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Text by James Bow

Dundas station is the fifth busiest subway station on Toronto’s rapid transit network, with 81,334 passengers passing through on an average weekday in 2015. It is located near the heart of the City of Toronto, beside a number of iconic tourist attractions and the rapidly growing Ryerson University. Despite this, it retains much of the basic layout when it opened for business in 1954, and it is saddled with the effects of a renovation in the 1980s that continues to be reviled to this day. Sadly, though proposals were put forward to change the look of the station, plans for renovations to improve the facility remain elusive.

A Brief History of Dundas Street

Dundas Street began life as a military road surveyed near today’s Dundas Valley by Augustus Jones at the best of the first lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe. The road connected a new town established in the area with settlements in the west. The town was named Dundas after Henry Dundas, Viscount Meville, British Secretary of State for the Home Department from 1791 to 1801. The road connecting Dundas to other settlements was named for the town.

The road extended over to Toronto (then the Town of York) in sections, following the path of today’s Dundas Street and Bloor Street, reaching the Humber River at Old Mill Road in 1796. A map in 1800 showed the intention of extending Dundas Street east along the Bloor alignment to Yonge Street, but no connection could be built without bridging the Humber. Then the War of 1812 intervened, and the government of Upper Canada had to move quickly to better connect the Town of York with the settlements further west. Dundas Street was realigned, following the current route over the height of land, avoiding the poor and boggy terrain around Bloor Street, and crossing the Humber River where Old Dundas Street is today. Dundas Street took a sharp right turn where today it meets Ossington Avenue, and ended at Lot Street (today known as Queen Street).

This remained the case until the early part of the 20th century, when the City of Toronto saw the need for more downtown thoroughfares, and looked to extend Dundas Street east via a number of residential side streets between Ossington and Yonge. Arthur Street was the first to disappear. Running on today’s Dundas Street between Bathurst and Ossington, it already had streetcar tracks and a route (ARTHUR) named after it. Arthur Street was renamed Dundas around 1920; ARTHUR streetcars had been subsumed by DUNDAS ones on May 9, 1911.

The next street to go was St. Patrick Street, which ran from Bathurst Street a couple of hundred metres south of Dundas, east to McCaul. Even as late as 1912, it had not seen streetcar service but, by 1916, the TTC laid down tracks east from Bathurst to McCaul, then east on Anderson (a short street running from McCaul to University) and east on Agnes (a short street running from University to Yonge) to Terauley (today known as the northern extension of Bay Street).

To the east, Dundas Street would make use of Wilton Avenue, which ran from Yonge Street via today’s Dundas Square and Dundas Street East past Broadview to Bolton Avenue. Streetcar tracks were in place on Wilton from Victoria Street to Broadview by 1916 and would be connected with the Dundas Street West tracks by the Toronto Transportation Commission after 1921.

Because these streets did not meet each other straight on, this produced a number of jogs and curves along Dundas Street and the streetcar tracks that served them. The most significant jog was at Bathurst Street, where streetcars turned south from the former Arthur Street, travelled on Bathurst streetcar tracks a short way, then turned onto the tracks of the street formerly known as St. Patrick. In the years that followed the City of Toronto altered the street alignment, adding curves to eliminate the jogs, giving Dundas Street its undulating character. The task of extending Dundas Street east to Kingston Road would take place in the 1950s, demolishing homes and following old side streets and even laneways, producing some unique urban features along the new arterial road.

The Edge of the Downtown

As Dundas Street extended east, so too did streetcar service follow, eventually. COLLEGE, and then HARBORD streetcars crossed Yonge Street and served Dundas Street East all the way to Broadview. DUNDAS streetcars turned back at City Hall Loop, built by the City of Toronto and opened for the Toronto Transportation Commission on August 30, 1921. DUNDAS cars turned south from Dundas onto Bay Street, and then looped via Louisa, James and Albert, behind what is now Old City Hall. On November 3, 1930, a set of tracks were opened on Elizabeth Street, allowing DUNDAS cars to serve City Hall Loop without conflicting with streetcar traffic on Bay Street.

