Introducing Retro T.O., a new series where we revisit key moments in recent Toronto history that still reverberate today. In this edition, we go back to the August 1994 ground-breaking ceremony for an Eglinton subway line that never materialized.
To those assembled at the corner of Black Creek Drive and Eglinton Avenue, August 25, 1994 was a great day for the future of Toronto transit. A group of shovel-wielding dignitaries led by Ontario Premier Bob Rae broke ground on the Eglinton subway, a project that had been discussed for nearly three decades. Rae, whose York South riding would be served by the 4.7-kilometre, five-station line running from Black Creek Drive to Allen Road, touted the thousands of construction jobs required to build the subway before its planned opening in 2001. City of York officials were all smiles, especially Mayor Fergy Brown, who told reporters he was “busting my buttons with pride” that the municipality finally had its own rapid-transit system. If all went well, the future promised an extension from Black Creek to Pearson International Airport.
Despite the enthusiasm of the line’s backers, opposition rose from the Eglinton West Subway Committee, a group of businesses dreading the impact of construction on their livelihoods. Their fears echoed those expressed in response to every large-scale transit project Toronto has ever built, such as the “St. Clair Disaster.” “We’ll have a loss of parking,” local resident Elaine Chee told the Star. Fearing “traffic jams, noise and dust,” Chee believed the disruption would create a “loss of business and loss of jobs.”
Though work moving utilities and digging Allen station caused some headaches, fears of a neighbourhood apocalypse were unfounded. On July 21, 1995, the new Progressive Conservative government announced $1.9 billion in cuts to education, infrastructure, job training, and social services. Among Minister of Finance Ernie Eves’ statements: “We will proceed with transit projects in a phased approach, beginning with the Sheppard line in Toronto. We are deferring the Eglinton West project until the province and Metro Toronto have sufficient funding to proceed.”
The preservation of the more expensive Sheppard line struck some observers as purely political, as if the Tories gave Rae the finger and punished City of York voters for rejecting the party at the polls. By contrast, voters along the Sheppard line provided the new government with its attorney-general, Charles Harnick. It didn’t hurt that Sheppard’s loudest booster, North York Mayor Mel Lastman, was a longtime Tory. Provincial officials who insisted that the Eglinton line was merely hibernating sounded as convincing as a dead parrot pining for the fjords.
The deferral sat poorly with recently elected City of York Mayor Frances Nunziata, whose municipality was left with a $50-million hole in the ground. With the support of councillors she usually fought with, Nunziata pressed the province to honour all existing contracts for the subway before mothballing it. Local coalitions that fought the subway gave way to groups working to save it, led by businesses worried about the impact of growing traffic jams along Eglinton.
While officials in York were livid, next door in Etobicoke, Mayor Doug Holyday took the cut in stride. Believing the cuts in general were a positive thing, he felt slashing Eglinton was a fact of life necessary to compensate for NDP overspending. “There is a time when we will want to see the subway go all the way to the airport,” he told the Star, that time being when money was available.
Little did Holyday know he’d wait almost two decades for that money to appear.
Additional material from the August 25, 1994, August 26, 1994, and July 22, 1995 editions of the Toronto Star.