A look back at the iconic Bay Concourse as it reopens at Union Station

Union Station’s Bay Concourse reopened to the public on July 27 after undergoing a massive overhaul. It boasts a new retail space beneath it and is expected serve thousands of customers as people continue to return to transit. As we turn the page onto this new chapter in the station’s history, Metrolinx News is taking you back down memory lane to a much different time and a much different Bay Concourse.

Who can forget getting hit in the face with a whiff of that sweet, sweet Cinnabon smell? 

Or what about the twisting, confusing sea of tiles? Were they orange, gray, brownish or taupe? One thing’s for sure, the flooring looked like it was from grandma’s kitchen. 

Whether you were a regular commuter or an infrequent traveller, you must have been through the old Bay Concourse at least once before it closed at the end of Toronto’s PanAm Games in 2015.  

And if you have, there’s a good chance you have an interesting memory of the place that was once the beating heart of Union Station.  

“I enjoyed the trains rumbling above as they came in or left the station” recalls Vik Pahwa, a professional architecture and infrastructure photographer who has been documenting Toronto for 10 years. 

”It was a fairly nice place to wait for the train with lots of food vendors,” he said.  

“I liked being early to grab a coffee, a treat, and having that anticipation of climbing up those stairwells to platform level.” 

Pahwa had a chance to document the old Bay Concourse just before it closed for renovations. He says it was important for him to document a space that had served the city and transit customers for nearly 40 years.  

Built in 1978, the concourse had some interesting design elements. The ceilings were waffled and reflective with clean lines.  

a wide view of people in the old bay concourse
The Old Bay Concourse’s design was unique and reflected the era in which it was built with its postmodern eighties feel. (Vik Pahwa Photo) 

At the centre of it all were boxy stairwells with curved corners and retro doors leading up to the platform.  

“The layout worked fairly well even though there were a few tight spots when passengers were boarding,” said Pahwa.  

a look from above at the staircases up to train platforms in the old bay concourse
Rather than two sets of stairs converging at one spot, commuters would turn to the left and right rather than run into each other. (Vik Pahwa Photo) 

The old school way-finding signage looked a little more modern, compared to the overall esthetic of the space. The large square boxes complimented the drop ceilings and were easy to spot.  

a close up of the directional signage in the old bay concourse
Look closely and you’ll notice hanging underneath the large way-finding boxes are small PATH signs with directional arrows. (Vik Pahwa Photo) 

“The old Bay Concourse was reminiscent of other city architecture constructed in the same era, like the Eaton Centre and Ontario Place,” notes Pahwa. 

“In some ways it felt appropriate for a transit concourse to look worn and well used.” 

a closeup of the payphone bank in the old bay concourse
Does this image ring a bell? The old Bay Concourse once had dozens of payphones as part of the amenities.  (Vik Pahwa Photo)  

Despite the unique design concept and the fond memories it held, the old Bay Concourse was showing its age and the space was struggling to meet the growing GO ridership demands.  

A comprehensive revitalization to transform the Union Station for future generations was put into motion and for GO customers, two full-size concourses (York Concourse and now Bay Concourse) will help make the commuting experience more comfortable and convenient. 

With the revitalization of Bay Concourse complete, the total concourse area has more than tripled in size and will significantly improve passenger access to and from trains as well as through all of Union Station.  

There are new stairs and elevators at the east ends of the train platforms to give riders access to the new Bay Concourse. As there are some platforms that only have stair access, Metrolinx recommends customers use the York Concourse for barrier free access. 

The reopening of Bay Concourse represents a major milestone for both GO customers and the Union Station Revitalization project. 

With the new concourse now open, GO customers can enjoy modern amenities reminiscent of York Concourse with new food options and retail planned for the lower concourse area underneath.  

The newly renovated Bay Concourse space is ready to help create new memories for a generation of transit riders – even if it doesn’t include that fresh cinnamon bun smell.  

The Bay Concourse reopened to the public on July 27th. Want to see that story?

Story by Nitish Bissonauth, Metrolinx bilingual spokesperson, media relations and issues specialist.