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The University Subway


The beginning of the tunnelled section of the UNIVERSITY line at Museum station. Photo was taken while the UNIVERSITY subway was under construction. Photo courtesy Toronto Archives.

Text by James Bow; photos courtesy TTC, except where noted.

See Also

An Unexpected Second Subway

After the YONGE subway opened in 1954, taking passengers from Eglinton to Union in twelve minutes, the attention of City of Toronto and TTC planners turned to the construction of an east-west line. The original plan, approved by city voters in a referendum on January 1, 1946, would have had the TTC build a streetcar-subway along Queen Street. By 1954, the City of Toronto was more interested in a full-fledged subway. The TTC, however, had other plans.

The TTC noticed that traffic on Bloor Street was increasing more rapidly than traffic on Queen Street. Already, BLOOR streetcars were starting to carry more passengers than Queen cars, and the number of automobiles on the road hampered the TTC’s ability to provide reliable service. So, the TTC pushed for the east-west line to go under Bloor Street. They had to work through resistance from City Hall at first. A number of alternate plans were put forward, including a U-shaped midtown route, nicknamed the ‘Flying U’ that served Bloor Street in the suburbs, and then switched to Queen Street as the line came downtown. However, the TTC’s vision won out, and the BLOOR-DANFORTH line became the next priority.

Plan of the University Subway

A diagram of the UNIVERSITY line

The BLOOR-DANFORTH line itself was to be built in two phases. The first section of the subway would be built from St. George Street east along Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue to Greenwood. The second phase would extend the line west to Keele Street, and move the eastern terminus east two stops to Woodbine Avenue. The second phase would open in 1969. Before all this was to be built, however, a connection was to be forged between the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway and the YONGE line. The first segment of this new construction would extend the YONGE line from Union Station north on University Avenue to join the future BLOOR-DANFORTH line at St. George. In the TTC’s words, “The $45 million University line will give quick and convenient access to the commercial, financial, governmental and institutional organizations in the immediate area. Also, it will relieve rush-hour congestion at Bloor Station on the YONGE Subway by doubling the rapid transit capacity to and from the downtown area”.

At the time, ridership on the YONGE subway was starting to exceed expectations. Eight-car Gloucester trains which had been the exception became the norm. The TTC realized that suburban commuters using the BLOOR line would have to transfer trains in order to continue trips downtown, and they realized that the YONGE subway south of Bloor would bear the brunt of that traffic if measures weren’t taken to alleviate it.

Funding from the provincial government enabled the Keele-to-Woodbine portion of the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway to be built in a single phase instead of over two phases, but the UNIVERSITY subway still had to be built first. Construction began in November 16, 1959, when Ontario Prime Minister Leslie Frost officially broke ground for the 2.38 mile line, which opened on February 28, 1963.

New Techniques in Construction and Operation

St Patrick Station

The tunnelled St. Patrick station. Photo by Mike.

The UNIVERSITY line featured six stations (seven, if you include the abandoned Lower Bay station) and some departures from the subway construction methods used on the YONGE line. To minimize the disruption of rumbling trains after construction (not to mention the disruption wrought by cut and cover techniques of subway construction) to the hospitals and to the Ontario legislative buildings, the section between Osgoode and Museum stations was tunnelled.

In addition to the tunneled section, the TTC set up a 162 foot long test section of tunnel, near the Bloor/Avenue Road intersection, using the Icos-Veder method of construction (also known as the “Milan” method). This method involved digging trenches where the walls of a tunnel would go and then fill them with concrete and rebar. The tunnel’s roof would be concrete poured directly on the soil. Once dry, all the workers would have to do is escavate the earth from between the walls under the roof. The result was a tunnel not unlike what was seen using the cut and cover technique (albeit with a rougher look), and it had the added advantage of disturbing the neighbourhood less. The TTC found the method to be more expensive, however, and it was used nowhere else on the system.

The other departure for the UNIVERSITY line was the use of significant landmarks (or, in the case of St. Andrew and St. Patrick, possibly former ward names) to name all but one of the local subway stations. The exception was St. George, named after a local street, as had been the case for most of the stations on the YONGE line.

To avoid confusion as to where the stations on the UNIVERSITY line were located, the TTC established a convention that “alternative” named stations be accompanied by the actual cross street name as a subtitle. Lower Bay was the reverse of this convention, with the neighbourhood name of “Yorkville” appearing beneath the main station name of “Bay”. After the UNIVERSITY line opened, however, the practice has not been followed again.


This photograph, taken by the TTC before the UNIVERSITY subway opened, shows St. George Station’s upper platform in its original configuration.

