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Real City Matters

Join us Tuesday night for a discussion about municipal ethics in Toronto

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culture

Happy 60th Birthday, Yonge Line!

A look back at the politics and personalities on hand at the birth of Toronto's first subway line.

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If it hadn’t been for a change in plans by Ontario Premier Leslie Frost, the opening of Toronto’s first subway line 60 years ago yesterday might have been marred by bruised egos among city councillors.

In the days leading up to the March 30, 1954, launch of the Yonge line, several members of the City’s Board of Control bellyached that Mayor Allan Lamport would be only the third-highest-ranked dignitary at the opening ceremony, behind Frost and Metropolitan Toronto Chairman Frederick Gardiner. “For the mayor to be ignored is the silliest thing that could ever happen,” complained veteran controller David Balfour. “I object to Toronto being brushed off like this.” Fellow controller Leslie Saunders was irritated that Gardiner would share in the spotlight, as the City had guided most of the subway’s construction, while Metro was a recent provincial creation. Mayor Lamport remained unusually quiet about the matter, though he later engaged in a power struggle with Gardiner after becoming chairman of the TTC.

The plan called for Frost to throw the official switch by himself—but, sensing an opportunity to smooth some ruffled political feathers, he called on Lamport to share the duty. At 11:30 a.m., Frost’s left hand and Lamport’s right switched on the power. Over 40 years after the first serious attempt to build a subway had been defeated by voters, and nearly five after the construction had started, Toronto’s red subway trains were ready to roll.

Hop aboard our gallery train, and join the 200,000 passengers who tested the Yonge line on day one.

Additional material from the March 27, 1954, March 29, 1954, March 30, 1954, and March 31, 1954 editions of the Globe and Mail; the March 29, 1954 and March 30, 1954 editions of the Telegram; and the March 29, 1954, March 30, 1954, and March 31, 1954 editions of the Toronto Star.

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