Canada's First Subway

September 08, 1949
Yonge St. and Queen St.

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The end of the Second World War in 1945 meant that the growth of the City of Toronto, suppressed after 15 years of depression and war, would suddenly explode. This prospect persuaded the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) that bold action had to be taken to prevent the city from choking on its own traffic. On September 8, 1949, Ontario’s Lieutenant-Governor Ray Lawson pushed a switch to drive the first steel pile into place on Canada's first underground transit line, the Yonge Street Subway.

The Bloor subway station, c. 1960s (courtesy City of Toronto Archives).

Most of the subway was built using the “cut-and-cover” technique because it was far less expensive than boring a tunnel. As crowds gathered to watch, a large trench was dug into Yonge Street, utilities relocated, and steel cross members welded into place to support a deck that allowed traffic to return to the street while work proceeded beneath. It was a major disruption to Toronto's busy main street.

Ontario Premier Leslie Frost and Toronto Mayor Allan Lamport officially opened the Yonge Subway on March 30, 1954, at Davisville Station. It was a shining beacon of the optimism and growth of the post-war age. Still, TTC Chairman McBrien noted in his speech that the Yonge Subway was “not the final solution of Toronto’s traffic problems. It is only the start of combating this monster.” The comment is even truer 60 years later.

By James Marsh

Visit The Canadian Encyclopedia for more on subways.