The TTC’s Visitor Centre (Updated)

Updated August 25 at 6:15 pm:

The function of a Transit Visitor Centre really needs to be understood.  A “museum” and a “visitor centre” are not the same thing.  The recent Customer Service report suggests that the TTC place information kiosks in major subway stations.  Putting info where there are actually people may be a radical concept, but it is clearly the approach needed to make “information” broadly available.  A tourist should not have to travel to Yonge & York Mills for info about how to get around the city.

There is a parallel desire for a “Museum of Toronto”.  While that project, too, may be hobbled by a lack of funding and political interest, that’s the place any exhibits looking at the TTC’s history and role in city development should go.

A major concern with the museum is the availability of space.  However, the proposed design consumes a considerable amount with static vehicle displays (although one of these is used for a theatre) and creates design problems for the new Head Office due to structural loads.  An alternative location was rejected as having insufficient space (not to mention higher cost), but the new design promptly eats up space for vehicles that might otherwise not be needed.

When Council approved exploration of this project, it approved less than $100K to finance the work.  However, the TTC actually spent about four times as much, and is now shuffling money between accounts to cover the shortfall.  This is an example of the kind of budgetary sleight-of-hand that a proposal now before Council seeks to end.

The museum as a project needs to stand on its own merits and be seen in the context of a wider museum of Toronto.  It is unclear why this project should be entirely financed by donations when other City museums receive municipal support.  That’s only a ruse to allow this project to continue without attracting attention to funding needs.

My original post on this issue from August 23 follows the break.

Today there was an extensive, almost too-extensive, presentation on the proposed TTC Visitor Centre to be built as part of the proposed new Head Office space at Yonge & York Mills.  Unfortunately, none of the presentation materials are online.

There is a covering report, but this only takes events up to the point where a non-profit corporation might be established to actually run with this project.  It is noteworth that the date on this report is July 27 although it was on the August 23 agenda.

For the record, I am a member of the “Steering Committee”, a group of people invited to advise on this project.  You can read the full list in the report.

The presentation today given by Lord Cultural Resources included an extensive section on the layout and design of the proposed Visitor Centre.  The Steering Committee has never seen this material, and I was appalled that it was not placed before us, at the very least as a courtesy, before it was shown to the Commission.  Clearly, our input is not particularly valued and this is a TTC project, for all the talk of an arm’s-length museum.

The huge irony here is that the TTC Customer Service Panel also reported today, and communication was a big issue for this panel (I will comment at length on their recommendations separately).  With the Visitor Centre, the TTC shows its true colours once again.

I am deeply concerned that this proposal has been gerrymandered to be a showpiece for the new Head Office, and that it will be swept up in the political wrangling that already besets that project.  This is a scheme that should be held over for the new Council and the new Commission.  In any event, the time required to recruit a board for the museum corporation and raise funding, let alone the construction lead time for the new head office, make this a project for future years.

There is no rush, and the current regime should abandon these plans immediately.

The next time they want a “steering committee”, they might have the courtesy to let the panel do its job.

27 thoughts on “The TTC’s Visitor Centre (Updated)

  1. As I submitted in a deputation earlier this year, what can make a transit museum in Toronto unique is its ability to connect to an active, extensive streetcar network allowing it to showcase the history of streetcars in their natural environment.

    A museum of only static displays is a waste of time and money and won’t attract the visitors or volunteers needed to be a success.


  2. Hmmm, ‘steering committee’ implies the ability to steer, not merely to advise. Ignoring/forgetting the committee, at least in terms of how the public will see this, is little short of a whitewash. One has to wonder how many other committees, such as the one for the design of the new streetcar, will be as assiduously and, therefore, arrogantly ignored.

    Plus ça change…. 😦


  3. “The next time they want a “steering committee”, they might have the courtesy to let the panel do its job.”

    Now why would the TTC want to do that?!?


  4. How can they call you a “steering committee” and yet you don’t have the ability to view documents, much less “steer” the study? I don’t think the TTC knows what “steering committee” means. Sounds to me you’re a “stakeholder advisory group” or some other public “consultation” term, where “consult” means a one-way passing of selected bits of information or not. I’m a bit grumpy this morning, but seriously do you want to be listed as a member of a steering committee when you had no input?


