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Lawrence West

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Text by James Bow
With thanks to Nathan Ng

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Lawrence West station is a surprisingly compact station serving busy Lawrence Avenue at Allen Road. Built as part of the SPADINA subway, it acts as a gateway to the downtown from bus passengers coming in from the Lawrence Heights and Marlee Avenue neighbourhoods, and further afield, including the old Village of Weston, north-central Etobicoke, Pearson International Airport, and the old village of Malton. Somewhat overshadowed by the architectural grandeur of Yorkdale station, one stop north, it nevertheless has a number of architectural features that make it stand out even among the eclectic styles of the rest of the SPADINA line. The station was rendered accessible in December 2014 (after eight years of struggle).

A Brief History of Lawrence Heights

The area around Lawrence West station was rural up until the beginning of the 20th century. Lawrence Avenue was originally a concession road running east and west from Yonge Street. According to a 1910 atlas of the City of Toronto, Lawrence Avenue only ran east from Yonge Street, with the concession road running west named Macdougall Avenue. The Lawrence name, named after Jacob Lawrence, a tanner and farmer who lived in the area, was transferred over to the west side of Yonge by 1916, but only to the boundaries of the old village of North Toronto. As for Macdougall Avenue, it continued across Dufferin to Jane Street at the eastern edge of the Village of Weston. There, it changed its name again to Dufferin Street.

The street we currently know as Dufferin extended north from Toronto as its own concession road. North of Eglinton, it was a significant road leading out of the city, although access to the city was via Vaughan Road, which used to meet Dufferin Street at its intersection with Eglinton Avenue.

The area north of Macdougall and east of Dufferin was the site of Mulholland Farm, established by Henry Mulholland as one of the first settlers in the area, in 1814. Mulholland’s heirs continued to live in the area and farm well into the 20th century. A map from 1916 shows a two block strip of streets and development running south of Macdougall Avenue, and as York Township developed in the early part of the 20th century, development reached north towards here. Mulholland Farm remained rural until the 1940s when the land was sold to developers.

Downsview Airport Pulls Development

Although the area itself remained rural-suburban until after the Second World War, public transit arrived in the 1920s, first in the form of inter-city bus services using Dufferin Street and Vaughan Road to connect Toronto with towns to the north. Possibly the first was A. Ireland’s bus service connecting Toronto to King City north of Vaughan Township. This eventually became Danforth Bus Lines, an independent bus operation serving the townships and towns outside the old City of Toronto in the thirties, forties and fifties.

Industrial development around Downsview Airport drew workers to the Dehavilland Plant, which encouraged more transit service along Dufferin Street, especially as the Second World War significantly increased production. While the independent bus service had a rocky relationship with the TTC, which objected when Danforth Bus Lines carried passengers and charged fares on its service south of the Dufferin/Eglinton intersection, multiple routes were soon operating on Dufferin past Lawrence Avenue, stretching north towards the Downsview Airport, or west along Wilson Avenue towards the northern part of the village of Weston.

In 1954, the province of Ontario reorganized the City of Toronto and its surrounding townships, towns and villages into the federated Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto. The Toronto Transportation Commission was reorganized into the Toronto Transit Commission, which bought out the independent suburban bus networks and expanded its mandate to provide all public transit service within the boundaries of Metropolitan Toronto. From the start, July 1, 1954, TTC service operated on Dufferin Street, from Eglinton to Wilson. Lawrence Avenue (whose name had been extended to Dufferin in the 1930s, and was likely extended west to Royal York Road by the 1950s) was not developed enough to merit transit service west of Bathurst Street. It wouldn’t be until September 8, 1957 that the 52 LAWRENCE bus was extended west to Dufferin.

