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Canada

THE WAY WE WERE: Elevation put Old Toronto on track to the future

In last week’s column I featured the interesting evolution of one of the city’s busiest downtown thoroughfares and one that will “hobble” traffic between Lake Shore Blvd. W. and Bremner Blvd. for the next 15 months.

An interesting feature of York St., as well as Cherry, Parliament, Sherbourne, Jarvis, Yonge and Bay and (most recently) Lower Simcoe Sts., are the “subways” (which is what any underpass beneath railway tracks was called in days past) that carry trains safely over city streets.

But it wasn’t always that way.

Some of those thoroughfares were often death traps.

Toronto’s new cross waterfront elevated viaduct to the rescue.

Visible in this unusual view, taken in the summer of 1928, several tradesmen can be seen working on the new elevated railway viaduct, originally requested by city officials after many of its downtown buildings were devastated by fire in April 1904. Upon completion, this $26 million ($400 million in 2019) viaduct would finally permit passenger trains, operated by both CNR and CPR, access to the city’s magnificent new Union Station. Though “officially” opened by Edward, the Prince of Wales on Aug. 6, 1927, it had thus far been severely underutilized because the $6 million (equivalent to $90 million in 2019 dollars) station had been designed with an elevated rail corridor in mind. This feature would permit pedestrians and vehicles safe access to and from the waterfront through “subways” (tunnels) under the multi-track rail corridor. The idea of a viaduct had been “on the books” ever since the first trains began crossing the young city’s waterfront in 1853.However, just who would pay for the massive viaduct became the subject of years of deliberation and although the federal government’s Railway Board ordered its construction in late 1908, another 16 years passed before the Viaduct Agreement was signed by all concerned and work could commence. It was exactly 89 years ago tomorrow that the first trains arrived at Union Station on the new high level tracks. In the background of this photo, selected from the Toronto Public Library’s Digital Collection, is the Royal York Hotel, still a year away from opening as well as a view of the south side of today’s Union Station. In the foreground, the future opening for the southbound York St. vehicle “subway” and the adjacent pedestrian “teamway” are seen.

It was just a few minutes after 10:30 on the morning of Jan. 21, 1930, that the first of two trains inaugurated passenger service over two of the six tracks of the new elevated railway viaduct that connected with Toronto’s magnificent Union Station. In this view CNR’s Train No. 208 from Stratford – Engineer Brown, Conductor Saunders – enters the station while from the east CPR’s Train No. 601 – Engineer Lloyd, Conductor Hirons – carrying passengers from Peterborough made its entrance at exactly the same moment. A crowd of more than 300 railway, city officials and lucky invited guests, led by Toronto mayor Bert Wemp, gave a resounding three cheers. After decades of pleading, designing and building, Toronto’s illusive cross waterfront viaduct was finally operational.

See also torontosun.com/author/mike-filey

mfiley@postmedia.com

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