  5. I read and heard quite a bit this morning on CBC’s Metro Morning about both the scathing customer service report (including a comment from Steve) as well as the proposed museum. My impression is that this gives fodder for the mayoral candidates to spout out against the TTC management (much of it justly) and that the TTC should rethink it as a priority. There are plenty of other things on which the TTC should focus.

    One is replacing the outdated trolley poles! Yesterday morning as I was biking west along Gerrard, a streetcar “dewired” as it was about to make the left turn south on Coxwell, and I patiently waited as the driver got out and put the pole back on the wire, then tugged at the rope to make sure it was not too loose. All the while I had the horrid though of our new fleet of state-of-the-art low-floor streetcars, all with trolley poles, and a driver having to walk ever further back to fix a ‘de-wired” pole. Yikes. How about updating the overhead to accomodate pantographs? Then they can put a use trolley pole in their musuem.

    Steve: The prototypes for the new cars will have both trolley poles and pantographs. This will allow testing of the new cars on those parts of the system that have been adapted for pantograph operation. Changing over all of the existing overhead is a big job, and co-existence with pole-equipped cars will be tricky at complex intersections. However, it’s in the pipeline.



  6. One wonders, Steve, whether you felt a sense of deja vu as your volunteer committee was sidelined and its role devalued by staff.

    Steve: It is astounding how some public participation processes actually work, and others are seen as ways to provide a patina of credibility for a previously-decided outcome.


  7. Regarding the new LRVs to be run on the legacy network, would it not be feasible (from a technological POV, not a ‘too-late-in-the-process’ POV’) to locate the trolley poles nearer to the front? So, instead of them being at the rear of the vehicle as they are now, why not place them on the first unit? It might make the LRVs less likely to dewire, and if they do the operator doesn’t need to travel AAALLLLLLLLLL the way to the rear.

    I understand it would be too late in the design process for this to happen, but would it even be possible, period?

    Steve: A trolley pole must be mounted more or less directly above one of the trucks so that the bottom of the pole remains in the centreline of the tracks. When you are trying to put a pole back on the wire, you have to be able to stand directly under the point of contact so that you can let the pole rise straight up (using the rope) to the contact wire. A pole further forward would not work. The long term fix for this is a switch to pantograph operations, but that will take many years.


  8. I was asked repeatedly to be part of this Steering Committee and turned it down for the very reasons that have become apparent. Any effort on my part would have been a waste of time since they already had their mind made up on what they wanted. And what they wanted is a waste of money. The proposed location is stupid and the lack of anything operating like a PCC or Peter Witt was out of the question as they did not want to “compete” with the Halton County Radial Railway. They have not clue.

    Steve: I think it would have been nice for the museum to be at a location with track leading to the existing system (Ashbridge Carhouse was one suggestion), and I think the concern with competing with HCRR was intended only to preclude large scale “amusement park” types of installation which the TTC is unable to support anyhow. I will update this article with other comments in due course.


  9. I don’t hate the idea of a visitor centre, but I can’t agree at all that it should have anything beyond static display. The Halton County museum does a very good job at being an operating museum, and does it without diverting city funds or invoking all the complications of intruding on day to day operations and public roadways. What we really need is some type of ongoing, formalized partnership between OERHA and the TTC to create a static museum in Toronto and an operating collection at Rockwood, both with volunteer support and charitable status and TTC endorsement and support.


  10. I’d actually like to see someone propose a digital model for this “visitors’ centre.” There’s enough material to work with to do some pretty interesting things in a digital medium for a “marketing tool.” TTC should know, considering the recent award of distinction they received for their website.

    Steve: (Chuckles quietly)


  11. I understand that one of the other sites that was being considered for the museum was the old barns on Danforth at Coxwell. Although still not the most ideal area in terms of tourism, it is much more suitable than Yonge and York Mills, and you have the added advantage of placing the musuem in an actual TTC building that has been around for decades. Why was that site deemed unsuitable?

