The Original Connection to Union Station (Updated)

In the comments thread on my main Union Station post, some have remarked about a mysterious, abandoned tunnel that links Union subway station to the railway station.  Scott Haskill from the TTC sorted this one out for us, and the moment I saw the plans and one of the photos, I had an “aha” moment and remembered the connection.

Scott sent along a copy of the TTC’s plans for the station from 1953 modified at about the time the Royal Bank connection was underway (1977).   The original tunnel appears on the City’s drawings for the existing retail level.  If you compare the 1953 plan and the existing plan, you will see exactly where the abandoned tunnel is relative to the rest of the structure.  Scott menioned that “there’s even a fire alarm plan in public view, mounted on the wall separating the GO concourse from the TTR part, near the McDonalds, that clearly shows the tunnel.”

Scott also pointed me to the City Archives.  I went hunting and here are photos of the connection under construction in 1953: 1 2 3 4.

Here is an archive photo showing the connection tunnel under construction and a modern view of the same location supplied by Scott.

Robert Lubinski sent me a photo taken by Lewis Swanson showing the Union subway connection in Nov 1955

There is a page on the site describing this tunnel including a photo of its current state.

8 thoughts on “The Original Connection to Union Station (Updated)

  1. Dear Steve,

    Now I am curious. Any idea why the tunnel was abandoned?

    Steve: Simple — the route it took into the railway station was much less direct than the walk straight across the moat into the new GO concourse. In fact, if you were going to the Great Hall, it would have been shorter to just walk up to the street and in the front door, just as it is today.


  2. Hi Steve:-

    The “modern view of the same location supplied by Scott” gave me a shot of nostalgia, for I recall one night I opened the door in the wall (at the right side of the foot of the stairs behind the TV News ad) and went in. At that time I didn’t know that it had at one time been an actual pedestrian walkway since the first section of it was missing and the present doorway opened onto a set of wooden stairs leading down to the slope. I followed it down and ended up in the bowels of Union Station (TTR). It was a large cavernous area and the man that I met upon entering there didn’t challenge me but instead greeted me as if this was a normal occurence. He said that by heading off north through the other interconnecting tunnels I could eventually make my way quite a distance north under the city. This was long before the retail and PATH. Thanx for the memories.



  3. What stikes me as odd is just how thoroughly inadequate the original connections to the subway platform were in terms of passenger volume handling – much worse than even now after numerous alterations. How is it possible even then that this design was deemed suitable for what was once a subway terminus? And did they not see the possibility of dramatic traffic increases at such a major destination?

    The same foolishness is happening again with the plan to wall-off the Yonge-bound side of the old platform rather than take advantage of the ability to access both sides of a train there when the new platform is completed. A substantial amount of walking space will be lost from the old platform in the process. I assume it’s too late to get this fixed, not that the TTC would listen.


  4. Steve: The tunnel is even less appetizing than I remember it!

    One thing that struck me after I grew up was what an unappealing view we give visitors to Toronto who arrive by train. They were sent down stairs into the back corridors of Union Station, debouched into the basement rather than the Great Hall, then had to go down and up stairs in that narrow corridor to get to the subway. The most colourful display in the back corridors is a depiction of a grade crossing accident (is it still there?).


  5. Actually the path is blocked off now once u reach the bottom of the ramp. They closed it with plywood and backfill when they were doing construction last year, relocating water pipes or whatever they were doing. So I suppose the old escalator, stairway, and janitor rooms are all filled in with dirt. Its a damn shame!


  6. I remember using that tunnel back in, I think it was 1976 … when exactly did it close? When Royal Bank Plaza opened? I can’t remember.


  7. Steve am I getting my proportions correct. It is my understanding that the new retail level will be 1 floor below Bremner which is roughly at the same height as the GO waiting area (Go Concourse) which is slightly higher than the TTC union station mezzanine level, correct? Does that mean the new retail level will be approximately at the same level as the subway station tracks?

    If so, could some automatic fare collection be put in place to allow access to the south (Yonge platform). Also what about going under the tracks and coming up at, a) the north (University) platform and b) The Royal Bank Plaza. Think of Dundas and Queen stations, this is what I’m proposing.

    I don’t see how the lowered moat fits into it though.

    Steve: The retail level will be at the same elevation as the subway station mezzanine, not the platform level. Remember that to get to this mezzanine you have descend a short stairway from the entrance in the moat which is more or less at the same level as the existing GO concourse.

    In the new design, the Bay Street GO concourse (under the east wing and the trainshed) is raised to the same level as the existing Via concourse in the main building. This places it high enough for the Retail concourse to fit between the existing level of the subway mezzanine and the new GO concourse. The elevations are visible on the drawings if you blow them up.

    The Retail level is at elevation 2’0″ relative to the base of the plan. On the drawing of the retail level you can see that everything right through the lowered moat into the subway is at the same elevation.

    The Promenade level (the old arrivals concourse) stays at its existing elevation of 10’0″.

    The new GO concourses (both west and east) are at an elevation of 14’10” which is only slightly below the Via Concourse at 15’2″. These areas can easily be connected by short ramps as one continuous space.

    This give 12’10” headroom for the Retail level (from 2’0″ to 14’10”).

    Both subway platforms will be access by walking straight out of the Retail level to the subway mezzanine and then down one floor to platform level. The only direct connection at that level will be from the Harbourfront streetcar loop to the Yonge line’s new platform.


  8. I am assuming that the original entrance for this would be where the clothing store is now ( across from the LCBO ) and is there any inkling from the TTC perspective to reopen it as an alternate means to get to the station from the existing go concourse now that the retail space is being developed ?? I mean it would be great as an alternate route to funnel people in, I mean why have only one way to funnel people into the station when you can have two. It cuts down congestion at the entry points into the subway station. Maybe its just me but from a purely practical standpoint it seems like a logical solution to a very real problem, I mean they have that tunnel already there, no need to build a new one. I wonder if I could lobby the TTC to look at the proposal at their next meeting… Any idea how I would go and present my idea steve, is it even possible.

    Steve: The tunnel is now intercepted by the recently relocated sewer as part of the Union Station project. Your idea is a non-starter. In any event, there is going to be another opening in the wall to the moat further west to spread out the pedestrian traffic. Same effect as you propose without the roundabout down and up again route.


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