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What ever happened to the Queen Street Subway Line?

Posted by Derek Flack / October 17, 2010

Proposed Subways TorontoAs I was shooting the photographs for my story on the questions that surround the future of the Dufferin underpass at Queen, I noticed something that had previously eluded my attention. On the northeast side of the bridge, right where the limestone begins, is a monument that reads "Queen Street Subway" followed by "R.J. Fleming, Mayor" and "E.H. Keating, City Engineer" and the year "1897."

When I saw this, I immediately did a double take. I was aware, of course, that there were once plans to build a Queen Subway Line, but the year 1897 didn't seem to make much sense. Sure enough, the sculpted plaque has nothing to do with the aborted subway line, but is the inscription for the underpass that I was writing the story on, the lot of which used to be referred to as subways.

Queen Street Subway LineAfter I sorted this bit of nonsense out, however, I was compelled to take another look at the plans for the ill-fated subway line that would have serviced passengers traveling east/west throughout the core of the city.

Now, lots of great, in-depth stuff has been written about this project, so I'll confine myself to a quick little overview with links to further reading.

Queen Subway LineThe idea for a subway line on Queen dates back to 1942, when the the TTC put together a proposal for two streetcar subways, one running north/south between Bay and Yonge, and the other running east/west along Queen Street. Eventually, the decision was made (in 1945) to build a heavy-rail subway for the north/south route, while the Queen line would still be serviced by streetcars.

According to Mark Osbaldeston, author of Unbuilt Toronto: A History of the City that Might Have Been, "It would run as its own right-of-way between Trinity-Bellwoods Park and and Logan Avenue. For most of the route, this right-of-way would be in an open trench, generally behind the buildings fronting the north side of Queen, but the sections between University Avenue and Church Street would be located in a tunnel."

Queen Street SubwayBelieve it or not, a small portion of that tunnel was actually built during the construction of the Yonge Subway Line at a cost of around $5-million. Underneath Queen Station on the current YUS line sits the shell of City Hall Station, the one and only portion of the line that was built.

So what happened to the Queen Subway Line?

Not so long after the original proposals, the TTC started thinking about the need to increase service through midtown. As Osbaldeston notes, two competing visions for a midtown route of thus arose. Allan Lamport, TTC chair at the time, advocated a straight line running underneath Bloor/Danforth (as we have today), while Frederick Gardiner wanted a U-shaped line that would service midtown before dipping to Queen throughout the core (from Christie to Pape).

Queen Subway LineUltimately, Lamport's straight line won the day, but even then the Queen line wasn't dead. It still appears as late as 1966 on the official plan for Metro Toronto (as a full subway line). Over the next decade or so, however, the priority placed on the construction of the line began to wane. Pressure increased to extend the Yonge line north of Eglinton and up the Spadina side north of St. George.

Although the TTC approved the construction of the Queen Subway Line in 1973, with three quarters of the money for the project to come from the Ontario government, it was once again delayed on account of the province's desire to see the results of a study of Toronto's transportation needs. When the final results of that study were released two years later, it was concluded that the passenger demand along Queen just didn't warrant the construction of a subway line.

That was basically it. When Metro's official plan was released in 1980, the Queen subway was nowhere to be found. And yet, even to this day, with the route of a future Downtown Relief Line up in the air, speculation regarding the construction under Queen Street remains. Who knows? Maybe at some point in the future, they'll even find a use for the partially built City Hall Station.

Further reading:

Images from the City of Toronto, Wikimedia Commons and the gettorontomoving.ca.

Discussion

45 Comments

W. K. Lis / October 17, 2010 at 01:19 pm
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The dictionary definition for SUBWAY is "an underground electric railroad; or a short tunnel or underground passageway for pedestrians, automobiles, etc.; underpass."

So that makes the Bay Street streetcar tunnel between Queens Quay and Union Station, a SUBWAY.
rick mcginnis / October 17, 2010 at 01:30 pm
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While I'm not wildly jazzed about the effects of the lake-hugging expressway named after him, I wish that Gardiner had gotten his way with the downtown subway. Connecting the dots between Logan and Dundas West would have been easier - and done a lot sooner - than punching a subway through downtown today. I'd love to see a Queen line, but in frank moments I doubt that I'll ever see it in my lifetime.
mondayjane / October 17, 2010 at 01:31 pm
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Very interesting! I had no idea.

