King Street West Railway Underpass – Solving 1880s Traffic Issues

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2020 – Looking southwest towards the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass from just west of Sudbury St. It was completed in 1890 and designed by City of Toronto Engineer Charles Sproatt
2020 – Looking southwest towards the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass from just west of Sudbury St

The King Street West Railway Subway Underpass is located between Atlantic Ave and Sudbury St in the King West Village and Liberty Village neighbourhoods of Toronto.

The Development of Toronto’s Rail & Road System

In the 1850s, railway lines began being constructed through the area. This joined the region with the upper Great Lakes and destinations in between. During the next three decades, numerous tracks were built to move passengers and freight from Toronto to London, Detroit and Chicago and, in time, to cities on the West Coast.

Rail traffic in the King Street West area was quite heavy. It was dangerous for pedestrians and horse-drawn vehicles trying to cross between the City of Toronto and what was then the Town of Parkdale. So in 1885, a report was submitted for the cost of a railway bridge crossing King St W. The estimates were $38,300 for a wooden bridge and $72,850 for an iron one.

The King Street West Railway Underpass

1899 - Looking east toward the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass. Rail traffic in the King St W area was heavy. The underpass was constructed so that pedestrians and vehicles could cross the railway lines safely
1899 – Looking east toward the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass. Rail traffic in the King St W area was heavy. The underpass was constructed so that pedestrians and vehicles could cross the railway lines safely (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 376, File 2, Item 18)

An iron bridge was chosen with approximately $160,000 in contributions – $80,000 from the City of Toronto, $15,500 from the Municipality of Parkdale and the balance from the three railway companies whose lines crossed the area, Grand Trunk, Northern and Canadian Pacific. The city would be responsible for maintaining the roadway, masonry work and sidewalk while the railway companies had to keep the bridge superstructure, including the pillars, in good repair. Designed by City of Toronto Engineer Charles Sproatt, the iron girder bridge crosses King St W diagonally.

The first sod was turned in February 1888. The earth removed to make the underpass was taken 700 m east to fill the Garrison Creek hollow and help create Stanley Park. The following year the town of Parkdale became part of the City of Toronto.

In October 1890, the project was nearing completion. King St W between Dufferin St and Strachan Ave was being prepared for traffic through the new underpass by workers putting down a block roadway. The King Street West Railway Underpass solved the traffic safety issues and was essential to Toronto’s rail and road system growth.

In 1912, the Grand Trunk Railway Company proposed reconstructing the railway underpass. The plan was to replace the stone pillars supporting the bridge with steel, plus the city wanted the headroom increased from 14 ft to 18 ft so that busses could pass through without difficulty. This would have been done by lowering the roadway by four feet. These plans fell through as the stone pillars remain, and the bridge’s vertical height is 4.1 m or approximately 14 ft.

200 Cows Tie-Up Traffic

On an October afternoon in 1913, city dwellers were treated to a pastoral sight. About 200 cows were shepherded from Sunnyside to King St W by one man, four boys and a weary dog along the way, trampling lawns and flower beds.

Residents “watched the fun” and the procession from their verandahs. People ran in all directions to stay out of the herd’s way, and traffic on King St W was brought to a standstill. Cows pushed against cars on the busy thoroughfare and crowded the remaining brave pedestrians. Streetcar operators tried their best to move the cattle along and stay on time to no avail. For 17 minutes, eight streetcars were trapped by the bovine blockade under the King Street West Railway Underpass. The cows finally made their way up an embankment on King St W, just west of Shaw St. Perhaps they were heading to the Western Cattle Market once on the south side of Wellington St W, between Strachan Ave and Tecumseth St.

The Heritage-Designated Underpass

2020 – Walls and a total of 29 stone pillars support the iron bridge known as the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass
2020 – Walls and a total of 29 stone pillars support the iron bridge known as the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass

In 1975, the structure’s wooden deck was replaced with concrete. The underpass was added to Toronto’s Heritage Register.

Did You Know?

