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Historicist: Opposing the Subway

In the late 1950s, several suburban municipalities tried to block construction of the Bloor-Danforth and University subway lines.

Cartoon, the Telegram, August 21, 1958

Cartoon, the Telegram, August 21, 1958.

As we’ve witnessed this week, city councillors have no qualms about promoting public transit schemes in their wards regardless of whatever makes sense across the entire city. Elected representatives from Etobicoke and Scarborough who back contentious new subway lines fit within a long tradition of suburban politicians thinking within their fiefdoms. Back in the 1950s, their predecessors in Metropolitan Toronto were among the loudest opponents of the construction of the Bloor-Danforth and University subway lines out of belief that their constituents would be slammed with tax bills for infrastructure they would never use.

While leaders in inner suburbs like East York, Leaside, and Swansea embraced a new east-west subway to relieve congestion, their western counterparts were less enthusiastic when the TTC posted signs in March 1957 promising a future line along Bloor Street. Objections were mainly financial, with fears that the costs associated with building a new transit line would force cuts to other public works projects. Some officials, like reeves H.O. Waffle of Etobicoke and Chris Tonks of York, felt Metro needed to finish ongoing infrastructure projects before proceeding with a subway. In the small lakeshore communities of Long Branch, Mimico, and New Toronto, officials resented the extra cash commuters paid to travel downtown thanks to the TTC’s fare zone system. “I will never support a Bloor subway until the TTC institutes a single-fare system,” declared Mimico Mayor Gus Edwards. “The outer zones are paying double fares for the present [Yonge] subway and they never use it.”

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A group shot of the 1962 Metropolitan Toronto Council, featuring several players in this week’s story. Back row, left to right: Kenneth M. Ostrander, David Rotenberg, Alex Hodgins, Walter Saunders, Laurie T. Simonsky, Charlie H. Hiscott, William C. Davidson, William Dennison, Donald R. Russell, Harold Menzies, Frederick J. Beavis, George W. Bull, W. Frank Clifton, True Davidson. Front row, left to right: H. O. Waffle, Marie Curtis, Donald D. Summerville, Dorothy Wagner, Nathan Phillips, William R. Allen, Norman C. Goodhead, Albert M. Campbell, William L. Archer, Margaret Campbell, Hugh M. Griggs. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 4999.

Funding a subway was challenging, as the federal government refused to offer any money and the province gave little hint of subsidies. Metro Council settled on a formula to split the cost between taxpayers and the TTC, the percentages of which caused months of rancorous debate before settling on 55 per cent Metro, 45 per cent TTC. When Metro council voted to request the necessary permissions from the provincial government, especially from the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), to proceed with the new subway lines in February 1958, the local councils in Long Branch and New Toronto unanimously passed resolutions to lobby Queen’s Park to ignore Metro’s requests. Long Branch Reeve Marie Curtis felt residents would be hurt by a tax increase of roughly $7 per year. “I fear we are being bamboozled,” Curtis observed. “I am afraid these taxes will tie people up so tightly it will make them move out of here, the same as some of us moved from the city.” Over in Mimico, councillors declared that the new lines would be “of doubtful benefit to our municipality.”

Over the next few months, other suburban leaders doubted the wisdom of financing a subway. Some were riled when Metro Council rejected a monorail system study championed by Tonks and Waffle. During a marathon 13-and-a-half-hour meeting on July 3, 1958, Metro Chairman Frederick Gardiner urged his colleagues to “show vision and courage,” citing the Fathers of Confederation and the signatories of the Declaration of Independence for displaying the foresight to support large projects which benefitted all. Toronto Mayor Nathan Phillips felt the “pulse of the people” favoured a subway. Metro Council voted 16 to 8 in favour of commencing work on the subway, with all of the dissenting votes coming from the suburbs. Among the extreme responses was Tonks’ belief that his children and grandchildren would curse him for the debt legacy a subway might impose on York. “Don’t be misled by visionaries who would lead you to believe they see things the rest of us don’t,” he noted.

Metro councillors attempting to catch a few winks during a 13 and a half hour meeting  Left picture: H O  Waffle (in shades) and Donald Summerville (head resting)  Middle picture: Chris Tonks  Right picture: Albert Campbell  The Toronto Star, July 4, 1958

Metro councillors attempting to catch a few winks during a 13-and-a-half hour meeting. Left picture: H.O. Waffle (in shades) and Donald Summerville (head resting). Middle picture: Chris Tonks. Right picture: Albert Campbell. The Toronto Star, July 4, 1958.

