When talking about the Sheppard subway line, it’s all too easy to get derailed into arguments and fantasies about what should have been built, or whether the line even has merit. I prefer to focus on what did get built, because that’s what ultimately we have to live with.

Escalator at Sheppard-Yonge subway station
Sheppard-Yonge: a clashing conflation of styles

Sheppard-Yonge exhausts me. As the interchange point between the Yonge and Sheppard lines, it’s the third-busiest station in the system. It suffers from a dizzying amalgam of disparate finishes and styles, that are the result of mashing together two separate stations, a linked bus terminal, and constantly-sprouting adjoining new developments.

The consequent multiplicity of entrances, concourses, and platform transition points often confuses travellers—too many cooks have spoiled this broth.

Sheppard-Yonge subway, Hullmark Centre entrance
The stark Hullmark Centre entrance to the Sheppard south platform: achingly monotone

It’s useful to view Sheppard-Yonge through the lens of the ‘no-frills’ subway approach espoused by then-Minister of Transportation, Al Palladini, and Ontario Premier Mike Harris. Deriding palatial Sheppard West (formerly Downsview) as ‘not the type of facility the province would envision’, the Harris government chopped the budgets for architectural design that would be permitted along Mayor Mel Lastman’s pet line. Flourish and panache were declared anathema.

Yonge level platform at Sheppard-Yonge subway station.
The dingy Yonge level. Look at the bottom half of the platform wall. That’s not a shadow—it’s accumulated brake dust and grime.

The lower Yonge level platform serves as an easy introduction to the limitations of deliberate mediocrity. Originally opening as Sheppard station on March 29, 1974 in the second phase of the North Yonge subway extension, this level visually resembled that of its sister station two stops to the south, Lawrence, with a pale blue accent instead of red.

With the addition of the interchange level above, the lower platform received a half-hearted renovation that neglected to properly update the outer walls. The slats have stained badly over the years, and don’t seem to be cleaned regularly. The decrepitude (particularly at the platform ends) clashes with the monotonous brushed-steel of the interior walls and support columns that are thematic of the Sheppard line. Why leave half of the station in disrepair, given the opportunity to revamp the entire thing? It isn’t a flattering look.

Ceiling and conduits at Sheppard-Yonge subway
At the interface where old meets new, the outcome seems sub-optimal

The upper Sheppard level was designed by NORR Ltd., and opened for service on November 24, 2002. It was a solid engineering accomplishment to shoehorn in a new level over the existing tracks below, but this created a clumsy layout involving three platforms.

Unused centre platform at Sheppard-Yonge station
The three platforms of the Sheppard level.
Yonge St. passes directly over the arched section.
Through most of the day, the south platform is used as the western terminal for the line; the north platform sees light usage late in the evenings after midnight (during early-closure of the Yonge line north of Eglinton). Wait on the south platform long enough, and you’ll eventually witness the arrival of a few perplexed travellers who have mistakenly used the elevator to the north side, and who then need directions on how to get back.

The roughed-in central platform was built with future expansion of the line westward in mind. It will allow for efficient “Spanish-solution” boarding and alighting, and much heavier passenger volumes. The island remains unused and unfinished; let us pray it does not endure the same fate as Kipling’s abandoned RT platform. It’s plausible to suggest that we will one day applaud the foresight of the architects, and that the overall layout will make much more sense, if the line ever continues west (or volumes increase sufficiently to merit its use).

Stacey Spiegel's Immersion Land at Sheppard-Yonge subway.

The walls on the Sheppard level are dominated by Stacy Spiegel’s panoramic artwork, Immersion Land. Using over a million-and-a-half porcelain tiles, the mostly forgettable piece presents us with a pixellated wrap-around landscape of the countryside on the way to North Bay. Given the imposed fiscal constraints of the time, I suppose we should be grateful anything is there at all.

My boredom with Spiegel’s piece surprises me, given the delight and satisfaction I feel with James Sutherland’s Spadina Summer Under All Seasons at Dupont. To me the latter shows real craft and artistry; the former merely seems like a digitized computer photo projected onto the wall: nothing special. What do you think?

Sheppard-Yonge boasts two other small works of art/ornamentation (there used to be a fourth, Robin Collyer’s Dwell, but it was obliterated by the Hullmark Centre and subsequently not re-installed).

Edwin McCormick painting at Sheppard-Yonge.
A commemorative print by Edwin McCormick.

A gracefully coloured print by Edwin McCormick is mounted in the north concourse, opposite the fare collection booth. Unveiled during the 1974 opening by TTC Chair Karl Mallette, it is dedicated to the workers who built the Yonge subway extension, and particularly to the memory of two workers who died during its construction (another print of McCormick’s hangs at Bloor).

Outside the station, a historical TTC plaque on the northwest corner of Yonge and Sheppard relates the story of the (eponymous) Joseph Shepard / Dempsey Brothers house, which stood there in 1860.

Sheppard station's pedestrian concourse to the bus platform
Pedestrian concourse to the bus platform: 1970’s brown.

Lastly, the street-level bus platform provides a warm throwback dose of early 1970’s TTC station aesthetics. It’s a welcome relief from the stunted aspirations of the rest of the facility.

Even though I travel through Sheppard-Yonge all the time, unfortunately I can’t say that it inspires me. Perhaps I’m just too cynical.

Photo Gallery

Tour the station, and view captioned historical images from its past:

Sheppard-Yonge photo gallery

Sheppard-Yonge station subway transfer
Sheppard-Yonge station transfer

More about Sheppard-Yonge

TTC Station info | Map | Wikipedia: Sheppard-Yonge

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