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Text by James Bow

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Chester station on the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway is a quiet, unassuming station in Toronto’s Greektown neighbourhood. It was one of only two stations to open without a daytime transit service operating past its door (the other is Summerhill station) and it is currently the only station in Toronto with no connectable TTC service outside during the daytime. As expected, this has kept ridership low. In 2018, Chester was the least-used station on the BLOOR-DANFORTH line, serving only 5,800 passengers on an average weekday, but this number and ranking have fluctuated. Castle Frank and Old Mill stations have served fewer people on occasion. And this doesn’t prevent Chester from having an interesting history or unique features that make it worth visiting.

Early History

Chester Avenue first appears on Toronto area maps as early as 1884 and acquires the Chester name by 1894. Both times, the street is outside the boundaries of the City of Toronto. Instead, the area around Chester was initially part of the village of Doncaster (which grew up between Danforth and Mortimer around what is today Broadview Avenue but was back then Don Mills Road) before being incorporated into the Village of Chester by 1894. The area would be annexed by the City of Toronto in 1909, but the name would live on in the street.

Through its existence, Chester has remained an unassuming side street, running one block from Danforth Avenue to Browning Avenue. Save for backing onto the grounds of Jackman Avenue Jr. Public School, the street serves single-family detached houses that were built starting in the early part of the 20th century, largely complete by 1924. As a short street, Chester saw no transit service along its length. Transit service materialized on Danforth Avenue with the launch of the Danforth streetcar. Bus service to the north materialized along Broadview and Pape Avenues, with the LEASIDE bus, and the Danforth Bus Lines. Chester was a stop en route to other destinations.

The Subway Plan

The first sign of a subway serving Chester came in the late 1950s when Metropolitan Toronto and the Toronto Transit Commission debated the construction of a crosstown subway following the opening of the YONGE line. Metropolitan Toronto, with its majority of politicians serving the City of Toronto, favoured a route following Queen Street. On the other hand, the TTC, noting the increasing ridership of its BLOOR streetcar, and the development in the boroughs of Scarborough and Etobicoke that were channelling increasing traffic along Bloor and Danforth, proposed that the crosstown subway be parallel to both streets instead. The Flying-U compromise would have run the crosstown subway parallel to Queen Street between Pape and Trinity-Bellwoods Park, before tracking north to Danforth and Bloor respectively and then east and west to their suburban terminals. This proposal would not have placed a station beneath Chester Avenue. However, the TTC’s BLOOR-DANFORTH proposal won the day, with Metro Council approving the construction at its January 1958 meeting.

Chester Avenue was selected as a stop halfway between Broadview and Pape Avenues, likely under the consideration that the long stretch of the Danforth between these two avenues would have been underserved without it. The TTC would revisit this question in the mid-1960s when planning for the North Yonge subway extension. There, to save money, the TTC decided to forego stations between the major arterial roads of Eglinton, Lawrence, York Mills, Sheppard and Finch, using a parallel bus route to handle local traffic the subway bypassed.

Station Architecture

Chester station is located on Chester Avenue, just north of Danforth Avenue, roughly halfway between Broadview and Pape Avenues. It primarily follows the design aesthetic of the rest of the original BLOOR-DANFORTH subway stations. Its sole entrance building is a square brick structure with a glass wall of metal-framed doors and windows. A strip of red veneer cuts across the windows at waist height, and the station name is in a back-lit box with a red covering and the station name displayed in TTC subway font in white.

Inside, the entrance hall features a collectors booth and turnstiles, as well as a space for a newsstand (more on this later), with a set of stairs on the south and north sides of the structure heading down directly to the eastbound and westbound platforms respectively. There is no publicly accessible mezzanine level, although a corridor between the two stairwells does exist, behind locked doors labelled “Valve Room”. As with the other original stations of the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway, Chester’s walls are lined in tile using a two-tone pattern, with a green base colour, and the accent tiles and station name appearing in blue.

Art Concession and Art

Chester maintained a quiet existence following its construction, with no major renovations to the structure. The station featured the original turnstiles until the installation of Presto gates in December 2018 (opening January 5, 2019). Its Gateway newsstand was closed down around 2009, due to a lack of foot traffic. The newsstand, however, turned into an opportunity that would give Chester a distinctive cultural feature.

