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10 quirky things you might not know about the TTC

Posted by Staff / November 19, 2013

2011513-Double-Decker-Bus-1926-Orange-Day.jpgNot so long ago we published a post called 10 quirky things you might not know about Toronto, which highlighted various urban oddities and pseudo-secrets. The TTC makes two appearances on that list - in the form of the rarely discussed Lower Queen Station and the Cold War-era proposal that subway tunnels be used as makeshift nuclear fallout shelters - but that's really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our transit commission. We've already posted a brief history of the TTC and tracked the evolution of streetcars, buses, and subways, which collectively make for an interesting peek at the story of public transit in Toronto. This list, on the other hand, is reserved for the semi-hidden elements of the TTC story, those quirky bits of information that will give you something interesting to think about the next time you're caught in a rush hour delay on the verge of a panic attack.

The TTC once had double decker buses
Back in the 1920s, the TTC fleet sported a few double decker buses, which made for quite the open-air experience on the top level. These buses never did catch on in any meaningful sense, and sightings of them vanish in the Toronto Archives by the 1930s. What did stay on Toronto streets for much longer were the TTC trolley buses, which first made an appearance in the '20s but were introduced full scale back in 1947 and stayed on Toronto streets until the early 1990s.

ttc subway mapThe original plan for the subway called for three lines
Although Toronto didn't get a subway until 1954, there was already talk of building underground rail back in 1910. As part of a study of Toronto's transportation infrastructure, New York engineering firm Jacobs and Davies outlined a subway route for Toronto that consisted of three distinct lines: one in the west running from Dundas and Keele, a central line up Yonge to St. Clair, and an eastern route starting at Broadview and Danforth. After initial construction was complete, a connecting line across St. Clair could be built to tie the whole system together. The plan was killed by R.C. Harris in 1915, who argued that Toronto didn't need a subway, but rather more semi-rapid transit.

Arc en ciel yorkdaleYorkdale Station once had a rainbow roof
When the Spadina Line opened in 1978, public art was a major feature of the new subway stations, none more spectacular than Michael Hayden's Arc en ciel at Yorkdale, which erupted in a multicoloured pulse as trains entered the station. The installation was ultimately removed in the mid 1990s after water damage to the tubing that lined the station roof was deemed too expensive to repair. It's possible that the rainbow might return, but we're not holding our breath.

PCC StreetcarThe TTC planned to abandon streetcars in the 1970s
Toronto is one of just a few major cities with its streetcar network (largely) intact. It's a good thing, too - the TTC was once actively engaged in tearing out its surface rail lines and came very close to killing them altogether The TTC's streetcar abandonment policy, were it allowed to finish as planned in the 1980s, would have slowly mothballed all of Toronto's surface rail routes with the arrival of new subway lines. The Yonge streetcar was scrapped in 1954 and the Bloor-Danforth line met the same fate in 1966. Sherbourne, Dovercourt, Lansdowne, Spadina, Rogers Road, Weston Road and Spadina (since revived) all had their tracks removed before Streetcars for Toronto, a citizen-led group of activists, managed to halt the plan for good.

North York CentreNorth York Centre was added after the subway already went to Finch
Unlike the riders at many of Toronto's subway stations, users of North York Centre don't see much of their fellow straphangers - a thick support wall with narrow gaps separates the north and southbound platforms. The wall harks back to the time when the subway bypassed the area completely. The station was added 1987, dug out and inserted between Finch and Sheppard, more than a decade after the Yonge line reached its current terminus. While ugly, the bulky centre wall keeps odd station structure stable.

TTC Garbage TrainThere used to be a garbage train
The least glamorous job on the subway belonged for several years to a little train nicknamed Tokyo Rose. The distinctive car with its circular windows was bought from Nippon Sharyo, a Japanese train manufacturer, in the 1960s and converted into a moving trashcan. A team of TTC workers would ride on the train, tossing bags from each station into the bare metal interior (all the better for hosing down.) Other converted subway cars shared garbage detail with Tokyo Rose until the TTC halted its in-house collection in 2000 following a fire at Old Mill station.

