A Visit to the City Archives

Now and then, I spend my time browsing through the photograph collections at the City Archives, and this activity can be rather addictive.  The main page includes a link to a search page where you can start your travels.  Note that the indexing is spotty, and if you find items in a series that you really like, it is often worthwhile drilling down into the linked pages for the specific collections and looking for a “browse” link that will bring up the entire content.  I can’t put links to such pages here as they are built on the fly.

After looking at photos of my old neighbourhood in North Toronto, I stumbled on paintings of the Yonge Subway by the artist, Sigmund Serafin, whose paintings of Bloor and University subway stations are posted at Transit Toronto.  I have recently learned more about Serafin’s history, and that post will be updated in the new year.

I will leave the joy of finding intriguing bits and pieces to you, but there are a number of items I thought worthwhile to whet your appetite.

First up is a population density chart for 1950.  Unfortunately, this is not as crisp as one would wish, but it shows clearly the vast, empty space we now know as the suburbs of the 416.  The area served by the TTC was much more compact half a century ago, and closely-spaced, frequent services were essential to handling the demand.

Many people have no idea of the importance of the surface network before the Yonge Subway opened.  Huge volumes of people flooded in and out of downtown every day, almost all by streetcar.  A TTC map shows the routes taken by passengers in July/August 1943.  Many patterns totally foreign to current travel are seen here:

  • St. Clair West to downtown via Avenue Road & Bay Street
  • Bathurst to downtown via Adelaide Street
  • Dundas West and Roncesvalles to downtown from the Junction
  • Service on the Dovercourt car to the King/Crawford industrial area

The TTC strove to show the efficiency of transit over the private car with a diagram comparing capacities and road space occupied.  This predates the much more recent photo showing people sitting on chairs on a street arranged as they would appear in a streetcar or in many private vehicles.  Loading targets were a bit higher in those days with 125 passengers on a PCC streetcar and 180 passengers on a G-type subway car, a value not far from the working capacity of a T-1 car.  Conversely, the occupancy of autos is cited as 1.75 persons, a higher value than the average we see today.

Rapid transit plans in the 50’s were much different from what we actually built.  This map shows the proposed Queen streetcar subway through downtown from Gerrard & Carlaw in the east to Dundas & Shaw in the west.  For those who have debated the appropriate spacing of stations, the map gives an idea of 1950s-era thinking.

  • Gerrard & Carlaw (connection to the Carlton and Pape streetcar services)
  • Logan & Dundas
  • Queen & Broadview (with a portal somewhere east of Broadview)
  • Queen & River (Don Station), Parliament, Sherbourne, Church, Yonge, City Hall Station (Bay)
  • Queen & York, Grange Station (probably McCaul or somewhere nearby), Spadina, Bathurst, Trinity Park,
  • Dundas & Shaw

This is the sort of station spacing used for the “old” subways in Toronto, and unlikely to be duplicated today.

Queen Station itself shows up in various interesting ways.

Up at Bloor Station, the volume of transfer traffic from the surface line demanded a closed transfer rather than having hordes of riders making their way through traffic to and from the subway.  This shows up first in paintings (here and here) by Serafin and in several photos of the transferway itself (here and here).  The Bloor-Danforth streetcar services dwarf anything we have today with a combined service east of Bedford Loop of one two-car train every 60 seconds.  The total number of cars on this one route in 1954 was only slightly less than the peak number of cars on the entire streetcar system today.

Not long ago, there was some discussion here about the original connection from the subway to the railway station at Union.  A construction photo shows clearly the passageway down into the “lost tunnel” under the moat and the existing stairway out to the south side of Front Street.

Finally, knowing the interest in modern fare media, a few photos showing how you might buy a token and validate your transfer.

Browsing through the archives is in many ways the photographic equivalent of reading a good dictionary.  The joy is not just in finding a shot you didn’t know existed, but in seeing all the other pictures and especially their backgrounds.  Someone may have photographed traffic congestion (yes, the TTC was doing that over 50 years ago), but in the background are vanished streetscapes, sometimes in locations that are unrecognizable today.

If you have some time to spend over the holidays, a ramble through the city’s photo archives will prove very rewarding.

16 thoughts on “A Visit to the City Archives

  1. Hi Steve,

    The TTC map (Passenger Flow Diagram) reminds me of the famous graphic of Napolean’s summer march into Russia with only remnants of his once proud army surviving the winter trek home (http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/minard).

    As the year winds down… thanks for all you’ve done this year to bring better transit to Toronto… particularly your yeoman service exhaustively compiling, charting and analyzing the King and Queen streetcar CIS data… to show the need for the TTC to dramatically change the way it manages surface operations.

    It’s time to bust the old service planning/operations management paradigms, as they’re clearly broken system wide, not just on these specific routes.

    Merry Christmas and a Healthy New Year (with lots ‘n lots oF RGS Service finally added in 2008… shhhh don’t tell anyone!) 😛



  2. I echo Bob’s comments.

    Many thanks Steve for your tireless advocacy over many years.

    May be it continue to great success in the year’s that follow!