Early in 2015, local artist Jess Dobkin spearheaded an initiative to turn Chester’s newsstand into an art store. Launching a crowdfunding campaign, she was able to raise close to $5,000, enough to cover a year’s rent and make renovations. Toronto Star reporter Katrina Clarke described the store during its grand opening on May 8, 2015, thus: “Interspersed amongst the typical trashy magazines, pop, chips and gum, were locally made caramels, with flavours such as rosemary almond and pistachio mint; cookies decorated to look like TTC transfers; dog hoodies reading ‘I’m a tasteful Danforth pup’ and tote bags designed by a local artist. There’s even a small lending library from which commuters can borrow books, free of charge.” The store was well patronized, and hosted a special birthday party for the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway on February 26, 2016, to celebrate the line’s 50th anniversary.

As the year’s lease ran out, however, the artist kiosk shuttered. However, the TTC would soon add another piece of artistic flair to the station. On June 5, 2017, the TTC announced a commission for Chester and other stations as part of its Public Art Program. For Chester, the TTC commissioned Katharine Harvey to produce “Florae”. The commission was described as “a series of wall mosaics and art glass elements that serve to reflect the community that inhabits the Chester subway neighbourhood. The area is full of parks and green spaces, and the residents take pride in their gardens. Inspired by native plants and flowers of the area, the artwork draws from the sugar maple, eastern cottonwood, butternut tree, yellow coltsfoot flower, and red skunk cabbage, among many other species. Shifting and cascading hues depict the florae in changing seasons.”

Second Exit and Accessibility Plans

Starting in December 2013, the TTC began making plans to make Chester station accessible, and install a second exit from its platform level to the street as part of its Station Modernization program. After learning from the controversies that affected the second exit plans at Greenwood and Woodbine stations, the TTC made sure to reach out to the local community, offering several consultation sessions to produce the best design.

Fortunately, Chester station was possibly an easier station to render accessible and build a second exit on than most, as it’s located beneath a stretch of land cleared out by the construction of the original line, currently occupied by a laneway and a stretch of parking lots. The elevators from the entrance building to their respective platforms could be built onto the northwest and southwest corners of the main entrance building, removing no more than four parking spots. Final plans located Chester’s second exit across Chester Avenue, at the north end of the Toronto Parking Authority lot there. The final contract for the work was awarded on April 26, 2018, and work began on both the elevators in August 2018, with work on the second entrance starting the month after.

At the beginning of June 2020, the TTC announced plans to close Chester station for two weeks, starting June 9. The idea was to take advantage of lighter-than-usual passenger loads resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and shut down the station to give workers uninterrupted time to work on the wheelchair-accessible elevators, allowing the station to become accessible in early September 2020, months earlier than planned. The second entrance building was still expected to open in 2021 and officially opened to the public on April 23 of that year.

Chester station’s ridership may be low, compared to other stations on the line, but it serves its neighbourhood. Without out, the TTC would have had to operate buses on Danforth Avenue to catch local traffic. In addition to serving its nearby residents, it sees substantial traffic during major festival events in the area, particularly the Taste of the Danforth and its celebration of Greektown’s culture.

Service Notes (as of June 9, 2020):

  • Off-Site Resources:
  • Line: 2 Bloor - Danforth
  • Hours of Operation:
    First Train to Kipling: 5:54 a.m. weekdays, 5:58 a.m. Saturdays/holidays, 8:02 a.m. Sundays.
    First Train to Kennedy: 6:15 a.m. weekdays, 6:17 a.m. Saturdays/holidays, 8:32 a.m. Sundays.
    Last Train to Kipling: 1:46 a.m.
    Last Train to Kennedy: 2:00 a.m. weekdays, 2:02 a.m. Saturday/holidays, 2:00 a.m. Sundays
  • Address: 22 Chester Avenue
  • Opened: February 26, 1966
  • Wheelchair Accessible: Since September 2, 2020 (48th)
  • Average Weekday Ridership: 5,800 (2018), 6,690 (2016), 7,700 (2015), 6,540 (2014), 7,280 (2013), 6,760 (2012), 6,790 (2011), 6,570 (2010), 6,980 (2009), 7,430 (2008), 6,730 (2007)
  • Entrances: 1
    • Located on the west side of Chester Avenue, 73 metres north of Danforth Avenue.
  • Elevators (click here for maintenance schedule): 2
    • Main entrance to the westbound platform
    • Main entrance to the eastbound platform
  • Escalators (click here for maintenance schedule): 2
    • Eastbound Platform To Concourse (Up At All Times)
    • Westbound Platform To Concourse (Up At All Times)
  • Parking: None
  • 2 Side platforms
  • Bicycle Repair stop

TTC Surface Connections:

Former TTC Surface Connections

Publication Archive

Chester Station Image Archive


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