“We don’t want to become a city of moles”

This installment of my “Retro T.O.” online column for The Grid was originally published on May 22, 2012.

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Toronto Star, December 18, 1971.

To some, it provided a welcome respite from braving the elements on their lunch break. For others, especially those working in its retail outlets, it made them feel like a mole. The three kilometres of underground shopping malls and tunnels that 175,000 office workers passed through daily in May 1980 formed the spine from which today’s PATH system grew.

Since the opening of the Toronto-Dominion Centre’s sub-surface shopping complex in 1967, planners and developers envisioned an underground network connecting the core’s major business, shopping, and transportation facilities. One of the first reports commissioned by the city was 1968’s “On Foot Downtown,” which concluded that downtown pedestrians required a space that wasn’t impeded by industrial pollution, noise, traffic congestion, or too many of their fellow human beings. “We had reached the point where sidewalks couldn’t handle all the people,” former Toronto planning commissioner Matthew Lawson told the Star in 1980. “At the same time, all our forecasts said such conditions would only worsen because of the growth of the downtown work force.”

It was hoped that a climate-controlled underground route would avert these problems and provide protection from Mother Nature—as Toronto development commissioner Graham Emslie told the Star in 1971, “let’s face it, there are a hell of a lot of days you’d just as soon not walk outside.” The first major connection in the primordial PATH, which linked Nathan Phillips Square to the Richmond-Adelaide Centre, opened in January 1973. By May 1980, apart from a gap at Adelaide Street that became a haven for jaywalkers, one could wander underground from City Hall to Union Station.

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Toronto Star, November 17, 1973. Click on image for larger version.

While many users extolled the network’s conveniences, some urban planners and consultants were alarmed by the potential effects on surface life. An adviser to a planned revitalization of Yonge Street found it “worrisome” that in the future, people would take the subway downtown, shop at the Eaton Centre and other underground shopping complexes, then head home without ever setting foot outdoors. “We don’t want to become a city of moles,” noted Toronto planning and development commissioner Steve McLaughlin. To mitigate such a fate, a recently written central plan for the city encouraged developers to place higher priority on street-level retail in future buildings. According to McLaughlin, “we don’t want the downtown streets to contain nothing more than block after block of office lobbies.”

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Toronto Star, May 3, 1980. Click on image for larger version.

Back underground, Downtown Business Council president David Arscott provided the Star with a shopping list of improvements. Filling the gap under Adelaide Street was critical, as was a proper orientation system to give users a sense of which surface landmarks they were wandering under. Complaints Arscott received that required addressing included narrow walkways, poor lighting, low ceilings, and boring street entrances. “We are still in a primitive stage of the art,” said Arscott. “We have a lot to learn from experience.”

Aerial views, maps and underground path. - 1981-1981

Downtown Toronto underground pedestrian mall system, 1981. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 408, Item 5.

Within the next decade, some of those issues were resolved. The Adelaide gap was fixed in 1984, while a tunnel opened under Bay Street in 1990 that properly connected the Eaton Centre and Simpsons (now The Bay) to the rest of the PATH. Signage would long remain a problem, one caught between city politicians who wanted clear wayfinding versus landlords who didn’t want to create the impression that the network was a truly public space.

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“People bound for jobs in the financial district pour out of Union station into the underground mall section of the Royal Bank Plaza. It’s been described as an ‘environmental vaccuum’ by some due to the poor artificial lighting and the mechanically recirculated stale air.” Photo by Erin Combs, 1985. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library.

While a few people may have mutated into moles over the years, the surface streets remain filled with those seeking a breath of unfiltered air during the workday.

Additional material from the December 18, 1971, January 11, 1973, and May 3, 1980 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Good Vibrations at The Fifty Fourth

Originally published on Torontoist on December 16, 2008.


Globe and Mail, December 22, 1977.

For some, one of the highlights of the holiday season is taking the opportunity to wind down the year with a night on the town accompanied by a loved one or someone that will, fingers crossed, soon be the most cherished person in your life. The outing may include a couple of drinks, a fine meal, and a silent prayer that your partner won’t notice that you have two left feet on the dance floor. If you visited The Fifty Fourth restaurant atop the Toronto-Dominion Centre back in the late 1970s, you would have tossed in a fine view of the city and music from one of the country’s best vibraphonists.

The Fifty Fourth and its sibling, the Safari Lounge, first provided patrons magnificent views of the city in 1967. Besides mutant lobsters whose plans to conquer the city evaporated when they were tossed into boiling water, diners were treated to a “fine international menu” that spotlighted dishes like roast pheasant and Brome Lake duckling.

It’s odd that the generic depiction of musicians focuses on a horn player, as headliner Peter Appleyard gained fame for his skill with the vibraphone. Still active at age 80, Appleyard’s career stretches back to World War II, when the British native played in Royal Air Force bands. Appleyard was a busy man in 1977—he hosted his own syndicated television show, Peter Appleyard Presents, and served as musical director of The Fifty Fourth. His hiring, along with $14.50 prix-fixe meals, was part of the restaurant’s move to expand its clientele and play down its earlier reputation as one of the costliest places to eat in the city. Globe and Mail reviewer Blaik Kirby felt that “Appleyard’s quartet is admirably right because of its light weight as well as its conservative dinner repertoire. It noodles along pleasantly, jazz style, and never abuses your ears.”

Diners are still able to view the city from the top of the Toronto-Dominion Centre, courtesy of Canoe.

Additional material from the December 7, 1977 edition of the Globe and Mail and the March 9, 1979 edition of the Toronto Star.


Appleyard passed away in 2013.  Here’s an opening to Peter Appleyard Presents dug up by Retrontario, featuring the Downchild Blues Band.

Vintage Toronto Ads: “The Bank” Wants You

Originally published on Torontoist on July 31, 2007.


Source: Leaside High School Clan Call, 1961/62 edition.

“THE BANK.” Does the use of bold face and quotations make this institution sound Big Brotherish?

Canada’s major banks regularly advertised in high school yearbooks and college newspapers in the 1960s, eager for new recruits as branches opened in new suburban markets. With all of the promises of security and comfort for potential employees, who wouldn’t want to sign up with “The Bank?” This was the era of secure, benefit-laden futures, which anyone who applied in 1962 and stayed the course is now hopefully enjoying in retirement.

It was an era of major change for Toronto-Dominion Bank, formed in February 1955 after the merger of the Bank of Toronto (established 1855) and The Dominion Bank (established 1871). Around the time this ad appeared, it was announced that a new headquarters was under development, plans that evolved into Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s landmark Toronto-Dominion Centre. It is possible that students drawn in by this ad were among the complex’s first office workers when the initial tower opened in 1967.

One question: was posing by a stool a prerequisite for businessmen in advertisements of this era?