Huge rail overpass in west-central area would carve strip out of many backyards
This story first appeared in The Globe and Mail on Saturday, September 20, 2003
By STEPHEN WICKENS
Residents of some west-central Toronto neighbourhoods are on a collision course with GO Transit if plans are approved for a huge project involving construction of an elevated railway bridge.
A report produced for GO — which has not been made public — calls for a bridge of up to two kilometres in length and the expropriation of property to make room for additional and reconfigured track from Wallace Avenue (north of Bloor Street) to Innes Avenue (south of Rogers Road)
The project would form part of a plan to bring all-day GO service to towns north of the city.
The Bradford Corridor Planning Study Final Report, dated March of 2002, came to light at an Ontario Municipal Board prehearing session last week. The Globe and Mail had an opportunity to examine the document after it was turned over to representatives of a developer appealing the city’s rejection of plans to construct residential buildings near the tracks, south of Dupont Street.
Residents of the affected neighbourhoods expressed shock about the existence of the plans.
“Nobody consulted us, but that’s the way these guys work,” said Carey Rookwod of Prescott Avenue, before going to get a neighbour to view a copy of plans that would carve a strip out of their back yards.
Neither of the city councillors who represent the affected areas is familiar with the plans either.
“I heard about a report, but I never saw anything,” Ward 17 Councillor Fred Dominelli said.
Ward 18 Councillor Mario Silva said he has heard nothing about the existence of such a report or any talk about a railway bridge or expropriation. “I’m supportive of GO Transit, but this sounds outrageous. I’ll be asking the city planners what they know.”
GO Transit managing director Gary McNeil denies there has been any attempt to suppress the report. “I’m not sure if this report has been made, quote, public. It’s more a study of how you can physically get to all-day service in the corridor, so if we get infrastructure money to build some of this stuff we know roughly the money we’re looking at for what we’re required to do. It’s probably a crossing that’s in the 15- to 20-year time frame. There’s no need to get people’s concern up when it might not even happen.”
Mr. Rookwod expressed concern about noise. “High-speed trains right in my back yard – that’s going to be loud,” he said.
Some barely finished townhomes on Rankin Crescent and a 10-metre-wide strip of the Campbell Avenue Playground are recommended for expropriation – prompting an Antler Street resident, who would give his name only as Mike, to say, “This neighbourhood has changed a lot since the Holly Jones murder. These guys sound like they want to pick a fight with the wrong people.”
The plan recommends expropriations and a bridge near Steeles Avenue and in York Region as well as in the west-central area.
The big problem in the inner city is a railway-level crossing near Dupont Street that reduces capacity and forces trains to slow on both the north-south Canadian National and east-west Canadian Pacific tracks.
Delcan Corp., an international engineering and consulting firm that produced the report, lists two options for the elevation of the north-south tracks used by GO trains, but acknowledges in one case that “the height and length of the structure will be a significant visual intrusion for approximately two kilometres [beginning south of Bloor].”
The other elevated option calls for a shorter, steeper bridge that would “significantly increase locomotive noise,” according to a transit planner and engineer who viewed the documents at The Globe’s request.
The Delcan report also lists two options involving tunnels but says each appears impractical.
“They want to tear down the Gardiner Expressway in one part of town, and put up essentially the same thing up here,” said Ted Davidson, a consultant for Ridgevest Developments Ltd., the appellant in the OMB case. “You don’t think they would try to ram something like this through in a wealthier neighbourhood, do you?”
Mr. McNeil, of GO Transit, called the Gardiner comparison unfair. “It’s like a scare tactic,” he said. “This would be the width of a two-lane road. There are lots of things we can do — we can put in pedestrian connections.”
Lawyer Alan Heisey, who represents GO Transit and CN in the OMB case, cautioned last week that the GO expansion might not happen for several years. “The planning horizon is 30 years,” he said. “The important thing is that we protect the rail corridors for the public good. It’s part of the city’s official plan.”
Our traditional approach to public real estate, especially properties at our major transit stations, involves giving away huge amounts of value to private developers (or wasting it on surface parking), while world leaders are working to master land-value capture and land-value trade relationships.
By STEPHEN WICKENS
What if First Gulf controlled the land surrounding Kennedy station, 25 publicly owned acres that for decades have been served by subway, SRT, GO trains and multiple bus routes. It’s a site whose potential value has soared recently, what with the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT to open in a few years and a reasonable likelihood a Scarborough subway extension and the Mayor’s SmartTrack will roll too.
Add in tracts of nearby, largely undeveloped private lands, and the Kennedy site’s size rivals First Gulf’s Unilever (now renamed East Harbour), which sits behind various moats – river, highway, rail corridor, monolithic land uses and long blocks. Unilever might eventually get lots of transit, but even if Broadview is extended south and a bridge to the West Donlands is added, stitching that site into the urban east-downtown fabric effectively will be a massive challenge.
The comparison’s timely because one site needs urgent attention – and despite media coverage and city hall chatter, it is not Unilever. Kennedy was the natural site for a “downtown” or “centre” in Scarborough and transformation on several levels should be inevitable: It already has one-seat rides to Union, Bloor-Yonge, Scarborough Centre and Markham Centre, and soon will offer one-seat rides to Yonge-Eglinton and the airport. But it’s a hub without a champion. It lacks institutional support or gainfully employed minds offering vision. Shame on us, not just our politicians, bureaucrats and media.
Aside from an opportunity for profitable development to partly offset infrastructure costs and boost ridership enough to justify costly rapid transit priority for low-density Scarborough, Kennedy could pay back for generations if it’s the place that finally gets GTA decision-makers to understand public real estate in ways that underpin sustainable funding for the world’s leading urban transportation entities (almost all in east Asia).
But time’s running out at this hub: Options disappear every time politicians make absurd promises and every time Metrolinx and the TTC award contracts. The greatest urgency stems from the fact that plans still call for the Crosstown to dive underground at Ionview Road, nearly a kilometre west of Kennedy station. Tunneling made sense when the LRT was to swing north into the Scarborough Rapid Transit corridor and functionally replace the SRT as our de facto subway extension to Scarborough Town Centre – albeit with transfer for Bloor-Danforth riders. But although one-seat service to STC by subway now looks like a lock, station plans weren’t adjusted.
Short term, keeping the LRT on the surface and scrapping the tunnels saves us far more than the roughly $85-million the city owes Metrolinx for wasted work since council dumped the old LRT plan in 2013. Long-term, we’ll end up extending the Crosstown east and keeping the LRT on the surface from the west also eliminates the need for costly tunnels to the east. In fact, if we extend the LRT east, kill the tunnels and use SmartSpur (a plan with so much potential that those who promised the Scarborough subway have forbidden city staff from studying it properly) to connect with STC, we’d be able to eventually use a shorter more efficient route than any subway option planners have studied recently – if or when we can ever honestly justify a subway extension.
But the biggest long-term benefit will come if Kennedy station’s real estate can catalyze a long-overdue revolution in North American transit funding and planning. Kennedy’s special: We own the land; we can be that greedy developer reaping the profits. This is the basis of rail-plus-property, a business model that has played a huge role in making Hong Kong’s transit builder/operator a profitable company for 35-plus years (even if it isn’t perfect and people kvetch about transit there, too).