  • There are a total of 29 stone pillars helping support the bridge. Each one is numbered near the top of the pillar.
  • For decades, the underpass was known as the “King Street Subway.”
  • If the name Sproatt sounds familiar when it comes to Toronto’s architecture, that’s because renowned architect Henry Sproatt was the son of Charles. Henry designed some of the city’s beautiful landmarks, including the Canada Life Building (University Ave and Queen St W) and the Manufacturer’s Life Insurance Building (Bloor St E and St Paul’s Sq).
  • King St was one of the first roads in the Town of York (Toronto). The street is named after King George III (1738-1820), the reigning monarch when the street was laid out.

King Street West Railway Underpass Photos

2020 - The King Street West Railway Subway Underpass is located between Atlantic Ave and Sudbury St in the King West Village and Liberty Village neighbourhoods of Toronto
2020 – The King Street West Railway Subway Underpass is located between Atlantic Ave and Sudbury St in the King West Village and Liberty Village neighbourhoods of Toronto
1899 - Looking southwest towards the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass from just west of Sudbury St. The underpass was constructed between 1888 and 1890 to solve the area's traffic safety issues
1899 – Looking southwest towards the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass from just west of Sudbury St. The underpass was constructed between 1888 and 1890 to solve the area’s traffic safety issues (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 376, File 2, Item 17)
2020 – Looking southwest towards the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass from just west of Sudbury St. It was completed in 1890 and designed by City of Toronto Engineer Charles Sproatt
2020 – Looking southwest towards the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass from just west of Sudbury St. It was completed in 1890 and designed by City of Toronto Engineer Charles Sproatt
2020 – A TTC streetcar heading east through the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass. In the late 1800s, when the underpass was being constructed, the earth removed was transported 700 m east to the Garrison Creek hollow and created Stanley Park
2020 – A TTC streetcar heading east through the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass. In the late 1800s, when the underpass was being constructed, the earth removed was transported 700 m east to the Garrison Creek hollow and created Stanley Park
1899 - Looking east toward the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass. Rail traffic in the King St W area was heavy. The underpass was constructed so that pedestrians and vehicles could cross the railway lines safely
1899 – Looking east toward the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass. Rail traffic in the King St W area was heavy. The underpass was constructed so that pedestrians and vehicles could cross the railway lines safely (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 376, File 2, Item 18)
2020 – Walls and a total of 29 stone pillars support the iron bridge known as the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass
2020 – Walls and a total of 29 stone pillars support the iron bridge known as the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass
2023 - Pillar number 22 of 29 that help support the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass. Each one is numbered near the top of the pillar
2023 – Pillar number 22 of 29 that help support the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass. Each one is numbered near the top of the pillar
1982 - A TTC streetcar under the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass. Funding for the construction of the underpass came from the City of Toronto, the Municipality of Parkdale and the railway companies Grand Trunk, Northern and Canadian Pacific
1982 – A TTC streetcar under the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass. Funding for the construction of the underpass came from the City of Toronto, the Municipality of Parkdale and the railway companies Grand Trunk, Northern and Canadian Pacific (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 530, Item 8)
2020 – The stone walls and iron bridge of the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass. The structure was designed by City of Toronto Engineer Charles Sproatt
2020 – The stone walls and iron bridge of the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass. The structure was designed by City of Toronto Engineer Charles Sproatt
1923 – Looking east from Atlantic Ave toward the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass
1923 – Looking east from Atlantic Ave toward the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 1677)
1940 - Looking west at traffic under the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass. In the late 1800s, the structure cost approximately $160,000 to build
1940 – Looking west at traffic under the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass. In the late 1800s, the structure cost approximately $160,000 to build (Toronto Public Library TSPA_0113109F)
2020 – Looking east toward the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass. The structure received heritage status from the city in 2006
2020 – Looking east toward the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass. The structure received heritage status from the city in 2006
1983 - Looking east from Atlantic Ave towards the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass and downtown Toronto. The light gray skyscraper in the distance is First Canadian Place at 100 King St W
1983 – Looking east from Atlantic Ave towards the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass and downtown Toronto. The light gray skyscraper in the distance is First Canadian Place at 100 King St W (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 74, Item 45)
1915 – Looking east toward the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass. The buildings on the right are Tower Canadian Oiled Clothing Co Ltd and Rice Lewis & Son Ltd hardware
1915 – Looking east toward the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass. The buildings on the right are Tower Canadian Oiled Clothing Co Ltd and Rice Lewis & Son Ltd hardware (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 1392)
Between 1920 and 1926 – Looking west along King St W towards the Railway Subway Underpass and a row of billboards with Ogden's Guinea Gold Cigarettes and Coca-Cola advertising
Between 1920 and 1926 – Looking west along King St W towards the Railway Subway Underpass and a row of billboards with Ogden’s Guinea Gold Cigarettes and Coca-Cola advertising (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1488, Series 1230, Item 2236)
1929 - A traffic accident at the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass
1929 – A traffic accident at the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 18537)
1983 - Looking east from under the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass. Notice the tower of the Palace Arms Hotel in the distance
1983 – Looking east from under the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass. Notice the tower of the Palace Arms Hotel in the distance (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 74, Item 41)
1983 - Looking east along King St W from Atlantic Ave towards the Railway Subway Underpass and downtown Toronto. Notice the CN Tower behind the trees on the right
1983 – Looking east along King St W from Atlantic Ave towards the Railway Subway Underpass and downtown Toronto. Notice the CN Tower behind the trees on the right (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 46, Item 154)
2021 – Looking northeast towards the King Street West Railway Subway (Underpass) 1888 and the heritage plaque placed by Heritage Toronto
2021 – Looking northeast towards the King Street West Railway Subway (Underpass) 1888 and the heritage plaque placed by Heritage Toronto
2022 – A TTC streetcar passing under the the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass. The bridge's vertical height is 4.1 m or approximately 14 ft
2022 – A TTC streetcar passing under the the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass. The bridge’s vertical height is 4.1 m or approximately 14 ft
2022– Looking northwest toward the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass from Sudbury St
2022– Looking northwest toward the King Street West Railway Subway Underpass from Sudbury St
2021 - The heritage plaque reads:

