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The birth of the Bloor Viaduct

Posted by Derek Flack / September 29, 2011

Bloor Viaduct History PhotosIt wouldn't be a stretch to put the Bloor Viaduct — or, more officially the Prince Edward viaduct — on a top 10 list of Toronto landmarks. Opened in fall of 1918, the bridge system is actually composed of two structures: the one that spans the Don Valley and the smaller western section that runs above the Rosedale Valley (and a third if you consider that the stretch of current day Bloor between Sherbourne and Parliament was built on fill). We've already written a bit about the history of the bridge, but given the wealth of photos of its construction in the Toronto Archives, I thought it'd be a good candidate for a revisit and photographic expansion.

Immortalized by Michael Ondaatje in his novel In the Skin of a Lion, Torontonians seem to have a collective affection for the Bloor Viaduct that not many landmarks enjoy. Perhaps that's because it's the city's most important bridge, linking the eastern and western sections of Toronto over a valley that at one point left them very much divided. Or maybe it's because it stands as an example of how forward planning can pay dividends. The foresight shown by then Commissioner of Public Works R.C. Harris that a subway platform be installed under its roadway wouldn't be rewarded for roughly 50 years, but was a major factor in the birth of the Bloor-Danforth subway line (before it opened, the east/west subway line was almost built along Queen Street).

In addition to these practical features, I've always been drawn to the viaduct's design, those black steel arches towering above the valley below. Interestingly, it wasn't always destined to look this way. Along with a (failed) proposal to build a much longer bridge between Broadview and Sherbourne, where Bloor terminated at that time, there were also numerous other designs tabled for the viaduct. Perhaps it's impossible to evaluate these alternatives without bias, but I'm quite happy with how it worked out.


2011929-BVD-Drawing-1914-s0372_ss0010_it0187.jpgAlternative proposal by L.G. Mouchel and Partners Ltd., 1914

2011929-BVD-drawing-1914-s0372_ss0010_it0188.jpgAlternative proposal by L.G. Mouchel and Partners Ltd., 1914

2011929-BVD-drawing-1914-s0372_ss0010_it0190.jpgDetail of the Louchel plan, 1914

2011929-BVD-proposed-1913-s0372_ss0010_it0063.jpgHedrick and Cochrane design, 1914

2011929-BVD-drawing-1914-s0372_ss0010_it0196.jpgUnspecified alternative proposal, 1914

2011929-BVD-drawing-1914-s0372_ss0010_it0184.jpgRendering of adopted proposal

20111119-PEV3.jpgGetting started, 1915

2011929-BVD-construction-wide-1915-f1231_it1869.jpgView of construction in the valley, 1915

2011929-BVD-1915-f1231_it0046.jpgLaying the foundation in the Don Valley, 1915

2011928-BVD-1916-f1231_it0045.jpgConstruction, July 1916

20111119-PEV5.jpgConstruction July 1916

2011929-BVD-1916-wide-f1548_s0393_it13887.jpgProgress by winter 1916

20111119-PEV1.jpgTaking shape, 1917

20111119-PEV7.jpgRosedale side, 1917

2011929-BVD-Rosedale-side-1917-s0372_ss0058_it0714.jpgRosedale side surface, 1917

2011929-BVD-paving-1918-s0372_ss0058_it0760.jpgPaving, 1918

2011929-BVD-track-1918-s0372_ss0058_it0757.jpgLaying track, 1918

2011929-BVD-track-construction-1918-s0372_ss0058_it0756.jpgLaying track,1918

2011929-BVD-opening-rosedale-side-1918-s0372_ss0010_it0869.jpgThe new extension to Bloor Street, 1918

2011929-BVD-open-1918-s0372_ss0010_it0868.jpgJust opened, 1918

2011929-BVD-opening-1918-cars-bikes-s0372_ss0010_it0872.jpgJust opened, 1918

2011929-BVD-map-finsihed-1918-s0372_ss0010_it0878.jpgFinal route of Prince Edward Viaduct

20111119-PEV9.jpgThe Viaduct in 1920


2011929-BVD-1933-s0071_it9634.jpgThe Viaduct in 1933

2011928-BVD-contemp-veil.jpgWhat it looks like today, with the addition of the Luminous Veil