Historically, in Toronto, we give away land-value premiums to those who own sites near stations, some of which is unavoidable (we also twist transit plans and grasp for logic to justify alignments that mostly serve influential private interests and pension funds). MTRC of Hong Kong, trades its infrastructure spending for land-value through development and property management. Yes, we know Hong Kong is denser and their land-ownership regime is different, as are public-consultation sensibilities. But the big lessons of MTRC’s model can apply here if we’re smart enough in how we adapt the governance.
A huge but largely overlooked hurdle in our planning process is our lack of a publicly controlled entity for managing our transit-related real estate, working within a private-sector set of precepts to maximize its worth. This entity needs an empowered seat at the table from the earliest transit planning discussions and must be free to operate at an arm’s length from politicians and even transit operators. Rail-plus-property cannot remedy all our process flaws, but in its basest form it would generate significant revenue to defray capital costs, help us expedite operating efficiencies and earn the goodwill needed to allow those with taxing powers to use “funding tools” and “revenue tools” considered politically risky.
So if rail-plus-property is such a no-brainer, why haven’t we acted? We’re a riven town, trying to tame a political whipsaw. The right and some foolish mayors, going back at least a decade prior to amalgamation, have damaged the land-value-capture concept with laughable promises of free subways. The ideological left, meanwhile, tends to be fearful of anything that smacks of public-private partnerships, willfully ignoring how some competing international metropolises are getting things done. In 2003, the TTC was asked to study rail-plus-property (councillor David Miller got a motion passed at my urging, but the study was quietly ditched when he became mayor). Provincial and city reports on funding strategies in recent years have demonstrated a thin understanding of LVC. An August 2013 discussion paper commissioned by Metrolinx was somewhat encouraging (though hopes there are waning since the provincial entity quietly shut down its business-case department in the spring of 2016).
Recent off-the-record discussions with sources indicate some of our bureaucrats are waking up, though for now, we continue to rip ourselves off. We talk about transit being an investment, forgetting that real investors aggressively seek ROI.
Viewed through a rail-plus-property lens, current plans for Kennedy would have us asking:
– Why does the TTC cling to the quaint but expensive notion that stations are costs while cities capable of continuous building increasingly view them as revenue properties with trains rolling through the basement? At Kennedy, our thinking manifests itself in an unsubstantiated assumption that there’s net benefit in retaining a big bus terminal, even though it’s an impediment to transit-oriented development on a site that needs TOD. It makes even less sense if you consider that when the LRT is extended east, we won’t need a bus terminal at all.
– Why tie up swaths of valuable real estate for surface parking? The 1,000 or so spaces at Kennedy allow us to fill the equivalent of just one subway train for one round trip per day. Parking can and will be replaced in other formats via redevelopment – if it makes economic sense within a mix of uses that could include offices, shops, condos, schools, public services and recreation facilities. We need destinations around and atop our stations, a doubly crucial lesson for land-rich Metrolinx to learn, especially now that it should be preparing to strategically offset soaring operating costs from the Regional Express Rail all-day, two-way service promise.
– What thought is going into creating easy and pleasant pedestrian links between the Kennedy station zone and the surrounding areas? We think a lot about bus connections, a very good thing, but subways work best when the pedestrian is king of the catchment zones.
– Why aren’t the surrounding private land holders prominent in discussions at this end of the transit planning? Has there even been a public Kennedy station precinct planning process? Given the right lattice of incentive and disincentive, private developers will eagerly help us earn returns on investments and assets.
So, where are our bureaucrats?
Actually, contrary to popular misconception, most are at least okay. In Year 5 of his term, I’m concluding Andy Byford was probably a good hire and he seems to understand much of what I usually prattle on about. But he’s rightly focused first on turning around the TTC’s operating culture. He has some good people working for him on the capital planning side, but the parameters on their thinking appear to be constricted by assumptions desperately in need of re-examination. They lack the tools and direction required re-earn the public’s confidence (some TTC staff come across as chastened, bracing for further hits on the Spadina-York extension cost overruns and hugely wasteful standalone stations).
People at city planning have been good to talk to in recent years and seem to be awakening to the fact that established approaches are inadequate for such issues of organized complexity. Some seem to see the need for an entity that can wisely manage public land assets in the quest to make good on some of the excellent aims of the official plan, now more than a decade old (though spring-summer 2016 developments on the Scarborough subway front indicate the politics is trumping logic).
And the city is doing a real estate review, but the discussions seem to be on the overly secretive side.
Metrolinx dipped a toe in the waters of sanity by auctioning off Crosstown station sites – prior to excavation, no less – (though we’re hearing the first wave of RFPs were so restrictive that developer interest was disappointing). More disappointing is that rail-plus-property has apparently disappeared from the radar after recent behind-the-scenes moves that cost Metrolinx some of its brightest staff members.
So, again, imagine that First Gulf owns this Kennedy site, which may one day rival Union Station for the best, rapid-transit-served location in the GTA. At Unilever, First Gulf talks of 50,000 jobs and development investments worth $6-biillion (and let’s hope it succeeds). It’s obvious that First Gulf has worked hard to get the ear of the mayor’s office, just as Oxford Properties has at Scarborough Centre.
Maybe we, as a voters and residents, should try to do the same.
This was published before Toronto politicians decided to officially vote for the Eglinton-McCowan route, and before the intermediate stations were removed from the plan … moves that further strengthen the SmartSpur case (not that anyone is listening).
So we now have a short list of three Scarborough subway extension proposals, none of which makes sense. It’s tempting to conclude that we’ve been presented with a couple of hopeless straw-man options that serve only to make the indefensible but politically popular Eglinton-McCowan alignment look good by comparison.
But let’s forestall the usual Torontoish blackthought, especially considering at least one excellent alternative hasn’t yet been stifled by politicians or the wasteful last-century assumptions that still guide otherwise bright and well-meaning local transit bureaucrats.
Though the last-chance-for-sanity option doesn’t involve actual subway, it should be the most attractive option of all, even in Scarborough’s subway-or-bust circles, offering fast one-seat service to Union station and easy links to the Bloor-Danforth subway and the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT at Kennedy station far sooner and far cheaper than any subway proposal can.
The idea, to my knowledge, first appeared in an excellent but largely overlooked 400-page regional rail report published by Transport Action Ontario in July 2013. The Star’s Tess Kalinowski was one of the few to clue in, and she wrote about it back before we’d heard the term SmartTrack, before the strange subway-centred by-election in Scarborough-Guildwood, and before then-transportation minister Glen Murray proposed his two-stop subway extension from Kennedy station to Scarborough Town Centre using the existing SRT corridor.
The TAO idea seriously enhances the potential worth of SmartTrack, rather than siphoning ridership from it, so it might have a political hope, especially in the mayor’s office (if minds haven’t been closed there). SmartSpur, would piggyback onto the upgrades the province is already planning for the Stouffville GO/RER corridor and SmartTrack. And because that corridor passes so close to Scarborough Town Centre, it would require only 1.5 kilometres of shallow tunnel or even above-ground infrastructure (as opposed to the at least 6 km of deep bore tunnels proposed to link Kennedy station to STC.