So, when planning began for the YONGE subway in 1942, there was no question that there would be a stop at Dundas Street — it was a significant thoroughfare that demanded service. However, it occupied a transitional area between what was then downtown and suburb. Was it to be an embarkation point for commuters, or a destination? The 1942 plans for the streetcar-subway beneath Adelaide Street called for eastbound DUNDAS streetcars to be routed off of Dundas at Trinity Bellwoods Park to enter the subway and head downtown; HARBORD cars would provide local service on Dundas east from Spadina. This plan was mimicked with the 1946 plan that placed a full subway beneath Yonge Street and a streetcar subway beneath Queen.

When the YONGE subway opened on March 30, 1954, Dundas station was a modest facility. There was no Eaton’s Centre, and DUNDAS streetcars were dropping off passengers by City Hall some distance southwest of the station. Dundas station itself offered two side platforms opening onto separate concourses with stairs leading up to the street. It was not possible for passengers on the northbound platform to cross over to the southbound platform without leaving the fare paid area, and the stairwells from the Yonge/Dundas intersection had to state whether they accessed the southbound or northbound platforms specifically. This was the only case on the Toronto subway network where cross-platform connections was not available, and it remains so to this day.

Part of the problem was how close the bedrock was to the surface in this area. Dundas station is also one of the shallowest underground stations on the network as getting deeper would have involved expensive and risky use of blasting. So, where stations like King and College could be built deep enough to install a concourse level between the station platforms and the surface, Dundas’ station platforms are just one level below the street.

Although Dundas station had no exterior station building, the underground sections retained the clean modern look of the rest of the original YONGE subway. The walls were covered in yellow Vitrolite tiles with black trim. The collector booths featured large glass windows, and the fare gates had rounded edges and were covered in fluted stainless steel.

Growing Importance

Dundas station maintained its look, feel and layout for the next twenty-five years, but the neighbourhood around it would change considerably. Toronto’s downtown core was expanding. The opening of the UNIVERSITY subway and the BLOOR-DANFORTH highlighted how Queen Street’s importance as the main east-west thoroughfare in Toronto had diminished compared to Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue. With the opening of the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway, the HARBORD streetcar disappeared, and DUNDAS cars provided through service across Yonge between Dundas West station and Broadview station, although every second eastbound car continued to turn back at City Hall loop.

More importantly, the Timothy Eaton company decided to modernize its downtown stores, building a new shopping mall and office complex along the west side of Yonge Street from Queen all the way to Dundas. The Eaton’s company had acquired most of this land by 1920 when its first plans for such a centre first materialized. Construction of the Eaton Centre complex began in 1974, forcing the TTC to shut down City Hall loop and move its short-turn service east of Yonge to loop via Church, Queen and Victoria. The centre, which opened in 1977, would replace its budget store just north of old City Hall, and its flagship store at College and Yonge.

The block-busting Eaton Centre would be intimately linked with the Toronto subway, with pedestrian connections built to the concourses of Queen and Dundas station. The Eaton Centre construction replaced the stairwell access from the southwest corner of Dundas and Yonge with a direct connection between one of the lower levels of the shopping mall with the southbound concourse level of the station. Construction workers also built an underpass beneath the tracks, which linked to a lower level of the mall, and came up at the northbound concourse level of the station. This underpass remained outside of the TTC’s fare paid zone.

The construction of the Eaton Centre was followed by the Atrium on Bay development, a million square-foot office and retail complex commissioned in the late 1970s on the site of the historic Ford hotel. In 1981, the complex opened to the public, with its lower retail level offering a direct connection to the southbound concourse level of the station.

By now, ridership at the station was increasing markedly, and the TTC began work renovating the station to replace its aging Vitrolite tiles.