One by one, six opposing suburbs announced they would oppose the subway during the OMB hearing in August 1958. Despite having discussed subway plans for three years, lawyers representing the suburbs requested a two-month delay to prepare their case. OMB Chairman Lorne Cumming refused. The hearings devolved into shouting matches between the suburban lawyers and a belligerent Gardiner. Beyond taxation issues, subway opponents argued that the project was the first since the formation of Metro in 1954 which didn’t offer “equality of service” to all of its municipalities.

The suburban case suffered a setback on day two when lawyers representing Etobicoke, New Toronto, and Scarborough withdrew, citing lack of time to digest lengthy reports. York’s lawyer went on vacation, leaving only Long Branch and Mimico to carry on. The two tiny municipalities dragged the hearings on for as long as they could, employing filibusters and stalling tactics like subpoenaing TTC officials. Newspaper editorials criticized the suburbs for their obstinacy. Mimico lawyer George Gauld admitted he had “a hopeless task,” but insisted the little guys had to fight on. Within the opposing suburbs, councils voted to ask the OMB to force a Metro-wide public vote on the subway, a power the OMB lacked. Frustrations among subway proponents grew to the point that Toronto alderman Philip Givens sponsored a Metro Council motion to force the amalgamation of the three lakeshore communities into Etobicoke to eliminate their opposition, a move which would happen in 1967.

Source: the Telegram, August 19, 1958

Source: the Telegram, August 19, 1958.

On September 5, 1958, the OMB ruled in favour of the subway, giving permission for Metro to spend $102.2 million and the TTC $98.6 million to fund the project. They had no qualms with Metro’s plan for a two mill property tax increase over the next 10 years. Metro wanted shovels in the ground by year’s end. While newspaper editorials urged officials to get on with it, opponents fumed. Doomsday scenarios about the state of public works and threats of local plebiscites abounded. Edwards believed Toronto taxpayers weren’t as enthusiastic about a subway as generally depicted—“There is only a small percentage of the people who are inconvenienced at the intersection of Bloor and Yonge.”

The lakeshore communities, along with Etobicoke and Scarborough, went to the Ontario Court of Appeals to reverse the OMB’s decision. When their attempt was turned down in November 1958, they attacked the local media for politicking in favour of the subway. Scarborough Reeve Albert Campbell felt that past Toronto mayors didn’t act on major issues until they consulted with supportive papers. “This kind of ‘government by the press’ may suit Toronto,” he told the Star. “It is of no interest to us in Scarborough.” Curtis believed the media was out to destroy Long Branch and other small municipalities who opposed the subway.

In municipal elections that December, all of the opposing suburban leaders were re-elected. While Campbell soon switched sides on the subway debate when he saw no further alternatives, Curtis, Edwards, and New Toronto Mayor Donald Russell pressed on. They threatened to go to the Supreme Court of Canada if a flat transit fare wasn’t enacted. The TTC laughed. Councillors in the lakeshore communities continued to resist paying for the line, insisting that their residents had nothing to gain and that full funding should come from the fare box. Lawyers who suggested they should raise the white flag were ignored.

Marie Curtis gets the boot, while the new Metro Executive Committee smiles for a group shot  The Telegram, January 14, 1959

Marie Curtis gets the boot, while the new Metro Executive Committee smiles for a group shot. The Telegram, January 14, 1959.

On January 7, 1959, Long Branch, Mimico, and New Toronto filed a Supreme Court appeal against Metro Council, the OMB, and the TTC to halt the subway. Curtis felt assured of victory. A week later, she left a Metro Council meeting in tears after she was voted off the executive committee, on which she had served for three years. Pro-subway suburban councillors, including Campbell, were voted in. Applying the 1950s equivalent of Godwin’s Law, Curtis bitterly observed that “Hitler also tried to stamp out people for what they believed, but he didn’t succeed.” Edwards dubbed her “Saint Marie, the Martyr.”

When the Supreme Court assembled to hear the subway case on February 9, 1959, it considered both the suburban appeal and a Metro motion to quash it. The lakeshore communities, by now admitting the project was all but inevitable, pressed for the project to be financed by 30-year debentures, a move Metro claimed would add $90 million in costs. Suburban lawyers claimed the OMB’s decision to allow a special 10-year tax levy was illegal, that Metro could not force future councils to levy taxes unless they paid off debentures. They charged that Metro could become an “evil godfather.”