Costs of the SmartSpur connection to STC from the SmartTrack line, using the east-west part of the current SRT corridor, were calculated at $425-million in 2010 dollars, with the full route to Malvern via Centennial College’s Progress Campus for around $1.7-billion. I’d guess it will cost more than that, but it should still be at least $2-billion less than the Eglinton-McCowan subway idea with its three stations (or even a fourth one at Danforth Road and Eglinton, which is being touted by some Scarborough councillors).
Just think what we could do with an extra $2-billion – putting it toward the decades-overdue relief line comes to mind, as do extensions of the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT, east from Kennedy and west from Mount Dennis (and EAs for those sections are already done).
On the downside, shuttle buses would likely be needed to briefly replace the SRT during parts of the construction and the TAO estimate does not include SRT demolition costs. And, of course, SmartTrack will eat up finite capacity at Union Station and on the Lakeshore East GO lines. But while all the subway extension ideas would aggravate crowding on the Bloor-Danforth, which is already at capacity westbound from Main Street in the morning rush, SmartSpur would provide some relief both on the line and at the dangerously overcrowded Bloor-Yonge transfer point.
Much of the justification for the Scarborough subway extension is to remove the SRT to subway transfer at Kennedy. SmartSpur goes a step further for Scarborough transit users by also removing the need for the transfer at Bloor-Yonge.
Some (including a few in the mayor’s office, I’m told), fear that SmartTrack would cannibalize some of the planned subway extension’s ridership, projections for which are already dubious. Instead of fearing that process, they should open their minds and to see that SmartTrack/SmartSpur could cannibalize the potential subway extension’s ridership altogether. All you need is subway-like frequency and TTC fares on the GO corridor — what the mayor promised in the election campaign, but taken to a logical conclusion in its application for Scarborough.
Of course, this is Toronto and there’s the possibility the idea makes too much sense.
Simple and brilliant as SmartSpur may be, it was my second choice for most of the past two years: A 10th subway alignment – shorter, more direct and with major value-capture possibilities from publicly owned real estate – would almost certainly have delivered the best value long-term. But Alignment 10 died behind the scenes at City Hall in recent weeks and didn’t even make city planning’s menu of nine, likely because transit entities and bureaucrats still don’t seem ready to wrap their heads around international best practice for funding and achieving returns on subway investments. They also have a costly and irrational aversion to open-cut and cut-and-cover subways, which, though messier to build, are far less expensive (see the Yonge line, Bloor to Eglinton).
Anyway, for now, there’s a ray of hope, and I’m calling it SmartSpur.
On Saturday May 4, 2019, at 10 a.m., I, Stephen Wickens, will lead the 12th-annual Death and Life of Upper Midway Jane’s Walk. I’ll be passing around the following pictures during the walk, but for participants who want a preview or if you’d would prefer to follow along with a smartphone or tablet, this link is for you.
Because Wise Guys has been demolished, we’ll meet at the corner of Morton Road and Danforth, south side between Main and Woodbine subway stations.
Here’s a link for those interested in the development application for the big site at Woodbine and Danforth that includes Valumart the big parking lot behind it.
Here’s a link to a piece I wrote for a former chief planner Paul Bedford for his UofT planning students. It looks at what Jane Jacobs suggested in 2004 for people trying to revitalize the East Danforth.
It wasn’t the top story of the day, what with details emerging about James Earl Ray’s stay in Toronto after gunning down Martin Luther King. But even with a federal election campaign moving into the home stretch, the TTC’s recommendation to Metro Council that we make our next subway-building priority a line through the core at Queen Street was front-page news on June 12, 1968.
Toronto had opened Bloor-Danforth extensions into Scarborough and Etobicoke the previous month and would break ground on the Yonge extension north from Eglinton less than four months later.
Here, in the interests of adding historical perspective to the current Downtown Relief Line discussions, we provide the non-bylined Star story from that day, with a few footnotes at the end.
$200 million Queen subway proposed; TTC to curtail University service
The Toronto Transit Commission yesterday proposed construction of a 7.75 mile, $150- to $200-million Queen St. subway and almost simultaneously revealed it is reducing service on the already existing University Ave. subway.
The 15-station Queen subway stretching from Roncesvalles Ave. in the west and curving north to meet the Donlands Ave. subway station on the Bloor-Danforth line in the east was proposed to Metro Council. If approved, it would probably be built after the North Yonge extension is completed in 1972. (1)
The decision to cancel University Ave. subway service all day on Sundays and after 10 p.m. on other days as an economy move (2) was apparently made in secret session some time ago and was revealed in a terse report by J.G. Inglis, general manager of operations. It is effective June 23. During the off-hours, trains will be replaced by bus service.
Mayor William Dennison estimated the move could save up to $250,000 a year in operating costs. But the TTC admitted today that the saving will be only $80,000 for the rest of this year (less $15,000 to install new signals) – and 24,000 people will have to take the bus every week.
It’s expected the reduced hours will stay in effect until eventual new routes like the Spadina rapid transit line feed more riders into the University line.
The TTC told Metro Council the first stage of the proposed Queen subway would be a $37-million underground streetcar line from Sherbourne St. to Spadina through the downtown core. The commission said this line should be built so it can be converted into a full-scale subway as soon as Metro is ready.
The Queen line is considered to be the next in priority to North Yonge, despite the fact that a rapid transit right-of-way is being built into the Spadina Expressway. The alignment of the new line would be a partial “U.”
In the east, the subway would bend north at Berkshire Ave., cut across Leslie St. and Hastings Ave. north of Queen St., follow for a few blocks an alignment along Alton Ave. to the west of Greenwood Park, then swing north to the Donlands station. Besides the Roncesvalles and Donlands stations, … See $200 million, page 4 $200 million Queen subway proposed Continued from page 1 … there would be stations at Lansdowne Ave., Northcote Ave., Givins St., Bellwoods Ave., Bathurst St., Spadina Ave., University Ave., Yonge St., Sherbourne St., Sumach St., Broadview Ave., Logan Ave., Jones Ave., and Gerrard St. E., at Alton Ave.
The station at Queen and Yonge Sts. has already been roughed in and is below the Yonge subway. Commuters use part of it to travel from one subway platform to the other in Queen station.
The $30,000 report on the TTC’s studies came as a surprise at Metro Council. (3) Only a brief one-page letter indicated that the report, which consists of pages of functional drawings of routes, had been distributed to Metro Council members.
The plans had been discussed in secret by the commission and released directly to Metro without first being discussed in a public meeting. The TTC report, signed by Inglis and W. H. Paterson, general manager of subway construction, recommended against merely building a short underground line to take streetcars.
The two officials recommended instead that a hard look be given to a full-length Queen subway on the alignment suggested in the report.
Four possible alignments were mentioned in the report. The two officials all but rejected an alignment south of Queen St. A review of properties along the south side of Queen St. revealed that excessive underpinning and demolition would be involved, the report said.
They suggested tunnelling directly under Queen (4).
The decision to cut service on the University line was attacked by Controller Allan Lamport.
He said it would stunt Toronto growth and might ultimately cost the city more money than it would save, by creating more traffic congestion as persons who would otherwise use the subway turned to cars. Lamport said it was ridiculous for the TTC to expect people to stand out in the open after 10 p.m. waiting for a bus “in these days of violence and muggings.”
1. The Yonge line extension opened late and went over budget, the first time the TTC had missed a deadline or suffered cost overruns on a subway-building project. The extension opened in two phases, first to York Mills in 1973, and then to Finch the next year. (Okay, for those who quibble, the commuter lots didn’t open on time in 1968 for the Warden and Islington stations.)
