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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Take the Yonge subway to the future! (expect some delays)

With the opening of the new, unfamiliar "subway" in Toronto today, March 30, 1954, Mayor Bert Xanadu offers Torontonians some tips on how to navigate this subterranean marvel.


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EDITOR: It’s 1954. Fictitious Bert Xanadu is the Mayor of Toronto and owner of the Imperial Six cinemas on Yonge Street. Mayor Xanadu has been governing from his twitter account for many years, and also from occasional Spacing Toronto posts straight out of the last century and into Toronto’s comedic political fray.

The people of Toronto often tell me that they want to get the hell out of here.

Transporting them elsewhere is, unfortunately, the responsibility of higher levels of government.

But, starting today, March 30, 1954, Torontonians, and any hangers-on from out-of-town, will be able to ride on the globe’s most fantastical subway system, most of it underground, and all of it as splendiferous as the Empress of Russia’s 18th century ice palace in St. Petersburg, minus the chilblains.

Spanning the variously majestic, commercial, industrial, residential, semi-rural and scruffy miles between Union Station and the far-flung precincts of Eglinton, the Yonge line will thrust us into an unknowable and unaffordable future, except when the transfer machines are down.

As only several hundred Toronto natives have ever experienced “riding on the subway” in other world metropolises (the Laff in The Dark ride at the Canadian National Exhibition does not count), I offer here a guide on how to behave on this subterranean marvel, this spooky cavern of commuting, this civic spine, so essential to a city that lacks one.

Mind the gasp

Station platforms are places upon which to contemplate, not to natter, and from which to inhale as much oxygen as one might feel necessary before jauntily stumbling onboard.  Trains arrive with an almost erotic whoosh, and the doors open and close with an urgency heretofore only seen in the films of Wile E. Coyote.

How to escalate

Escalators are located only in several stations, so as not to encourage laggards. These swift steps-eliminators are nothing like the Boer War-era contraptions still on offer to Eaton’s patrons.  Although ascension and descension elicit different feelings of warmth and panic in some, it is best to fix one’s eyes on the shoulder blades of the person ahead of you and remember the TTC’s slogan: “Hope for The Best.”

Etiquette regret

Few populaces are better prepared for the close quarters of a packed subway car than Torontonians, experienced as they are at avoiding eye contact.  However, some contact, mostly torso-wise, is inevitable during rush hours, so we suggest that the most delicate among us just stay home and enjoy radio programs instead.

Lost near the centre of the Earth

It will happen.  The psychic transformation one will experience through this Brasso-Mechanical marvel will challenge even the most virile citizen with its space-time dislocationary properties.  Each station is colour-coded (for example the Vitrolite tiles in Davisville station are Divorcée Green, while those at Bloor are cast in a pleasing shade of Surrender Yellow) to lodge your destination in your brain, but when that fails, push the ‘Huh?’ button, and Dolores will bring you a damp cloth.

Ignore that man in the booth

Svelte male employees of the TTC will be housed, so to speak, behind spit-proof glass in handsome cubicles to monitor correct fare payments and to ensure that smooch-free civic decorum is observed.  It is anticipated that as riders become accustomed to the system, the booths may be converted to scenic aquariums, housing trout, or floating lost articles.

Subway expansion is only the back of a napkin away

As your hair gets mussed and your jowls flap joyfully in the thrust and parry of the biologically-sound acceleration and deceleration of your train ride each day, prepare yourself for the joy that will surely come when you learn of our plan for the TTC subway’s expansion in the decades, nay, centuries to come.  Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives, at least when it comes to commissioning further expansion of the subway, which, incidentally, calls for the removal of a lot of sand and buried treasures.

Let’s just say that by the time your pesky grandchildren are old enough to have their very own Aikenhead’s charge cards, they’ll be as gods, able to whisk themselves from, say, the Mutual St. Arena to Simcoe St. Goatworks via underground wonders yet to be conceived, but for which you are already being futuristically taxed.

An added benefit of the new subway is that it will send a message to the world:  Toronto is open to suggestions!  When we bid for the 1967 world’s fair (with the slogan ‘Man, what a Kooky World!’), international judges will be confident we can erect it.  After all, Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent, himself a frequent user of transportation, predicts that the Toronto subway will be “the Avro Arrow of the netherworld”!

In conclusion, let me say that unlike the beasts of the jungle, we are not meant to traverse the soils of the land merely to survive, but rather to engage with our fellows, so that we may form stronger civic bonds.  In other words, please don’t just ride the subway to kill time.  That’s what the Imperial Six is for!

TTC pamphlet, How to use the subway

Images from “Canada’s First Subway” online exhibit, City of Toronto Archives


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