Osgoode Hall Garden and University Park

Over past months, the Ontario Line’s effect on trees in various locations around Toronto has become something of a cause célèbre. Osgoode Hall was, in a way, the “poster child” for this because of its location and the historic buildings at Queen & University. However, this was far from the only affected location with tree felling on a massive scale elsewhere including Moss Park, Riverside, and now planned for the Don Valley at the Leaside Bridge and the crossing of Walmsley Brook north of Thorncliffe Park.

A common refrain from citizens along the Ontario Line and other corridors is that Metrolinx does not deal in good faith, but rather presents its positions as unchangeable and pressing. They look only for acquiescence so that “consultation” can be claimed for the record. There is no public record of these consultations, and no community is aware of what might be told to others except by information sharing among them.

I have written about the garden at Osgoode Hall before, most recently in a review of the report prepared for the City of Toronto by Parsons looking at various alternative configurations.

On February 23, 2023, Toronto and East York Community Council established a subcommittee composed of Councillors from Wards 10 Spadina-Fort York, 13 Toronto Centre and 14 Toronto-Danforth and “directed the Executive Director Transit Expansion Division to report to the first meeting in March 2023 regarding the current status of the Ontario Line, pedestrian and traffic management plans, and opportunities for City and resident involvement moving forward”.

That meeting will occur on March 22, 2023. The only report on the agenda is from the Executive Director, and a great deal of it is a rehash of information from earlier reports along with a claim that Metrolinx is engaging with communities along the corridor. The actual degree of consultation is a matter for some debate, and one cannot wonder whether the ED is parroting the official line from Metrolinx, hardly an appropriate tactic for a senior City official. I will address that report in more detail after the meeting, but turn here to a proposal for the new entrance to Osgoode Station.

An Integrated Proposal for Osgoode Station, University Park and Osgoode Garden

This section of the article is based on a presentation that I will make to the subcommittee together with Liz Driver, the Director/Curator of Campbell House Museum located on the northwest corner of Queen & University across the street from the new entrance.

The trees formerly on the northeast corner are now history and the site lays bare awaiting Ontario Line construction. The challenge now is to make the best of a bad situation and plan for a much improved public realm at the intersection.

Here are three views of the Metrolinx proposal.

On the left is the proposed entrance building sitting within the Osgood Hall lands.

In the centre is a plan view showing the existing station in light grey, the construction area in red, and a “lay down area” for staging materials in dark grey. The trees that were removed were in the red square on the northeast corner. Within that square is a smaller white “keyhole” which will be the shaft down to the new Ontario Line station.

On the right is a cutaway view showing the relationship of the new station (orange), the existing structures (grey) and the two new entrances at University and at Simcoe (blue).

A key consideration in any design is the location of the keyhole. It cannot be placed immediately beside the existing subway structure because the excavation could damage Osgoode Station. Also, the keyhole (and the stairs, escalators and elevator to be installed within the shaft) should be located close to Queen Street and the new station.

When the concern was to preserve the trees, this limited potential designs and led to rejection of all of the alternatives as detailed in the Parsons report. However, now that the trees are gone, another option is available. This depends on two key points:

  • Within the Osgoode Garden, the re-establishment of large trees would be limited by the fact that the roof of the station concourse will be only 1m below ground as it is with the existing station.
  • Outside of the Garden, there is a proposed expansion of pedestrian space and parkland that has been endorsed as a high priority by City Council in July 2022.

The illustration below shows the proposed University Park. On the left is a design by PUBLIC WORK looking south toward Queen with the park in its full implementation. On the right is a simplified view looking north from Richmond Street in a “phase 1” version.

The nub of University Park is that the existing but much underutilized median would be replaced by the northbound traffic lanes. The space they now occupy would provide for an expanded east sidewalk and park. In the drawing on the right, also shown is a proposed performing arts plaza in front of the Opera House.

The University Park scheme would extend eventually north to College Street, but that is a longer term goal. The challenge is to get started with a portion of University Avenue that will be under construction for coming years, and to ensure that when it is restored, the new layout is the basis for the work.

A “Split Level” Plan

Of the structures forming the new entrance, there are three elements that could be shifted from their planned locations:

  • The entrance building (also called the “headhouse” by Metrolinx) could move outside of Osgoode Garden into the expanded sidewalk area.
  • The keyhole itself, according to Metrolinx, can shift westward about 4m, but not enough to get all of the construction out of the garden.
  • The link between the entrance and the keyhole, now seen as one continuous vertical structure could be split.

The intent is to limit the incursion of the concourse under the garden to maximize the area which does not have a roof 1m below ground. A great deal of the construction area (the large red square and possibly part of the keyhole) would not include a concourse and therefore would be a site for future large trees.