The UNIVERSITY line also offered a connection with the BLOOR-DANFORTH line when the new route opened in 1966. At first, the TTC experimented with interlining, where every second BLOOR train was routed downtown and on to Eglinton, via a wye with the UNIVERSITY subway. To accommodate this wye, St. George and Bay stations were built with two levels. On one, UNIVERSITY trains either went to one of the two termini of the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway, while the other platform took passengers downtown. On the other level, BLOOR trains operated to either the eastern or western terminals. For St. George station, the UNIVERSITY platforms were located on the upper level, while BLOOR trains passed underneath. For Bay station, this arrangement was reversed.

Six months after the BLOOR-DANFORTH line opened, the interlining was dropped on a six month trial basis. After this trial, the TTC surveyed its passengers as to their preferred arrangement. No clear winner emerged, so the TTC decided to stick with the non-interlined arrangement, and the Lower Bay platforms were closed to the public. The connecting track between Museum Station on the UNIVERSITY line and YONGE Station on the BLOOR line remain in place for equipment moves between the two lines, however, as do connection tracks between upper St. George and the BLOOR-DANFORTH line just east of Spadina station.

Museum Station

Just about to enter southbound Museum station. Note the connecting track from lower Bay station. Photo by David Cavlovic.

The arrangement of the platforms at St. George and Bay station were not the most efficient in allowing for interlining, suggesting that perhaps the TTC was not serious in its support of the idea. Whereas passengers heading eastbound at St. George, westbound at Bay or downtown at both stations had one platform each dedicated to their destinations, those wishing to go westbound from St. George or eastbound from Bay had two platforms to choose from — on different levels (this was alleviated by the use of automatic arrows pointing passengers to the correct platform for the next train). Other subway systems have arranged their transfer stations more efficiently. Montreal, for instance, twists its tracks on a line so that one is on top of the other. When these tracks enter the station, across the platforms are the two tracks from the other line, twisted the same way. For a number of passengers, this means that they need not go up or down a flight of stairs in order to transfer between lines. If the TTC had gone this route, trains to Keele at St. George and Woodbine at Bay would be on the same level, and passengers wouldn’t have to wait between levels in order to be sure to catch the first train to their destination. The twisted arrangement, however, would not allow trains to terminate easily at St. George station, although with the SPADINA line in place, one would have a transfer facility that’s as efficient as Lionel-Groux in Montreal.


Queen’s Park Station Mezzanine, soon after opening day. Photo courtesy of the Toronto Archives.

Ridership Grows Slowly

Initially, ridership on the UNIVERSITY subway was lighter than expected. Most passengers found the YONGE Subway to be a more direct route, offering downtown stations closer to their destinations. Trains were often short-turned at Union Station, and finally, on June 23, 1969, the TTC discontinued service entirely after 9:45 p.m. on Mondays to Saturdays and all day on Sundays and holidays. The 5 AVENUE ROAD bus operated a 5B branch between Eglinton and Front Street whenever the UNIVERSITY subway did not operate, with side-jaunts to St. George station to capture passengers from the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway. This arrangement remained in place until 1978, when the SPADINA subway opened for service.

Of the UNIVERSITY subway’s six (or seven) stations, only one offered a connections to surface transit routes within the fare-paid area, allowing passengers to transfer without use of a paper transfer. St. George operated a modest two-bay terminal that saw buses and trolley buses. At the time the station opened, the 4 ANNETTE trolley bus was extended east from Christie loop (replacing a portion of the DUPONT streetcar, which ceased operations when the UNIVERSITY line opened) to terminate at the station. Streetcar service ended when the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway opened, but trolley bus service continued until 1993. With only one bus route serving the station, one of the two bus bays is usually mothballed and kept off-limits to the public.

Although St. George station’s bus terminal was located next to Bedford loop, which saw many BLOOR and DANFORTH tripper streetcars turning around and picking up passengers, no direct connection was offered between these streetcars and the subway at St. George. Passengers had to enter the subway via the entrance located next door and show a transfer to continue their trip along the subway. However, when St. George station opened, it was known that the BLOOR-DANFORTH SUBWAY would open just a few years afterward, so it made little financial sense building a direct connection between the streetcar loop and the subway, although such connections would be built at Keele and Woodbine stations when the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway opened three years later.

Osgoode Station Exit, Present Day

East side exit of Osgoode station. looking from north side to south side. Osgoode and St. Andrew Station have been thoroughly renovated since their opening. Photo by David Cavlovic.

