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Then and now: 50 years on the Bloor-Danforth subway

Five transit conversations Torontonians were having in 1966 that still ring true today

Then-prime minister Lester B. Pearson was one of the first to ride the Bloor train on Feb. 25, 1966.

City of Toronto archives

Then-prime minister Lester B. Pearson was one of the first to ride the Bloor train on Feb. 25, 1966.

Fifty years ago, the first east-west subway line opened in Toronto.

Some things were different when the Bloor-Danforth Subway started back on Feb. 25, 1966. For example, the fashions. But many things were strikingly similar to the conversations we’re having today about transit in the city.

1. On opening day, The Toronto Daily Star wrote about a group of “socialites,” who’d been up all night in order to take the first ride at 6 a.m.

“At Castle Frank, there was a stir. Eight Rosedale socialites got aboard, the ladies in evening gowns and fur jackets. They’d been to the Royal Canadian Yacht Club ball at the Royal York and then played snooker at the home of Mr. and Mrs. George Sinclair—his brother is a radio commentator—until subway time. Mr. and Mrs. Richard Scrivener (he was a consulting engineer on the subway), Mr. and Mrs. Harry Molo (he wore a top hat) and Mr. and Mrs. Harry Rowland.”

The press no longer refers to women by their husbands’ names, but then, as now, Toronto had fashionably dressed citizens who were enthusiastic about transit. Only today we call them hipsters.

2. Then, as now, accessibility was a concern.

“In the name of process, a couple of problems have been created by the new subway,” wrote N. Edmonds to the Daily Star shortly after the Bloor-Danforth line opened. “There are certain people, not necessarily all senior citizens, who cannot climb stairs, as one must do, for example, at Spadina.”

Today, Spadina station is accessible on the Bloor-Danforth line — but it remains inaccessible to riders on the University line who cannot use stairs.

3. Politicians’ egos don’t seem to have changed much over the last half-century.

Who gets to be in the photo op was just as much an issue in the days of flash bulbs as it is in the age of social media. Former mayor Allan Lamport complained to the Daily Star about being excluded from the ceremonial opening of the line.

“I did a much more important thing… I went to see my mother in St. Michael’s Hospital,” he said. “The only thing that would have drawn me to the subway opening was an official invitation to be among the platform guests, and I didn’t get one. But I’m not going to discuss it.”

4. Perhaps it’s only human nature to be unable to make accurate predictions about the future.

Fifty years ago, the Daily Star interviewed Bill Watson, the secretary of the Ontario Electric Railway Historical Association, who mournfully predicted that subways would soon mean the death of streetcars.

“You know, in 15 or 20 years, kids won’t know what a streetcar is,” he said.

5. Thirty years before amalgamation, urban-suburban tensions divided the city.

In 1967, an angry Mayor William Dennison said a tax exemption given to the TTC in order to expand the Bloor-Danforth line into Etobicoke and Scarborough was just “another slice of foreign aid” to the suburbs.

Anniversary celebrated at Chester newsstand

You know it’s a big day when a subway newsstand gets “dressed up” like a piñata and a dancer performs some “family-friendly burlesque.”

It’s happening Thursday at Chester Station.

Jess Dobkin and other artists have been using the newsstand as a performance and visual art space for the past year. Their contract is up April 30, and, before they go, they’re planning a series of special events, including Thursday’s celebration.

It starts at 3 p.m. when the piñata makeover will be unveiled. Volunteers will hand out birthday balloons and cake, spokesman Carson Pinch said. DJ Nick Red will be there, spinning hits from 1966 and providing the background music for a dance party.

The burlesque show is slated for the evening rush hour, performaned by a dancer whose stage name is Dainty Box. 

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