Secret Toronto

10 quirky things you might not know about Toronto

Every city has features that remain obscure. Be it lost subway stations, hidden passageways or bits of history that still shape our current streetscape, there are "secrets" lurking all across our urban milieu. Many of these hidden places have been documented by explorers of abandonments and other sites that don't welcome public access, but there are also quirky aspects of our city that sit out in the open, hiding in plain view. Here's a list of 10 features of the Toronto landscape that are as fascinating as they are little known. Please add your local lore to the comments section below.

Transformer Houses
That quaint-looking house with the high fence in the back and no mailbox, yeah that's not really a house (see lead image). Scattered across Toronto, there's a host of hidden transformers, many of which are located in nondescript residential houses.

Lower Queen Station
Most people know about Lower Bay Station, but there's also something of hidden subway station under Queen. Before the Bloor-Danforth subway was built, the plan had been to build a Queen Street subway line, and prior to that project being shelved, the shell of a station was carved out near City Hall.

Dundas Street Toronto

Dundas was stitched together from different streets
In the early 20th century, the city lacked a main east-west thoroughfare between College and Queen Street, which was causing major problems for traffic flow. The solution? To rename and connect a whole series of smaller streets into one main roadway, which is the Dundas Street we know today.

Bicycle Actuated Signals
Ever noticed three white dots embedded in the pavement at an intersection and wondered what they're for? They detect the presence of a bicycle and tell the light to change at intersections where the signals are set to remain on green until a vehicle arrives at the cross street.

Crawford Street Bridge Toronto

There's a bridge buried under Trinity Bellwoods Park
Head south on Crawford Street from Dundas, and you notice that the road narrows considerably for a section of about 25 metres or so. Underneath this stretch lies the old Crawford Street Bridge, which spanned Garrison Creek until the 1960s when it was filled in with earth from the Bloor-Danforth subway line. A second buried bridge exists on Harbord Street west of Grace, the north railing of which is still visible to this day.

The Imperial Oil building could have been City Hall
Now in the process of being converted into condos, the former Imperial Oil building near Avenue and St. Clair might instead have been located at 100 Queen St. W. if a group of architecture firms got its way in 1955. Instead, the city ultimately decided to have a design competition, which was won by Viljo Revell. Um, phew!

Wychwood Park

Toronto has private streets
Toronto is home to some 250 private streets and laneways, which residents maintain on their own dime. Some are gated like the half-hidden community of Wychwood Park, while others lack much by way of obvious markers.

The Bloor Viaduct starts at Sherbourne
Opened in fall of 1918, the bridge system that makes up the Bloor Viaduct actually consists of three parts: the iconic section that spans the Don Valley, the smaller western section that runs above Rosedale Valley, and the section between Sherbourne and Parliament, which is built on fill.


Toronto has a house that's been sawed in half
You could walk by it 20 times and not notice, but once you do, it looks like an optical illusion. Half of this house at 54 1/2 St. Patrick Street was sold to a developer, while the other half has remained to this day.

The subway was once designated a nuclear fallout shelter
Back at the height of the Cold War, TTC subway tunnels were seriously considered for use as a possible fallout shelter in the event of an attack on Toronto or neighbouring cities like Detroit or Buffalo. Now that's a recipe for a post-apocalyptic horror movie if I've ever seen one.


There are washrooms beneath our streets
Although no longer in use, Toronto had a series of underground public toilets at the turn of the century. The most popular of these was located at Spadina and Queen streets, and can be spotted in many photos from the period. These might come in handy again, you know. They sure seem to be slow on rolling out the new ones.

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