2. Cost savings were increasingly a concern in 1968. Even though Metro agreed to stop charging the TTC property taxes on its real estate and even with operations turning a $2.4-million profit in 1967, staff feared it was slipping back into the red and would have to tap reserves to cover operating losses. (1968 and 1969 both saw $1.2-million-dollar losses). Tax revenue was not used to fund operations, and the TTC didn’t run deficits until subsidies first became available in 1971 (after that, it never turned a profit again).
3. It’s unlikely that the reports were a surprise to council as the report was completed and being discussed for at least 10 days before being formally presented to council in front of reporters; it was also in the works for more than two years. Metro Council also formally requested the $30,000 report on Feb. 22, 1966. The Toronto Star story indicates that the report “consists of pages of functional drawings of routes, had been distributed to Metro Council members.” The version of the “Confidential, not for publication” report on file at the City Archives (414150-1, Series 1250, File 429) appears to be missing all of the pages of drawings.
4. Tunneling directly under Queen in the core, but preferred plans included cut-and-cover tunnels or even open subway trenches parallel to Queen St. outside the core, the same way the Yonge line was built between Bloor and Eglinton. The alignment included a cost-effective connection with the Greenwood yard; current designs for the DRL to cross Danforth at Pape, are said to include a far more costly and elaborate plan for yard access (including a Y from tail tracks north of Danforth). DRL tunnels are also said to be based on a big unibore design, rather than using paired TBMs.
For the most part, I’d tell people to relax. These are still early days in an important and long-overdue discussion. In the interests of brevity, I’ll address only three key but recurring points from the feedback.
1. Build Toronto cannot take over or redevelop TTC stations unless they’re declared surplus, and we’ll be needing these stations for the foreseeable future. This isn’t such a bad thing because Build Toronto was set up badly on a few levels and, as currently structured, would not be an appropriate entity to take on rail-plus-property style land value capture (LVC). Existing TTC stations, except the ones surrounded by lots of land won’t yield much anyway because to capitalize properly, you need prepare for redevelopment while excavating for the stations. Many opportunities have long since been blown.
2. Andy Byford is right to point out that Toronto is not Hong Kong, just as Steve Fry and Richard Gilbert did in the original story on Tuesday. A Hong Kong comparison requires a nuanced understanding of the differences. Most who poo-poo the possibilities don’t know what they’re talking about. Aside from the obvious density contrasts, how land is owned and how the public accepts top-down decision-making are points people could make to further argue that Toronto cannot do what MTR does. However, such arguments affect only the scale of likely returns. None undercuts the fact we can profit mightily from big lessons learned over recent decades in Asia. We can’t adopt MTR”s model as is, but, with a few wise adaptations, transit will work much better for Toronto and the region at a significantly lower cost, and that should in turn nurture the will of voters and politicians to fund transit properly. (I’d add that, contrary to popular misconception, about two-thirds of MTR’s developments are midrise, not highrise.)
3. Though Steve Munro and I disagree on occasion, I respect him and all of us in this town should pay attention to what he says. His warning, “that the idea of developing transit stations sounds good but might not generate as much as proponents believe,” is absolutely fair. The words may have been poorly chosen in that they have many Globe readers today believing he has lumped realistic LVC proponents in with Ford supporters. Alas, calm rational discussions are too rare in the city scarred by absurdly divisive LRT-versus-subway debates. Hucksters promoting free subways have done much to short-circuit important discussions about getting real returns on our transit investments. Gilbert and Fry, quoted in Tuesday’s story because they are knowledgeable and reasonable, don’t expect free subways to happen in North American cities in the foreseeable future. But they would ask: What’s wrong with saving a half-billion dollars on a transit project, or even a billion, especially if it gets more people living and working sooner at new stations? And even if we get back only, say $200-million on our first foray, that too can buy a lot of buses.
Herb Carnegie dreamed of becoming the Jackie Robinson of the NHL, but colour barriers wouldn’t come down until a few years after his playing days were done.
This story first ran in The Globe and Mail on March 25, 2006. Herb Carnegie died in 2012, but I’ve posted the yarn here in December, 2014, at the request of a couple of people who read my posts about the now late Jean Beliveau, who also figures prominently in the tale.
By STEPHEN WICKENS
Imagine growing up hockey-crazed, making yourself plenty good enough for a shot at the big leagues, and then learning the NHL is off limits because your skin’s the wrong colour.
The average Canadian male would be crushed or incurably bitter. But for Herb Carnegie, who lived that scenario, the experience somehow became the motivation for more than a half-century of giving back to Toronto.
“There’s still a wound,” Mr. Carnegie said last week, at his kitchen table in the Donway Place seniors residence. But Mr. Carnegie — 86, widowed and blind — is in no hurry to speak of life’s injustices. He prefers to talk about the volunteers who have helped him provide scholarships for young people and about his Future Aces creed, which has been adopted by nearly 200 Ontario schools to help kids develop positive attitudes.
It’s for these accomplishments that he will be honoured Thursday at a 50th-anniversary Future Aces gala at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. Next month, he will present 30 teens from five provinces with scholarships based on academics, need and commitment to their communities. In June, York University is awarding him an honorary doctorate to go with the Order of Canada membership he received in 2004.
“I’d loved the game since I was 7½,” he says after the discussion is steered back to hockey. “We’d play all day on ponds in Willowdale, then listen on the radio to Foster Hewitt and Hockey Night in Canada. I wanted to be a Maple Leaf.”
But that loyalty led only to heartbreak in the late 1930s, when he learned that Leafs owner Conn Smythe was telling people he would pay $10,000 “to anyone who could turn Carnegie white.”
Pigmentation might have ruled out the Leafs, but the smooth-skating centre wouldn’t drop his National Hockey League dream — even if his dad urged him to go to university, instead of “wasting time on a league that will never accept a black man.”
For a while, the younger Carnegie hoped to prove his dad wrong. He was a three-time team MVP in the Quebec Senior Hockey League, which sent Hall of Famers Jean Béliveau, Doug Harvey and Jacques Plante to the powerhouse Montreal Canadiens. And colour barriers were falling in other sports — football (1946), baseball (1947) and basketball (1950).
“I followed Jackie Robinson closely,” Mr. Carnegie says of the first black athlete to play Major League Baseball. Before he made the Brooklyn Dodgers, Mr. Robinson played for the Montreal Royals, not far from Sherbrooke, Que., where Mr. Carnegie was playing hockey. It wasn’t long after Mr. Robinson’s breakthrough, Mr. Carnegie says, that “I got my invitation to the [1948 New York] Rangers training camp.”
That camp was the closest Mr. Carnegie would get to the NHL. By some accounts, he clearly belonged, but the Rangers offered only a minor-league spot — for which he would have to take a pay cut and uproot his family. In exchange, he would maybe get a shot the next season as a 30-year-old rookie. Instead, he returned to Quebec and didn’t even get a call when two of the Rangers’ centres were hurt in a car crash.
“No NHL team had the guts,” he says, making a comparison with baseball manager Branch Rickey, who gave Mr. Robinson his break.
Many who saw Mr. Carnegie play in his prime say he should have had a shot at the NHL, including Mr. Béliveau, a young Quebec Aces teammate during Mr. Carnegie’s final years.
