Saturday, March 29, 2014

TTC subway's 60th anniversary

TORONTO - If you are the same age as I am (or perhaps a little younger or maybe even a little older) you’ll probably remember what you were doing exactly 60 years ago Sunday.

Especially if on that day, March 30, 1954, you were anywhere near the intersection of Yonge St., Davisville Ave. and Chaplin Cres.

Here are a few hints: you would have heard the amplified sound of speeches coming from somewhere near the southwest corner of the intersection followed by enthusiastic cheering by crowds of Torontonians who had waited for years for this event to take place.

Then came the blast of an air horn followed immediately by the screech of an old style hockey referee’s whistle. The country’s first subway was officially in business! By the way those speeches you heard were made by Ontario Premier Leslie Frost and Toronto’s flamboyant, in the nicest sense, Mayor Allan Lamport who together started things rolling. With the opening of the Yonge line, something Torontonians had talked about for nearly half a century, our city joined the ranks of half a dozen other North American cities (Boston being the first) that decided in an attempt to alleviate the ever-growing traffic congestion problem they would build expensive, but necessary, underground transportation facilities.

Coincident with the opening of Toronto’s new subway the venerable old Yonge streetcar line (that had started as a horse car route in 1861, the nation’s first) ended.

With the first full week of service under its belt the TTC proudly announced that the 100 bright red English-built all-steel subway cars on hand at the opening (four others test cars made of aluminum and steel were yet to arrive) had a carried a total of 1.8 million passengers on the $50 million (actually $66 million when all the bills were in) along the 7.4-km (4.6-mile) route connecting Union Station at Front and Bay Sts. with Eglinton Ave. And, the official press release went on to state, among the thousands of tokens (at the time a brand new method of fare collection) inserted in the dozens of turnstiles and numerous fare boxes located in the 12 subway stations there wasn’t one “slug.”

Another interesting fact was that while the TTC was still basking in the glow of Canada’s first subway, officials were already discussing what route would be next. Some thought a short $12 million streetcar subway line under Queen St. from McCaul to Sherbourne should be next (never happened) while others were pushing for an $80-million east-west line along Bloor and the Danforth (a dozen years would pass before the first section of that line opened). A third contender was a $20-million subway under either University Ave. (opened 1963) or Spadina Ave. (another no show). Even back then a “downtown relief line” was a not a too far-fetched idea.

What was not disputed however, was the need to continue expanding the city’s subway system.

Continuing this week’s TTC theme, as a way of thanking the citizens and business owners affected by the recent lengthy track replacement program along a portion of the Kingston Rd. the Commission is offering FREE rides on its iconic PCC Streamliner streetcar (one of only two remaining from a fleet of 745 such vehicles) from Woodbine Loop (Queen St. E.) to Bingham loop (Victoria Park) from noon until 4 pm. Sunday afternoon.

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