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Don Mills

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Text by James Bow

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Don Mills station is the eastern terminal station of the SHEPPARD subway line, located at the intersection of Sheppard Avenue East and Don Mills Road, serving the Fairview Mall and a bus terminal offering a number of connections serving northeastern North York. northern Scarborough, and even Markham. The large regional mall and the transit connections makes this the second busiest station on the SHEPPARD subway, with 33,760 passengers passing through on an average weekday in 2015.

Early History

The intersection of Sheppard Avenue and Don Mills late in Toronto’s history. Don Mills Road was not a concession road like Leslie or Woodbine; indeed, it had been built in between these two concession lines (of these two, only Leslie remains; Woodbine Avenue at Sheppard was replaced by the Don Valley Parkway). Around 1884, Don Mills Road rose up from the Don Valley near where Winchester Street used to cross the river. Some of this pathway is preserved as the on-ramp from Bloor Street East onto the Don Valley Parkway. From there, Don Mills Road followed the path of today’s Broadview Avenue and O’Connor Drive, before striking north just east of Leslie, crossing the Don River again around where the river forked, and eventually terminating at what is today known as York Mills Road. Don Mills Road is named for the grist and saw mills established at the forks of the Don in the early 19th century. Don Mills Road used to end at the Mills, until area farmers extended the road north between the branches, to enable them to bring their goods to St. Lawrence Market more quickly.

The eastern branch of the Don River blocked the northern progress of Don Mills well into the 20th century. Its rise to prominence began on March 11, 1953, with the launch of Don Mills model community surrounding what is now the intersection of Don Mills and Lawrence. First called Yorktown, this early modern suburb built by industrialist E.P. Taylor to the Garden City model. It featured a mixture of industry, was centred around a shopping centre, and featured housing for thousands of residents within a 2,000 acre space with easy access to greenspace. The plan was to build a self-sufficient, self-contained community. The houses sold quickly and Don Mills was deemed a success, with many of its design innovations taken by other suburban developments that appeared as cities sprawled over the next fifteen years.

Don Mills may have been planned as self-contained, but residents still relied on their connection to Toronto. Don Mills Road was widened to four lanes, and was extended north over Highway 401 to Sheppard Avenue in 1964. Further extensions brought Don Mills Road to Steeles Avenue in the 1970s, with the development of a high-density suburban neighbourhood referred to as “the Peanut” (also known as Don Valley Village) after a peanut-shaped split in Don Mills Road surrounding a high school and a commercial centre built to serve the local area.

Public Transit Development

Public transit followed the suburban development of Don Mills Road. The DON MILLS bus was established on July 1, 1954, operating from O’Connor Drive to Lawrence Avenue in the middle of the newly-developing community. Rush hour service was extended north to York Mills Road and west on York Mills to Oriole Station. Service would not be extended north of York Mills until February 26, 1966, as part of a system reorganization resulting from the opening of the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway. Then, the route was extended beyond Sheppard Avenue to circle around the Peanut Plaza.

The area around the Sheppard/Don Mills intersection was rural farmland until the early 1960s, often called Henry Farm after Henry Mulholland who settled in the area in 1806. The 84 SHEPPARD bus was established on March 18, 1963, but only reached as far east as Leslie Street. An extension into the Borough of Scarborough occurred on September 8, 1964, and the bus route was split between 84 SHEPPARD and 85 SHEPPARD EAST on May 11, 1968, with the SHEPPARD bus turning back at Don Mills Road.

Calls For a Subway

As the sixties gave way to the 1970s, Metropolitan Toronto sprawled into the formerly rural lands of northern North York. Metropolitan Council considered various proposals to serve this new development with rapid transit. North York Reeve James Service proposed that the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway be extended at both ends north into the boroughs of Etobicoke and Scarborough and back across the borough of North York, creating a giant belt line. Although this proposal was rejected, the TTC and Metro Planners considered possibilities for a northern crosstown rapid transit line, possibly as an LRT, to provide an alternative to driving on Highway 401. When Mel Lastman took over as mayor of North York after Service, he renewed calls for northern subway development, and suggested building a line beneath Sheppard Avenue as a means of anchoring his planned downtown around the Sheppard-Yonge intersection.