The court gave its verdict on February 11, 1959, ruling 3 to 2 in favour of Metro on both actions. There was one slight window of opportunity for further action from the suburbs, as Metro and the TTC had not yet signed an official contract, which could be contested once signatures were applied. Edwards and Russell vowed to fight on, promising to meet with the other lakeshore communities for their next move, including further Supreme Court cases. The TTC used the ruling to give utilities the go-ahead to begin relocating their lines underneath University Avenue.

Headline: the Telegram, February 11, 1959

Headline: the Telegram, February 11, 1959.

When Metro Council voted on one of the last obstacles to construction, a new expropriation bylaw, in April 1959, only the lakeshore communities voted against it. Curtis still seethed that Metro won the Supreme Court case on technicalities involving monetary amounts, while Edwards continued to warn the $200 million cost was an illusion. Edwards also opposed early discussions about the Spadina line, sticking to his line that suburbanites were subsidizing subway passengers.

The three lakeshore leaders proved sore losers when they refused to show up for the groundbreaking ceremony for the new subway lines on November 16, 1959. Edwards boycotted the ceremony because “when the people in my municipality are paying two mills a year and a double fare to subsidize subway riders, I don’t feel like celebrating.”

While the transit file didn’t go Marie Curtis’s way in 1959, she left a positive enduring legacy that year. On June 5, Marie Curtis Park was officially opened, on former residential land which had been destroyed during Hurricane Hazel. At the ceremony, she noted that the park showed that “we can go a long way if we pull together. Long Branch couldn’t have done this alone. We needed Metro.” She had also proven the lakeshore communities could pull together, even if they fought a losing cause.

In the end, the provincial government offered a $60 million loan to build the Bloor-Danforth and University lines, which shortened the 10-year construction window. The University line opened in 1963, the first phase of the Bloor-Danforth in 1966, and a Bloor extension into Etobicoke in 1968. The fare zone system was scrapped on New Year’s Day 1973.

We’ll give the last word to Toronto resident Alfred Carswell, whose letter to the Star in September 1958 on the craziness surrounding the subway issue may reverberate with those frustrated with our current city council.

When election time comes around, voters in the suburbs which oppose the subway project should remember the farce their representatives are now putting up in opposition to progress. They state they know they are fighting a losing battle but they will go on with it. It has been obvious for some years that the main transit routes were inadequately serviced, especially Bloor-Danforth and almost to similar degree Queen. One wonders if any of Curtis, Edwards, and Co. have had the experience of literally being pushed into a streetcar with the doors trying to close behind your back. Not once, but most mornings and evenings of the week this jostling, pushing and trampling on people’s feet has been going on for a long time.

Additional material from the June 18, 1958, September 6, 1958, February 10, 1959, and April 22, 1959 editions of the Globe and Mail; the March 5, 1957, February 27, 1958, July 4, 1958, August 21, 1958, September 2, 1958, September 6, 1958, November 11, 1958, November 13, 1958, December 10, 1958, January 14, 1959, February 11, 1959, February 12, 1959, June 5, 1959, September 23, 1959, and November 16, 1959 editions of the Toronto Star; and the July 4, 1958, August 19, 1958, August 20, 1958, August 22, 1958, August 25, 1958, January 14, 1959, February 9, 1959, February 10, 1959, February 11, 1959 editions of the Telegram.

Every Saturday, Historicist looks back at the events, places, and characters that have shaped Toronto into the city we know today.

CORRECTION: May 12, 2013, 3:45 PM The article originally said that Long Branch Reeve Marie Curtis believed residents would be hurt by a tax increase of roughly $70 per year, when the actual amount was $7 per year, as this story now reflects.

Comments

  • No

    “Metro Council voted 16 to 8 in favour of commencing work on the subway,
    with all of the dissenting votes coming from the suburbs.”

    That sounds familiar. All the more reason to take the planning and decision making out of the hands of politicians because they’re more concerned about what’s coming up in 4 years than the good of the city.

    It’s amazing that the suburban contingent was just as insular then as they are now. I have a feeling that the uproar over the DRL will be just the same despite the fact that it would benefit commuters coming from North York and western Scarborough the most.

    • Don River

      Sounds familiar if you were around in the 50s and 60s. In more recent times, however, the story is far different.

      When the TTC proposed another downtown line in the 80s, it was Jack Layton and his fellow downtown Councillors who quashed it. They didn’t want their neighbourhoods messed with.

