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Sherbourne Station is a moderately busy subway station on the original section of the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway, serving the eastern end of Bloor Street East’s commercial district, and the disparate residents of St. James Town and southern Rosedale. The street it is named for has a long history within the city of Toronto, as well as a long history of transit service. As the area revitalizes with new commercial and denser residential development, the use of this station will increase.

A Brief History of Sherbourne Street

Sherbourne Street began life as part of the original blocks established for the old Town of York around 1793. A street near the west end of the town running north from Palace Street (today’s Front Street East) to Duchess Street (today’s Richmond Street East) was originally called Caroline Street. Around here, Samuel Smith Ridout (1778-1885) purchased property. Samuel Smith was the son of Thomas Ridout, who emigrated from the Town of Sherborne in Dorset, England to Maryland in 1774. After being captured by Shawnee while travelling in Kentucky, Thomas was released to the British in Detroit. There, as the American revolution started, he fell in love with the daughter of a loyalist and emigrated to Upper Canada. He became the Surveyor-General of Upper Canada in 1807, and his sons, including Samuel, were prominent members of Upper Canada Society.

Samuel, clearly, didn’t want to forget his routes, and remembered the name of the town his father had been born in. A street built north of Lot Street (today’s Queen Street) following the Caroline Street alignment was called Sherbourne. Following the start of the Upper Canada Rebellion in 1837, in 1839, seven blockhouses were built to guard the approaches to Toronto. One of those blockhouses was called the Sherbourne Blockhouse, located at what would today be the intersection of Bloor and Sherbourne.

Caroline Street continued to exist south of Queen until at least 1862. A historic map of Toronto from 1872 shows Sherbourne Street running all the way from Bloor to Front, over Caroline’s old alignment. Sherbourne could not go much further than Bloor, as the Rosedale Valley Ravine made the topography excessively difficult. Indeed, Sherbourne and Bloor Street ended either at or pretty close to that intersection, with only a north-south bridge taking people further towards Rosedale. This arrangement ensured that Yonge Street, not Sherbourne, would become the most important north-south artery in the city, although Sherbourne remained important to the old city.

Transit Begins

See Also: the History of the Sherbourne Streetcar

Toronto streetcar service began with the launch of the Toronto Street Railway in 1861. For the 1860s, two lines fanned out from the St. Lawrence Market: YONGE, running from the Market via west on King and north on Yonge to Yorkville, and Queen, running from the Market, via west on King, north on Yonge, and west on Queen to Dundas Street (today’s Ossington Avenue). In 1874, tree new lines opened, one serving King Street, and the other two Sherbourne. The KING streetcar operated along its namesake street from Don River to Bathurst. The WINCHESTER streetcar operated from Front and York Streets via east on Front, north on Church, east on King, north on Sherbourne, east on Carlton and then north on Parliament to Winchester. Finally, the SHERBOURNE operated much the same route as WINCHESTER, but starting from from Front and Frederick Streets via west on Front, north on Church, east on King, north on Sherbourne, and then east on Carlton to turn back at Parliament. Later (from 1881 to 1893), PARLIAMENT streetcars would use the stretch of Sherbourne track operating from King to Queen.

This arrangement went largely unchanged until November 16, 1891, when the newly-minted Toronto Railway Company replaced SHERBOURNE streetcar service with a new BELT LINE, operating in a circle in both directions via Bloor Street, Sherbourne Street, King Street, and Spadina Avenue. With the city of Toronto growing further north, there was finally a demand for streetcar service on Bloor, but with the topology of the Rosedale Valley Ravine making the extension of Bloor Street east of Sherbourne, or Sherbourne Street north of Bloor, difficult, it made more sense to simply turn Sherbourne service west at Bloor. The Belt Line circled into and out of the downtown, efficiently carting passengers into the northern suburbs of the city, and this arrangement would stay for over thirty years. Maps of the city in 1898 do show tracks extending north of the Bloor/Sherbourne intersection, however, looping in Rosedale via Elm Avenue, Glen Road, and South Drive. These tracks were handled by CHURCH cars, diverting from their namesake street via east on Bloor and north on Sherbourne.

When the Toronto Transportation Commission took over streetcar operations from the Toronto Railway Company on September 1, 1921, it maintained the old operations on Sherbourne Street for almost another two years, until July 1, 1923. Then, as part of a system-wide restructuring of services, the TTC ended service on the BELT LINE, and restored the SHERBOURNE streetcar from Rosedale Loop down to Front Street.

