St. George

Oh, the madness of St. George!

Imagine if every member of Toronto’s city council was forced to experience—even once—the terrifying crush of St. George during a rush-hour system delay. Their stingy attitudes about funding our overloaded transit network would change in a hurry.

St. George has two island platforms stacked on top of one another. The top one services north- and southbound trains; the bottom one east- and westbound. For platform tiling style history buffs, St. George initiated the simple clean Bloor line ceramic tile 'look', three years before the line opened..
St. George upper platform: It’s almost never this empty.
 
St. George has long been one of the TTC’s busiest facilities—like Bloor-Yonge, a critical central nexus point of intersecting subway lines. With my unsubtle proclivity for photographing stations as barren liminal spaces, St. George challenged my patience severely. I had to do a lot of skulking about during odd hours, waiting for trains to come through, and for passengers to shuffle out of sight. Even then, despite my best efforts, there was almost always somebody lurking in the background.

The commemorative University line opening-day plaque at St. George reminds us of the original usage design of the station: as part of the interlined 'Bloor-Danforth-University subway'. Note Norman D. Wilson's name on the plaque.
A reminder of the original system intent for St. George


On February 28, 1963, St. George entered service as the northern terminal station for the newly opened University segment of the ‘Bloor-Danforth-University Subway’. That historical name for the line—appearing on the commemorative plaque displayed in the mezzanine—hints at the original operational design for St. George. It is a vital clue in understanding why the station is so often crammed well past the threshold of comfort.

You see, we don’t use St. George in the way its designers envisioned.

After opening the Bloor-Danforth subway in 1966, the TTC failed to successfully implement interlining (see Bay Lower for my discussion of the topic). The budget-constrained stairwells, escalators and circulation space at St. George were built with the assumption of an integrated system in place, with the Bloor-Danforth-University Subway all connected. Instead of manually transferring at St. George (or its mirror, Bay), you would just stay on your train. What’s more, significant passenger volumes would be siphoned off by the planned Queen subway (later the Relief Line), easing the pressure even more. 

The capacity requirement at St. George was thus understood as much lower. But a rocky 6-month interlining trial period (starting February 26, 1966) led a conflicted TTC management to eventually opt for separated line operations, with St. George again becoming the terminal for the University line, after Labour Day of that year. The predictable effect on St. George was immediate: unwieldy crowds built up during the afternoon rush hour, due to people physically transferring between the lines.

Yes, it has been this way since 1966. And we knew it would happen.  

The crowding was then amplified by the subsequent decision to align and graft the Spadina subway onto the University line via St. George. Norman D. Wilson—the designer of our early subway system, and of the controversial wye track structure that enabled interlining—explicitly warned us not to do this.*

But we did—and voilà, we have the St. George of today. When four trains unload on all the platforms simultaneously, it’s an instant overload. Whether you frame it as a deficiency of Wilson’s integrated design, or as a series of perverse historical choices to use the station in a different way than intended, or both, it doesn’t really matter: St. George is barely adequate for the task we have currently set for it. And of course, we kept pushing off the Relief line, decade after decade. 

The west end of the station is a bit peculiar as it visually 'looks' like the main entrance (not to mention being on St. George!), but is an automated entrance most of the time.
The St. George St. George Street entrance. Say that ten times fast! Look at that swooping canopy. I wish we had more of these.
 

In 1994, the prototype for a novel wayfinding scheme designed by pictogram authority Paul Arthur was installed as an experiment at the station. A dragon icon was chosen to symbolize St. George, and could be found beside the station name on the strap-line along half the platform (on both levels), and on the Bedford Road entrance pylon sign. However, the funds for implementing the new wayfinding project system-wide were not ultimately approved, and the Arthur design never proceeded any further. You’ll need to peek into the archival section of the gallery to see examples: the prototype signage and iconography at St. George was mostly removed in 2015 (though the Bedford Road pylon survived in place until roughly 2020).  

In terms of remaining decorative elements, in addition to the aforementioned commemorative plaque, a pair of ‘Then and Now’ photos decorate the space by the Bedford Road collector booth. Curiously the photos are of the south east corner of Bloor St. and Queen’s Park Road, which is a lot closer to Museum if you ask me. 

Should you need to escape from the milling crowds of humanity for a few moments, the bus platform up at street level usually offers a relatively quiet spot for repose. 

At the moment the 26 Dupont is the only bus route that connects with St. George, so only one platform tends to be in use. The second platform occasionally sees use during service disruptions or during maintenance on the first platform.
The 26 Dupont bus platform at St. George.
 
The other endearing quirk about St. George is the hidden-in-plain-sight third entrance within the bowels of the University of Toronto OISE building. Most people forget it exists, though I’m sure it’s handy for the students.
Be prepared for a fair bit of corridor and staircase navigating if you try to exit from here. There's not really a direct path to exit to the street.
The OISE basement portal: One of the harder-to-find subway entrances, from street level.

St. George is named after Laurent Quetton, a French royalist who fled the French Revolution and arrived in England on St. George’s Day. Quetton added St. George to his name, and later became a businessman in Upper Canada, building the first brick home in York.  His friend William Baldwin (who had designed the house) named St. George Street after Quetton when the area around Spadina Avenue was developed.

* “If you do that, you will find you have wrecked the Bloor Subway.” Wilson, as quoted in the Globe and Mail editorial of August 4, 1972. He favoured a Christie connection for the Spadina line, but obviously that did not materialize. I know the repeated invocation of interlining has been ponderous, but it is truly amazing how the bungling of integration permanently rippled through to affect the present-day network. I may never truly love St. George station—but having learned this aspect of its snarled history, I have come to resent its spartan, hemmed-in confines a bit less.

 

Photo Gallery

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

Photo Gallery for St. George subway station in Toronto


Transfer:

St. George station transfer
St. George station transfer

More about St. George

TTC Station info | Map | Wikipedia: St. George

My next stop: Queen
Previous station: Spadina

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