Public Housing Plans

Metropolitan Toronto was seeing rapid suburban development in the early 1950s. The area south of Lawrence Avenue, known as Glen Park, was seeing the construction of many new suburban homes. North of Lawrence, however, Metro planners had other plans. With the help of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, work began on the Lawrence Heights neighbourhood, one of the largest public housing developments at that time in Canada. According to former Toronto mayor John Sewell, in his book The Shape of the City, Lawrence Heights was originally designed as a high-rise community. However, Jack Brown, a former World War II pilot who was working on the project, took a flight over the proposed site and realized that the neighbourhood was too close to Downsview Airport for such high rises to be safe. So the neighbourhood was redesigned with low and mid-rise buildings, in the modern style of winding streets and cul-de-sacs.

At the same time, Metropolitan Toronto was pursuing its plan to build the Spadina Expressway from Highway 401 south to downtown Toronto. Initial work saw the creation of the Spadina Road Extension running through the area. When Lawrence Heights was developed enough to be served by public transit, the 14 CHAPLIN bus was extended (on August 2, 1960), buses looped through the area via north on Varna, west on Flemington, south on the Spadina Roadway and east on Ranee to Varna. Other maps at the time showed this loop operating via Varna, Ranee and Spadina to Lawrence. The Spadina Expressway was under construction at the time and, by November 1964, had been transformed into a limited access highway, with most roads proceeding over the road via bridges, and with off-ramps at Lawrence Avenue, at which point, the 14 CHAPLIN route looped past Spadina and operated via Flemington Road instead.

The Spadina Expressway was built into a trench to pass under Lawrence Avenue, and it was given a wide median for future use as the right-of-way of the SPADINA subway, an approach previously taken by the City of Chicago on its expressways. Controversy over the Spadina Expressway’s route into downtown Toronto stopped construction of the highway at Eglinton Avenue, but planning for the SPADINA subway continued.

What’s in a Name?

By the late 1960s, there was no question about whether the SPADINA subway would have a stop at Lawrence Avenue. Lawrence Heights had developed into a neighbourhood of over 30,000 people. Lawrence Avenue had transformed from a sleepy country road into a major thoroughfare from Royal York Road to Yonge Street. Transit service continued west of Royal York via the Westway all the way to Martin Grove.

However, early in 1974, as SPADINA subway construction was underway, TTC officials struggled with what to name the stations at St. Clair, Eglinton and Lawrence, so as not to cause confusion with their counterparts on the YONGE subway. The TTC had faced this conundrum in 1963 and in 1966. With the opening of the UNIVERSITY subway, the Commission had named the stops on King, Queen, Dundas and College after the old wards in the area (St. Andrew for King and St. Patrick for Dundas) or after local landmarks (Osgoode after Osgoode Hall on Queen and Queen’s Park for College). On the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway, the stop at Dundas Street was initially going to be named “Vincent” after a short street in the area before the title “DUNDAS WEST” was supplied instead.

TTC staff suggested St. Clair West, Eglinton West and Lawrence West for the SPADINA subway stations, but TTC commissioners wanted something more descriptive and, in April 1974, turned to the public in a naming contest. A later report from the Globe and Mail said that 309 names were submitted. At the TTC commissioners meeting of September 3, 1974, TTC Chair Karl Malette heard a suggestion that one of the stations (possibly Lawrence) be named after him, with Metro Chairman Paul Godfrey and Toronto mayor David Miller being similarly honoured (possibly with Eglinton and St. Clair respectively). According to a report the next day in the Toronto Star, Malette rejected this suggestion, saying that he was a Scarborough Councillor and “Scarborough council already had promised him that after he leaves office it would honour him by giving his name to a sewage plant.”

Although the names “Lawrence Heights”, “Forest Hill” and “Wells Hill” apparently turned up repeatedly for the stations at Lawrence, Eglinton and St. Clair respectively, Chair Malette suggested that he preferred “more obvious geographical names”. In the end, TTC staff recommendations were adopted, with the stops labelled Lawrence West, Eglinton West and St. Clair West.

