Zooming in on Ontario Line plans from Osgoode to the Don River – Delivering a line below Toronto’s Queen Street that’s been anticipated for more than a century

Today, Metrolinx released new details for it’s Ontario Line plan between University Avenue and the Don River. Refinement to the initial plan will mean faster delivery, reduced building costs and, most importantly, improved connections for riders. The new plan takes advantage of space that was dug for an east-west line when TTC’s Queen Station was built for Toronto in the early 1950s. In the second post of a four-part series, we review the Ontario Line’s Downtown segment.

The ghost stop that has been sitting vacant under Queen Street for decades will finally have a purpose when passengers board Ontario Line trains.

The newly refined plans between University Avenue and the Don River, explained in more detail on the project’s online engagement hub make use of an underground cavern below Queen Street, built during construction of the first section of the Yonge Street subway, now known as Line 1. The expectation was that an east-west streetcar line would be added soon after the north-south subway opened in 1954.

Image shows a streetscape with people walking beside shops.
The Ontario Line will deliver subway access to Distillery District residents and visitors. (Mike Winterburn photo)

An underground streetcar stop was ‘roughed in’ below the station at Queen and Yonge. While it was not big enough for the existing subway trains, it stood for decades as a silent and largely unseen testament to the vision of an underground Queen line.

Over the years, various plans to run streetcars through the downtown core under Queen have come and gone. Eventually, some of the space was used to run utility lines and underpass corridors.

This means that the Ontario Line will have to be drilled out of rock deeper below the PATH, but the plans unveiled today will still make use of the tunnelled sections below the TTC’s Queen subway station.

“We are envisioning that the old underground streetcar station will be reused to provide a convenient transfer for passengers between the Ontario Line and Line 1,” said Michael Tham, Metrolinx deputy technical director for the Ontario Line.

This space will finally fulfill its destiny to become part of the transit system, following refinement of the earlier Relief Line South proposal and the Initial Business Case for the Ontario Line. Both of those earlier plans placed Ontario Line stations adjacent to, but not under, TTC Line 1 tracks at Queen and Osgoode stations, making for a more complex transfer point and longer commuting times.

The new plan puts those Ontario Line stations directly below and perpendicular to (or straddling) Line 1, saving customers an average of at least one minute per trip when transferring between the two lines.

“The previously studied locations for the stations were further away from Line 1, but when we continued to study we developed a better understanding of the complex work required to manage the underground utilities,” Tham said. “We also thought that there would be some increased benefits for passengers with the straddle option, so we examined that option further.

 “We found the adjusted station location would be better from a constructability standpoint while also being better for the customer, so it’s a win-win situation.”

After crossing Yonge, the Ontario Line will continue under Queen Street East to a new station in the Moss Park area, by the armoury, arena and park at George Street, a block west of Sherbourne Street.

Image shows George Brown college.
George Brown College students will enjoy improved subway service along the Ontario Line. (Mike Winterburn photo)

This will help relieve pressure from the popular Queen streetcar route. It will also provide better subway access to people who depend on social service organizations in the area.

Students attending the George Brown College St. James Campus will have two choices for boarding the Ontario Line – Moss Park or the next stop in Corktown.

At King and Berkeley, a new station will provide easy access to the vibrant and growing Corktown community as well as the historic Distillery District.

The alignment released today shows a route that is marginally east of what was originally studied.

Archaeological assessments are currently being planned for the area of the First Parliament sites, most of which is currently used for parking and other commercial activities.

This site is where the first two Parliament Buildings for Upper Canada were located, from 1797 to 1813 and 1820 to 1824 respectively.

The Home District Jail (once called a ‘gaol’) operated on the site from 1840 to 1864 and a Consumer’s Gas complex was built in 1887, employing many people before it was demolished in the 1960s.

Digging into a historic site that has been paved over for decades means that workers may literally shed some light on artifacts buried below tarmac and buildings.

 “Archelogy work will be done to identify cultural artifacts or heritage elements to be preserved, protected or catalogued,” said Richard Tucker, Project Director for the Ontario Line at Metrolinx. “All artifacts and features will be cataloged and documented and, depending on the artifact, some may find their way to a museum display in the future.

“The archeological teams use their professional knowledge and experience and governing regulations to determine the best way forward on any particular artifact or feature that is uncovered.”

Image shows a map of Toronto with the route.

Of course, the important history of the land goes back much further than the time of the first parliament buildings.

The entire Ontario Line will be traversing the traditional territories and treaty lands of many Nations, including the Anishnabeg, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat Peoples, and in particular the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. Metrolinx is committed to consulting with Indigenous communities throughout the project to better understand and mitigate the potential impacts of the Ontario Line on their Aboriginal and treaty rights.

With regard to archaeological studies, Metrolinx will engage with First Nations to ensure their involvement, participation and identification of any Indigenous sites or artifacts that may be found in accordance with that Nation’s protocols.

A subway emerges from a tunnel.
The Ontario Line tracks will emerge from the underground tunnel in a portal on the Metrolinx Don Yard before moving along the GO Train corridor. Here is an example of what a portal looks like in Vancouver.

The route will continue south underground until it emerges above ground on the Metrolinx Don Yard, along the GO Train corridor.

“Metrolinx is optimizing the footprint of the Ontario Line to make for efficient use of public space,” said John Potter, from Metrolinx Design Division.

“We’re being careful to make sure our alignment minimizes impacts on other infrastructure projects near the Lower Don, like the Flood Protection Landform in Corktown Common and the Gardiner rebuild.”

As more and more details firm up, Metrolinx will continue to share updated project information through the Ontario Line Metrolinx Engage website. This engagement hub facilitates a two-way exchange between residents and Metrolinx staff, where visitors are encouraged to share views, comments and suggestions as work continues on this vital transit project.

Come back to Metrolinx News to learn more about how plans to use the existing GO Train corridor to bridge over the Don River and extend Ontario Line service to the east end of the city.

Story by Mike Winterburn, Metrolinx Senior Advisor