History Railway Lands Toronto

A visual history of the Toronto Railway Lands

This look back at the Railway Lands in Toronto over the years is something of a companion to the post I recently compiled on the preponderance of parking lots throughout the downtown core between the 1960s and 1980s. Although not always interconnected, some of the parking lots to be found in that previous post were built on former railway lands. But for me, the major relationship between these two glimpses of Toronto's past is the degree to which they depict a city that had yet to really "fill in."

To sketch in rather broad strokes, the history of the Railway Lands dates back to 1858 when Toronto's first Union Station was erected by the Grand Trunk Railway. It would be replaced in 1873 by Union Station II, which was later rebuilt and re-opened in 1896 only to be demolished in the late 1920s after the completion of current Union Station, which sits further east along Front Street than its predecessors.

By the 1930s when the City reclaimed some of the land around the waterfront, the Railway Lands had swelled to an enormous size, which would reach its peak in and around the 1940s or so. Basically all the land south of Front Street to Queen's Quay was owned by rail companies. It would remain this way for another 40 or so years.

The first significant plans to revitalize the Railway Lands came in the 1960s, when Metro Centre was proposed, of which the CN Tower was the only facet to come to fruition (though in a much different form than initially proposed). After the CN Tower was completed there were plans to continue to develop the area, but they were ultimately put on hold until the birth of the SkyDome more than a decade later.

Post-Dome, development again slowed as the City tried to figure out the best use for the remaining lands. Another sports stadium would eventually follow in the form of the Air Canada Centre (built on the site of the old Canada Post Delivery Building), which kickstarted work on what would come to be CityPlace. The Archives are littered with urban design photographs of plans, models and presentations devoted to the Railway Lands in the 1980s and 1990s, but the end result of the process is still a matter of some debate, as many planners have criticized the isolated nature of the condo community that has risen to the west of what's now known as the Roger's Centre.

Regardless of what one thinks of CityPlace, however, it's certainly superior to the huge swath of empty land that sat in the area only 15 years ago.



Old Union Station, Ca. 1890


View from New Union Station, 1926


Tracks and rail cars around Old Union Station, 1926


Tracks east of Union Station, 1930


Tracks south of Union Station, alternate view 1930


Railway lands aerial, Ca. 1940s


Toronto in 1967, railways and parking lots


Plans for Metro Centre, 1968 (that's an alternative design for the CN Tower there)


Railway lands, Ca. 1960s


Railway lands looking really wide, 1960s


Construction starts on the CN Tower, 1973


CN Tower construction, 1973


The Tower rises, 1974


Looking west across the railway lands, Ca. late 1970s


Railway lands, Ca. 1980s


Railway Lands from Bathurst Bridge, 1980s


From Bathurst Bridge, closer perspective


Railway Lands looking down (and east) from the CN Tower, 1980s


Railway Lands, looking down (and west) from the CN Tower, 1980s


Construction on the SkyDome, late 1980s


John Street Roundhouse, early 1990s


Railway Lands, 1990s


Model for development of the Railway Lands (it don't look like this now!)




Razed for development, 1990s






Railway Lands prepared for development, 1990s


City Place 2009


View from Bathurst Bridge, 2010

Photos from the City of Toronto Archives (marked), the Wikimedia Commons and the by the author (the last two).

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