“There were only six teams then, 120 jobs,” Mr. Béliveau says. “But Herbie was very good — a real playmaker who scored his share of goals, a beautiful skater. I will say he never got a fair shot, and it was because of his skin. Everyone in our dressing room loved him. You need those players to win championships.”
The NHL admitted its first black player, Willie O’Ree — who played for the Boston Bruins — in 1958. But by then Mr. Carnegie was four years into retirement from hockey, back in North York and well on his way to a new life, including his Future Aces (which he started as a hockey school before it evolved into a motivational program for young people), a successful 32-year career as a financial planner and two national seniors golf titles.
“Closing the door on hockey was hard,” says Mr. Carnegie, who credits his late wife, Audrey, with providing much-needed support.
“It was scary,” he remembers, suddenly finding himself in his mid-30s, a black man in WASP Toronto, with four kids and no career prospects.
“I had this feeling of being shut out. When I would hear about freedom and democracy, our great way of life and all this, I would say, ‘Don’t tell me that stuff! Show me!’ ”
But then Mr. Carnegie started coaching kids. “It was like therapy,” he says. “Their smiles, the support of their parents — it was fuel for my soul. I’d found my purpose in life, and it all built from there.”
Mr. Carnegie is not a religious man, though he thinks his spirit may have been nurtured in some way by attending a Baptist church as a child. He credits loving parents (immigrants from Jamaica in 1912) and his in-laws, the Redmons. He also speaks of “a great gift, a life lesson,” he took from a high school coach at what was then known as Northern Vocational School.
“His name was Bob Crosby, and it’s like I can still hear his voice,” Mr. Carnegie says, explaining that he and the coach had just heard a racial slur from the stands at Maple Leaf Gardens. “Bob leaned down and told me, ‘The way to answer that is to turn the red [goal] light on.’ ”
Mr. Carnegie wrote his Future Aces creed in part to help himself get past his post-hockey pain, but he soon realized that the idea of living according to words such as attitude, co-operation, education and sportsmanship was universally applicable. Today, if you go to the website [http://www.futureaces.org], you’ll find the creed in 15 languages, and according to Mr. Carnegie, “we’re working on more.”
Jim Colby, 61, who attended the first Future Aces hockey school at the old open-air Mitchell Field rink on McKee Avenue, sees himself as lucky in life. “But it was really lucky that I got to know Herb,” he says. “At the hockey school, I was 12 or so, and my self-image was pretty battered. But this guy thought I was fine — and I was a crappy hockey player.”
Mr. Colby, who went on to earn a PhD and become a language tester for the Department of National Defence, saw no evidence Mr. Carnegie felt hard done by. “Herb never lost his temper, even in what must have been his lowest times. He commanded respect, but we all loved him,” Mr. Colby says.
Jean Béliveau, considered one of the classiest men ever to play hockey, calls Mr. Carnegie a true hero. “As a human being, when you see all he’s done . . . even today, he’s still contributing. Every Canadian should know his story,” says the NHL legend, who will be part of a taped tribute at Thursday’s event.
Tonight, it will be like old times.
Mr. Carnegie will sit by the radio, listening to the Toronto-Montreal game. “I’ll cheer for the Leafs, of course,” he says. “Nobody with the present team was ever unfair to me.”
And would he trade all his accomplishments of the past 50 years for a chance to go back in time and play in the NHL?
“I’ve had people say, ‘Thank God you never made it, because you probably would never have done all these things.’ Well, that may be, but we can never be sure.
“I don’t know how to answer,” he says, voice cracking. “When it came to hockey, I wasn’t a coloured kid, I was just a Canadian boy dreaming of the NHL, like all the others. I wanted that so badly.”
Urbanist Jane Jacobs may never have written about the East Danforth, but after a few long walks on a Toronto strip that was in decline for much of the latter 20th century, she developed firm views on what is needed for revitalization.
By STEPHEN WICKENS
When the writing wasn’t going smoothly, Jane Jacobs would take a long walk. During one stretch of gorgeous fall weather in the early 1980s, with writer’s block delaying progress on Cities and The Wealth of Nations, the renowned author of books on urbanism, economics and ethics visited the Danforth “three or four times … the whole strip from Broadview to Victoria Park,” with several detours to the nearby rail corridor and the surrounding streets.
She never wrote about those Danforth jaunts but she spoke with me about the area in 2004 and 2005, while I was both writing Toronto features for The Globe and Mail, and working with people attempting to start a neighbourhood group (prior to the eventual and successful establishment of the Danforth East Community Association).
Though she was nearly 90, Jacobs’s memory was excellent. I was raised in the east end and live in the immediate area. I walk a lot, too. She visited a few times – decades earlier – yet what she said helped open my eyes.
In one discussion, she bristled and became animated when I mentioned the usual received wisdom, that the East Danforth’s seemingly mysterious decline in the second half of the 20th century was likely a result of transportation changes, most notably the replacement of streetcar service with the Bloor-Danforth subway in 1966 to Woodbine, and 1968 farther east. It is an enduring theory, given legs within weeks of the subway’s opening as media latched onto attempts by the area’s “business men’s association” and locals to restore some form of street-based local transit, either streetcars or buses, that would run parallel to the subway using existing, frequently spaced stops. The group produced a 15,000-signature petition (huge numbers for a small area in the pre-social media days), but the pleas were ignored at the Toronto Transit Commission.
Jacobs said far too much weight had been given to the arrival of the subway, and called it a ‘lazy man’s theory.’ She agreed that underground subway stations – spaced much farther apart than the old streetcar stops – sped the processes that were sucking life off the street (better planning for second station entrances could have helped a bit, in her view). But she argued that commercial strips of blue-collar neighbourhoods had gone into similar declines during the same era, “all over Toronto, the continent, even the planet – and almost none of these other strips would have had new subways.”
Commercial streets, an essential component of urbanism for millennia, had, in effect, been deemed obsolete in theory and practice, and the ramifications were both far-reaching and subtle.
The larger transportation-related factors in her view were that car ownership was soaring in the post-World War II era, and that people were suddenly traveling farther to shop – to malls and bigger stores where parking was easier. People also became increasingly less likely to leave home on foot, and whole neighbourhoods and cities suffered as a result.
“Transportation matters to the discussion, to be sure,” she said. “But if you’re serious about revitalizing this street, you’ll focus on broader changes to the overall local economy, and you’ll look for adjustments to form that will naturally attract pedestrians for day-in day-out reasons.”
Among the things that first struck Jacobs on her walks, especially east of Pape where the nature of the street changes suddenly, was the near complete lack of Victorian or Edwardian buildings. She also found a sudden increase in the lengths of the blocks (see No. 2 in her seminal list of conditions for generating diversity).
The district, and indeed as many of its internal parts as possible, must serve more than one primary function; preferably more than two. These must insure the presence of people who go outdoors on different schedules and are in the place for different purposes, but who are able to use many facilities in common.
Most blocks must be short; that is, streets and opportunities to turn corners must be frequent.
The district must mingle buildings that vary in age and condition, including a good proportion of old ones so that they vary in the economic yield they must produce. This mingling must be fairly close-grained.
There must be a sufficiently dense concentration of people, for whatever purposes they may be there. This includes dense concentration in the case of people who are there because of residence.