I think that given the condo boom deep in the downtown corridors as well as the swell of suburban housing, a Queen subway line would make an amazing amount of sense. It would certainly be more efficient than the Gardiner/Lakeshore shit-show that currently exists.
Nick W / October 17, 2010 at 01:50 pm
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Toronto and the TTC are playing a never-ending game of catch up, always skipping yesterday's needs to devise plans for today's, never building either, and never seeming to realize that tomorrow's needs will be different again. This pattern shows no signs of ceasing.
Jacob replying to a comment from Nick W / October 17, 2010 at 02:08 pm
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It's mostly politics. Whenever a new mayor is elected, he quickly kills the previous mayor's plans in order to establish *his own* legacy. Of course, those plans never get off the ground before he too is voted out of office, and the cycle repeats itself with the next mayor.
Corrinna / October 17, 2010 at 02:22 pm
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I also noticed just yesterday the term 'subway' used on the queen and king underpasses on a 1890 map in Swan. But what was more so interesting was that it showed Dufferin going straight under the tracks too! Was there also a Dufferin subway and at some point was it filled up and the Gladstone jog created? And if so WHY? Or is the map just wrong?
Paul / October 17, 2010 at 02:25 pm
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Why can't municipal and provincial politicians put their differences and own motives aside, forget about expanding roadways and bike lanes, introduce some toll roads, and use the money to revamp the public transit infrastructure?
Judylicious replying to a comment from Paul / October 17, 2010 at 02:48 pm
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Because you touch yourself at night.
Darren / October 17, 2010 at 02:56 pm
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The Queen street subway or DRL died with Thomson's campaign. The one candidate with a good transit platform. Instead we have the leading candidate suggesting not one but 2 subway extensions into the land of the big box and parking lots that is Scarborough

Add insult to injury with a subway extension into Vaughan where 'at best' they have 1/5th the density of TO (including all our 5 buroughs).

The grass roots advocacy for the DRL was active and firm in the first half of 2009. It died once Miller and the NDP gave them marching orders to fall back into rank and support Transit City instead
Alan replying to a comment from Nick W / October 17, 2010 at 03:40 pm
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i agree completely...
JunctionJim / October 17, 2010 at 04:24 pm
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It's a shame they didn't put tunnels in for the streetcars under Roncesvalles Avenue while they had it dug up.
matts / October 17, 2010 at 06:02 pm
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Does anyone know how far underground one has to go to be below any man-made obstacles (sewers, etc)? I find that our subway is very shallow and others (think Moscow, for example) and incredibly deep. To my layman's eyes, it seems that once you get deep enough, sink the boring machines, you should be good to go. Then, build better entrances, more lifts and escalators at the stations.
Corrinna replying to a comment from matts / October 17, 2010 at 07:08 pm
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Might have something to do with the water table level... But I'm sure there an several cities with high water table levels that have successfully built deep tunnels. Maybe it's the cost...
David Doel / October 17, 2010 at 07:32 pm
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Very interesting. A Queen street subway line, especially the way it's laid out in the 1966 Transportation Plan, would benefit me greatly.
electric / October 17, 2010 at 07:45 pm
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Good thing you weren't hungry when you located the plaque, you might have stumbled upon the Secret Subway Sandwich Society which has ruled modern Toronto since 1897.

They're everywhere!!
Adam Sobolak / October 17, 2010 at 07:53 pm
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Now, that Queen St Subway dedication stone is truly testament to the devastating effect of pollution and acid rain on sculpted limestone in our city...
James / October 17, 2010 at 09:42 pm
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I know that many downtowners hate the Queen streetcar and wish they had something better, but a subway would increase density dramatically. This would destroy the character of many of the neighborhoods you love. Do you really want Trinity-Bellwoods or The Beach to be ruined like Yorkville?
seanm / October 17, 2010 at 11:27 pm
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I fail to see how a subway would ruin the character, or how Yorkville has been ruined by a subway. Perhaps the intermittent vibrations as the trains pass by, or due to an increase of people? The Queen streetcar is the most suffocating and unpleasant stretch of downtown transit, so something to alleviate the congestion has to be done.

That said, nowadays Queen Street would be a poor choice, due to how dense and closed in a lot of it is. A DRL built along Front, that could utilize parts of the rail corridor, link up at with Y-U-S at Union, and eventually meet up with the Bloor-Danforth line in the east and west ends, would be the best plan for the city.

Some might say Front itself isn't dense enough through the east end, but in reality it'd be a lot easier to build through there, rather than Queen. Besides, with Cityplace, Union, the Financial District, St. Lawrence, The Distillery, new waterfront neighbourhoods, the Beaches and so on, it'd really go a long way toward improving the east-west travel through the core, which is currently a nightmare.
michael / October 17, 2010 at 11:41 pm
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to james: yorkville was 'ruined' because it is located at the intersection of the two longest streets in downtown, and to of the most important streets in the country. a subway does not 'ruin' a neighborhood. look at high park, runnymede or broadview. those places are totally normal and balanced. what subways do 'ruin' is the feeling of being trapped in a costly addiction to fossil fuels.
poor folk / October 18, 2010 at 01:04 am
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Man, Scarborough still doesn't have any decent transit, it's hard to get anywhere in the northwest of the city, and people are still complaining about the lack of <i>another</i> subway line downtown?

How is it that another downtown line in x or y form is always the next thing on everyones agenda but the massive, poor and underserviced suburbs of Toronto never get mentioned?
TRULL replying to a comment from poor folk / October 18, 2010 at 08:32 am
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Yeah dude. In case you haven't notice, everyone reading this site goes to UofT and lives across from Trinity Bellwoods and has no idea where Glendower is.
KL replying to a comment from poor folk / October 18, 2010 at 09:14 am
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Because the city (and probably the world too) wants Scarborough and Etobicoke to fall into Lake Ontario, ridding the city of massive drug, gang, and poverty issues. The city (and probably the world too) thinks that if you sequester Scarborough and Etobicoke from the rest of society, you'll keep those problems far away from the civilized, non-poor folk. This way, Scartown thugs can "lick shots" all they want in the Scarborough Town Centre parking lot, but they'll never "pop bottles" in my area because the transit situation's difficult out there. I personally love it.
Rob replying to a comment from poor folk / October 18, 2010 at 09:58 am
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It's called Population Density.

Oh, and as Trull and KL have mentioned, it probably has something to do with the fact that the rest of the city doesn't really care about the darkies out east.
Ryan L. replying to a comment from poor folk / October 18, 2010 at 10:20 am
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Getting around Scarborough sucks, granted. My commute from South West Scarborough to North West takes me an hour and a half in the morning, sometimes upwards of 2 hours at night. The drive takes anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes.

But I can acknowledge that many people living in the area work downtown and rely <b>heavily</b> on the Bloor Danforth Line. But the Bloor Danforth line is almost at capacity and has the capability to cripple the city when it runs into problems.

With no parallel alternative, when the B/D goes down, most east/west travel in the city goes down as well. Sure, we have the streetcars, but they don't come anywhere close to being able to handle a fraction of the traffic and are incredibly unreliable.

I live ON the Queen streetcar line and I usually prefer to walk north for 10 minutes, get on a bus, transfer to B/D, transfer to YUS and get off back at Queen downtown. It's faster and that is downright pathetic.
Darren replying to a comment from James / October 18, 2010 at 10:31 am
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Yes, I do want the density that comes with a subway. People choose to live on those surrounding. Here in the Beach for example people are more likely to give up their cars for better transit than the person in Woodbridge gettin a subway extension so he can park his SUV at a subway parking lot.