Changes Since Opening

Most of the stations on the UNIVERSITY line have been modified since they opened. Osgoode and St. Andrew Stations’ tiles had to be replaced when they weathered badly just a few years after opening. The glass tiles the TTC had used were not easy to replace, so the TTC opted for a completely different look.

The station signs on the walls of Queen’s Park and St. Patrick stations were originally painted on, but the paint also deteriorated, and the TTC replaced these signs with metal signs currently in use (the original painted signs can be seen when the metal signs are temporarily taken down). Queens Park and St. Patrick also had passages connecting the two platforms that did not access a stairway to street level, and the TTC decided to block these off from the public and use them as storage areas. Museum received this treatment as well, with the public space between the platforms at the south end of the station blocked off with ‘prison bars’ instead of new walls.

New entrances have also been added to Queens Park and St. Andrew Stations, from the street to the existing mezzanines. A new entrance and elevator was added to Osgoode station during the construction of the Opera House.

Museum station kept its original appearance the longest of all the UNIVERSITY subway stations. Then, in 2005, a philanthropic group called the Toronto Community Foundation organized a series of public consultations on improving transit and public space. According to Rahul Bhardwaj, the chief executive officer of the foundation, “People thought of these TTC stations as public space, and also that these stations didn’t accurately reflect the vitality of the city in their state of decay.” To improve the appearance of a number of stations, the foundation encouraged a number of corporations to donate money and called in the architectural firm of Diamond & Schmitt to redesign the station space. Museum station was the first to receive this treatment. A total of $5 million was spent ($1 million from the TTC, $2 million from the province of Ontario, $1 million from the Budd Sugarman Foundation and another $1 million from 15 other corporate doners.

Museum station was re-clad, with tiles designed to emulate ancient stone. The station name was printed in large orange letters, with each letter covered in hieroglyphs. Each of the columns were redone to resemble columns, sarcophagi and other items found in the nearby museum. New lighting was also added.

The renovations were officially unveiled on April 8, 2008. Some criticized the TTC for abandoning the utilitarian modern look of the station and noted that the interior could deteriorate without proper cleaning, but others were excited by the station’s bold new appearance. Similar plans remain to redo the interiors of St. Patrick and Osgoode stations to reflect their proximity to the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Opera House respectively. A report by the TTC in February 2009 said that the design for St. Patrick could be finished by the end of the year, with construction starting in 2010. Osgoode’s design would have been ready by the end of 2010, with construction starting in 2011. Funding for this, however, fell through, and the TTC had to embark on more modest renovations on their own.

In June 2009, St. Andrew station underwent a similar renovation, albeit one not covered by the Toronto Community Foundation’s efforts. Throughout the year, the vinyl striping along the station walls was removed and, in June, new cladding was put into place, recalling the original grey-and-blue vitrolite appearance of the station and restoring the original TTC station font. Although some were concerned at the blue-tinged glare of the new white LED lights that were being installed, the new cladding was met with enthusiasm.

A similar approach was taken with Osgoode late in 2015. The vinyl strips were removed, revealing the original Vitrolite tiles, in their blue lettering on yellow background scheme. The enamel-on-metal panels that covered over this vitrolite was more of an off-white than a yellow, however, not matching the original look. St. Patrick started to undergo its renovation early in 2017, to clean up the appearance of the station and to install wheelchair accessible elevators. Once renovations are finished at the end of 2017, Museum station will be the only station on the original UNIVERSITY line not to be wheelchair accessible.

Entering Queens Park Station

Queen’s Park station platform. Photo by David Cavlovic.


The UNIVERSITY subway was ahead of its time, in many ways. Conceived as a relief-line to the YONGE subway, it did not start performing that function until the early 1980s, when congestion on the YONGE Subway started to get severe. Toronto’s downtown also started to grow to the west, and other developments as the Skydome and the new Theatre District on King Street have boosted ridership.

UNIVERSITY can also be called a ‘forgotten subway’, due to its short length when compared to the YONGE line, and the distinctiveness of the architecture of the SPADINA line. However, the UNIVERSITY subway was still an important stepping stone enroute to the opening of the crosstown BLOOR-DANFORTH line.

University Subway Image Archive

Next see the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway.

Thanks to Mark Brader, Mimmo Briganti and Geoffrey Skelsey for correcting this web page and offering additional information.


  • Bromley, John F., and Jack May Fifty Years of Progressive Transit, Electric Railroaders’ Association, New York (New York), 1978.
  • Toronto Transit Commission, University Subway — opened February 28, 1963, The Toronto Transit Commission, Toronto (Ontario), November 1963.
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