    Merry Christmas!



  3. Hi Steve.

    I just want to take a moment to wish you a merry Christmas and a happy 2008!

    Please accept sincere thanks for all that you have done to further the cause of public transit in Toronto.


  4. Thanks a lot Steve, for the photos and the hard work! Merry Christmas and have a happy new year!

    Free transit on Jan.1st from 1201am to 4am lets use this service to leave the keys at home when were planning on drinking!



  5. It’s hard to remember that in 1965, there were over 600 streetcars on the network downtown. Car ownership in Toronto was much lower than the US back then, so transit use remained high. That started to change in the 70s/80s.

    Looking at some of those TTC pictures from the 50s/60s (look at the Eric Trussler shots) shows a very different Toronto. Everybody was white and European, and people dressed a lot nicer than they do today.


  6. Hi Steve:-

    Reading the above comments has prompted me to say likewise; Merry Christmas to you and yours and a Happy and healthy New Year as well.

    You have given me and I’m sure that I can speak for the others who as avidly as I read your comments and appreciate your efforts, a welcome forum for us that we have now come to rely on to express our humble opinions too. It is for all you do, will continue to do and for all you’ve done that we thank you and encourage you to contionue for the good of us all!

    Again, thank you Steve and I wish you all, readers and contributors alike, a Merry and Happy too for being a part of what makes this forum good and great.

    Dennis Rankin


  7. I noticed that the picture of Queen Stn. reminds us that the platform was a centre one for the streetcars. How would that have affected the service? Would new streetcars have a door on their left side like the Boston cars, or would the tracks have crossed each other to provide “wrong-way” operations.

    Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

    Steve: That painting is a bit of a mystery because I don’t remember seeing provision for cross-overs for wrong-rail operation in the streetcar subway. Also, I have never seen any TTC reports that suggest they were looking at cars with offside doors like Boston.


  8. Steve: I found a lot of old topographic maps when we cleared out my father’s house (he went to a senior’s residence).

    One interesting map from 1950 showed northern Etobicoke (what is now Rexdale). There are about 4 streets in the Islington-Albion area (Thistletown) and the next settlements are down near Burnhamthorpe or Richview. (Going by memory).

    Northwest Toronto was also empty. Along Lawrence from Bathurst to Weston there is no development except for an airfield.


  9. Do not forget about the horse race-track that was replaced by the Dufferin Shopping Centre, which was in turn replaced by the Dufferin Mall.


  10. Like many others I add my ‘seasonal good wishes’ and thanks – your site is exceptional because of your extensive knowledge, optimism, good humour and unwillingness to give up.

    I note that the 1907 Swan Boats appear to have cherubs blowing trumpets at the bow – perhaps the new streetcars could be similarly equipped, at least at Christmas?


  11. For Christmas today, I recieved a Historic Toronto calendar published by the Star. It is quite interesting to see some downtown landmarks, many of them transit-related (even if it is only tracks in the street). I was definitely thinking of you and this thread when looking at it, and how much the city has changed at some of these landmarks.

    All the best to you in 2008!


  12. The Queen subway plans are also notable for the alignment. Specifically, they follow the same approach taken on Yonge, where only a very small section is actually under Queen and the rest is offset to the north. Further, I seem to recall seeing plans that showed a fair amount of trackage would have been open cut like the section of the original Yonge subway north of Bloor (others may better recall the exact sections). Naturally this would have had a major impact on what Queen looks like today (whether the tracks would have remained open or if they’d have been ultimately covered for redevelopment).

    Steve: The line would have emerged in a portal just west of University, and another around Jarvis. All of the buildings now on the north side of Queen for these sections would have been demolished. Reports of the day spoke of these as being run-down areas. Queen West wouldn’t exist as we know it.


  13. Hi Steve:-

    Now if the Queen subway had been proposed and built as an elevated with PCC rapid cars, then there would be no congestion on Queen, no buildings would have been harmed in the production of this technology. But maybe not, for if built the auto users would have a free and clear trip and we would have been encouraging the use of the guzzler for nothing would have been impeding the motorist. (Except maybe other motorists)


    Steve: And Queen Street would have disappeared under a latticework of elevated tracks and stations just like parts of downtown Chicago. Somehow, I don’t think the area would have been quite as attractive.


  14. I’ve often wondered why the Yonge subway and Bloor subway have so much of their alignments off-centered from their respective streets. I know a lot of buildings and houses must have been sacrificed for that. I’ve also wondered why the Spadina subway was put underground in, of all places, the Nordheimer Ravine. A great amount of money certainly could have been saved by building it through, rather than underneath it. It would have been above ground along with the Spadina Expressway had it been built so they really might as well have kept it that above ground when the expressway was cancelled.

    Steve: The expressway may have been cancelled, but the roads lobby doesn’t give up easily, and nothing would be allowed to block the Spadina extension forever. Indeed, the structure of St. Clair West Station includes provision for the expressway to pass under St. Clair.

    Also, there’s the little matter of destroying a park. Bad enough to do it for an expressway, but a subway line?


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