BTW, in what insanity do subways need parking lots??
Darren replying to a comment from poor folk / October 18, 2010 at 10:33 am
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You need density, or more importantly you need the possibility of future density to warrant a subway. And if Ford is elected S'ough will get 2 subway line extension
John replying to a comment from poor folk / October 18, 2010 at 11:00 am
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Really?
Service in these areas is lacking right now, but the Transit City plan is almost entirely about serving Scarborough and North Etobicoke. http://www.toronto.ca/involved/projects/transit_city/pdf/transit_city_map.pdf
Transit City didn't look at putting any new lines in the downtown core, instead focusing on building fast and reliable transit into the inner suburbs that will be able to comfortably carry the projected ridership for these areas.
Furthermore, Scarborough residents who commute downtown would be one of the primary beneficiaries of a DRL, as it would let them switch to a downtown-bound train somewhere on the Danforth instead of trying to get on a packed train at Bloor-Yonge station.
agentsmith / October 18, 2010 at 11:30 am
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Note how on the 1966 Transportation Plan there are three more expressways that also were never built. Of course the notorious Spadina Expressway, but also the one connecting through midtown from the 427 to the DVP, and the one connecting the Gardiner to the 401 out at the east end of Scarborough.

No wonder traffic is so bad in this city, both subway and highway expansion has been virtually non-existent for over 40 years.
seanm / October 18, 2010 at 06:09 pm
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Agentsmith, I wouldn't mention highway expansion around these parts. The car-hating hippies will jump all over you.

What we really need is a crosstown bicycle expressway! That'll solve our transit woes.
agentsmith replying to a comment from seanm / October 18, 2010 at 06:33 pm
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That's exactly what I'm getting at, it's become an adversarial transit-vs-cars "either or" debate, when anyone with half a brain should be able to figure out that we need both. Taking transit simply isn't a practical option for many people, just as driving isn't an option for many, while others use both.

Look at that 1966 map... pretty much all that's changed transit-wise in 45 years is the addition of the Sheppard subway line and the Scarborough LRT, not a single new expressways whatsoever, and still no transit link of any kind to the airport. What a joke.
Darren replying to a comment from agentsmith / October 18, 2010 at 07:03 pm
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What is a joke is that urban sprawl created the GTA, a region with a population less thann Manhattan spread out in an area 10 times the size of Manhattan.

That map was relevant to that day, before all 905 existed. If the 905ers want better access to streets in downtown TO then they should move back into the city and create the density ie the catalyst for more subways
bob / October 18, 2010 at 08:32 pm
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Streetcars are a very big part of identity, heritage, and tourism for Toronto, it'd be a shame to lose them.
deloris vancartier replying to a comment from Darren / October 18, 2010 at 10:38 pm
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That is so true!!!! it makes no sense.
Darren replying to a comment from bob / October 19, 2010 at 12:10 am
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Feel free to move out when we eliminate them
agentsmith replying to a comment from Darren / October 19, 2010 at 09:32 am
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So none of the environs existed before then? Toronto sat alone in the middle of an unpopulated wasteland? Suburbs and urban sprawl didn't exist prior to the 1970's? Come on, son.

As for Manhattan, that's nowhere near a valid comparison. First of all, Manhattan is not even close to Toronto's population. Manhattan itself is only 1.6 million, and the NYC metro area is 8.4 million. Toronto is 2.5 million, while the GTA is 5.1 million.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_City
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toronto
Yes, Toronto is about 10 times the size of Manhattan, but its population is over 50% higher, not half. Yes the population density of NYC is higher, but that's STRONGLY encouraged by the fact that Manhattan and all of its boroughs are either islands or parts of islands, so it's not like they have a choice. And you'd also have to ignore all the nearby pseudo-suburbs like Jersey City and Long Island to claim that NYC is innocent of urban sprawl.
agentsmith / October 19, 2010 at 09:57 am
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And while we're at it, you probably shouldn't mention New York in a discussion about Toronto's transit system, unless you want the TTC to look like even more of an embarrassment.
Jason / October 19, 2010 at 11:15 am
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Btw, grass routes advocacy for the DRL (which could have a Queen alignment through the core) is alive and well and we are not NDP or Miller-backed in any way shape or form.

