Lower Queen: The TTC's Other Lost Station

Update, December 2012: I've rescanned photographs from my original July 1997 tour into 600dpi files. You can view them below. I'd also like to dedicate the story to the memory of Jeff Chapman, known to many as Ninjalicious. I knew Jeff from the zine scene in the mid-1990s when he was writing Yip. He approached me about doing something for a new project he was starting called Infiltration. No one could've foreseen how profoundly this brilliant man would have affected culture and what would become known as Urban Exploration. I invited Jeff along on the trip to Lower Queen, since it was not the kind of place one can sneak into.

(From Cygnals.com, September 1997:)

Exploring Lower Queen - Toronto's Other Secret Subway Station

I was in high school when I saw Mike Nesbitt from City-TV do a story on the Queen St. Cavern. I don’t remember what the occasion was, if there was one. I just wanted to see it. So, using the same connections that got me to Lower Bay, I endeavoured to get to this place. It took a lot more bugging, since the place was being occupied by a whole mess of equipment as elevators were installed at the Queen subway. Now that that’s done, I managed to get in.

First, some background. In the 40's, the plan was to build a north-south subway line (the “tube”), and an underground streetcar line, following an alignment under Adelaide, Richmond and Queen streets, with Trinity Bellwoods Park on the west and Logan Avenue on the right. Word is there would have been 13 stations in the underground portion: Trinity Park, Bathurst, Spadina, Grange, York, City Hall, Yonge, Church, Sherbourne, Parliament, Don, Broadview, and Logan.

Looking up from the middle of Lower Queen's tunnel to steel girders and what appears to be a wooden floor.
Looking up from the middle of Lower Queen's tunnel to steel girders and what appears to be a wooden floor.
The proposal was put to Torontonians on New Year’s Day (!) 1946, as part of that year’s municipal election ballot. The question: “Are you in favour of the Toronto Transportation Commission proceeding with the proposed rapid transit system provided the Dominion government assumes one-fifth of the cost and provided that the cost to the ratepayers is limited to such amounts as the City Council may agree are necessary for the replacement and improvement of city services?” It passed, 79,935 to 8,630.

While they had the intersection of Queen and Yonge ripped up to build the main subway line, presumably around 1950, they started to build the streetcar subway. Shortly after they finished a small section, folks realized the heart of the city had moved north, and ideas for a second east-west line moved north to Bloor. The Queen line was abandoned, with the tunnel segment still in the ground.

Since then, Queen station’s been renovated, the Eaton Centre has been built, and the city’s grown all around, but that hunk of tunnel was left to be.

Various posts on the Internet describe this as a “station,” though from what I saw, it looks more tunnel than station. I could be wrong.

Dark and dank, Lower Queen looks more like this than any of the flash-lit photos I have elsewhere.
This is from the far end of the tunnel near the retaining wall.

It’s dark. Really dark. It’s all unfinished concrete — there are no signs, no platforms, no tracks, no overhead wires. It’s just the shell of a station/tunnel. But the pillars down the middle, and the concrete setup on the floor make it blatantly obvious what the tunnel was intended to be. That’s what makes it so cool. There are drains on the floors, pipes coming out of the walls and ceiling and so on. At some point, some 45 or 50 years ago, they were intended to go somewhere. I wonder where they go now, if anywhere.

Overhead, there are sounds of escalator motors and the rumble of the subway. Puddles of water collect on the floor.

The tunnel is terminated at both ends by concrete retaining walls, recently re-built as part of the elevator construction project. A fair chunk of the tunnel has also been taken up with a cinder-block wall, which is the outside of an expanded corridor leading to the elevator. New ductwork, pipes, and wires, have also been added. It’s pretty easy to see what’s new and what’s old. It’s the old part that’s interesting, of course.

Lower Queen station rough-in is invaded by modernity: Old stuff on the left, with new build and pipes  on the right.
Looking up, there’s a hole in the ceiling. Neat. It’s actually a hole in the floor of a maintenance room near the Southbound collectors booth.

Hole in the ceiling that's really a hole in the floor above.
Now, one report I’ve read on the Net says “The excavation doesn't just cross under Yonge, though; there is tunnel continuing eastwards. I don't remember the length; maybe 200 feet or so. It ramps upwards, and I think the end of it is covered in wood instead of concrete.” For the record, I didn’t see anything ramping anywhere. It was flat.

For those interested in seeing this marvel....well....you’ll have a hard time. There are a few entrances. Go to the Southbound collectors booth at Queen & Yonge. Go down the stairs near the elevator, the ones to your left that take you under the tracks and to the Northbound side. You’ll find the expanded corridor mentioned above. There are two red doors before you get to the elevator. The cavern is on the other side of those doors. Don’t forget your key. The other option is to fall through the floor in the maintenance room mentioned above. Don’t forget your life insurance premiums.

Further update, December 2012: I've stumbled upon the only other Lower Queen photos I've seen from this far back, and these are even older. They appear to predate the construction of the large cinderblock wall you see below. I'm amazed by these photos by Flickr user collations:

As part of the research for my original zine article about Lower Queen, I talked to TTC Chair Paul Christie and TTC GM David Gunn about the secret station. The sound quality is awful because back in '97, the Internet tubes were very narrow and we had to squeeze sound very tightly to make it fit.

For more on TTC history, secret stations and amazing photographs, visit Toronto's unofficial transit authority, Transit Toronto. I've been reading it for fifteen years, and so should you.

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