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What TTC subway stations were meant to look like

Posted by Chris Bateman / December 19, 2012

toronto king stationSince its opening in 1954, numerous renovations and adaptions have altered the look of the Yonge line between Eglinton and Union. Gone is the uniform TTC font and original Vitriolite tiles - the reflective glass wall panels the system shared with the Woolworth Building in New York - and in their place is a mish-mash of typefaces and tiling jobs that give the stretch a strangely disconnected look.

Eglinton Station is the only one of the original 12 stops that has largely retained its original aesthetic. All the other stops south have had their tiles partially or entirely replaced with lime green (Dundas) and brown (King) textured wall decorations. At Queen and other stations the original TTC font has been ditched for a tightly-spaced version.

toronto queen stationPhotographs and concept drawings in the City of Toronto Archives show the stations as they were originally intended: minimalist, utilitarian, and clean. The "bathroom modern" look, as it was derisively known, would be repeated in a slightly altered fashion on the Bloor-Danforth line a decade or so later.

Here are pictures of the original styling taken just before the line opened to the public.toronto station eglintontoronto station st clairtoronto station bloortoronto station wellesleytoronto dundas stationtoronto queen station

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Photos: City of Toronto Archives



mike in parkdale / December 19, 2012 at 09:00 am
great piece.

one of the most common comments from people who've been into Lower Bay station is that the lack of advertising is what makes it seem so unique.
Jeffrey / December 19, 2012 at 09:19 am
It's scary how alien the lack of advertising makes these stations. It would be so refreshing if we could rid our current stations of this eye pollution even for one month.
djarman / December 19, 2012 at 09:30 am
Thanks for this piece. It's interesting to note the radical deterioration from the original vision to the present reality. A couple comments:

First, it's typical of a certain style of thinking in Ontario that the best design they could think of at the time was "bathroom moderne": cold, antiseptic, sterile. Architecture that makes hosing down the vomit off the walls easier. Design that is perhaps contemptuous of the people who use it.

Second, we are all using old infrastructure that was never meant to hold so many people at this rate of use. The platforms and stairwells hint at this--the designers never conceived of so many people in future Toronto. Add to this the deplorable lack of funding, and no wonder the infrastructure is falling apart. The Economist recently called Toronto's subway "grimy" and not befitting of a city with "world class" pretensions.

In all the talk about subway extensions and third lines, I wish I heard more about renovating the crumbling mess we have now.
Robert replying to a comment from djarman / December 19, 2012 at 09:44 am
I do recall that when the Yonge/Bloor station was renovated they had free reign to design and build whatever they wanted, the building above was demolished. The outcome was more of the same sterile mess. Immediately after completion the new space was quickly filled, the added space was not enough.
An opportunity lost, never will they be able to rework the stations again. Here's hoping they same is not repeated with Union Station
W. K. Lis / December 19, 2012 at 10:22 am
Unfortunately, Toronto used the New York City subway as the model that the original "bathroom modern" look was copied from. Too bad they didn't use Moscow metro as the model. Unfortunately, the "bathroom modern" look they used had to be renovated, just as homeowners renovate their own "bathroom modern" bathrooms to make them have a better feature of their homes.
anon / December 19, 2012 at 10:34 am
Anything looks nice if you blow out the highlights.
Dmitri / December 19, 2012 at 10:38 am
Toronto subway system looks real bad. Just really ugly from the start.
Not to say that they should look as good as Russian or North Korean subway lines (seriously, look it up) but at least we could match Montreal, no?
I guess I just like nice things and things that look nice :)
Off Duty Troll / December 19, 2012 at 10:56 am
It wasn't that great to start with, renovations made many stations even worse. Dundas is easily the ugliest station in the entire world, I'm confident this is not an exaggeration.
TheBigTank / December 19, 2012 at 12:10 pm
The Yonge line opened in 1954, not 1952.
Khristopher / December 19, 2012 at 12:20 pm
I actually like this clean look where the people are what make the stations, not the advertising.
However, I have to agree with above comments. The deterioration of our stations is awful. Grimy is right.
Nour / December 19, 2012 at 12:25 pm
I actually think Dundas Stn. is quite aesthetically pleasing! I love the yellow-green tiles, and in fact most YUS stations have interesting and unique designs with plenty of public art. Even the "bathroom moderne" aesthetic on the Bloor line has a sleek, charming uniformity to it. We might have been able to build a Moscow metro had we had the same cheap, disposable labour that the USSR did and low standards of construction safety. And as for the 'grimy' comment--well, yes, it's an underground tunnel for trains that haul hundreds of thousands of people daily! If you've been to New York you'll know its subway is much grimier and rickety and somehow it doesn't hurt New York's reputation as THE world class city. Haterz stop hatin'!
Off Duty Troll replying to a comment from Nour / December 19, 2012 at 12:36 pm
Moscow is still building beautiful stations, it has nothing to do with communism, low standards and cheap labour. There are a couple stations opening shortly that are spectacular, look them up. Your maintenance argument is incredibly weak… I don't think your comment is serious, but it's hard to tell sometimes.
grieveson / December 19, 2012 at 01:11 pm
I think the worst part about these old stations is the amount of industrial grime on the pillars within the tracks and on the ceiling. It just feels disgusting.

