Wilson station is a jazz tune gone sour.

Wilson station exterior photograph
An ungainly Brutalist exterior; a crazy-quilt interior

A bewildering labyrinth of halls, corridors, and tunnels awaits visitors to this station. Perhaps intended as a powerful showcase of modernist transit design, Wilson instead reveals the disconnection of its engineer-planners from actual users—unlike the other stations of the Spadina line, Wilson and St. Clair West were architected in-house by the TTC, under the direction of Herta Freyberg.

Sections of the station are wonderful. The problem is, the incongruous parts don’t match or flow well with each other.

Wilson subway platform
The subway platform at Wilson: plenty of visual stimuli

The primary complaints with Wilson are the distance and change of levels between the subway and the bus platforms—for transferring passengers, the extended layout translates into missed connections, as precious minutes are eaten up by the laborious trek from one area to the other.

That concern aside, I had a blast exploring Wilson’s Byzantine nooks and crannies. I have a perverse attraction to architecture that doesn’t mesh, holistically.

Lounge area at Wilson station
The Wilson Lounge: the saddest artificial plants you shall ever see... (to my vast disappointment, this area is no more)

Ted Bieler's wall sculpture Canyons in Wilson station's mezzanine
Ted Bieler’s aluminium wall-relief sculpture, Canyons

My nomination for ‘most-unwelcoming public section of the TTC subway system’ is the fearsome view that greets you from the south-east commuter parking lot entrance:
Parking lot tunnel at Wilson station
Beware: the Minotaur awaits.

There isn’t much point in dressing up a parking lot tunnel. Why bother? Still, it’s shocking to be confronted by such a raw vista [see Update 3 below] (Midland’s east-side automated entrance is the rival that comes to mind for barren disdain).

Contrast this with the placid circular hub at the heart of the station:

Circular hub at Wilson Station: where everything connects
Meet me at the circle!

Until the end of Wilson’s reign as the terminus of the Spadina line in 1996, the two-level bus platform was a maelstrom of activity, serving 17 routes at its peak (in fact there was even a secondary North Terminal constructed to handle the overflow; this structure was subsequently mothballed when its routes were mostly transposed to Downsview (now Sheppard West)).

Wilson bus platform
The depressing and bleak double-decker bus platform

Isolated, convoluted, and inharmonious, Wilson station officially opened January 27, 1978, with public access the following day. I like to claim erroneously that it was named after the widely-respected and influential civil-engineer, Norman D. Wilson, who helped plan and design the original Yonge subway (as well as the wye connecting to Bay Lower for interlining). I say erroneously because in fact, Wilson Ave. (formerly Twentieth Ave.) was named after Arthur L. Willson, a clerk and treasurer of York Township. In spite of this historical fact, I like to pretend that Norman D. got a sly nod regardless. The nearby Wilson Yard houses and services the trains for Line 1.

Shalak Attack 'The Guardians' Wilson Pillars project
One of Shalak Attack’s Guardians beneath Wilson Station

Update: On October 26, 2016 the city enthusiastically showed off Shalak Attack’s The Guardians, a vivid work of magical realism celebrating women’s empowerment, in collaboration with StreetART Toronto and the TTC. The Canadian-Chilean artist’s installation deftly embraces the dark and foreboding underpasses supporting Wilson’s subway platform and the Allen expressway, and is well worth exploration.

Please touch! The sinuous curves of Outside the Lines

Update 2: In late 2019 Wilson received a third art installation: Outside the Lines, by Christine Leu and Alan Webb. The seven spread-out, squiggly powder-coated steel tube sculptures that make up the work prompted derisory comparisons to a certain familiar children's toy. But abstract absurdity deserves a spot in the spectrum of public art we encounter, and the explicit tactility of Outside the Lines makes it unique—in the multi-layered visual cacophony of Wilson station, it’s yet another strange, cerebral, discordant note thrown into the mix.

Update 3:  Wilson station keeps mutating! Elevators for accessibility, the disappointing replacement of the ‘Lounge’ with a relocated news-stand, and some storage space taking up some of the main mezzanine, are all material alterations. But the major modification to appreciate is a fourth art installation, located at the very spot I’d mocked in my gallery as being horror-movie-worthy: the south-east lot entrance [speaking of the south-east lot, the latter no longer exists, having been subsumed by the craptacularly banal ‘Shops At Wilson Station’ complex]. 

The Snowy Owl, one of three murals making up Shalak Attack’s Daily Migration: asking you to contemplate your own journey

Unveiled on October 17, 2021, Shalak Attack’s Daily Migrationshares stories of movement across urban spaces and nature, human relationships to the animal world, and the ties that connect us.’ The third installation that Shalak Attack has completed for the TTC (see Lawrence East for #2), Daily Migration boldly addresses what was unquestionably an inhospitable, gloomy physical space at the station.   

Photo Gallery

Tour the station, and view captioned historical images from its past, including photos of new artwork The Guardians, Outside the Lines, and Daily Migration:
(hint: turn on the captions)

Wilson subway station photo gallery

Transfer for Wilson subway station
Wilson station transfer

More about Wilson

TTC Station info | Map | Wikipedia: Wilson

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