King Street West Railway Subway (Underpass) 1888

"This railway underpass is one of the oldest in the City of Toronto. Rail lines were first built through this area in the 1850s, connecting Toronto to the upper Great Lakes and points in between. By the 1880s, multiple tracks had been constructed to carry passengers and freight to destinations such as London and Chicago and, eventually, to the edges of the continent. Rail traffic was busy enough to cause lengthy stops and dangerous crossings for pedestrians and horse-drawn vehicles travelling between the City of Toronto and the Town of Parkdale. Designed by Charles Sproatt, a City of Toronto engineer, this underpass succeeded in solving the traffic problem, and was an important structure in the development of Toronto's rail and road system."

City of Toronto Inventory of Heritage Properties - Heritage Toronto 2006
2021 – The heritage plaque reads:

King Street West Railway Subway (Underpass) 1888

“This railway underpass is one of the oldest in the City of Toronto. Rail lines were first built through this area in the 1850s, connecting Toronto to the upper Great Lakes and points in between. By the 1880s, multiple tracks had been constructed to carry passengers and freight to destinations such as London and Chicago and, eventually, to the edges of the continent. Rail traffic was busy enough to cause lengthy stops and dangerous crossings for pedestrians and horse-drawn vehicles travelling between the City of Toronto and the Town of Parkdale. Designed by Charles Sproatt, a City of Toronto engineer, this underpass succeeded in solving the traffic problem, and was an important structure in the development of Toronto’s rail and road system.”

City of Toronto Inventory of Heritage Properties – Heritage Toronto 2006
SOURCE
  • City of Toronto Heritage Register: King Street West Railway Subway (Underpass)
  • Heritage Toronto plaque
  • The Globe Newspaper Archives: Jun 3, 1885, pg 2
  • The Globe Newspaper Archives: Dec 20, 1887, pg 4
  • The Globe Newspaper Archives: Feb 24, 1888, pg 8
  • The Globe Newspaper Archives: Feb 23, 1889, pg 14
  • The Globe Newspaper Archives: Oct 23, 1890, pg 8
  • The Globe Newspaper Archives: Sep 7, 1912, pg 9
  • The Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: Sep 7, 1912, pg 5
  • The Globe Newspaper Archives: Oct 15, 1913, pg 8
  • Toronto Street Names: An Illustrated Guide to Their Origins by Leonard Wise & Allan Gould (2011), pg 135
  • Photos: Denise Marie for TorontoJourney416
  • Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives & Toronto Public Library

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