In the diagram below, the entrance building and its vertical circulation (red) to the concourse shift west (green arrows). This does not threaten Osgoode Station’s structure because it would only be to the floor of the concourse, and in any event Metrolinx needs to build the connecting structure there between the new and old stations.

The circulation down to the Ontario Line (orange) remains more or less as-is, but would be shifted west as far as possible within the limits of the keyhole’s location. Note that this allows Metrolinx to retain its keyhole at its planned location or immediately nearby within constraints they have already stated.

These changes would reduce the amount of Osgoode Garden with a structure immediately below grade and would allow all of the former Garden to be restored right to the fence line.

The elevator from street level to the new station now runs in a single shaft from the surface downward. Depending on where the two “slices” of the future structure shift, they may or may not overlap enough to preserve this. In this design, we assume that they do not and a separate elevator would run from the concourse level down to the Ontario Line. This arrangement is not unlike that found in many stations where the surface-to-platform level route cannot be accomplished in one continuous vertical structure.

Next Steps

Our proposed design will have to be endorsed at least for study by the Subcommittee, and staff from both the City and Metrolinx will have to review its feasibility.

An important point from construction staging is that we leave the excavation more-or-less as planned and only modify the upper “slice” of the new entrance that would not be built until late in the project. This avoids the classic Metrolinx charge that nothing can be done because the project must start “today” if not sooner.

Whether they will be open to this scheme remains to be seen.

For the City’s part, work should begin on plans for restoration of University Avenue north of Queen after the OL construction (some years in the future) as well as the co-ordinated changes south of Queen to redirect northbound traffic into what is now the median.

The opportunity to begin a grand park space on University that could eventually be extended north to College should not be lost.

12 thoughts on “Osgoode Hall Garden and University Park

  1. I loved this article as always. I am really amazed how thin skinned Metrolinx is to behave and go along in the wake of all the criticism as if nothing has happened. In fact I have been seeing ads on social media – they are advertising the extension of the Eglinton LRT into Etobicoke with such gay abandon .. it’s as if the creator of the ads is indifferent to the fact that the actual LRT hasn’t even opened yet and they are singing praises of that extension.


  2. This all makes complete sense. What Metrolinx needs is an Urban Planning Advisory Committee with final approval power for all transit projects, starting with the Ontario Line.

    Steve: It would be filled with friends of the Minister and the Premier who would know nothing about the City, but would do as they were told.


  3. University Avenue today is a want-to-be expressway. Very few make use of the median. Why are there still parking meters on University Avenue (and most of downtown for that matter)? Only needed for deliveries, since there are underground garages for the rest of us.

    The northbound lanes need to be shifted west, and reduced to two lanes in each direction. No parking. There should be only one dual-direction cycling lane on the east side, which can be used by emergency vehicles (like ambulances to get to the hospitals).

    That’ll make room for a Osgoode Station entrance on the former northbound lanes.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I heard an ad today for the Ontario Line and how good it will be for the neighbourhood… as I stood in line in a building that no one other than Transit fans seems to know will be demolished to do the construction. Hello Cosburn…
    The sheer audacity of Metrolinx is astounding. They’re acting like they’re doing everything they can and in reality…

    Steve: Some of their advertising talks about the great events you will be able to get to from their lines that won’t open until 2030 or later. Their marketing team is burning through a fortune at the end of the fiscal year, and it’s total BS.


  5. Do you have any information on the consultations that Metrolinx has conducted in relation to the Ontario Line? I’m curious about what was discussed and what Metrolinx representatives said to residents.

    Steve: The problem with the whole consultation process is that most sessions are not published, and neither the presentations nor a video of the discussion can be found on their site. Information emerges only to the degree that individual groups captured the decks at the time. This makes it impossible to see what Metrolinx is up to on a region-wide basis.


  6. I took some photos of the tree culling at Osgoode Hall. Metrolinks must have expected trouble, because there were four security guards on site, standing around doing nothing.


  7. In reply to wklis’s comment, there was a plan, floated, to turn half of University Avenue, from College, to Queen, into a park, one that included the existing median. Both north and south vehicle traffic would be confined to the existing lanes on the other side of the median.

    Steve: Yes, that is the University Park scheme which shifts the northbound lanes to the present median. The transition back to the current arrangement would be south of Richmond where the median narrows. The current proposal takes advantage of the fact that the area will be dug up for subway construction with the idea being to put things back in the new configuration as far north as Armoury Street (the north side of Osgoode Hall)


  8. Steve, I am having difficulty understanding some of the commentary pertaining to a “median”. A Bing search of “University Avenue median” resulted in the following statement:

    “The portion of University Avenue between Queen Street West and College Street is laid out as a boulevard, with several memorials, statues, gardens, and fountains concentrated in a landscaped median dividing the opposite directions of travel, giving it a ceremonial character.”