Union Station's current state (I understand it is under renovation) would be great for a horror movie
Jack / December 19, 2012 at 01:25 pm
I could care less if subway stations were all gussied up cough, Museum Station, cough. They're SUPPOSED to be utilitarian. You're not there to hang around and admire the art, you're there to move from point A to point B as efficiently as possible. It's insane what they're building up at Steeles on the University extension. Like djarman said above, the one thing I wish they would spend money on is widening platforms and improving stairwell/escalator access particularly in busy stations like King.
Gordo / December 19, 2012 at 01:32 pm
I think the Museum station makeover is an example to follow. It is always interesting to have something to look at and catch your attention.

Another, practical note, a lot (all?) of the surfaces now have a fireproofing applied, so that is why the ceilings look so different.
grieveson replying to a comment from Jack / December 19, 2012 at 01:56 pm
That's the problem with the TTC's thinking. Humanoids are not robots and should not be treated like moving parts through a factory.

The first dollars should be spent on improving platforms, etc.

But overall I don't agree with a utilitarian design. Subway stations are an extension of the public space. You spend time in them and the public who use them should (somewhat) enjoy passing through them.
Todd / December 19, 2012 at 02:20 pm
TTC staff refers to riders as cattle. I'm sure the same thinking extends to the powers that be.

The new stations do suck and we're being screwed because of semantics re: which part of the budget it comes from.
Peanut Gallery / December 19, 2012 at 02:52 pm
To the complainers:

Ever ridden the tube in London, the Metro in Paris, or the U-Bahn in Berlin?

These systems are dirty, shabby, and full of ads. Paris' Metro smells like pee & some stations are full of homeless people and begging Roma. London's tube has no AC, and is dreadfully stuffy. In this sense the TTC compares pretty well.
Alex / December 19, 2012 at 02:52 pm
York Mills is by far the worst station, it just has bare concrete walls. The TTC should should just put up a huge whiteboard along some of the walls in the stations and chain some dry erase markers to poles that go along the top and bottom of it, and then just let people write and draw on it. The people that clean the platform regularly can erase anything particularly vulgar and leave the rest.

I like subway advertising in the stations. It adds colour and the ads are often interesting.
Wojtek replying to a comment from Jeffrey / December 19, 2012 at 03:00 pm
Couldn't agree more. Very odd feel. I'm gonna geek out and say it reminds me off the movie THX1138.
Todd / December 19, 2012 at 03:08 pm
It drives me nuts to see these massive Shep line stations sit empty. Just floor after floor after floor of vast nothingness that would make more sense at Bloor, Dundas, or hell, any other station that actually gets traffic. Instead, the lucky view who get to travel on that line are treated to space, seats on the car, no crush for the staircase or escalator. The rest of us have to deal with shoulder to shoulder suckage because no one with any say has vision, guts, or ingenuity to tackle the left/right TTC and bikes/car divide and how it just makes everything worse for everyone with regards to commuting.

And they better be adding more tracks at Union during the renovation. You know, for future expansion plans... but they won't.

It never works that way.
ОТИОЯОТ / December 19, 2012 at 03:17 pm
I miss that "Q" with the super-short stem that adorned the Queen Station walls until around 1997 (as seen in the final picture). The trim's still there, but it's not the same - especially since the new "Q" doesn't match.

Same with the old Bloor Station colour scheme of blue on yellow - which Yonge Station was built to match. Then Bloor went with green on white in the renovation circa 1991, while Yonge stayed the same. Why?

While we're at it, I'm sure Wiz Khalifa would've loved the old "black stripe, yellow paint" look of Dundas.

Why couldn't more stations have gotten the St Clair/Summerhill treatment (i.e. original colours and font without the damaged Vitrolite)?
Yuck / December 19, 2012 at 04:21 pm
Add Pape to the "station that looks like a setting in a horror movie" list.
Brandon replying to a comment from Peanut Gallery / December 19, 2012 at 05:34 pm

Ever ridden the Seoul, HK, Bangkok, KL, Singpore, or Tokyo subways?

Just because others are worse, doesn't mean that be what is sought after.

