Sheppard West (formerly Downsview)

Downsview is a sprawling transit palace. And I mean that in a good way.

[Update: On May 7, 2017 Downsview was officially re-named Sheppard West in anticipation of the Downsview Park station on the Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension. This gratuitous and unnecessary nomenclatural switcheroo irritates me, but I suppose I have to get over it. I’ve kept ‘Downsview’ in the post to reflect the primary timeframe for this project, and when the post was written—just mentally swap in ‘Sheppard West’.] 

Criticized after its opening in 1996 for its supposed opulence in the middle of nowhere, Downsview served for over two decades as the terminus of the Spadina line. Inspired by the aviation heritage of De Havilland and Downsview airfield, the high-ceilinged subway platform level was designed by The Stevens Group Architects and evokes an aircraft hangar, while Adamson Associates Architects were responsible for the mezzanine and above grade structures.

Downsview station's vaulted subway platform
Downsview’s vaulted subway platform evokes an aircraft hangar

Even when busy, the station’s vast modern spaces provide ample room for passengers to breathe and meander. The grand bus transfer hall is the most spectacular of any TTC station built before 2017. Where Scarborough Centre is likely the nadir of TTC subway station bus platforms (some might argue for the pre-demolition Victoria Park), Downsview must represent its zenith. I’ve often had the chance to reflect on the hall’s expansiveness when taking the 85 or the 101 out to Downsview Park. It feels like a genuine transit hub.

Photo: Downsview station: Arlene Stamp's Rising Pi tiling installation
The tiles of Arlene Stamp’s Sliding Pi grace the station walls

The station features two three artistic installations. The seductive tile mosaic of Arlene Stamp’s Sliding Pi covers the concourse wall surfaces with its soothing blue and green influence. Although observers might initially mistake it for a simple tiling pattern, on closer inspection the mosaic is non-repeating and mathematically generated, based on the digits of pi. It was an extremely clever way to enliven the facility while remaining within a constrained budget. Stamp’s design is integral to the atmospheric success of Downsview station.

The second piece at Downsview does not fare so well. A ramshackle sculpture called Boney Bus by John McKinnon (a founding member of the Mercer Union Gallery) stands dejectedly outside the main entrance. 

Boney Bus by John McKinnon

Frankly, it does not impress; I leave it to someone with better taste to appreciate it more than I do. De gustibus...

Photo: Stairwell to passenger pickup, Downsview station, Toronto
Stairwell to Passenger Pick Up, or Space Station?

Photo: Bus platform, Downsview Station, Toronto
Enormous ‘wings’ shield waiting bus passengers from sun and precipitation 

Photo: Skylight for subway platform, Downsview Station
A massive circular skylight provides natural illumination to the subway platform

Downsview was named for John Perkins Bull’s 1844 farm, “Downs View”. The Downs View structure was used by Bull for religious services and a courthouse (the jail was located in the cellar). The Downsview name was selected in a 1994 TTC contest involving the local North York community. The opening ceremony for the station was held on March 29, 1996, and featured a train bursting through a banner, plus a 180-child choir.

All things considered, Downsview station is a muscular statement, the pent-up outburst of almost a decade without subway construction in Toronto. Naysayers may have derided it as an excess of civic ambition and over-expenditure, but sometimes, it’s better to simply shut up and enjoy the architecture.

Update 2: Thirteen years (!) after being approved to enhance the York University Busway, Dodecadandy by Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins was finally installed at Downsview (now Sheppard West), in late 2021. The artistic duo also created the rainbow-colored structure at Woodbine.

Dodecadandy was in limbo for over a dozen years. But it eventually got done! The squat rectangular structure (lower left) is the emergency exit for Sheppard West.
A giant dandelion head wafting seeds down Allen Road...

I can’t help but love Dodecadandy, which visually engages passing transit commuters and car drivers with a notion of carefree propagation. Situated in the transitional space around the Sheppard West emergency exit, it should look fine in the spring sun when the site-specific landscaping plantings begin to flourish. Check out the gallery for more snaps of this fun sculpture!

Photo Gallery

Tour the station, and view captioned historical images from its past (hint: turn on the captions):

Downsview station photo gallery

Photo: Downsview station transfer
Downsview station transfer

More about Sheppard West (formerly Downsview)

TTC Station info | Map | Wikipedia: Sheppard West

My next stop: Kipling
Previous station: Bayview

Alphabetical Station Selector