Please find us on Facebook...
http://www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?gid=10757265438
Darren replying to a comment from agentsmith / October 19, 2010 at 11:18 am
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Granted I should have said NYC instead of Manhattan, to incluide the 5 buroughs, but what is wrong with comparing NYC to TO? Im not defending the urban sprawl here or the TTC, so its an adequate comparision. Even their regional transit can be compared to GO, which is a joke; google; "East Side Access Project"

The development in the Tri-State Area is still better than the development in our GTA. Each satellite city around NYC has its own better local transit system, some with light rail or subway (PATH)

The fundemental point is that had TO been land locked like parts of Montreal then it would have had no choice but to build up. Extending a subway line further into S'ough or worse into Vaughan is just a reward for that urban sprawl and will not promote smart growth
Marc / October 19, 2010 at 12:51 pm
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Two things to consider here and balance. One is that the way the city was laid out and planned at the start, it looks as if the forefathers or early planners had only envisioned and agreed that Toronto was to only be the type of city that's in the level of holding a future maximum 1 million or so people. Toronto was NOT to be in the league of NYC or London. Notice how they had built houses, cottages and estates very very close to the downtown core (or even in it!), rather than building and laying out those classic type medium or small-rise apartment complexes that most cities develop early on.

Second is that the megacity/NYC mentality and aspiration, is not matching with what Toronto really is and was planned to be. This NYC-level mentality is continuing to hurt Toronto. Sure, we should have a more extended subway system with numerous lines by now, but at the same time, the greed had also caused too many houses to be built in suburban Toronto and the next door 905 cities, immigration as well. TOO MUCH! Remember that these 905 cities including suburban Toronto sprawl, all rely on downtown Toronto at the same time. THIS has created a more severe transit issue than it should have been. But the main point is that we're just behind in transit and everything! Too much talk, or not even talking or planning, and no building of anything! The 905 cities are also irresponsible for not being their own cities and having their own life just like how any real city develops and goes through!
Alex / October 20, 2010 at 12:39 pm
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The Sheppard Line needs to be extended to Scarborough Town Centre.
Drew / December 13, 2011 at 11:54 am
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Re: Marc

Marc is right, there is no centralization/core development outside of Toronto. Mississauga is the planning-equivalent of the borg collective. Durham is worse, there are several, parallel, major streets with identical names, there certainly won't be a "City of Durham" amalgamating Pickering/Ajax/Whitby/Oshawa.

(Unrelated to Marc's comment)
PLEASE stop referring to Scarborough, Etobicoke, East/North/York as the 'inner boroughs'. They are a part of Toronto. We need to serve each of these areas properly.

YES! Transit City was focused on getting these communities moving. YES! We still would need a DRL from Eglinton East to Eglinton West (via Queen, I think), but I imagine that is the only subway-level service that will be required for a LONG time. Pet projects would include making Sheppard's Stubway into a useful line, and completion of the true-crosstown Under/In Eglinton.
John / December 14, 2011 at 11:38 am
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Greedy spoiled brat union workers are the real problem. Get rid of the union and the TTC would run itself. Most of those workers wouldn't be qualified to sweep the sidewalk if they didn't have the union.
Dong replying to a comment from Darren / October 21, 2012 at 05:14 am
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May I remind everybody that Darren (aka Darren in T.O. or Darren T.O.) was and still is full of it, and should not be listened to about any form of transit. The same also applies to John, agentsmith, deloris vancartier, and seanm.
JG / September 11, 2013 at 10:35 am
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if they had built everything on that 1966 map this city might actually function. instead we have 3 highways that end in the middle of nowhere (black creek, gardiner, and allen), and essentially two subway lines that people actually use, with a third somewhere up in the north end that you can use to get to fairview mall if you dont feel like walking there to arrive faster. city planners dropped the ball between 1950 and present. as someone who needs to drive while on the job, I have to say as much as I love this city, it frustrates me to no end. they say take transit? transit is packed and not terribly full of options. drive? well we've gone over that - highways that end in the middle of nowhere, parkways that are parking lots.. bike? yeah that works - half of the year - and only for those that don't need a vehicle for their job, or need to bring ANYTHING to work. I could rant on this for days. I love this city, but we should really go back in time and re-think virtually everything.
Yan replying to a comment from Drew / November 20, 2013 at 11:19 am
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Actually, Markham and Vaughan are in the process of building their own downtown cores at this very moment. Especially Markham.

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