    And, from Wikipedia …

    “The soaring South African War Memorial by Walter Seymour Allward stands in the median just north of Queen Street West.”

    Yet, statements here say:

    Steve wrote: “The nub of University Park is that the existing but much underutilized median would be replaced by the northbound traffic lanes. The space they now occupy would provide for an expanded east sidewalk and park.”

    And, “Steve: Yes, that is the University Park scheme which shifts the northbound lanes to the present median. The transition back to the current arrangement would be south of Richmond where the median narrows. The current proposal takes advantage of the fact that the area will be dug up for subway construction with the idea being to put things back in the new configuration as far north as Armoury Street (the north side of Osgoode Hall).”

    Am I to understand that the South African War Memorial and more is to be removed for traffic lanes?

    Second, Steve, the final paragraphs under Next Steps mention “our” and “we”. Who is that?

    Steve: You really should do better research. First off the SA War Memorial will be relocated *anyhow* for Osgoode Station construction (the existing concourse is to be extended further north under the monument’s current position). The proposal is for it to be moved *once* to a new location nearby likely within the area that would become the expanded pedestrian space/park on the east side of the street.

    If you visited the street or looked at it on Google Street view, you would see that much of the median is occupied by a collection of planters and benches that receive little foot traffic. This would be replaced by the northbound traffic lanes, and the space they now occupy would become expanded sidewalk/park space. Here is the view at Armoury Street which is the proposed north end of the initial phase of University Park.

    This is not case of a road replacing a pedestrian area, but of swapping existing locations so that the easily usable pedestrian realm is expanded.

    As for “our” and “we”, if you read the article you would see that this presentation was done by me and by Liz Driver from Campbell House.

    This section of the article is based on a presentation that I will make to the subcommittee together with Liz Driver, the Director/Curator of Campbell House Museum located on the northwest corner of Queen & University across the street from the new entrance.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Peter, have you ever walked on the University Avenue median for any appreciable amount of time? Or sat on a bench there?

    It’s car-architecture (hope Hamish won’t mind if I blend it into carchitecture?) – it looks good on drawings before the road is built, city leaders can feel good about building a ceremonial boulevard, it might look pleasantly green and ceremonial when you’re driving by, but it’s basically useless for people – fumes and noise.

    The short stretch of the median south of Armoury Street can’t even be reached by any crosswalks.

    The roadways are so wide, it might not even be necessary to cut down many trees on the median (the ones not cut down by Metrolinx anyway) to fit 4 lanes – 2 per direction – in the current southbound roadway, moving the bike track to a small part of the current northbound roadway.

    Steve, thank you for your efforts continuing to push for whatever improvements are possible here.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Steve, thank you very much for your detailed reply; it is appreciated. While I am an avid reader of your blog, I do not always dig down into the attached reports & material, as it is often redundant and/or self-serving Pablum. So, I might have missed something.

    I do very much like the University Avenue Park concept; this is my first knowledge of it. I might be one of the rare individuals who actually make an effort to use & enjoy that median, and to take a seat amongst the lovely flowers and heavy traffic. That is why I was so concerned. Agree with removing the parking to make pedestrian space.


  11. For the first time ever i have to disagree with Steve. And the others who think taking away the centre median is a good idea. It was never intended for people really. It was meant to beautify the public realm by introducing a grand boulevard which would present itself as grand and imposing. If you remove it you loss all that, the whole purpose is for decoration. the street as it is currently aligns with Queens Park perfectly with the median in the centre it is a perfect sight line. visually it really gives you the feeling your in an important place. not just some road with a park next to it. the fountains and the monuments, the flags it all adds to this effect. you feel that history and the importance of Queens park as you drive along that road. all of this would be ruined if you mess with it. It will be a shame to muck about with something so visually impressive.The park will just get filled with tents anyways, its harder to set up camp on the median. (although it does happen)


  12. I don’t have access to detailed plans of the existing Osgoode Station, but based on the drawing provided here, there appears to be an existing concourse shown in light grey on top of the new Ontario Line tunnels (serving the Opera House entrance?). Is there a reason why that concourse can’t be expanded to accommodate the proposed keyhole elements instead of building an entirely new, expansive and separate excavation? With some revision to the surface public realm, the existing station entrance stairs on the NE corner could be expanded to become the new entrance building instead of having a separate entrance facility taking up more space i.e. reusing as much of the existing station space as possible to both save costs and space. Maybe not practical, but has anyone asked, I wonder?

    Steve: The new station is directly under Queen Street whereas the keyhole and the vertical access down to the station are north of Queen. There is a concourse linking the vertical access south to the new station. This is at a much lower elevation than the existing concourse that links to the Opera House. The keyhole is necessary as part of station construction and must be built anyhow.


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