Lawrence West Station Design

The Spadina Expressway passed beneath Lawrence Avenue in a trench, which made the design of the station easier, since the station building and associated bus terminal could be placed directly above the subway platform, bringing the uses closer together. The architectural firm of Dunlop Farrow Aitken was commissioned to design the station, which followed the TTC’s plan to give each station on the Spadina line a unique look. C. Cansfield was the partner in charge, with the team of project architect Guy Rao with designers J. Davidson and L. Cook. Consultants McCormick, Rankin & Associates Ltd., advised on the station’s structural components, while DFA Engineering advised on the station’s electrical and mechanical issues.

Their plan followed modernist principles, with long, level lines, with concrete walls and structural elements complemented by large glass windows to bring in light, with orange metal accents. A large stairwell linking the bus terminal/entrance level directly with the subway helps maintain a sense of bright openness as passengers head down to the station’s platform. The platform itself sits between the two tracks and is completely open, without any support pillars blocking the view. Benches in the middle are poured concrete from the platform floor, tiled with the same tiles used on the floor. The station’s name is engraved and painted on the concrete walls on platform level in Univers font, and appears in backlit white on the black (actually, very dark blue) signage strips located directly above the edges of the platforms.

A bus roadway was built south from Lawrence Avenue between the on and off-ramps from the expressway, bridging the expressway lanes and the subway tracks. The expressway was deep enough that a mezzanine level could be placed between the platform and the bus terminal/entrance level, providing access to the north side of Lawrence Avenue via a long passageway beneath the street, with automatic gates providing direct access to the subway.

Complementing this structure was the art piece Spacing… Aerial Highways, an 300-foot-long abstract ceramic mural stretching across the station’s north face, both inside and out.

The station’s design eased the transfer for patrons between the subway and connecting buses, but its location within the off-ramps of the expressway made accessing the station on foot an uncomfortable experience. This became more of an issue considering the number of seniors living in the area. This is one reason the TTC launched the accessible pilot project of the 170 LAWRENCE MANOR COMMUNITY BUS on October 15, 1990, which used an accessible Wheel-Trans vehicle on a fixed route winding through the Lawrence Heights neighbourhood and the local mall, before arriving at Lawrence West’s bus terminal. This route would become the prototype for the TTC’s 400 route series of wheelchair accessible community buses, with the 170 LAWRENCE MANOR route renumbered 400 LAWRENCE MANOR in 1992.

Renovation Blues

While the overall look of Lawrence West has remained consistent in the forty-or-so years since it opened, a number of changes have occurred. The subway platforms were modified to install raised textured edges for the sight-impaired, and pathfinder tiles added to help guide them to the exit. This was done throughout the TTC network due to a tragic incident at Lawrence West station that occurred on June 19, 1990 when a blind woman named Rebecca Louise Parenteau lost her bearings after leaving her train and fell in front of a subway, which killed her. This was the second such death within a year, and this sparked a safety review wherein the pathfinder tiles were among the recommendations.

In 2008, Lawrence West underwent renovations to make the station accessible. This should have been a simple task, since a single elevator was all that was needed to connect the station platform to the entrance level and bus terminal, however the tendered contractor ran into design problems, and the TTC terminated the job the following year, which resulted in the contractor suing the TTC. The design work was re-tendered in 2011, but the bids received were too high and no tender was awarded. In 2012, after an attempt to lump in the work with an elevator install at St. Clair West was scrubbed due to “property acquisition issues”, the contract was awarded yet again in November 2012 and work restarted at last.

The long delay in making Lawrence West accessible was highlighted by critics of the TTC as evidence of the Commission’s inability to manage projects, and incoming TTC CEO Andy Byford took on the Lawrence West renovation file as a key measure of his success. In addition to installing the elevator, the station renovations would also set up a new automatic entrance at the station’s mezzanine level, widen the station’s bus platforms, and repave the bus loop. Work proceeded over the next two years and, on December 19, 2014, the elevator was finally put into service.

