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Grade Separations


Keele Street looking north at Vine Avenue. April 7, 1915

Another view, 25 years later.

A subway was built c.1890 in the Town of West Toronto on Keele Street to go under the Canadian Pacific Railway main line and some yard tracks. It was a costly project for a small town but, critical to bring about the relocation of the CPR shops from Parkdale and the resulting additional prosperity that would come with it.

Grade separation between railways and roads to provide safer passage for both types of traffic is accomplished primarily by two methods; a bridge to carry trains over a road underpass, first known as a subway or, a bridge to carry the road above the tracks. The latter far more common in rural areas. Such grade separations date from the 19th century but only became common as traffic grew. Today there are still thousands of level crossings across Canada and unfortunately, people are still dying when the two types of users collide.

In Toronto the first major grade separation was a subway constructed in 1897-98 on Queen Street West at Dufferin Street, the dividing point between the City of Toronto and the Village of Parkdale, a costly construction project at the time, so costly it helped bring about the amalgamation of Parkdale. It carried five railway lines above it: Credit Valley, Grand Trunk, Northern Railway of Canada and Toronto, Grey & Bruce.

Grade separation projects involving multiple crossings were big undertakings taking years to accomplish. The most notable such project was the Toronto Viaduct which stretched all across the waterfront from the Don River west beyond John Street a distance of over three miles. What made this such a major undertaking was its location at water level. This meant fill had to be added to raise the railway lines and yards above the roads since they could not be dug below water level. The land was raised almost 20 feet (about 6 metres) and a width of hundreds of feet. It was an enormous undertaking that took over four years to complete from June 17, 1925 until January 31, 1930. Subways were created at several crossings including Yonge, Bay and York Streets replacing mostly level crossings but, also two bridges. A number of streets were closed to reduce the cost of subways.

Other extensive grade separations, less remarked, were constructed in Toronto prior to the Viaduct downtown.
North Toronto Grade Separation was a project stretching along the CPR North Toronto Subdivision from Yonge Street west to Dovercourt Road, a distance of about four miles. It involved ten subways and the closing of several level crossings. Construction took from 1912 to 1917. The surprising thing is that it did not stretch farther west since there were still several more level crossings including Dufferin Street a major north south road stretching for miles. Dufferin did not get done until the early 1950's!

Parkdale Grade Separation ran along the GTR main line between Toronto and Hamilton stretching from Strachan Avenue to Mimico a distance of six miles and involving 13 level crossings that were replaced by four bridges and nine underpasses. It was carried out beginning September 15, 1910 until 1912 and involved cutting down the level of land to allow roads to be bridged over the tracks.

Other stretches of tracks that included a number of crossings were the CPR and GTR mainlines running parallel between Parkdale and West Toronto. King Street West was a very wide subway on an angle. Queen Street West (described above) was also a major subway. Lansdowne Avenue was a more normal size. Dundas Street West was a road bridge above. Bloor Street West was a subway.

To the east there was the GTR mainline running east from Riverdale the end of the Toronto Viaduct to Danforth which included several subways and bridges.

Many other grade separations were constructed one at a time all across Toronto over a period of decades as road traffic increased with municipal development. The cost for even a basic grade separation long ago reached multiple millions of dollars a factor that slows new projects.

Toronto Grade Separations, Viaduct and Parkdale. pdf
Railway Age Gazette June 1913 Collection of Jeffrey P. Smith

CNR Concrete bridges pdf
Railway Age, September 1932
Collection of Jeffrey P. Smith

NOTE: Additional photographs of these and other grade separations, before and after views, as well as more modern views are all welcome. Please contact us.


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