At the time, Sheppard Avenue was seeing a lot of bus traffic. With suburban sprawl overtaking northern Scarborough, far from the subway stations at the eastern end of the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway, a significant number of routes and branches used Sheppard Avenue between Yonge and Don Mills to serve neighbourhoods in the northeastern part of Metro, including what became 10 VAN HORNE, 169 HUNTINGWOOD and 130 MIDDLEFIELD. With many of these buses essentially using Sheppard Avenue as an express route to get to the YONGE subway, there was a sense that a rapid transit line could save them a trip.

In the early 1980s, planners and politicians at Metropolitan Toronto agreed to the Network 2011 proposal to build rapid transit throughout the region continuously from 1985 to 2014. The first priority would be a subway beneath Sheppard Avenue from Yonge Street to Don Mills Road. Despite the support of Metro Council, construction would not begin until 1995, as successive governments delayed approval until promising a start as an election goody, only to fall in the subsequent election.

Shovels hit the ground in 1994 for a truncated SHEPPARD subway operating between Yonge and Don Mills station, which was soon threatened by the election of a Conservative government in Queen’s Park led by Mike Harris. It was only through the political intervention of North York mayor Mel Lastman that the province agreed to continue to fund the construction of the SHEPPARD line, although the concurrently funded EGLINTON WEST subway was cancelled. Finally, to considerable fanfare, the SHEPPARD subway opened on November 22, 2002.

Station Features

Don Mills station was designed by Stevens Group Architects, whose other works include Downsview station (now Sheppard West) and Bayview station. Don Mills station was built beneath the Sheppard Avenue/Don Mills Road intersection, with entrances on the south and north sides of Sheppard Avenue. The south-side entrance was incorporated into a new mixed-use development, while the north side entrance and bus terminal took up space occupied by a parking garage serving the large Fairview Mall.

Although Metropolitan Toronto and the TTC were able to work out a deal with Cadillac Fairview, the owners of Fairview Mall, to build entrances and a bus terminal on the site and to lease commuter parking space in the mall’s garage, plans to provide a direct connection between the subway station and the mall did not bear fruit, as the mall proved reluctant to make the necessary renovations. Instead, the closest access between the subway station and the mall is through an automatic entrance leading up from the bus terminal into the street level of the parking garage, near the mall’s Sears’ store entrance.

On the surface, the station’s architecture is modest, with small entranceways matching the plain modern architecture of other SHEPPARD subway buildings, with unadorned lines and large glass windows embedded in the concrete superstructure. Underground, the station is anything but modest. Although Don Mills had not initially been planned as a terminal station for the SHEPPARD subway, the bus terminal was designed to accommodate a large number of routes approaching the stations from all directions. York Region Transit buses serve the station from the north. The 25 DON MILLS and (later) the 185 DON MILLS ROCKET provide traffic to the south, but even more service comes from the east, on routes branching off of Sheppard to serve northeast North York and northern Scarborough. The station also features a large mezzanine area connecting the exits, the bus terminal and the station platform.

As with other stations on the SHEPPARD line, the station platform was originally built to accommodate six-car trains, but shortened when the decision was made to operate only four-car trains on the line. This platform space now comprises the station’s short tail-tracks.

Stephen Cruise was commissioned to provide artwork for Don Mills station. A selection of coloured tiles were used, particularly in the mezzanine level, to suggest layers of rock strata. Other tiles, both on the wall and on the floor, featured bronze “fossils” to complement this effect.

The other artwork is found outside Don Mills station, where a statue of the racehorse Northern Dancer adorns a wall concealing an electrical substation on the east side of Don Mills Road, south of the entrance to the bus terminal. The connection to the station is that the racehorse was foaled at E.P. Taylor Windfield’s farm, located relatively nearby on Bayview Avenue.

Don Mills station also features a plaque in memory of worker John Marinzel, who died during the line’s construction.

The Permanent Temporary Terminal

Don Mills station could have been criticized for overbuilding its bus terminal, as it was planned to be an interim terminal, but the foresight has proven worthwhile, as no serious move to extend the SHEPPARD subway east from Don Mills has yet occurred. The TTC’s Rapid Transit Expansion Study in 2003 suggested a two-station extension east to Victoria Park, should the provincial government offer funds, but momentum for such an extension faded when funds did not materialize. Instead, in 2007, the City of Toronto proposed building an LRT east from Don Mills station to serve Sheppard Avenue as part of its Transit City proposal.