      David Miller named downtowner Adam Giambrone as TTC Chair, but a DRL was absent from his Transit City master-plan. Then when the province came to the table with billions, Giambrone decided to stick with his legacy project (sadly, with the backing of Council). And even when York Region came very close to getting the Yonge extension funded in 2009-10, something that would have overloaded the Yonge line without a DRL, Giambrone still rejected the city’s number one transit priority, if he even thought about it at all. Considering that it is unknown when billions of transit funding will come our way again, I can only feel disgust towards Giambrone, and disappointment with Miller (and Council) for believing in him.

      So while suburban politicians can certainly be myopic on transit, I don’t want to hear any crap about insular suburbanites being responsible for killing or delaying a DRL. Sure, some are talking the talk, but where are the true-blue downtown supporters of the DRL? Are any of them truly championing this cause? Or could it possibly be that most Councillors in the core, in their heart of hearts, would rather not see the thing built?

      • lukev

        It’s not about insular suburbanites or urbanites. It’s about stupid politicians.

        How did Madrid build 100 km of subway in 10 years? They took the politicians out of it. It was designed by some bureaucrat with a crayon and it worked!!

        • Don River

          E.U. money, that’s how.

          Spain is also way over-extended financially right now with an unemployment rate of 27% so they might not be the best example at the moment.

          I love subways as much as the next guy, but we don’t need nor should we build 100 km of subway in 10 years.

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            EU money for Madrid, why not Ottawa/Queen’s Park money for Toronto? We may or may not need 100km of new tunnels, but we could certainly put the equivalent money toward a variety of transit initiatives.

          • Don River

            Ottawa has traditionally avoided funding local transit. The Harper gov’t certainly deserves credit for contributing to the Spadina extension, but that is a regional project as much as it is local since it crosses Toronto’s boundary into ridings the Conservatives can win, which is why they will also likely fund the Yonge extension to Richmond Hill when the timing is right. We can always ask them for regular transit funding, but I doubt they’d say yes.

            We’ve been getting Queen’s Park money for decades, but it’s almost always for individual projects rather than sustained funding. Under that system we’ve fallen behind in our transit expansion, hence the current debate over transit taxes.

    • odyssey1234

      Actually, it sounds exactly the opposite. It’s the downtowners who oppose building subways in Scarborough. It’s the left that wants to ram streetcars down our throat instead of subways.

      • Subways subways subways

        Fiscal conservatives support building subways where it makes financial sense to do so. Fiscal conservatives do not support building subways that will perpetually lose money until the city goes bankrupt.

        • Don River

          If extending B-D to STC is such a risk, then the Sheppard subway should have bankrupted us years ago.

          • TorontoComment

            The Sheppard subway does cost a ton more to operate than it brings in in fares. Remember all the talk about mothballing it years ago?

          • Don River

            Not disputing that. But we’re still not anywhere close to bankruptcy.

          • http://twitter.com/GTAMOVEnetwork GTA MOVE Network

            We do have a larger portion of TTC revenues going to operate the Sheppard line which means fare increases pay for that subway line rather than improving service system-wide. It also means a higher TTC cost portion requiring increased subsidy from the city…mostly paid for by residential property taxes, which means a higher tax burden

            The TTC has also cut back on service making the ride longer and more uncomfortable.

            The Sheppard subway may not be bankrupting the city but costs are coming at the expense of the people living in Toronto

          • andrew97

            I’m amazed that we’ve decided to make the Sheppard subway a permanent albatross around the TTC’s neck — I’ll never understand why it’s not being shut down and converted to LRT, so that the Sheppard LRT can run straight through. It’s a huge missed opportunity and lack of vision on the part of transit planners. Sheppard will be the next generation’s Scarborough RT.

          • tommy

            I have a feeling that not converting the Sheppard subway to LRT is a way of forcing Don Mills to be a future transit hub. Eventually Don Mills will connect to a North/South LRT or DRL, so forcing a transfer at the station will stop people from traveling all the way to Yonge, reducing volume on the Yonge line.

          • http://twitter.com/GTAMOVEnetwork GTA MOVE Network

            For the sake of transfers it doesn’t matter whether the line is LRT or subway. A 3car Eglinton line train will actually carry about 60-70 more people than the current 4car Sheppard subway trains.
            The big question is whether the transfers (as many as 3 if you travel from Scarborough to York University) along Sheppard are a minor annoyance or a significant inconvenience.

            Doing the conversion and a full extension east and west will eliminate that transfer but at what cost?

      • DGM

        LRTs are not streetcars.