However, the TTC did not take the time or the effort to properly rebuild the street’s tracks. Thus the streetcar tracks retained the Toronto Railway Company’s narrower “devilstrip” between the operating tracks. This prevented the TTC from operating newer equipment (the old Toronto Railway Company cars had been built off-centre on their wheelsets to get past each other along the narrower devilstrip). This was possibly because the tracks may have been replaced not long before the TTC takeover. By the mid 1940s, however, the tracks on Sherbourne were showing their age, and with the TTC facing hefty maintenance requirements following the Second World War, and with rubber-tired buses becoming more feasible and cost-effective to operate, the TTC decided to retire streetcar service on Sherbourne Street. On January 5, 1947, the streetcars were replaced by the SHERBOURNE BUS

Fortress Rosedale

Early in its history, Sherbourne Street was an exclusive street, full of trees and lined with stately houses. By the early part of the 20th century, however, many of the stately houses had been converted to poorer rooming houses. Further south, Sherbourne was a commercial or industrial street. However, Sherbourne remained one of the two main gateways into the exclusive Rosedale neighbourhood (the other being Crescent Road). The area’s topology made it difficult to maintain Toronto’s street grid north of Bloor and east of Yonge, and the upscale residents liked their isolation, and tended to discourage through traffic. However, some of the more prominent local residents favoured major city building projects like the proposed Toronto subway, and supported station stops at the entrances to the Rosedale neighbourhood.

This dichotomy between rich and poor gave Sherbourne a street with a unique dual character. In the 1980s, the Toronto Star wrote a profile of the TTC, citing the 75 SHERBOURNE bus as a microcosm of the city. It was an important enough street that there no question whether it deserved a subway stop. When the Queen subway was being planned in the 1940s, Sherbourne was the next stop east after Yonge. When the TTC decided to run the subway parallel to Bloor Street instead, this pattern was repeated.

Building and Opening the Subway

Again, the topography around the Bloor/Sherbourne intersection complicated the construction of the subway and Sherbourne station. West of Yonge Street, the line buried under laneways and streets immediately north of Bloor. The Rosedale Valley Ravine made the TTC curve the subway south of Bloor at Yonge station.

In 1913, the City of Toronto commited to plans to extend Bloor Street East across the Rosedale Valley Ravine and the Don River valley. Voters approved construction of the Prince Edward Viaduct that year, and architect Edward Burke had the foresight to design in provisions for a rapid transit line to use the lower deck of the viaduct. He actually expected the rapid transit vehicles to be streetcars, but the TTC was able to adapt the deck of the Don River span to its subway technology.

The Prince Edward Viaduct had been built in three sections, however. The bridge over the Rosedale Valley angled southwest towards Parliament Street, while the section between Parliament and Sherbourne angled northwest, following the Rosedale Valley Ravine as part bridge, part fill. The TTC could not use these sections of the viaduct for their subway as their turning radiai would be too tight. The TTC decided it would have to cross the Rosedale Valley along its own bridge, north of the viaduct, before curving beneath Bloor Street to access Sherbourne station south of the Bloor/Sherbourne intersection.

Initial plans for Sherbourne station, as depicted by the TTC design artist Sigmund Serafin, envisioned bored tunnel through the area, with a tube station (with a centre platform) beneath Bloor Street akin to St. Patrick or Queen’s Park. After these initial designs, the TTC shifted the line and the station stop further south for a better approach to the Rosedale Valley bridge. The TTC built a 690 metre section of bored tunnel east from Bloor-Yonge station, but used a traditional cut-and-cover station box for Sherbourne station itself. The bored tunnel, or soil conditions, may have forced changes to the station design at Sherbourne. The space between the tracks at Sherbourne is wider than at other side-platform stations, and two lines of steel columns hold up the ceiling, rather than a single set of columns.

The Subway Opens

Sherbourne station opened with the rest of the Keele-to-Woodbine section of the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway on February 26, 1966. It featured a modest brick station building on the east-side of Sherbourne, with metal and glass doors and windows. The station followed the clean modernist aesthetic of the rest of the Bloor subway, including the two-tone tile pattern seen on other stations on the line (in Sherbourne’s case, a grey background tile with green trim). The main entrance led down to a concourse level where the fare gates and collector booths were located, followed by additional stairs leading to platform level. Transfers were required to change from the subway to nearby bus routes.

The station featured a secondary entrance leading from the platform out to Glen Road. Automatic fare gates controlled the entrance here, although a collectors booth was available for someone to take fares should traffic warrant (today, this collector’s booth has been covered up and doesn’t serve the public). The presence of this stop, and the fact that transfers were required to connect from the subway to the SHERBOURNE bus made the TTC offer special transfers issued from this exit. Until the 1990s, transfer machines stamped out “SHERBOURNE-GLEN ROAD” so that someone could pay their fare at this exit, cross through the station and emerge onto Sherbourne street to transfer onto the SHERBOURNE bus. Transfers issued from the main entrance (saying just “SHERBOURNE”) weren’t to be accepted by drivers.