The Sheppard East LRT would have been challenging to integrate with the SHEPPARD subway at Don Mills. A number of options were considered, including a connection between LRT vehicles and the subway via stairs and elevators from a platform in the middle of Sheppard Avenue, to extending the SHEPPARD subway east to Consumers Road for an easier connection. In the end, TTC planners suggested having the Sheppard East LRT dive into a tunnel at Consumers Road, pass beneath Highway 404 and emerge either onto the southern subway platform, or a new platform built into Don Mills’ mezzanine level. Although ground broke for the Sheppard East LRT in 2009, the project was cancelled by incoming mayor Rob Ford in December 2010. Even when Toronto City Council revived the proposal in 2012, provincial funding problems delayed a relaunch. Metrolinx, which is in charge of constructing the Sheppard East LRT, does not expect to start construction until the Finch West LRT is completed, 2023 at the earliest. As of 2017, local politicians are asking that the SHEPPARD subway be extended instead, even though funds for such a project remain unavailable.

The terminal stations of Toronto’s subway network differ considerably depending on whether they were planned as temporary stops, or if the TTC expected the end of the subway line to stay a while. Keele and Woodbine were designed as modest neighbourhood stations with terminal facilities that were going to be replaced in two years’ time. Islington and Warden were sprawling structures that served as the end of the subway for twelve years before being supplanted by Kipling and Kennedy. Wilson was supplanted earlier than expected by Sheppard West, leaving it with space that it has had to block off or reduce. The longest-serving terminal station on the TTC network is Finch, which continues to justify its space, even as plans are afoot to try and extend the YONGE subway into Richmond Hill.

Don Mills was planned as a temporary terminal, and has remained a terminal longer than its designers hoped. Despite this, the fact that the SHEPPARD subway was built only a fraction of the distance it was intended to serve means that the number of riders coming through the station are dwarfed by the amount of space offered. This will continue until at least 2023 while the fate of rapid transit on Sheppard Avenue East remains in limbo. It may be that a Sheppard East LRT will bring more passengers through its large mezzanine. Or it may be that its large bus terminal will be supplanted as subway trains finally head east into northern Scarborough.

Service Notes (as of May 7, 2017):

  • Off-Site Resources:
  • Line: 4 Sheppard
  • Hours of Operation:
    First Train to Sheppard-Yonge: 5:31 a.m. weekdays, 5:47 a.m. Saturdays/holidays, 8:05 a.m. Sundays.
    Last Train to Sheppard-Yonge: 2:25 a.m.
  • Address: 1700 Sheppard Avenue East
  • Opened: November 22, 2002
  • Wheelchair Accessible Since: November 22, 2002 (upon opening)
  • Average Weekday Ridership: 37,050 (2018), 33,760 (2015), 32,900 (2014), 30,760 (2013), 33,140 (2012), 35,400 (2011), 34,940 (2010), 31,500 (2009), 31,540 (2008)
  • Entrances: 3
    • Sheppard Avenue East, North side
    • Sheppard Avenue East, South side
    • Fairview Mall Parking Garage, Automatic (closest exit to Fairview Mall)
  • Escalators (click here for maintenance schedule):
    • Main Entrance To Concourse (Down At AM Rush; Up Other Times)
    • Bus Terminal To Concourse (Down At All Times)
    • Bus Terminal To Concourse (Up At All Times)
    • Concourse To Platform (Down At All Times)
    • Concourse To Platform (Up At All Times)
  • Elevators (click here for maintenance schedule):
    • Main Entrance to Concourse
    • Bus Terminal to Concourse
    • Automatic Entrance to Bus Terminal
    • Southeast Entrance to Concourse
    • Concourse to Platform
  • Parking: 1800 Sheppard Avenue East (366 spaces). Enter from the north side of Sheppard Avenue East, east of Don Mills Road. The entrance is on the west side of Fairview Mall.
  • Centre platform
  • Presto Gates Installed

TTC Surface Connections:

Former TTC Surface Connections

Regional Bus Connections

Don Mills Station Image Archive

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