as mentioned in the Toronto Daily Star article entitled “Subway ‘Only a Start’ Need to Begin a Queen Tube At Once—McBrien” by Harold Hilliard on Pages 1-2 of the March 30, 1954 issue of the Toronto Daily Star. Here is an excerpt from that article:

“The Yonge St. subway was officially started today, and simultaneously the opening gun was fired…for the immediate start of a second tube, along Queen St. between McCaul and Sherbourne Sts…’The Queen St. subway should be started at once, eliminating 80 per cent of the remaining street car operation in the downtown area, and freeing many main streets for one-way traffic,’ declared W.C. McBrien, TTC Chairman. The statement was made in a prepared speech delivered as he presided at the subway opening ceremonies…Mr. McBrien argued public transportation is ‘not a dying industry, but one that can and will meet the competition of the automobile…The Queen St. subway would not employ underground trains like those in the Yonge St. tube. Street cars from east and west would simply go underground to avoid the mile of heaviest east-west traffic congestion…”

Grey Hamilton’s article “Short-Run on Queen Next? City Studies Second Subway As First One Gets Rolling: Will Examine East-West Proposals” on pages 1-2 of the March 31, 1954 issue of the Globe and Mail also offered some insight into future subway expansion. Here is an excerpt from that article:

“The opening of the $50,000,000 Yonge St. subway yesterday spurred plans for further subway building. Flushed with pride over the first day’s operation, council members were eager to start on an east-west extension to the subway system…Controller Saunders proposed an immediate meeting between the executive committee of the Metropolitan Council and the Toronto Transit Commission…He said items on the agenda should be study of $12,000,000 short-run subway on Queen St., an $80,000,000 east-west subway on Bloor-Danforth and of the future need for another north-south subway on University or Spadina Aves., to cost $20,000,000..”

The editorial page of the March 31, 1954 issue of the Toronto Daily Star on page 6 included an editorial entitled “Subway is Just a Beginning”. Here is an excerpt from that editorial:

“Toronto at long last has its subway. It is a great enterprise but not great enough. It does not reach out far enough. It is a beginning…in the matter of rapid transit. And that poses a problem…of cost, and who shall pay if further subways are constructed…As far as the proposed subway on Queen St. through central downtown Toronto is concerned, Mr. McBrien would seem to have a good argument…the main purpose of that underground will be to lessen congestion on the streets…The subway can be justified as a central city traffic relief project. Its extension east and west The Star has never approved. But an east and west subway further north, perhaps on Bloor St. or even beyond that, would serve great sections of Toronto…”

Ralph Hyman, writer of the article “100,000 Take First Ride; Token Machines Run Dry” in the March 31, 1954 issue of the Globe and Mail on page 1, offered the reader a taste of how the first day on Toronto’s first subway went. Here is an excerpt from Mr. Hyman’s article:

“Toronto went underground yesterday in a slightly delirious testing of the joys of rapid transit…Forgotten were the four years and six months of detours, re-routing, schedule delays and assorted irritants…More than 100,000 subway-happy citizens clicked through the turnstiles along the four and six-tenths miles [about 7.4 kilometres] of the route. There was no accurate count available last night, the rapid transit officials being too busy ironing out mechanical kinks…Token vending machines broke down, escalators stopped escalating and transfer validating machines went out of joint at one time or another during the hectic hours of early afternoon…Passengers questioned on the trains agreed that more token sellers were needed…when the machines took turns breaking down, the absence of token outlets was heavily felt…When the Eglinton station slid into view, many of the passengers on the first train north from Union Station found it hard to believe they had reached journey’s end. Many of them remained in their seats and travelled all the way south again…”

To view the articles from the Globe and Mail newspaper in full, please access the Globe and Mail Historical Newspaper Archive database with a valid Toronto Public Library card.

To view the articles from the Toronto Daily Star newspaper in full, please access the Toronto Star Historical Newspaper Archive database with a valid Toronto Public Library card

Consider the following titles for borrowing from Toronto Public Library collections:

25 Toronto Transit Secrets from the Editors of Spacing


The TTC story the first seventy-five years

Please visit Toronto Public Library’s Digital Archive and TPL History: Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) on Pinterest to access images related to the TTC and its predecessors. 

See also the following blog posts: