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Text by James Bow
With thanks to Nathan Ng

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On the edge of Toronto’s downtown, serving the twin thoroughfare of College and Carlton Streets, College Station offers a connection from the downtown core to what was at one point in the 1990s Toronto’s busiest surface transit route. In the early part of its operation, the station also played a key part in the cultural aesthetic of the city, as the gateway to the Toronto Maple Leafs and one of the flagship stores of the Eaton’s corporation. The Eaton’s store moved to Dundas Street in the 1970s, however, and the Toronto Maple Leafs vacated their iconic Gardens for a new arena at Union Station in 1999. However, College Station continues to serve the Yonge Street Strip and its surrounding neighbourhoods as they go through considerable residential and commercial intensification. As of 2018, 44,370 passengers use College station on an average weekday.

A Brief History of College and Carlton

When the Town of York was founded in 1793, the area around College Street was undeveloped. As York grew into the city of Toronto, however, the British Government issued a royal charter for the University of Toronto on March 15, 1827. Lands were set aside at the edge of town for the new “King’s College” and, by 1834, College Street was running west from Yonge Street along the south side of these lands to the area of College Avenue, a north-south street running from Queen which would later become University Avenue. A further two-block section of College Street would materialize around 1842, centred around Spadina Avenue, just south of Crescent Garden (today’s Spadina Circle).

On the east side of Yonge, Carlton Street first appears on Toronto’s maps around 1842, albeit unnamed and undeveloped. Around this time, a land boom increased growth around Toronto, as speculators increasingly bought, sold and subdivided land. Carlton street is named after Guy Carleton Wood whose sister, Anne Wood, and her husband John Strachan, donated their extensive land holdings in the area to the city in 1834. Carleton Street (note the ‘e’) appears on Toronto’s maps in 1851, but the ‘e’ vanishes by 1857, possibly due to the carelessness of mapmakers or city officials at the time.

Further extensions continued as Toronto grew out during the last half of the 19th century. By 1884, Carlton Street had reached the Don River, while College Street reached Dufferin Street. By 1890, College Street had reached the western boundary of the city, Lansdowne Avenue.

In spite of these extensions, College and Carlton didn’t exactly meet. They launched from Yonge Street a short distance from each other, with Carlton Street the further south of the two. At the time, there was little call for cross-town travel at this part of the city; local residents tended to head downtown and the fastest route to do so was Yonge Street. This explains the set-up of the initial streetcar routes.

Streetcar Service Begins on Carlton and College

Service on Carlton Street began in November 1874 with the SHERBOURNE car, operating over a short section of Carlton from Sherbourne to Parliament, where it wye and return. WINCHESTER launched at around the same time, also using Carlton to get from Sherbourne to Parliament, but then continuing north on Parliament to Winchester Street. On the west side, horse car service reached College Street via the new SPADINA route, launching in 1878. On July 27, 1885, the new SEATON VILLAGE service paralleled the SPADINA car to College and Spadina and continued west on Spadina to Bathurst before turning north at Bathurst to Bloor Street.

The first CARLTON streetcar launched in 1886, bringing through service to Carlton and College streets, operating from College and Bathurst via east on College, south on Yonge, east on Carlton, south on Parliament and east on Gerrard to Sumach Street. This service would be electrified on November 6, 1893. Additional College Street service would materialize in November 1888 with the DOVERCOURT streetcar, serving College from McCaul to Dovercourt. A DUFFERIN car would do something similar starting in 1889, but continuing west from Dovercourt to Dufferin Street. The first COLLEGE car would launch on November 1893, operating from Front and Church via north on Church, west on King, north on Yonge and west on College to Bathurst Street.

The services on College and Carlton Streets would eventually be consolidated into what became the CARLTON streetcar. When the Toronto Transportation Commission took over in 1921, the route challenged the BLOOR streetcar as one of the major east-west streetcar routes spanning the city. Like BLOOR, CARLTON and its trippers and partner COLLEGE route (which merged into CARLTON on April 1, 1933) gathered commuters from their homes in the residential neighbourhoods east and west of the city and brought them downtown either via a transfer with the YONGE streetcar or through direct downtown tripper service. There was plenty of traffic to go round for both routes, such that CARLTON cars encountered an impediment with the short stretch of Yonge Street it had to travel to get from Carlton to College streets. This jog was eliminated on June 3, 1931, giving Carlton its distinctive southeast track as it heads east from Yonge.

Early Plans for College Station

Although Carlton and College Streets were well outside of downtown Toronto, their intersection with Yonge was still a busy place. It was made busier with the construction of the new Eaton’s flagship store in 1930. The Eaton’s company began assembling land for their new store as early as 1910, and development plans increased during the 1920s.