Rising Influence

Lawrence West station’s influence on Toronto’s rapid transit network has steadily increased as the character of Lawrence Avenue has changed. In the late 1960s, even as Lawrence Avenue transit service extended to Royal York Road, no direct connection was made between Lawrence Avenue and Toronto’s international airport. Dixon Road (also known as the Malton Sideroad) ran in the same direction as Lawrence, but west of the Humber River, and connected with Lawrence Avenue via a short jog with Scarlett Road. However, the 58 MALTON service ended at Weston Road and Lawrence, forcing passengers to transfer. It’s possible that ridership patterns at the time drew more passengers south from Dixon Road, via Weston, to the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway, rather than the longer trip to the end of the YONGE subway at Eglinton and Yonge. Still, as the YONGE subway was extended north to York Mills and Lawrence station added on March 31, 1973, the 52 LAWRENCE and 58 MALTON services were kept separate.

This changed on July 21, 1985 when the 58 MALTON bus was extended east of Weston along Lawrence Avenue to loop through Lawrence West station. Now Malton buses were a prominent feature on Lawrence Avenue, and Lawrence West station was a place where many passengers transferred as they travelled from the subway to the airport, and also to the neighbourhoods of central Etobicoke. The strengthening of Lawrence’s east-west travel patterns were further reflected on March 29, 2014 when the 58 MALTON bus was merged out of history, becoming a branch of the 52 LAWRENCE WEST bus.

The gap between the number of passengers carried by Lawrence and Lawrence West stations has narrowed (in 2015, it was roughly 5,000, with Lawrence West carrying 19,950 passengers on an average weekday and Lawrence carrying 24,550). Compare this to the gap between Eglinton and Eglinton West (55,920 in 2015), and one can argue that Lawrence West challenges Lawrence station for prominence on the street, acting as a gateway to the subway for passengers from the airport and central Etobicoke, and a critical connection for the Lawrence Heights neighbourhood. The City of Toronto is currently working on plans to revitalize the Lawrence Heights neighbourhood in a similar way to its changes to Regent Park, and the Official Plan calls for increased density along Lawrence Avenue. These will likely increase passenger traffic in the near-to-mid future.

Document Archive

Service Notes (as of November 26, 2017):

  • Off-site Resources:
  • Address: 655 Lawrence Avenue West
  • Opened: January 28, 1978
  • Average Weekday Ridership: 19,740 (2018), 17,630 (2016), 19,950 (2015), 21,420 (2014), 19,730 (2013), 21,940 (2012), 19,390 (2011), 20,560 (2010), 19,590 (2009), 18,920 (2008)
  • Hours of Operation:
    First Train to Finch: 5:49 a.m. weekdays, 6:00 a.m. Saturdays/holidays, 7:44 a.m. Sundays.
    First Train to Downsview: 6:27 a.m. weekdays, 6:30 a.m. Saturdays/holidays, 8:35 a.m. Sundays
    Last Train to Finch: 1:24 a.m. every day.
    Last Train to Downsview: 2:13 a.m. weekdays, 2:08 a.m. weekdays/holidays.
  • Entrances: 2
    • South side, accessible entrance, located on the south side of Lawrence Avenue, between the on/off-ramps from Allen Road, leading directly to the fare collection area and bus terminal, plus stairs and escalators to the station platform.
    • North side, non-accessible entrance, located on the north side of Lawrence Avenue, between the on/off-ramps from Allen Road. A set of stairs leads to a passageway beneath Lawrence Avenue to the mezzanine level of the station. There, stairs lead up to the fare collection area by the main entrance, or passengers can pass through automatic fare gates to access stairs leading down to platform level.
  • Wheelchair Accessible?: Since December 19, 2014
  • Escalators (click here for maintenance schedule):
    • Concourse To North End Train Platform (Down At All Times)
    • North End Of Train Platform To Concourse (Up At All Times)
  • Elevators (click here for maintenance schedule):
    • Concourse to North End Train Platform
  • Parking: None
  • Washrooms: None
  • One centre platform

TTC Surface Route Connections:

Former TTC Surface Route Connections

Lawrence West Station Image Archive

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