St. Patrick StationThe TTC had different names in mind for some stations
When the Bloor-Danforth line was still in the planning stages, two stations had working titles that were different to what ended up on the official map. Dundas West was "Vincent" after nearby street erased by The Crossways development and Spadina was known as "Lowther" on paper before the arrival of its Spadina line counterpart. In the 1980s, the TTC seriously considered renaming St. Patrick "Art Gallery" after the nearby AGO. The new name would have neatly bookended Museum station but was eventually dropped after a public outcry.

TTC Christmas Light TourThe TTC used to offer Christmas Light tours
Every festive season crowds of passengers would gather at the coach terminal on Dundas in eager anticipation for a tour of the city's Christmas illuminations. The two-hour special bus service took in the best of the downtown lights as well as those in residential neighbourhoods. The TTC, which was generally more festive in the 60s and 70s, also sold commemorative token holders and ticket books over Christmas.

Kipling TTC StationEtobicoke almost had its own RT line
Stand on the upper level of Kipling station opposite the bus bays and look out the window. If the TTC's expansion plans had panned out a little differently, a white ICTS train identical to the Scarborough RT might be arriving right now, releasing passengers from all over north Etobicoke into the subway. The proposed line never got beyond the planning stage but it would have likely used the Kipling hydro corridor to reach Pearson airport and York University with stops at Burnhamthorpe Road, Rathburn Road, Eglinton Avenue, Highway 401/427, Islington Avenue, Weston Road and Highway 400, according to planner Scott Haskill.

TTC Red Rocket TrainWhere did the term "Red Rocket" come from?
Sorry to disappoint, but there are multiple theories on this one. Some trace the etymology to the introduction of the original red Gloucester subway cars in 1954, while others link it to the PCC streetcars (which were a maroon-ish red). Still others link the term to the Peter Witt streetcars (they were painted red), which far outdate the subway system. Thanks to Transit Toronto, we know that the term was not officially adopted by the TTC in marketing materials until the 1980s, but the origins of its unofficial usage are more difficult to pin down.

Writing by Chris Bateman and Derek Flack



Will / November 19, 2013 at 04:22 pm
I may be mistake, but wasn't the TTC in talks of restoring the Yorkdale station 'arc en ciel' in conjunction with the YUS-expansion?
Derek replying to a comment from Will / November 19, 2013 at 04:37 pm
Last I looked into it, there might have been funding related to expansion plans at Yorkdale, but it would seem the re-installation is back in limbo. I know that Michael Hayden really wants to do it, but there's no money right now.
Travis / November 19, 2013 at 04:40 pm
They use to give free rides all night to everyone on NYE! Every year!!
Torontonian replying to a comment from Travis / November 19, 2013 at 05:01 pm
One of the problems with the free New Year's Eve free ride
program, from 6:00 pm on, was that so many people started
drinking in the subway trains and passing around bottles.
There was a party in nearly every car.

It got disorderly and people were sick to their stomachs on
subway platforms and in the subway cars. Others were being
injured falling down the subway stairs.

It was the mid-70s and attitudes to drinking and coupled
with the more restrictive liquor laws of the day made
for some unfortunate sights and accidents as well as
ambulance rides to A&E in the local hospital.

I remember those days clearly and I stayed home on
those New Year's Eves and listened to my favourite music.

bm / November 19, 2013 at 06:31 pm
Great post Derek. Thanks. I remember running through the Yorkdale tunnel when I was a kid.
toemailer / November 19, 2013 at 06:42 pm
Love these kinds of posts.
nr / November 19, 2013 at 06:46 pm
They did the NYE free night last year.. just started at 10pm.
W. K. Lis / November 19, 2013 at 07:12 pm
New York will be running a 1930s-era Nostalgia Special using vintage subway trains. See
What about the TTC running a red Gloucester subway train for nostalgia special runs?

