Yonge Street Line, the First in Canada
Yonge Street is one of the longest streets in the world. Holed up underneath, the first subway line in Canada hummed with anticipation. On Tuesday, March 30, 1954, the passengers (shown above) embarked on their first historic ride from Davisville Station to Union Station.
Prior to this momentous day, Yonge Street was designed with an earlier period in mind when horse-drawn carriages rolled along at a slower pace.
With the turn of the twentieth century, this street became the main passageway through the city.
As more businesses established their storefronts along this street, traffic congestion increased. Larger and wider vehicles, including the public transit cars, jockeyed for travel space. Speeds during rush hour could grind down to a standstill.
Even pedestrian traffic filled the sidewalks with little room to maneuver. This situation showed a dire need for an alternative way to move people around the city quickly and easily.
Proposals were held at the turn of the twentieth century to create a subway line to run underneath Yonge Street. The social and economic changes from the First World War, the Great Depression, and the Second World War affected the first half of the century to thwart this undertaking.
After the Second World War ended, the city looked forward to a brighter future. On January 1, 1946, a majority of voters approved the building of a new subway line. On September 8, 1949, subway construction went underway underground. And the rest is history.
Here is the original 1954 map of this monumental subway line:
For comparison, this is the current 2015 subway map.
There are many interesting and noteworthy resources available online on the Toronto Transit Commission, Yonge Street, and the history of Toronto. Have a glance through these written articles and vintage images:
- Toronto Subway Project is a summary of Jay Young's (2012) dissertation on, “Searching for a Better Way: Subway Life and Metropolitan Growth in Toronto, 1942-1978." The full dissertation is electronically available from this website.
- Before the TTC from ttc.ca is an incredible 'blast from the past' on how public transit operated prior to the arrival of the Toronto Transit Commission.
- The TTC story: the first 75 Years is an article written by Mike Filey offering a preview to his book (listed below) by the same name. Filey has written more titles on the City of Toronto that are available from the library.
- TTC free Wi-Fi now available Bloor to Union Station was published on Friday, November 28, 2014 in The Toronto Star and written by Tess Kalinowski, Transportation Reporter. Passengers may freely pass the time accessing the Internet on their digital devices while waiting for their trains to arrive.
- Subway Milestones - Expansion is an article from The Archives of Ontario. The TTC subway system has expanded over time from 1959 to 2002. See how the other subway lines including the University, the Bloor/Danforth, the Scarborough RT, and the Sheppard lines came into being.
- Images of the Toronto Transit Commission from TPL Pinterest provides a beautiful archive of images, flyers, maps, and other ephemera pertaining to the TTC.
- Pictures of Yonge Street from The Digital Archive are available in the public domain and provided from our library website.
- Tunnels: A short guide to Toronto’s nether regions from The Toronto Star was written by Manisha Krishnan, Staff Reporter, and published on Friday, February 27, 2015. There are several hidden tunnels lying within this city. Some are fabricated stories, some may be haunted, and some were used in past movie sets.
- Vintage Toronto is located on Facebook and provides images of, "the road, the people, and the architecture," across the city. The page was started on January 12, 2012 but the images go as far back as the mid-1800s. Every day new entries are added and visitors share their own personal insights to these vintage images.
The North York Central library has a good selection on these topics. Come visit the library and browse through our local history collection.
Tour the sights in the Canadiana Department for more information on Yonge Street in North York local history. Visit the department and meet Henry, The Golden Lion, who is a resident of this great street and used to stand above the entrance to The Golden Lion Hotel.
If you have a personal story about Yonge Street you would like to share, the Toronto Public Library released an interactive online exhibit in 2013 called, youryongestreet. You can upload audio files, pictures, videos and stories as well as browse other people's submissions. Some contributions may be included as part of our TPL Digital Archive.
As many commuters will agree, the subway system remains a crucial and speedy way to travel through the City. The Yonge Street Line may have opened up faster travel through the heart of the City in 1954, future projects are currently underway (and some will hope for a possible subway extension to Square One in Mississauga) to make the TTC an even more accessible way to get around.