    Steve: The Danforth site is smaller than the space proposed for Yonge and York Mills. Having said that, a large amount of the latter site is consumed by static displays of vehicles which, I had thought, we were not planning to have. Also, it is claimed that the cost of renovating and operating the Danforth space is higher than the York Mills site.


  12. Munro Park Avenue and Scarborough Beach Boulevard were destinations serving amusement parks at one time. If Ashbridge Carhouse could become a destination for going out-of-service light rail vehicles they could become a destination for riding passengers as well for a transit museum at the same site.


  13. A museum is a great idea. Where is it located is not as important as others have suggested. The clientel for a museum will not be mainly tourists. It is hard to imagine someone from China coming to Toronto to see a TTC museum. A museum’s job is to educate the next generation about the history of the TTC and the development of Toronto. Also, it should strive to attract the next generation to have an interest in joining the TTC in the future.

    For comparison purposes, the Railway Museum (Saitama ken) and the Tokyo Metro museum (Kasai) are located far away from Central Tokyo. In fact, asking for English services at both museum is almost unheard of. Their purpose is not to attract foreign tourists. Both museums do not have a live displays. Yes live displays would be better, but riding a tram in a forest is also not representative of its use.

    I have one wish for this museum. Please sell some TTC goods. I am not asking for T-shirts and the like. It has been a long time and I still cannot buy a T1 or ICTS model train anywhere.


  14. Steve, as you say, “a tourist should not have to travel to Yonge & York Mills for info about how to get around the city,” but the location is not much better for Toronto residents. Right now, whenever the public needs to interact with the TTC bureaucracy (Metropass plan sign-up, ticket exchanges, etc.), we need to trek up to Davisville. It’s not very convenient, but at least it’s not too far from Yonge and Bloor, the point through which the majority of regular TTC riders pass through at least every week or two, if not every day (not me, for that matter, but I am in the minority). Relocating these functions to York Mills may be equally convenient, or no more inconvenient, to folks commuting to or from the northern 20% or so of Toronto (or York Region), but will be a pain in the neck to the rest of us.

    Perhaps with the new service-oriented regime in place, there will be no need to trek to Davisville (York Mills) because any such interaction can take place online or in one or more satellite booths (Union, Yonge/Bloor, Kennedy, etc.). I wonder if the TTC has given any thought to this potential, or how it would impact their office space planning, or if they are simply just saying “We were offered space at York Mills and we want new space”.


  15. I think that it would be a nice idea to create a field trip experience for grade schoolers to “visit” the TTC, rather than investing in a traditional bricks and mortar museum.

    A grade two class, as an example, could be picked up at school by a modern TTC bus and entertained by Barney the safety beaver en route to the new Ashbridge’s Bay Yard (in an ideal scenario). The children could spend thirty minutes to an hour in a meeting room equipped with audio-visual equipment that doubles as a visitor’s centre to learn about the TTC’s history, with an opportunity to ask questions. Afterward, they would have the opportunity to board a PCC car, a Peter Witt, or possibly a GM New Look for a local ride to, say Neville Park and back, to “experience” history, before being returned to school on modern equipment. The TTC could provide this as a free service or for a nominal fee — in the true spirit of field trips — And, perhaps, provides some juice, snacks, and paper streetcars / buses for the trip back as part of the package.

    (All the while, not allowing the children anywhere near anything that could maim them, which could be accommodated into the design of Ashbridge’s)


  16. York Mills is a crazy site and the only reason I can see why it’s being considered is to give Build Toronto a win. If it isn’t connected to the streetcar network somewhere, then it means you have the museum without the PCCs and the Witt or you take those cars off the network permanently. It would be like moving the Aerospace Museum exhibits to High Park, or with the most interesting exhibits stored offsite, accessible once or twice a year. You could, but why would you?