The fact is there are SIGNIFICANTLY better -specifically HK's which has it's individual stations air conditioned- subway systems. All things considered, Toronto has among the worst in the world yet it wants to be deemed a "world class city".
GEORGIE P replying to a comment from Peanut Gallery / December 19, 2012 at 07:14 pm
Peanut Gallery: Wow! The fact that your comment even manages to squish in a little racism is one thing, but it's fully off the mark. There are London Tube stations that are far nicer than TTC ones and vice-versa. Same can be said for Paris and Berlin.....
seanm / December 19, 2012 at 11:21 pm
The Vitrolite and original TTC font were beautiful, but have sadly been molested over the years. Clean Modernism isn't for everyone, but emulating station design like Moscow's is just silly in the 21st century; some of their stations are attractive, but mostly come off looking like tacky historicism.

Regarding the comments criticising an easy to hose-down and clean design, if you sit back and think about the abuse it receives daily, it makes the most sense: hundreds of thousands of people trudging through it weekly, trains bringing in dirt and grease constantly.

The system used to appear cleaner back when they just power washed the dirt, but modern environmental standards deemed the runoff to be hazardous. Agreeable of course, but if you're going to bitch maybe you should offer an economical and environmentally friendly way of cleaning the grime.

Now I'm not defending the TTC or Toronto in general when it comes to its beauty and state-of-repair, but I think a lot of people are deluded because they've visited the pristine historic centres of a couple European cities, or the downtowns of the shiny new Asian metropolises.
torontonian#4003745879 / December 20, 2012 at 09:08 am
I think the sterile look creeps me out waaaay to much, but still more visually pleasing than the horrible Northbound platform at Bloor station. I mean really, it's been leaking out of those walls for years now.
kennymacker / December 21, 2012 at 08:26 pm
I love the look of these early photos of the subway system. The stations are pleasing to the eye in the same way that Art Deco buildings of the 1920's and 1930's have a minimalist beauty about them. These photos and drawings remind me of riding the subway in the early to mid 1970's when a subway ride to the downtown was just about the most exciting thing that an eight year old brain could handle. In those days, the Toronto subway was clean, efficient and elegant. It's shameful how our transit system has declined in recent years.
Simon Tarses replying to a comment from W. K. Lis / December 26, 2012 at 05:04 am
If Toronto had millions of dollars from the province, THEN we could have had the Moscow subway's design. But, we didn't so we followed what they had in Paris, New York AND London, and that worked quite well for all three cities-I sure as frack DON'T need a subway designed to look like an opera house, and I don't think that anybody else does, either.

Simon Tarses replying to a comment from Brandon / December 26, 2012 at 05:04 am
@Brandon-what Peanut Gallery has said is spot on; if you think that what the cities mentioned by him/her have is so great, why don't you live there? Yes, Toronto's subways need improvements, but they need ones that work FOR Toronto, not ones that Toronto has to have solely because Hong Kong/Tokyo/whatever has them. Also, if you and others want what you see in other cities so badly, you should start voting for the progressive parties that will fund said improvements and not for stupid transit hating fools that don't care about public transit.
Aaron replying to a comment from Simon Tarses / December 26, 2012 at 10:41 am
Poor Simon. I don't think you've ever left Toronto so you think everything is just peachy the way it is. Always on here defending the status quo with your bag full of excuses and lame rationalizations. Poor, poor Simon.
Simon Tarses replying to a comment from Aaron / December 26, 2012 at 03:03 pm
What I say isn't anywhere near as lame (and childish) as your's and everybody else's put-downs of the TTC subway for not looking like some other city's subway. And I'm not the only one saying it, either. The people that are doing so, frankly sound like little kids wanting the latest toy rather than people concerned about public transit.
Bob L / December 27, 2012 at 11:44 am
Why do we in Toronto always feel we have to aspire to imitate somewhere else? Why can't we just say that our subway was designed for Toronto and it's the Toronto style? The Yonge line stations have been "renovated" now for longer than they were in their original appearance and it shows. This is a chance to put them back to something approximating their original look, but of course there's no money for that. Also the platforms at King and Queen can't be widened because they abut the building foundations on Yonge St.
KD / December 27, 2012 at 04:54 pm
Certainly we can't expect chandeliers in our subway stations (like Moscow), but how about some better lighting and brighter colours? I agree the TTC is looking kinda run down and dreary in general. Yes, the NYC subway is certainly dirtier and more run down, but most of it is a lot older than the subway here. And we're supposed to be like NYC, only cleaner :) Whatever happened to that??
SCOTT HIGHET / February 24, 2013 at 10:25 pm
TTC subway stations are old they did renovate The Washrooms
David stein / November 10, 2014 at 01:35 pm
Stupid, stupid, stupid Toronto.
Coxwell Queen replying to a comment from Jeffrey / November 16, 2014 at 10:17 pm
You'd complain about the increase in fares to offset the cost of an ad-free system elsewhere on BlogTO, I am certain.
blatanville replying to a comment from Peanut Gallery / November 18, 2014 at 05:02 pm
Agreed: the "world class" London Underground will indeed get you within walking distance of most anywhere in central London, and close enough in the 'burbs, but the actual tube stations themselves are claustrophobic, inconsistent, and badly ventilated.
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