The main concourse also boasted office space which came to be used by the TTC’s photo ID department. Passengers requiring photo ID, such as students or Metropass users, and who weren’t covered by special TTC photograph sessions at local schools, had to go to Sherbourne station and access the office to have their pictures taken. As photo ID has become less important to TTC fare media, especially with the rise of Presto Cards, the use of this facility has waned.

Attempts at Relief

During the early 1980s, ridership on Toronto’s subway increased to the point that the Bloor-Yonge interchange exceeded its passenger capacity. At this time, the TTC and the City of Toronto gave serious consideration to building a Downtown Relief subway line. However, as this line was at least a decade away from construction, the TTC looked at ways of diverting passenger traffic around the Bloor-Yonge interchange.

One concept was to install express bus routes that could divert BLOOR-DANFORTH passengers away from the YONGE line. On September 6, 1988, the TTC began service on the 137 PREMIUM EXPRESS VIA SUMMERHILL. During rush hours, buses operated through the Rosedale neighbourhood and then south on Sherbourne, to loop downtown via Richmond, Simcoe and Adelaide. A short turn service started at Huntley and Bloor and travelled via Bloor to Sherbourne, so that passengers leaving Sherbourne station were scheduled an express bus downtown every ten minutes.

The experiment was successful enough to launch the Downtown Premium Express network, but the VIA SUMMERHILL route itself did not have the ridership to justify continued operation. The service ended on September 1, 1989, although it returned as a limited service route 140 DOWNTOWN EXPRESS VIA SHERBOURNE on February 19, 1990, before vanishing altogether on February 14, 1992.

Quickening Redevelopment

The area’s topography, and the depressed economy of the neighbourhoods south of Bloor Street limited redevelopment around the station site for the first two decades. Although Bloor Street East saw a boom of office highrises, these were mostly centred around the Bloor-Yonge intersection. The main station entrance remained its own building on an undeveloped corner until the mid-1980s, when the TTC sold the air rights above the station, and work began on a six-story glass building at 425 Bloor Street East. The building was built above and around the station entrance, replacing its walls and providing over 17,000 swquare feet of office space. This building still stands.

As Toronto’s real estate market has heated up, however, and the areas around St. James Town have slowly revitalized, pressures for redevelopment have increased. Many of the remaining historic 19th century homes were under threat, although many plans call for incorporating these buildings as the base of new high-rises. Some of these towers are planned to be 50 storeys tall or higher. The exit onto Glen Road had, for years, been seen as a sketchy location, but the redevelopment of the townhomes across the street is changing this. The exit was recently renovated, and a mural painted onto the embankment beneath Bloor Street East, immediately adjacent to the station site.

Changes to Come

The station has retained much of its original look, with few changes. Presto gates were installed and made workable on May 31, 2016, and elevators are planned to make the station wheelchair accessible in 2021. From 2008 to 2016, ridership remained relatively steady around 26,000 passengers on an average weekday, but this number increased to 31,030 for 2018. The major changes planned for the area, however, promise to further increase ridership. Therefore, its renovations in 2021 could coincide with a major increase in the prominence of this station.

Service Notes (as of April 19, 2019):

  • Off-Site Resources:
  • Line: 2 Bloor - Danforth
  • Hours of Operation:
    First Train Kennedy: 6:06 a.m. weekdays, 6:13 a.m. Saturdays/holidays, 8:29 a.m. Sundays.
    First Train Kipling: 5:57 a.m. weekdays, 6:02 a.m. Saturdays/holidays, 8:06 a.m. Sundays.
    Last Train Kennedy: 1:57 a.m.
    Last Train Kipling: 1:49 a.m.
  • Address: 633 Sherbourne Street
  • Opened: February 26, 1966
  • Wheelchair Accessible: Not until 2021
  • Average Weekday Ridership: 31,030 (2018), 25,030 (2016), 25,730 (2015), 25,860 (2014), 26,130 (2013), 25,350 (2012), 27,510 (2011), 24,270 (2010), 25,000 (2009), 25,730 (2008)
  • Entrances: 2
    • Sherbourne Street Main Entrance, located on the east side of Sherbourne Street, 15 metres south of Bloor Street East. Stairs lead to concourse level.
    • Glen Road Automatic Entrance, located on the west side of Glen Road, immediately south of Bloor Street East. Stair access provided directly to platform levels. Entrance is accessible from Bloor Street East via a staircase, from Howard Street via Glen Road, and from Rosedale via a footbridge and tunnel beneath Bloor Street East, located immediately north of the station.
  • Escalators (click here for maintenance schedule):
    • Main concourse to east side of Sherbourne (Up at all times)
    • Westbound platform to main concourse (Up at all times)
    • Eastbound platform to main concourse (Up at all times)
  • Forms of fare payment include credit or debit
  • Side platforms

TTC Surface Connections:

Previous TTC Surface Connections

Sherbourne Station Image Archive

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