She advised me to compare the block lengths east and west of Pape on a map. “Better still, walk and time them if you have the opportunity,” she said.
It turns out that most blocks on both the north and south sides of Danforth west of Pape, the much livelier Greektown neighbourhood, are no more than 100 metres and can be walked in a minute or less. Many to the east take two minutes or more. When we touched on this in a subsequent discussion she said I’d probably remember for the rest of my life that blocks in the liveliest places in cities all over the world will tend to be well under two minutes in length at my pace (see for yourself, no matter where you live or where you’re visiting). “Two-hundred and fifty or 300 feet is ideal in most cases.” (That’s 76 to 91 metres.)
But Condition No. 1 on her list, The East Danforth’s mix of primary uses, would in her view matter most to people puzzling over how to reinvigorate the area (the emphasis on the word primary was hers). She felt strongly that if redevelopments merely added residential condos with retail on the ground floor, we wouldn’t be adding the type of mixed use that could have a major regenerative effect. We might merely be adding to the number of empty stores, she said. And she warned that many “seemingly enlightened planners still tend to have a superficial understanding of what mixed primary use really means.”
Jacobs suggested I go to the Central Reference Library and use city directories and old maps as an introduction to the timeline of Danforth East’s development. Correctly, as it turned out, she told me to expect that the area was first developed largely in the 1920s, a point she said meant this was in fact a hybrid, not the pure streetcar suburb that some academics would label it. Private cars would have been a factor from the beginning, certainly east of Pape, even if the area had still developed largely around a main street on which streetcars arrived in 1915. She told me to look for evidence the area developed with a significant amount of employment, mostly industrial and most of it likely focused on the rail corridor to the south.
And it was there.
Prior to the area’s initial development, but well into the 20th century, lands on both sides of the East Danforth were largely operating as market gardens, providing fresh produce to the nearby city. Farming operations got larger farther north, toward the Taylor Creek valley, with several dairy operations in what was the Township of (and later the Borough of) East York, amalgamated into Toronto in 1998. Most of the area immediately north of Danforth had been Church of England reserves, known as the Glebe and usually leased to farmers. South of the Danforth (east of Greenwood and over to the town of East Toronto at Main Street), was known as Upper Midway, part of the Midway area annexed to the city in 1909. It was very rural compared with the main parts of Midway, south of the tracks, and it appeared as a virtual blank on maps as late as 1907.
Jacobs asked me to come up with a plausible explanation for the delay in development until after World War I, especially since areas farther from established Toronto had developed sooner (around the Grand Trunk/Canadian National station and yards at Main Street). I’m open to arguments, but it seems probable that the biggest delaying factor was that, east of Pape, five creeks crossed the Danforth (a.k.a. The Second Concession and later The King’s Highway No. 5). The railway tracks had also established themselves as a barrier. Though the tracks had brought the Town of East Toronto to life, the corridor barrier itself would increasingly become a drag on the area in the later 20th century, especially as it got closer to the Danforth heading east and as industry that once provided jobs in the area moved out to the suburbs.
Though the Danforth (originally the Don and Danforth Plank Road) had opened in 1851, the imposition of a concession grid, forced the street to follow a predetermined straight line, despite ravines and marshy areas that would not have been apparent in the kingdom’s Colonial Office in the 1790s. The road’s path was set decades before surveyors arrived. The Danforth was a nightmare to maintain (a job left largely to the farmers who used it and paid tolls — a source of protests and legal disputes). The rickety wooden bridges often got washed out. And even when they weren’t, travelers to the city still had to get to down to Queen, Gerrard or Winchester streets to cross the Don Valley.
Even though streetcar service and proper paving came to the East Danforth in 1915, development didn’t happen until a housing shortage after the Great War and the opening of the Prince Edward Viaduct in 1919. Something that also held up residential development in the immediate Coxwell-Danforth area was a stench from the Harris abattoir and rendering plant, which was eventually driven away in the early 1920s (and though this is also a clear instance where employment and residential don’t work in close proximity, even the Harris plant attracted a small enclave of residents using kit housing just southwest of Danforth and Coxwell).
In the city directories, Jacobs suggested I look for trends related to the stores that sprang up: Aside from the fact that many merchants lived upstairs from their businesses, the most stunning thing was the lack of turnover. Vacancies were listed when buildings were new in the 1920s, but were almost non-existent again until the late 1950s. There was very little turnover among businesses through the Great Depression, 1940s and early ’50s, indicating a healthy local business environment despite great challenges facing the global macro-economies. Even when Woolworth moved from east of Woodbine to snuggle up next to department store rival Kresge in 1942, displaced shops found ways to stick around — some at Woolworth’s old site.
The variety of shops, especially close to Woodbine was remarkable. Though supermarkets in the 1950s were much smaller with limited offerings, there were nine of the Loblaws, A&P and Dominion variety from Greenwood to just east of Woodbine), as well as butchers, bakers and produce shops. There were also many clothing and shoe stores, and the three movie theatres would have contributed to sidewalk life in the evenings.
These were all things Jacobs expected me to find, and she said it was important to note that the turnover and vacancies started appearing well before any subway construction began, even if locals didn’t really pay attention to the strip’s decline till later. Some feared the subway would bring over-development, yet the opposite happened, and many are still astonished by the lack of development more than 50 years after the subway opened.
There is also a strong likelihood that plans for an extension of the Gardiner Expressway into Scarborough, through the neighbourhoods straddling the railway tracks, hung over the local real estate market in the 1960s and ’70s. Hundreds of homes were to be expropriated just for the interchange at Woodbine, not far south of the Danforth.
As for industry and employment, there wasn’t so much right on the Danforth itself, though it’s worth noting that Canada Bread had its main Toronto plant just east of Greenwood (and the folks at the Linsmore Tavern said the plant workers kept them very busy on breaks and shift changes). Ford of Canada, before moving to Oakville in the 1950s, had its main operations at what, in 1962, became the Shopper’s World Mall, west of Victoria Park, right by the eastern loop of the streetcar line on a small strip where East York actually reached down to the Danforth.
Jacobs called the loss of that employment and the fact that some Danforth stores moved to the mall in the early 1960s a “double whammy” for the strip. Car dealerships and the TTC streetcar barns at Coxwell (now only partly used, and mostly as parking for subway staff) also brought lots of workers to the neighbourhood or provided jobs that local residents could walk to. And, of course, lots of people working in the area provided essential daily business for local shops and restaurants. Along the rail corridor, less than a half-kilometre to the south, were major industrial enterprises, including a John Wood plant on Hanson Street, the largest source of hot water tanks in Canada from the 1920s on. Service Station Supply was an assembly plant for gas pumps and hydraulic lifts. There was a factory producing stoves, washers, ‘ice boxes’ and fridges. There were many light industrial operations as well as quarries and brickyards on either side of Greenwood. Major suppliers of coal, lumber and other building materials were located all along the tracks from Greenwood to east of Main, where the CNR shops and freight yards began.
Jacobs wanted me to see that, while many preferred to drive out from of our neighbourhood the noise and trucks that increasingly accompanied industry, the shift to an overwhelmingly residential area quietly undercut essential facets of the local economy, including the shops and restaurants on the Danforth. The loss of industry meant the rail corridor bordering the southern parts of the neighbourhood shifted from attracting much economic activity to the East Danforth to being a barrier and a drag on the area, a hindrance to walkability and connectivity.