Photos from the Toronto Archives, with the exception of the last, which is by the author



john / September 29, 2011 at 04:27 pm
David / September 29, 2011 at 04:51 pm
The Michael Ondaatje book, "In the Skin of a Lion" features the building of the Viaduct in it. As I recall, many workers died during the construction.
David / September 29, 2011 at 04:52 pm
The Michael Ondaatje book, "In the Skin of a Lion" features the building of the Viaduct in it. As I recall, many workers died during the construction.
Slamsquanch / September 29, 2011 at 05:14 pm
Kevo / September 29, 2011 at 06:37 pm
A very nice and important bridge, indeed. In my opinion, it looks much better (and very impressive) from the bottom, while the guardrails just sort of came out like those found on bridges of the last 40 years. The luminous veil adds an interesting touch and makes it feel more like a grand bridge when you're going across it.
Paul / September 29, 2011 at 09:47 pm
Awesome shots... apparently my Great-Grandfather was a crane operator who helped build the viaduct; I'd like to think he's inside the crane-house mechanism in these pictures. Thanks for these!
seanm / September 29, 2011 at 10:03 pm
This is fantastic, thank you. I've read a lot about this bridge, but have never come across the designs for previous proposals. The grand entryway of the first design would've been nice, but we got a fantastic bridge nonetheless.
Liz / September 30, 2011 at 12:33 am
Amazing photo of the streetcar crossing the viaduct. I've crossed this bridge what seems like a million times. I loved this collection, thanks!!
gadfly / September 30, 2011 at 12:13 pm
Great pics! R.C. Harris was, indeed, a visionary. Not only did he build a bridge that foresaw the city needing a subway, he also foresaw a city that might need (get ready for this) six lanes of vehicular traffic.
Sadly, he must have been chased out of town, because nothing else the city did from 1918 until about 1945 gave any hint whatsoever that Toronto would be anything more than a sleepy burgh of five or six hundred thousand. Ever.
Oddly enough, the decision makers in, say EVERY OTHER CITY ON THE PLANET, did continue this foresight, while Toronto continues to revel in its smallness.
Redkulat / September 30, 2011 at 12:36 pm
What is most amazing about this bridge, is they planned for the future generation. How?

They had created the second level specifically for a subway that would be built along the Bloor-Danforth line, without even being planned yet!

If only Toronto had future thinking like this still, we wouldn't be in such a mess.
SonOfABroker / September 30, 2011 at 02:29 pm
I live and own a business less than 500 meters from this wonderful land mark. Does anybody know where I can get prints of these photos from the archive?
Nick replying to a comment from SonOfABroker / September 30, 2011 at 03:58 pm
The Archives provide prints and high-res scans. I highly recommend visiting them!
Sylvia McLelland / March 8, 2012 at 12:00 pm
Amazing to see prep work for a future Bloor St. subway in the "winning" drawings of 1914. Imagine having that kind of forsight.

A simpler bridge was probably far less costly. Glad they "bit the bullet" and saved future taxpayers the cost of building this subway another way.

paginas amarelas / March 28, 2013 at 09:18 am
Good info. Lucky me I ran across your site by chance (stumbleupon).
I've saved as a favorite for later!
Jack / January 19, 2014 at 01:08 pm
Gadfly, the problem is that when someone does think to plan ahead, like the Shepard subway, it gets ridiculed for years thereby preventing politicians from taking a longer term outlook to planning.
Jordan / April 27, 2014 at 06:49 pm
If anyone tried this kind of forward planning today you'd have the usual suspects downtown shrieking about gravy trains and disrespect for the taxpayers.
Dennis Duffy / January 16, 2015 at 05:09 pm
There's a great poster featuring the Viaduct, to be found in Robert Stacey's 1979 _The Canadian Poster Book_. The 1919 poster supports the latest War Loan bond drive, and the trussed arch of the Viaduct looms in the bkgnd as an icon of Canada's newly-forged industrial and engineering might. As indeed the structure might be, since the truss that was invented for the Viaduct went on to become - so an archivist once assured me - a template for subsequent structures.

When you consider that the Viaduct and the R.c. Harris Filtration Plant were both erected during the period of R.C. Harris, the greatness of that public servant and modern Toronto's debt to him become inescapable.

Thanks for starting this blog. Anyone wishing to delve into a few more factoids that I dug up might want to glance at my article, "A Wrench in Time" (_Essays on Canadian Writing_ # 53 (Summer 1994), 125-40).
Dennis Duffy replying to a comment from SonOfABroker / January 16, 2015 at 05:14 pm
Go to City of TO Archives site and you place an order there. One of those photos - I call it technology amid the snow - I have used in numerous overseas lectures, because I think it embodies our Euro-Canadian national creation's essentially paradoxical nature.
Dennis Duffy replying to a comment from gadfly / January 16, 2015 at 05:17 pm
Yup, R.C. Harris was a visionary, but there really was a plan - or a dream of one - for a subway. The Great War knocked it out. but yes, this city has never lived up to the promise its dreamers found for it. That is why Ondaatje's novel is such an important political and cultural document!
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