Amazing drawings from 1949 of TTC subway construction

While plowing through thousands of images in the City of Toronto’s archive database I came across a series of illustrations by John DeRinzy that document scenes from Toronto’s Yonge Street subway construction in 1949. The series focuses on the workers in context with their tools and the structure of the tunnel taking shape around them. Eleven drawings were procuded in watercolour and later highlighted with charcoal, while three other drawings were rendered only in charcoal. These works were exhibited in 1950 in the lobby of the Towne Cinema at Bloor and Yonge, and several pieces were selected for display in 1979 at the Eaton Centre in an exhibit produced by the Toronto Transit Commission to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the subway line and again shown in 2004 during the 50th anniversary.

DeRinzy was a commercial artist employed at the now-defunct Canadian department store Simpson’s during the late 1940s. According to the Archives, DeRinzy “believed that Canadian artists dwelt too much on landscapes, and did not pay sufficient attention to portraiture. Inspired by contemporary artists such as Jack Nichole, Henri Masson, and Lillian Freeman, DeRinzy believed that the landscape should be connected to the people who tilled the soil. This approach is evident in his work depicting the early construction of the Yonge Street subway line, which ran adjacent to his place of employment. DeRinzy left Toronto in 1952, and practised commercial art in Detroit until his return to Canada in 1976, when he retired in London, Ontario.”

all images courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives


  1. Beautiful stuff. More things like this are needed to honour the hard working men & women who work in the construction field and who are responsible for actually building the city.

  2. I wonder how much hand-digging an equivalent cut-and-cover project would involve today. It looks like they’re squeezing down between buried utility lines in one of those pictures — hard to imagine how you could do that with a machine.

  3. Great to see these evocative images. Super work.

  4. They should enlarge these drawings and install them as public art in some subway station.

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