Eaton’s commissioned the architectural form Ross and Macdonald (in association with Henry Sproatt) to design the building. The firm was already known for designing the Royal York Hotel, Ottawa’s Chateau Laurier, and the Montreal Eaton’s store. Initial plans called for the Eaton’s Toronto store to be a 600,000 square-foot, seven-storey tall Art Deco building. This was to be the first phase of a larger development that would eventually envelop the entire block of Yonge, College, Bay and Hayter and include a 670-foot tall, 32-storey tower with four million square feet of space. This plan fell victim to the onset of the Great Depression, although the original 7-storey structure did open on October 30, 1930, as a retail palace.

Eaton’s College Store was supposed to replace the older Eaton’s Main Store at Queen and Yonge, but this never happened. Instead, Eaton’s contracted the Toronto Transit Commission’s Gray Coach company to run the EATON’S SPECIAL shuttle service between the two stores. This service, using TTC buses, continued into the early 1970s when the construction of the Eaton’s Centre diminished the importance of the Eaton’s College Store, and its ultimate sell-off into the College Park development known today.

Another major traffic draw to appear in the area was Maple Leaf Gardens, a 12,437 seat arena to replace the Toronto Maple Leaf’s old Arena Gardens on Mutual Street. The iconic building, also designed by Ross and Macdonald, would open on November 12, 1931, and the Toronto Maple Leafs would go on to win the Stanley Cup that season. The arena was designed primarily for walk-up traffic, with attendees expected to walk or take transit to get to games and events.

So, when the Toronto Transportation Commission and the City of Toronto began considering plans to build a subway beneath Yonge Street in 1942, College Street was an obvious place to put a station, considering its importance as a major crosstown streetcar route, and the presence of two major trip generators in the form of the Eaton’s Store and Maple Leaf Gardens. As plans evolved, the Eaton family encouraged the construction of the Toronto subway, agreeing to help fund the construction of a direct connection from their store to the College subway station. The YONGE SUBWAY launched construction in 1949, digging a trench beneath Yonge Street from Front to just north of College before swinging northeast. The subway opened on March 30, 1954.

Station Features

College station is the most northerly of the original Yonge line’s downtown station, lying entirely underground, with no station building on the surface. Access was initially via stairwells from the northeast and southeast corners of the intersection of Carlton and Yonge. The direct link with the Eaton’s store gave passengers access to the southwest corner of College and Yonge, via Eaton’s department store offerings.

College station is deeper than Dundas, allowing for a mezzanine level to be built between the subway platforms and the street. This mezzanine level connects to street entrances, and to the Eaton’s store. Initially, College station shared the same clean, modern architectural look as the other stations on the original Yonge line, with its walls clad in robin’s egg green Vitrolite tiles, with the trim and station name appearing a contrasting red.

The station also featured a short-turn crossover, located in the tunnel between College and Dundas stations. These switches had to be manually activated, so they saw little use and were eliminated during system renovations in the early 1980s.

Changes Since the Opening.

College station operated as designed with few changes for the first thirty years of its life. By the early-1980s, however, the need arose for renovations. The station’s Vitrolite tiles had grown cracked, and the product was no longer available. The station’s other features could use a spruce-up. In September 1982, the TTC began work covering over the original Vitrolite tiles with more durable brown-washed ceramic tiles. The station name on the walls was changed from a red version of the TTC’s distinctive subway font to a Univers font in a darker brown. The trim was replaced by a black sconce running the length of the platform with the station name in white plastic.

The renovation also allowed the TTC to install a new art piece on the station walls, although this was not done without controversy. The TTC commissioned artist Charles Pachter who created Hockey Knights in Canada. These two murals near the south end of the station platforms feature representation of Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs hockey players facing off against each other across the tracks, in recognition of the station’s proximity to Maple Leaf Gardens one block away. The owner of the Maple Leafs’ at the time, Harold Ballard, objected to the use of the Montreal Canadiens’ logo on the art piece and tried to ban the use of the Leafs’ logo on the Toronto’s team jerseys. Further, others expressed concern over the lack of public consultation and competition that had gone into the art installation contract. Although TTC chairman Julian Porter defended the commission, saying, “Charlie had a moral claim to the project because he came to us with the idea. It was his concept,” the criticism and the response to it ended up scrubbing a plan for Charles Pacter to install another art piece to cover over Dundas station’s renovated walls.

In 1989, developers redeveloping the southeast corner of Yonge and Carlton arranged with the TTC to replace the southeast sidewalk entrance to College station with a new station built into the side of the building at 1 Carlton Street. The entrance did not contain a direct connection to the 19-storey residential building. The developers back-filled and closed up the original subway entrance on the sidewalk. The initial terms of the agreement, signed on May 18, 1993, were set to last for “21 years less a day”.