The “Pukey” Tiles

Vitrolite is a structural glass tile developed in 1900 by the Marrietta Manufacturing Company of Indianapolis, Indiana. It offers a compressive strength that’s 40% greater than marble and is available in a number of colours. During the 1920s, it was a prized architectural feature of buildings made in the art deco style, although its use started to fade with the onset of the Great Depression. When the TTC acquired these tiles for the construction of the twelve stations of the original YONGE subway, Vitrolite was falling out of fashion, and the American companies that handled the making of this product at the time largely ceased production by 1960.

Overtime, the Vitrolite in Toronto’s subway stations cracked and chipped, and there was no easy or inexpensive way to replace these tiles. When the TTC considered the need to repair and upgrade the stations on the YONGE subway line, they saw the need to replace or cover over the Vitrolite with more commercially available ceramic tiles. Dundas station was one of the first stations (after Union) to receive such a renovation, at a cost of $890,000. Unfortunately, the choice of tiles ran into significant criticism.

The TTC covered the walls of Dundas station with a textured green-yellow ceramic tile that was deemed by many riders to be unattractive, especially compared to the warmer primrose yellow the original Vitrolite tiles had been. A news article by the Toronto Star from November 10, 1982 quoted riders criticizing the tiles as “pukey”, “really ugly”, and saying “I hate them.” This opinion has not changed in the decades that followed. Industrial psychologist Robert Potvin criticized the TTC for not engaging a colour coordinator or obtaining public feedback. Julia Marchand, a “colour consultant”, said, “It’s affecting a great deal of the people in negative ways… …which is not good in the public sense.”

Stung by the criticism, the TTC seriously considered a proposal by local artist Charles Pachter in 1984, who lobbied to cover up the green-yellow tiles with a series of murals celebrating the area in general and the DUNDAS streetcar in particular. Pachter had already been commissioned to create a mural at College station, marking its proximity to Maple Leaf Gardens with depictions of the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs hockey teams. Pachter’s design for Dundas station was well received by the Commission.

However, Pachter’s proposal ran into its own controversy, when critics noted that Pachter’s commissions for College and Dundas stations had been offered without public consultation. The controversy forced the TTC to back off the commission deferring it until funding to cover its $98,000 cost could be received from the Ontario Government’s Wintario program. That funding never came to pass, and the walls of Dundas station were left as renovated.

Photographer Nathan Ng recently contacted Charles Pachter about this project, and was invited to the artist’s Moose Factory studio to see plans for his proposed design for Dundas station.

Station Features

Dundas station has very little presence above ground, and this was true from the beginning. However, it does feature a number of interesting architectural and artistic features below ground. In addition to the green-yellow tiles applied to the rest of the station, the early 1980s renovation did allow for the addition of other art features, including William McElcheran’s Cross Section, a terra-cotta bas-relief on the wall leading from the northwest entrance into the station. This art piece features representations of commuters using the station, with a number of wry details telling stories about each one. There is also an abstract art piece featuring a concrete circle mounted to the wall of the underground passage beneath the tracks, with large rocks arranged within.

As Toronto continued to grow, the Yonge Street strip was redeveloped, with impacts felt within Dundas station. Around the year 2000, Toronto mayor Mel Lastman backed a proposal to demolish the buildings bounded by Dundas Street, Dundas Square and Yonge Street, creating a large public square akin to New York Times Square. This project was complete by late 2002. This redevelopment allowed the City of Toronto to install a new entrance, including an elevator, at the southeast corner of the Yonge/Dundas intersection. The station had already been rendered accessible a year beforehand, with elevators put into use within the Eaton Centre. At the northeast corner of the Yonge/Dundas intersection, Ryerson University worked with developers to create a retail/institutional complex that offered its own direct access to the subway. It was also open around the same time as Yonge/Dundas Square opened.

Through it all, Dundas station’s platforms have not changed, even though ridership has grown by more than 50% in the past decade. Nor has the fare area, save for the installation of Presto gates. It’s still not possible to cross between the platforms without leaving the fare paid area, and the station is known for its crowding and clutter.

