Toronto’s Union Stations is easily one of the most recognisable structures in the city. Upwards of 95% of GO transit’s 65+ million yearly rides are to and from this massive railway hub downtown. For many commuters, passing through Union station is a daily ritual. Union’s exterior and Great Hall are a homage to Beaux-Arts executed on a grand scale. Physically, the station and it’s train shed span 17 acres of land – 5 more than the SkyDome/Rogers Centre.
This huge, sprawling complex of railway tracks, platforms, tunnels, halls, and office space is a mishmash of new an old. Just walking from entrance to a platform, a casual observer cannot help but to notice pathways between grades, stairways that zigzag far too often, and a jumble of different architectural styles. In addition to its architecture and public areas the station also is home to some unique features that make it an interesting urban exploration location. Since much of Union is under ground level, it isn’t a surprise to learn that many of its service tunnels share connections to electrical, water and transit (think subway + streetcar) infrastructure as well. This article from Infiltration magazine is an interesting read about these utility tunnels.
Nevertheless I was surprised when I ended up stumbling into one of these paths, entirely by accident and with it entirely in plain sight! I had missed my train one night, and had about 30 minutes to pass waiting for the next one to arrive. I spent the time walking around Union. On the Bay Street side of Union, there is a small glassed-in enclosure with stairs leading down to what I presumed was the garage level. Boy was I wrong. Dimly lit and with beer bottles, dirt, and partly-cut boards laying about, it was a (slight!) departure from the usual state of affairs at Union. It was only upon walking down 3 flights of stairs and seeing a dead-end at a metal door that I began to think this staircase wasn’t to the garage….
…And that’s when I heard the subway honk!-honk! and pass by beyond the door. I had heard that there were tunnels that lead directly to the TTC subway station through Union, but I had not expected this. Although the entrance to this stairwell was in a public area, with no markings on it and without any kind of locks – I decided I had better not risk going further, lest I really find myself facing a subway train. I hurriedly removed myself from the area and made my way to the train platform bound for home. Where in the Union subway station that door opened to I don’t think I’ll ever know for certain.
Union station is currently undergoing its 2nd major renovation (the 1st being the addition of the GO concourse in the 80s), and will almost double in size by adding a second concourse level underneath the current one. I can only wonder what kind of odd stories the engineers working under station have dug up!