  • Asarochester

    What is truly amazing is that Toronto was virtually the only city in NA debating subways in the late 50s – virtually every other city, especially in the US was debating which neighbourhoods to carve up with huge new freeways armed with massive federal highway money. In Toronto Plan B was a “crosstown” expressway north of Dupont – be thankful that never got built!

    • lukev

      the crosstown & spadina expressways didn’t die till the late 60s

      • Asarochester

        Yes but the push to build those expwys would have become irresistible had we not built the yonge and bloor subways. Torontonians saw there could be an alternative unlike Montreal which waited to build subways and built a lot more urban highways.

        • nevilleross

          At least when Montreal built subways, the city really got into it and built enough to cover the city (and at a deeper enough level for snow and ice water not to affect it) unlike what happened in Toronto. That said, we should have been building Transit City to its full potential.

          • http://twitter.com/GTAMOVEnetwork GTA MOVE Network

            Montreal built a great network but now they face a huge problem … they do not have the funds for expansion and the rubber-tire technology they use (and the weather) restricts the trains to mostly underground operations. The recent extension to Laval was very costly and the new AMT red line will help but that’s about it.

  • LongBranch

    I have lived in Long Branch my entire life, and can fully understand the opposition of our former village leaders. What was the benefit of the original subway line supposed to have been for the Lakeshore boroughs? None. To this day, Long Branch STILL have horrible TTC service as compared to wards in the core. Long Branch has always been, and probably always will be, shafted by our eastern Metro neighbours.

    • LongBranch

      … has** horrible …

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Walter-Lis/571716919 Walter Lis

      Originally, the Queen Subway was to have been the next transit project after the Yonge line. The Queen Subway was to have used the streetcars of the time, which would have eventually become a LRT subway. Two western branches, Dundas/Bloor and Queen/Lake Shore, would have provided more service to the southern parts of the then Metropolitan Toronto. The Queenway right-of-way would have become part of the Queen Subway expansion over time.

      As it turned out, transit use on the Bloor/Danforth increased enough that it became the next project for rapid transit expansion.

      • http://twitter.com/GTAMOVEnetwork GTA MOVE Network

        It would be interesting if the suburban mayors of Long Branch and Mimico had pushed for the Queen/Queensway subway / rapid transit line and also (when GO appeared) pushed for high frequency GO service…

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=607770406 Lucile Barker

      I use the Long Branch twice a week. There is better service there than the Christie bus, or even Mortimer. Don’t get me started on Vic Pk! I’d rather take Long Branch any day!

    • Still_Waters3

      The politics of envy are alive and well, obviously.

  • hamish

    What a well-done, well-timed post! Lots of detail; the cartoon should be re-drawn for the current “Clowncil”.

  • TomLuTon

    There were two extensions in 1968. West from Keele to Islington, and east from Woodbine to Warden

  • http://twitter.com/GTAMOVEnetwork GTA MOVE Network

    I really found this article interesting as it makes it clear that objections and discussion and debates regarding public transit have been as complicated as we could ever imagine. Even the personalities of yesterday (names I connect with parks and arenas, mostly) show remarkable similarities to those involved in things today.

    One small comment: “leaders in inner suburbs like East York, Leaside, and Swansea embraced a new east-west subway to relieve congestion, their western counterparts were less enthusiastic” implies that Swansea is in the east when it was a western suburb of Toronto.

  • iSkyscraper

    Great post, should be required reading for all who follow the clown show down at City Hall.

    Certainly shows that in our very weak political-driven system of transit planning, the absence of a strong leader like Gardiner allows chaos to reign.

  • EDMUNDOCONNOR

    “Among the extreme responses was Tonks’ belief that his children and
    grandchildren would curse him for the debt legacy a subway might impose
    on York.”

    You could ask his child, Alan Tonks, and his grandchild, Chris Tonks Jr. what they think of that statement.

    Incidentally, the Eglinton LRT’s western launch site for tunnelling is located a stone’s throw away from, of all things, Chris Tonks Arena. I have a feeling he would not be amused at the irony.

  • Matthew

    “Long tradition of suburban politicians thinking within their fiefdoms.” To be fair, many downtown councillors do this too.

    • Replied

      Fortunately they’re not banging on the drums and demanding that dubious multi billion dollar mega projects get built right on in the middle of their fiefdoms because why? Because stop screwing downtowners and treating them like second class citizens!

  • Mr Trainbeans

    The amount of money spent on public transit in this city is enough to buy every single household a new car every few years. That ought to say something about its obsolescence as a concept. It’s a shame that almost a century after the mass adoption of the automobile began, nobody is brave enough to think outside the box.