Late in the 20th century, even though household sizes got smaller, in pure residential terms the neighbourhood actually got denser because housing was built on former industrial land. But the mix of primary uses – usually residential and employment, with a few specialty shops or large theatres that can draw people from other parts of town – was getting badly depleted.
Looking forward, she said: “Residential density itself won’t be enough of an answer if you really want to create or recreate a vibrant neighbourhood,” she said, adding that residential density by itself, especially if it becomes high-rise, high-density could be a big problem if we don’t pay attention to all the generators of diversity.
On that count, she said the options are limited. There might be small gains to be had by breaking up some long blocks, but the new passageways or streets would almost certainly never penetrate more than a block or two into the surrounding neighbourhoods. Creating a deep inventory of buildings of different ages is a long-term organic process; the key would be to ensure that the 1915 TTC barns and much of the 1920s buildings be saved (likely not a problem with the fragmented ownership and often shallow lots). Density increases, especially right on the Danforth would be helpful, but we might need less than many think, especially if significant employment is included.
“There’s opportunity in bringing employment to sites at the subway stations,” she said (and she agreed that the TTC lands and some north-side parking at Coxwell and the Valumart parking lot at Woodbine are probably our only significant options for bringing mid-rise office buildings into the local mix. (Our discussion didn’t consider areas as far east as Main Square and Shopper’s World, but clearly, there’s redevelpment potential there).
She added that we were lucky to be approaching things at this time (she was speaking in 2004) because much of the GTA’s employment gains are likely to be in office work, and that even just a few mid-rise office buildings near the stations might bring enough workers to help “rebalance the local economy.”
Though she died in early 2006, Jacobs lived long enough to see a resurgence of life downtown when usage restrictions were lifted on “The Kings,” and when a new wave of residential development was able to complement the dense employment zones, allowing secondary-use shops and services to come back in the core. She saw it as encouraging.
Returning employment to the Danforth area could, in her view, have a similar effect (though on a much smaller scale) by getting more people out onto the sidewalks for different reasons at different times of the day, helping lots of small shops and restaurants to “get over the hump … it often takes just a handful of extra customers a day to make a difference in small-scale retail.”
She emphasized that year-round walkability relies heavily on people having regular economic reasons to be out on the local sidewalks. “You won’t get industry again, and few would tolerate it, but office work and some new residential density right on the Danforth could be great for the city and your area.” She felt the Avenues focus in the city’s Official Plan could be life-giving for the East Danforth.
She also noted that the Danforth has spare subway capacity in what transportation people call the ‘contra-flow,’ – half-full trains going in the opposite direction of the main rush-hour crowds. She called that “untapped potential.” She remembered surface parking near some of the subway stations and called that “a waste of potential.”
“This may come as a surprise to you,” she said, “but part of the area’s empty-store problem is that there’s too much retail space for the current size and makeup of the local economy. Most of that retail is going to be secondary-use stuff.”
Demand for the retail space on a strip such as the Danforth, in her view, was very much a reflection of the health and diversity (or lack thereof) in the wider local economy. It’s almost certain that she would have been a huge supporter of DECA’s pop-up shop program. She said: “Vacant storefronts certainly feed vicious cycles of decline, but if you’re smart, long-term, you’ll view them (and street crime) as mere symptoms of bigger problems.”
Anyway, it’s a gorgeous September day and signs of new life have been popping up on the East Danforth for nearly a decade now. Even though the writer’s block isn’t necessarily holding me back, I think I’ll go for a walk.
Stephen Wickens isajournalist and a former board member of Danforth East Community Association. At present he leads DECA’s Visioning committee. Much of the material gathered from talks with Jane Jacobs (directly and indirectly) forms the basis of an annual Jane’s Walk, ‘The Death and Life of Upper Midway.’
Lauding the Tories’ record makes only slightly more sense than thanking her royal highness, Queen Elizabeth, for Toronto’s subway system
According to 680News on Wednesday (Sept. 18), new MP Doug Holyday said that under Conservative leadership, 64 subway stops have opened in Toronto, and that “in the last 10 years, under Liberal leadership, we’ve not opened up any.”
He’s correct, though it’s a factoid that cries out for explanation.
And before we go further, I should make clear I have no rooting interest at Queen’s Park. The Liberals, NDP and Tories all have fingerprints on the transit mess that plagues the GTA.
So, as for Holyday’s take on history, it’s worth noting both senior levels of government refused to fund the subway projects that produced our first 38 stations, Eglinton to St. George and Keele to Woodbine. Holyday, the Tories’ new GTA subways and gridlock critic, should know that that’s 60 per cent of the stations, and that they’re all in locations where subway actually makes sense on all levels, from land-use to economics to basic travel demand.
Tory premier Leslie Miscampbell Frost showed up penniless in 1959 for the University-Bloor-Danforth groundbreaking. All he brought was a speech warning Metro and the TTC not to get buried in debt for the project. Toronto went ahead and built, using a property tax surcharge, and we’re still living off the foresight of that generation’s decision.
Frost’s successor, John Parmenter Robarts (and we’re not making up these middle names), eventually guaranteed Metro’s loans, allowing work to be expedited and advance the Bloor-Danforth opening to February 1966 (25 stations and 16 kilometres in 75 months!).
There were eventually some small grants thrown in, but it’s fair to say the province didn’t get into transit funding until we pushed the Bloor-Danforth into Scarborough and Etobicoke in 1968, and the Yonge line into North York in the mid-1970s.And that’s when we seemed to lose control of transit planning.
The next premier, William Grenville Davis, gave us a funding formula many still pine for, but along with a new suburban dominance on Metro council, delivered an ill-conceived line with stations marooned in the median of the Spadina Expressway.
After less than a decade with the funding model, whereby the province would pay 75 per cent of capital costs and 50 per cent of operating shortfalls, Queen’s Park’s will to back transit withered. One-station Bloor-Danforth extensions to Kipling and Kennedy, opened in 1980, would be our last new subway for 16 years.
By then, Davis’s Tories, unaware that sprawl, not technology, was the root problem, were scrambling for something cheaper than subways to use in suburbia. They lost their minds and bet heavily on the Intermediate Capacity Transit System, developed by the Crown’s Urban Transit Development Corp. That, along with lots of arm-twisting, gave us the SRT that we now need to replace after less than three decades. It’s almost certain the SRT cost us more than a subway would have in the first place, something Holyday and others conveniently neglect to mention.
It’s easy to rip the Michael Deane Harris Tories for officially killing the Davis funding formula and for filling in tunnels that had been started for the Eglinton West subway (and the imposing amalgamation that makes Toronto impossible to govern). But few remember David Robert Peterson‘s Liberals unofficially put an end to urban transit funding at a critical time for the GTA.
Some commemorate June 3, 1971, when Davis killed the Spadina Expressway, as the start of some golden era of transit. But May 24, 1988, was as significant for 21st-century Ontarians in that Liberal transportation minister Ed Fulton announced the province would have nothing to do with Network 2011, the TTC and Metro’s plan for transit expansion.
