Ghosts of Toronto's public transit

(National Post, 23 Nov 2002)

by Liz Clayton

Underneath Bay station hides Bay Lower, a subway platform abandoned to the public since 1966. Photo: Liz Clayton.


As the unveiling of a shiny new subway draws near, it's easy to forget the countless other transit ideas that, for one reason or another, just never made it in our city. Many of us pass daily within a few feet of hidden artifacts of the TTC's long history abandoned subway stations, forgotten streetcar tunnels, and the beginnings of subway lines that never were. What else is hiding down there? Well, plenty.

Picture it: according to the sign above the platform, you have two options Downtown or Eastbound. The catch is, you're in Toronto, at the intersection of Bay and Bloor. It's 1966 and you're standing on the platform at Bay station. Bay Lower, that is. Abandoned but for training exercises and film shoots, Bay Lower sits quietly beneath its bustling big brother. Untouched by the general public for more than 30 years, it's likely that Keanu Reeves (Johnny Mnemonic) and Mira Sorvino (Mimic) have spent more time in our city's coolest underground hideout than you ever will.

Dirty, chipping, and most of all, empty, Bay Lower is a bizarre reminder of a time when our subway system used to be one. When the Bloor-Danforth subway opened in 1966, the line was fully integrated with the Yonge-University subway. It was possible then to get on a train at Woodbine Station and end up at Union without changing trains. (Technically, that's still possible, but good luck finding a subway driver you can talk into it.)

Aside from being baffling to the rider (do I want to catch an eastbound train from Bay Lower or Bay Upper?), the arrangement was logistically flawed. One single train could delay the entire subway line, causing headaches from St. George to Eglinton, Woodbine to Keele. So, a mere six months after it opened, Bay Lower was closed to regular use, and the city's east-west and north-south trains decided that they might get along better if they had a little more independence.

Bay Lower is perhaps the most storied of Toronto's "secret" transit locales, but it is by no means the only interesting hidden spot in our city's vast underground labyrinth.

Do you sense the ghost of a station at Queen and Yonge? It's there, in the form of a dirty, roughed-out cavern that constituted the beginnings (and also the end) of the Queen Street Subway line.

The cavern dug out underneath Queen Station barely merits the nickname "Lower Queen" it's less a station than a roughed out hole. And unlike its upstairs neighbour, the downstairs Queen was intended to carry only streetcars, not subway trains.

Lower Queen was roughed in during the construction of the Yonge line in 1952, with the intention of running a tunnel between McCaul and Sherbourne streets to alleviate the downtown gridlock along Queen that we still see today. Unfortunately, the plan was never pursued and the "station" today is relegated to being a mere home for elevator machinery.

The TTC keeps a few secrets at ground level as well. Both Keele and Woodbine Stations house abandoned streetcar connection platforms.

When it opened in 1966, the Bloor-Danforth line ran only between Keele and Woodbine stations, and each had built-in connections to the existing streetcar lines. At each terminus, streetcars continued along Bloor and Danforth to Jane and Luttrel, respectively. (Some of us may remember having to change for the streetcar and then for the bus in order to complete that long journey home from downtown to Scarborough.)

The streetcar connection tunnels at Keele and Woodbine are extant, though blocked off to public access which is a shame, as a fair amount of work went into these tunnels, which were only in use for two years. At Keele, a modern (for 1968 we're used to the one in Loblaws today) inclined moving sidewalk was built to ferry passengers from the elevated subway platform down to the grade-level streetcar platform. The moving sidewalk and platform are still intact, as are the pedestrian tunnels in Woodbine station now partially converted into a staff break room.

As to what else may be hidden down there, only the rodents know for sure.


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