For a history of the Mount Pleasant streetcar see
Skye / November 20, 2013 at 08:50 am
I *knew* I wasn't imagining a train with circular windows in the TTC's past. They used to park "Tokyo Rose" at the Davisville yards, and I'd wonder what it was everytime I went through there. I always figured it was the last remaining train from a short-lived series of round-window trains, but could never find anything about it. Great post.
fecal.smegma / November 20, 2013 at 09:55 am
>> Spadina was known as "Lowther" on paper before the arrival of its Spadina line counterpart.

Not exactly. The station on the Spadina line was proposed to be called "Lowther" until the TTC decided to connect the Bloor and Spadina stations with that long walkway.
heather / November 20, 2013 at 10:04 am
That garbage train was a godsend on occasion, I rode in it a few times, having missed the last subway home!
Danny replying to a comment from Travis / November 20, 2013 at 02:17 pm
The TTC is still free on New Year's eve.
Jamaal / November 20, 2013 at 04:01 pm
Thanks for the article. I noticed that odd fixture on the south end of Kipling's bus bay and have wondered what the plans were for it everytime I saw it. I thought it was designed for a streetcar or something...
Transit Nerd / November 20, 2013 at 10:08 pm
Fantastic post!

I'd love the TTC to bring back the "Christmas buses" from the 50s.

I sat inside the last remaining Gloucester train, which is housed at the awesome (yet somewhat undiscovered) Halton County Radial Railway museum. It's WORTH the drive!
The Dandies / December 19, 2013 at 05:36 pm
I miss the red trains of yore. They had pinache unlike their replacements. The newest look is an improvement but still catching up to the style of other cities.

I remember the garbage trains but didn't know they had a name.

Thanks for the trip down memory lane. *shows Metropass*
ILgustavo / January 12, 2014 at 02:29 pm
Streetcars are terrible. They slow traffic. Bad weather immobilizes them. Small accidents can't be circled around. They cost a fortune in rails, construction, upgrading? Why haven't they all been replaced by electric trolley buses, like the kind they used to have on Bay Street?
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Doug / February 12, 2014 at 01:04 pm
More trivia: those spacious walkways below Yonge St. between the east and west sides of Queen station are re-purposed remnants of a 'Lower Queen' underground streetcar stop.
dafuqstonr / February 12, 2014 at 11:02 pm
i really wish the etobicoke RT line was built.
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Fin / August 10, 2014 at 08:31 pm
Bring back the rainbow lights at Yorkdale – that sounds amazing!
JKG replying to a comment from fecal.smegma / August 10, 2014 at 10:42 pm
Yup. The reason that Spadina (YUS) has no name sandblasted into the walls is because it was supposed to be Lowther stn, but they connected the two to save on one collector's wages. (
Garyth Evans / August 11, 2014 at 12:20 am
Man I remember Tokyo rose. I was an apprentice chef in the 80s and worked late. I remember seeing her pick up gsrbsge some nights. What a blast from the past
Stilez / August 11, 2014 at 12:48 am
I pray for the day the TTC reactivates the rainbow lights at Yorkdale. Used to love looking at it at night when I was a kid growing up in that area.
Greg Hannah replying to a comment from Stilez / September 16, 2014 at 07:26 am
I remember those lights well, but they weren't all that unique because there was so much neon in use all over the city back then, especially downtown. Now neon is mostly gone. Recreating the same pattern using LED would be far less expensive, easy on energy, would last for 10-15 years, be mostly maintenance free and would give a very similar effect.
Torontoisinmyblood / September 16, 2014 at 08:56 am
My grandfather was the ttc commissioner in the 70/80's, I sent him this article and he confirmed a lot of it and which ones he had a part in. But he told me of a 'Tourist Bus' that he talked the ttc into to adapting. It was equipped with a bar and a dance floor. It stuck spring for about a year then was scratched. Sounded fun though!! Add that to the list next time! Great article!
Steve Prentice / August 1, 2015 at 11:54 pm
I have always wanted to know why Museum station has that weird jail cell at one end of the platform. Is it for fare cheaters? It should be.
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