Fulton, in announcing a 10-year plan for the GTA, shifted funding and emphasis from transit to extending and widening 400-series highways. New transit money largely went toward acquisition of land for “Gateways,” surface parking at GO stations in what we now call the 905. It was a monkey trap from which GO has yet to extricate its paws (though, as land banks, that asphalt holds great potential if anyone on Anne Golden’s new funding panel is smart enough to seriously consider adaptations of the Rail + Property model.
Many Metro councillors pointed out 25 years ago that the Peterson-Fulton legacy would be a massive boost to unsustainable sprawl, and they were bang on. Many of the headaches we now face are due to the fact that landscapes designed for drivers make the delivery of quality transit (and most other municipal services) extremely expensive, possibly in perpetuity.
And what about the NDP?
Three months before Peterson’s snap election call in the summer of 1990, he announced an apparent change of heart on transit with the Let’s Move plan, a disjointed but ambitious collection of lines. The NDP, led by Robert Keith Rae, promptly undercut any Liberal political advantage by backing the plan, but when they won a surprise major majority in September, they froze. Though some lines were of dubious transit value, they might have been good stimulus projects for the deep early-1990s recession. Rae’s NDP had barely started on transit when they were bounced by Harris’s Tories in 1995, and we all know the damage done by that crew in the following years.
But the biggest NDP damage occurred in 1986 at the municipal level.
Behind the scenes in the 1980s, the TTC and transit planners made clear that if we didn’t get started on the DRL soon, the economic health of Toronto’s core and its transit system would suffer, while runaway sprawl would get a big boost in York, Peel and Durham.
The TTC realized that at suburban-dominated Metro, it would have to compromise, so it agreed to allow the DRL to get second billing. Top priority would be a line on Sheppard (even if demand projections would need heavy torquing). Besides, the idea meshed with Metro planning’s hubris, a belief we could effectively decentralize growth by creating instant downtowns in Etobicoke, Scarborough and North York.
But even second priority for the DRL didn’t sit well with downtown NDP aldermen Jack Layton and Dale Martin, who feared “Manhattanization” and increased density in the core. They worked with suburban counterparts and planning staff to get the DRL dropped below Eglinton on Network 2011’s list, effectively killing the TTC’s top priority altogether. They backed us into a corner where now, every transit expansion plan that ignores the DRL’s urgency, whether it’s Transit City or subways to Richmond Hill or Scarborough Centre, aggravates overloading on the inner network and advances an imminent crisis.
For what it’s worth, Holyday’s right: all 64 subway stations opened while the Tories held power at Queen’s Park, but we might as well accord similar credit to the Queen.
A Toronto museum is a great idea, but putting the iconic spinning-disc signs from Sam The Record Man’s flagship store in such a place would insult the creativity he promoted in life. Sam’s spirit should be surrounded by life and music, and in doing so we could take care of one of the TTC’s outstanding headaches.
Sam Sniderman was a music man, and one thing to know about music is that, unlike man, it has the potential for immortality.
I love the idea of a Toronto museum, but recent suggestions in the Star and Post that we hang Sam The Record Man’s homeless signs in such a place would insult the creativity he promoted in life — not just in the city he loved, but across Canada.
Gratuitously affixing the spinning discs to the Ryerson building rising on the site of Sam’s store would be nearly as bad, though it feels as if my alma mater deserves some such punishment for cheesing out in this affair.
But opportunity to do Sniderman proud, make someone some money and contribute mightily to the Yonge Street strip and the city beyond, lies just south, on the other side of Gould Street. The spirit of Sam and the signs in question deserve a space with music and life, a healthy mix of uses to keep things happening at all hours. The site of the old Empress Hotel is perfect on several levels.
Sadly, we’ll never have the Empress back. It was allowed to slide into disrepair during Yonge’s seediest days. It was then destabilized in 2010 and torched a year later.
I mostly recall the red-brick 1888 landmark as Music World, a latter-day Sam’s competitor. In the early 1980s, when I was a Ryerson student, there was also a dingy second-floor burger joint with uneven floors. The baskets of fries were huge and filling. I loved them drenched in vinegar, with beer on the side.
But having grown up in Toronto, I somehow knew the place had been Edison Hotel in the ’60s. I was aware of the former buzz — maybe from radio ads of my boyhood, maybe from osmosis, or maybe from co-workers old enough to legitimately spin tales of the great nights on Yonge. They’d seen the Hawks (later The Band), the Ugly Ducklings, the Mandala, Sparrow (pre-Steppenwolf) and the Mynah Birds; they’d frequented the Le Coq d’Or, The Embassy, The Colonial and The Hawk’s Nest.
The tales made me feel I’d been born too late.
Sam was an essential part of that Yonge Street — and Yorkville and much more. Most of the big names from the second half of the 20th century owe much to the efforts he made, especially in the years before CanCon legislation (though he was also instrumental in getting Ottawa to ensure Canadian broadcasters played Canadian music). He was much more than a retailer with charisma and a catchy sign, he helped get Canadian talent onto the world stage.
According to longtime Maclean’s music critic Nick Jennings, author of a great 1997 book called Before The Gold Rush, Sniderman “built a reputation as the greatest promoter of domestic talent that Canadian music ever had.”
Not every music fan closed the deal at Sam’s. I often went home with a yellow bag from A&A’s, two doors up the street (only Steele’s Tavern separated the rivals). But every trip to that part of downtown included a visit Sam’s, and we’d often see Sam in person.
Recent commercial property transactions and current condo developments mean big changes and a lot more life are coming to Yonge. I kind of sense a new golden age in the works. With luck, it will bring enough life to support some good new club-style live-music venues. The place to start is at the fenced-off Empress/Edison site, now being used as a staging ground for the Ryerson construction.
As an urbanist, I don’t much care specifically what goes on the upper floors there, though it should be a primary use other than residential. That’s because the lower floors need a big space for bands, dancing and the Sam’s signs, spinning for people who will appreciate them and their Yonge Street context.
But wait, if we exercise a little foresight, we can turn the basement and part of the ground floor of this building into part of the long-overdue north entrance to Dundas Station, which somehow slipped behind Castle Frank and Donlands in the TTC’s controversial and conceptually challenged second-exits program.
Done properly — in conjunction with a larger development — a second entrance for Dundas can be accomplished at a very favourable price (and, of course, Dundas was an essential stepping-off point for so many of Sam’s customers). Ryerson and the TTC had been in talks to work the north entrance into the Student Learning Centre that’s under construction, but we’re told that talks fell apart.
If the Empress site has to be expropriated, so be it. The public badly needs it to bring the sixth busiest TTC station up to the most basic standards of fire safety, not to mention allowing it to connect better with a rapidly growing university. And it’s not as if we were shy about expropriation tactics at sleepy Greenwood and Donlands a few years back.
Maybe, if necessary, we can have Build Toronto carry the public interest from there. Maybe BT can work in conjunction the current owner, Lalani Group, to ensure a solid economic case and an attractive and appropriate structure rises above the musicians and revellers and TTC customers — and that Sam’s sign.
Call the club Sam’s if you like. Maybe it can be a showcase for both long-respected and up-and-coming Canadian bands. Maybe Robbie Robertson could be the host on opening night, with specials guests of his choosing (as long as I get a ticket).
Of course, it won’t all pan out this way, but this type of blue-sky discussion is needed for many obvious reasons.
The only way I can support putting the signs in the same building as a museum, is if that Toronto museum is part of the upstairs space.