  17. Leo said …

    “I understand that one of the other sites that was being considered for the museum was the old barns on Danforth at Coxwell”

    That was from ages ago. The other half of the museum was supposed to go into Lower Bay. The whole idea of a transit museum seems pretty boring and useless to me anyway without the old cars — what would they put in there? … old turnstiles and transfer machines? … vitrolite tiles? … pictures from the Toronto Archives? The G trains are gone and I never understood why they did not keep at least one functional train for historical purposes and charters. Maybe they could have parked it in L. Bay and put the museum down there, or put it somewhere else downtown where the old streetcar and subway cars could be on display under one roof. I can’t see a museum without a PCC, Witt, G, and M on display.


  18. I think having a transit visitor centre in Hogs Hollow will be great to spread the wealth around the city. We have lots of tourist sites all over by why not having one more to central portion of the city


  19. A visitor’s centre need not be a gigantic museum stuffed with static displays (thinking specifically of the London Transport museum, with its buses and trams). I visited transit museums in London, New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia and the Halton County museum, and there’s quite the range.

    I’d like to see something small and manageable, with rotating static displays and interpretative displays and perhaps a small gift shop. I’m thinking of the New York Transit Museum satellite location at Grand Central Terminal, which does the job well. SEPTA has a small museum in the basement and lobby of its headquarters in downtown Philly, a static PCC (though modern rebuilt PCCs operate on the 15-Girard line), some display boards and a nice non-SEPTA-specific gift shop.

    I think the NYC Transit Museum satellite or the SEPTA museum is what the TTC has in mind for York Mills Station.

    If this is the decision, it should be at Union Station as it gets its makeover, and should not be TTC-exclusive, but cover all modes of public transport (railways, radials, suburban and GO). Maybe volunteers would be willing to help operate it from HCRY and the TRCA.

    But yes, transport (in all its forms, not just the TTC operations) should be a focus of a wider Toronto museum, not a centrepiece for a new headquarters.


  20. Too bad a museum can’t be at Union Station. Obviously there are gazillions of reasons why it can’t be there but I’d just as soon someone with much more knowledge on the subject explain why not.


  21. Toronto – a major Canadian city without a proper city museum. I would like to see progress in that direction with the idea of accommodating a TTC Museum within.
    Seems to me, the Bathurst Street site originally selected for the Toronto Museum would also work well for the TTC Museum.


  22. If most of the trains in the Davisville yard are to moved to the Wilson yard with its expansion, Davisville could be rearranged and altered into a transit museum.


  23. I think York Mills is a great idea! They could raise money by racing GM New Looks up the hill at Old Yonge and have bets on who makes it to the top! /sarcasm


  24. @Benny Cheung:

    If you want a model train set(s) of the T1 or ICTS, you should be going to stores in Toronto, or online to get said model railroad kits; I don’t think that it’s in the TTC forte to be selling them as gifts (although they did sell die-cast HO scale replicas of the PCC streetcars made by Corgi a few years back.) Then again, maybe I’m wrong and they possibly can do so.


  25. I’ve been lucky enough to visit a few transport / railway museums and private displays of rail vehicles in a few different countries.

    My experience tells me that I do not want “just” a TTC museum. If the TTC wants to build a mini-TTC museum, they can place it at York Mills or Union and I will go there once – but no more than that.

    On the other hand, I believe that many people would definitely put money down again and again for a Museum of Toronto Transport, provided that:

    1. It was accessible by subway, streetcar, bus and GO train
    2. It was for Toronto transport, meaning everything from canoes to GO trains, horse-drawn streetcars to ferries.
    3. It was diverse and historical
    4. There are interactive displays, vehicles that move, and simulators.

    Such a museum would not only make it onto the tourist map, but you would see regular visits from local and out-of-town residents, historians, students, etc.

    And I would love that museum to be at Union Station or even better, in eastern Toronto. For some reason I am imagining a site near the Greenwood yards with a mini-streetcar house, with access to Danforth GO station for the chance to ride trains on a short stretch of track with active freights and GO trains passing by. And yeah, how about a partnership with Toronto Hippo /Duck Tours for tours of the harbour and views of the Island Ferries?

    It would be nice to have Museum of Toronto (but where? At Old City Hall? Osgoode Hall? St. Lawrence Hall? Fort York/Moss Park Armoury? HMCS Toronto?) and a slightly separate Museum of Toronto Transport.

    Cheers, Moaz


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