Changes may be in the offing, however. Although expanding Dundas station’s platforms is a complex process, there is a will among developers to consider the option. The TTC, embarking on a plan to improve accessibility at a number of its older stations, highlighted the need for a second exit from the platforms of Dundas station. A proposal in the planning stages calls for the creation of an automatic entrance leading directly from the platform to the Ryerson University developments. Although this has been in the plans since 2009, the TTC have not been able to act on it. However, the proposed tower complex at the site of the World’s Biggest Bookstore may be the catalyst needed to finally bring this entrance about, and finally allow passengers to cross between the platforms without paying an additional fare.

Service Notes (as of November 26, 2017):

  • Off-Site Resources:
  • Line: 1 Yonge - University - Spadina
  • Hours of Operation: First Train to Finch: 5:59 a.m. weekdays, 6:00 a.m. Saturdays/holidays, 8.10 a.m. Sundays.
    First Train to Union/Vaughan: 5:56 a.m. weekdays, 6:05 a.m. Saturdays/holidays, 8:10 a.m. Sundays.
    Last Train to Finch: 1:50 a.m. every day
    Last Train to Union/Vaughan: 1:47 a.m. weekdays, 1:44 a.m. weekends/holidays.
  • Address: 3 Dundas Street East
  • Opened: March 30th 1954
  • Average Weekday Ridership: 73,560 (2018), 81,334 (2015), 75,780 (2014), 61,690 (2013), 61,690 (2012), 67,670 (2011), 76,980 (2010), 69,150 (2009), 61,830 (2008), 54,110 (2007)
  • Entrances: 5
    • Dundas Square Entrance, Southeast Corner. Located on the south side of Dundas Street East. Elevator is located 27 metres east of Yonge Street inside the pedestrian kiosk for the Green P parking garage, entered from Dundas Street East or Dundas Square 2. The sidewalk staircase is located 21 metres east of Yonge Street, enter from south side on Dundas Square Both are entered from the south side on Dundas Square. Elevator and stairs provide access to the northbound subway platform fare gates, and stairs and escalator to the platforms underpass. (Wheelchair accessible)
    • Eaton Centre Entrance, Southwest corner. Located on the Southwest corner of Yonge Street and Dundas Street West, inside the Eaton Centre Atrium. Elevator and stairs provide access to the southbound subway platform fare gates and the stairs and escalator to the platforms underpass. (Wheelchair accessible)
    • 10 Dundas Street East Entrance (Northeast corner, Cineplex). Located on the north side of Dundas Street East, 30 metres east of Yonge Street, inside the Cineplex building Elevator and stair access to northbound subway platform fare gates and the stairs and escalator to the platforms underpass. (Wheelchair accessible)
    • Yonge & Dundas West Entrance, Northwest corner. Located on the north side of Dundas Street West, 23 metres west of Yonge Street. This sidewalk staircase leads to the Southbound Subway Platform Level fare gates and the stairs and escalators to the platforms underpass. (Not wheelchair accessible)
    • Atrium on Bay Entrance, Northwest corner. Located on the west side of Yonge Street 35 metres north of Dundas Street West, inside Atrium on Bay. Stairs provide access to the southbound subway platform fare gates and the platforms underpass. (Not wheelchair accessible)
  • Elevators (click here for maintenance schedule):
    • Non-TTC elevator. Street (Southeast corner of Yonge Street and Dundas Street - Yonge-Dundas Square) to Northbound concourse.
    • Non-TTC elevator. Street (Southwest corner of Yonge Street and Dundas Street - Eaton Centre) to Southbound concourse.
    • Non-TTC elevator. Street (Northeast corner of Yonge Street and Dundas Street - 10 Dundas Street East) to Northbound concourse.
  • Escalators (click here for maintenance schedule):
    • Underpass To Northbound Platform (Up At All Times)
    • Underpass To Northbound Platform (Down At All Times)
    • Underpass To Southbound And Atrium Entrance (Up At All Times)
  • Wheelchair Accessible Since: 2001
  • Two side platforms (note: not possible to change platforms without leaving fare-paid area)

TTC Surface Connections:

Previous TTC Surface Connections

Dundas Station Image Archive

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