On April 19, 2012, the building’s owners contacted the TTC, asking whether the TTC still needed the entrance, as it considered remodelling their building. The TTC decided that closing the entrance would have a negative effect on riders and expressed its desire to keep it open. The property owners responded by asking the TTC to enter into a 10-year lease agreement and for the TTC to pay rent on the space. After consulting with City Real Estate Services, TTC Staff recommended to the TTC Commissioners that the TTC enter into negotiations to purchase the entrance space.

A Shift in Use

Gradually, the trip generators serving College Street changed. The Eaton’s company ramped down its operations at its College Store after it built the new Eaton’s Centre in the 1970s between Queen and Dundas Streets. The facility was redeveloped as a high-end commercial enterprise, with a new tower and commercial space added, and the building was renamed College Park. As for Maple Leaf Gardens, the Toronto Maple Leafs followed through on plans to leave the ageing facility for a new arena built near Toronto’s Union Station. The last game to play at the Gardens happened on February 13, 1999.

However, the area around the station continued to bustle. The Yonge Street Strip remained a considerable commercial draw, and the area around it intensified as new commercial towers and condominium developments rose. Nearby Ryerson University also saw expansion, with College Station well-placed to serve some of the students there (though Ryerson’s focus remains more on Dundas). Over the past decade, ridership at College Station peaked at 54,180 in 2011 and remains a respectable 44,370 in 2018.

One other change that occurred to the station happened in early 2011 when the TTC re-installed the double crossover to the south of the station. This cross-over is designed to be automatically operated, for use in emergency turnbacks once automatic train control was established on the line. The crossover remained plugged until November 21, 2020, when ATC was finally activated at College Station, allowing for remotely operated train turnbacks.

Plans for a Second Entrance

In 2019, the TTC pushed forward with plans to add a second entrance to College Station. The move was part of a system-wide plan to upgrade the older subway stations to modern fire safety codes, requiring more than one path away from the subway platform to the surface in the event an evacuation is required. The second exits also enhance the accessibility of their respective stations, bringing landmarks and trip generators closer to the station for riders.

In College’s case, the second exit would come up in College Park, near the south side of the building, giving riders quicker access to Gerrard Street, and Ryerson University, as well as a possible extension of Toronto’s PATH network north. The renovations, which were slated to begin in the second half of 2020, are expected to be complete by the end of 2023 and will include the installation of elevators to make the station wheelchair accessible.

The Future

College Station’s use may have changed over its long history, but it remains a vital part of the subway network, providing an integral service to its surrounding community. The area’s redevelopment will serve only to increase ridership demands on the station, and the station is changing to meet those demands.


Document Archive

Service Notes (as of January 1, 2021):

  • Off-Site Resources:
  • Line: 1 Yonge - University - Spadina
  • Hours of Operation:
    First Train Finch: 6:00 a.m. weekdays, 6:01 a.m. Saturdays/holidays, 8:10 a.m. Sundays.
    First Train Union/Vaughan: 5:57 a.m. weekdays, 6:04 a.m. Saturdays/holidays, 8:08 a.m. Sundays.
    Last Train Finch: 1:51 a.m. weekdays, 1:52 a.m. Weekends/holidays.
    Last Train Union/Vaughan: 1:46 a.m. weekdays, 1:42 a.m. weekends/holidays.
  • Address: 3 Carlton Street
  • Opened: March 30, 1954
  • Wheelchair Accessible: Expected in 2023
  • Average Weekday Ridership: 44,370 (2018), 47,600 (2016), 47,790 (2015), 47,940 (2014), 47,200 (2013), 50,230 (2012), 54,180 (2011), 51,450 (2010), 49,340 (2009), 51,150 (2008), 48,840 (2007)
  • Entrances: 3
    • Northeast corner of Yonge and Carlton, located on the street on the north side of Carlton, 25 metres east of Yonge — a staircase leading from the sidewalk to the concourse level
    • Southeast corner of Yonge and Carlton, located on the south side of Carlton, 17 metres east of Yonge; enclosed stairs leading to the concourse level.
    • Southwest corner of Yonge and College, inside College Park Shops. Corridor on lower level leading to stairs to the concourse level.
  • Escalators (click here for maintenance schedule): 2
    • Northbound platform to concourse (Up at all times)
    • Southbound platform to concourse (Up at all times)
  • Cellular/Wi-Fi enabled
  • Side platforms

TTC Surface Connections:

Previous TTC Surface Connections

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