There can be no doubt that the construction of Canada’s first subway was a spectacular engineering triumph. Approved in January 1946, but delayed by post-war shortages of supplies, the ground-breaking ceremony took place on September 8, 1949. In the section south of College Street, the subway was built directly under Yonge Street. Where the “cut and cover” method was used (as far north as Davenport Road), citizens were treated to daily displays of massive equipment, such as pile drivers, power shovels, and cranes, while hundreds of men toiled on the project. The TTC encouraged the public’s interest in the subway construction, and issued several informative brochures for “sidewalk supervisors.”


A man stands at a microphone on a platform set up on the street. Other people are sitting behind him, and there is a crowd in front of the platform.
The ground breaking ceremony for the Yonge Subway was an exciting event attended by thousands, and broadcast live over the radio. The temporary stage was set up at Yonge and Wellington streets, just above where there would soon be an 18-foot excavation.
September 8, 1949
Fonds 1128, Series 381, File 2, Id 5914-7.


To minimize traffic disruption along Yonge Street, the initial work was done along short sections of the street. This work involved preliminary excavation and support for utility conduits, accompanied by the placement of temporary decking to support traffic. This was followed by the completion of the excavation underneath the decking, and the construction of the reinforced concrete subway structure. Finally the temporary decking was removed, the subway structure was backfilled, and Yonge Street was resurfaced.


Workers dig in the ground with shovels and jackhammers. In the background, people are lined up behind a wooden fence, watching.
Crowds gather along Yonge Street in front of Eaton’s department store to watch workers begin the excavation work for the subway
September 28, 1949
Fonds 1567, Series 577, Item 3.


A man in a yellow hardhat, work clothes, and big gloves uses a jackhammer.
Man breaks ground with jack hammer
Artist: John DeRinzy
Fonds 16, Series 259, Item 12.


A crane lowers a large metal beam over an excavation, while workers guide the beam into place.
This view shows horizontal steel support beams placed over excavation work on Front Street. One-foot square timbers were laid across the steel beams, creating the cover over the cut. Traffic could then travel along Front and Yonge streets while work continued below.
January 25, 1950
Fonds 1567, Series 577, Item 24.
Workers are digging under rectangular wooden braces in an large excavation in the ground. They are surrounded by I-beams, a coil of rope, and conduits.
First lift excavation – men digging under wooden frames supporting construction cables and utilities
Artist: John DeRinzy
Fonds 16, Series 259, Item 1.
Workers place wooden planks over an excavation to make a roadway. Crowds on both sides of the street are watching them.
Planking being installed on Yonge Street, south of King Street
March 16, 1950
Fonds 1567, Series 577, Item 27.


A wide wooden platform covers an excavation over Yonge Street. Stores line the road. In the foreground are a coil of rope, a pipe, and other debris.
Yonge Street timber decking
Artist: John DeRinzy
Fonds 16, Series 259, Item 6.


Responding to the tremendous public interest in the new subway, the TTC produced four “manuals” filled with facts, figures, and information required to answer the many questions of the sidewalk superintendents.


Cover of brochure with cartoon of people behind a fence watching a worker dig in a trench.
Cover of brochure with cartoon of people behind a fence watching a worker dig in a trench.
Sidewalk Superintendents’ manuals, grades 1, 2, and 4
[between 1950 and 1953]
Fonds 16, Series 836, Subseries 1, File 29.
Cover of brochure with the TTC logo.
A brochure with a map of the subway route, photographs and illustrations of the stations, and descriptions of the stations and work.
Sidewalk Superintendents’ manuals, grade 3
Fonds 16, Series 836, Subseries 1, File 29.


Meanwhile, underneath the surface, work was continuing away from the interested gazes of the sidewalk superintendents. As these photographs amply illustrate, it was difficult and dirty work, but by the latter part of 1953, the construction work was largely completed.


Workers are installing metal rebar along the floor and walls of a large underground room.
Underground work going on in the Queen-Yonge station area. The floor reinforcing and centre beam have been completed.
March 21, 1950
Fonds 1567, Series 577, Item 36.


Workers are standing on a pipe and in a torrent of water in an underground excavation.
Underground work – burst flume, Front Street. Heavy rain on July 24, 1950 caused a temporary storm sewer to give way, causing flooding south of Adelaide Street.
July 25, 1950
Fonds 1567, Series 577, Item 66.


Workers are holding a large pipe as it pours concrete onto a wall and floor covered in a mesh of metal rebar.
Underground work – pouring first concrete, Yonge Street at Queen Street
March 23, 1950
Fonds 1567, Series 577, Item 38.


A worker in a square concrete tunnel carries a bucket up a ladder to a second level.
Underground work – slab over tunnel, Trinity Square
September 1, 1950
Fonds 1567, Series 577, Item 70.


In an underground space, the bucket of an excavating machine moves dug-up earth into the back of a dump truck.
Underground work – Front Street W., east of York Street
June 2, 1950
Fonds 1567, Series 577, Item 58.


North of College Street, the route continued along a right-of-way adjacent to Yonge Street, partly underground and partly in an open cut as far as Eglinton Avenue. Ten intermediate stations were more or less evenly spaced along the 4.6 mile length of the subway between the Union and Eglinton terminals.


A valley with subway tracks in it and bridges crossing it.
An open-cut section of the Yonge Subway, on the east side of Yonge Street, looking south from Pleasant Boulevard
October 20, 1953
Fonds 1128, Series 381, File 271, Id 11271-25.


A square concrete tunnel with overlapping sets of tracks.
Completed subway tunnel
October 20, 1953
Fonds 1128, Series 381, File 271, Id 11271-69.