Toronto's vibrant underground life!


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I discovered yesterday, by a chance visit to an endodontist, that Toronto has a vibrant life under street level. Of course I knew that you could probably walk most of the city in the dead of winter through connecting tunnels, but not for a moment was I prepared for what I found.

I got off the subway at St Andrews, and from the station existed into a maze -like world of shops, well clad stockbrokers and bankers and some of the finest food and restaurants I have seen in the city.

It seems that you can live a whole working day without coming up for air in the connecting mall-like walkways. I saw clothing stores, dentists, chiropractors, phone stores, kitchenware, travel agents, chocolate stores and a delectable variety of original food stores, unlike any I have seen above ground. I was there at lunch time, and from the soaring office towers above, a multitude of black suited men and women spilt into the brightly lit bowels of their workplaces to feast on whatever took their fancy or sneak some time with the attractive folk from the next floor. The buzz was quite amazing! Never let it be said that all Canadians are dull - this crowd could easily have competed with New Yorkers on Wall Street!

Hunger got the better of me whilst trying to relocate from whence I had started my journey into this wonderland under the ground, so I browsed around the food section and found it difficult to make up my mind where to eat. I coud have had freshly cut fruit bowls, a plethora of fresh salads sold by weight, hot sandwiches, Korean food, Chinese food, Italian food etc etc. Eventually, I settled on a vegetarian organic meal sold out of a health store - food on the one side, vitamins etc where you paid, on the other. I had a chickpea and yam wholegrain pita with salad, topped with the most delicious mango curry ($6). The food was piping hot and quite scrumptious and the portion so generous, I could have taken half home, had I not got carried away with my munching whilst avidly listening to a financial advisor having an animated conversation with a colleague right next to me. Oh, I also have to report that the public washrooms there ( and they are plentiful), must rate as some of the cleanest I have seen anywhere outside of Switzerland.

Finally, my belly full, I found my way back to the subway, and I have to admit, that I was rather reluctant to leave my newly discovered underground world as I went through the turnstyle.

I have a whole new appreciation of a side of my city I was unaware of before yesterday, and when, in the future, I accompany newcomers or LSDers around Toronto, you can be sure that they too will discover the delights of the Path.

Edited by Karen
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that was my first ever impression of Toronto when I first visited there in 1996. I arrived at the tail-end of a bad blizzard on about 6 January 1996. Outside were mountains of snow. However, everything happened in these underground Malls. So I went home to Pretoria ( at 30C) and told the family what a weird but impressive place Toronto was...the people live underground. I tols them the plkace was CLEAN, MOSTLY UNDERGROUND and BITTERLY COLD. The last comment was probably unfair, because NY and other US cities had pretty much shut down at that time as well.

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We found them when we spent the day in Toronto. For people who are visiting there the Free tourist guide book gives you a map of the various paths and were they come out.

Two other points there are clear signposts at decision points telling you where that particular path is going. In addition they subway stations are also off the underground paths so you can take a subway into town do all your shopping and never see the light of day. As a visitor I would not recommend this if the weather is good as seeing the buildings and the contrast of old and new buildings in downtown Toronto is quite fascinating.


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Some time ago I wrote an article about "Ant Town" when I first discovered the joys of toddling about all over Toronto under Toronto!!

Here it is:

Last time I alluded to a part of Toronto that I called “Ant Town”. Perhaps it is time to clarify what I mean by this.

To start off you need to realise that there is this little problem that Canadians have for about six or more months of the year. It’s called snow and, with the snow, the cold that permeates every tiny opening where it can. This tends to make commuting a hazardous task. Arduous too.

At some stage in the design of many of the cities in Canada someone came up with the brilliant idea to actually use all those cold, drafty underground areas of the buildings that weren’t taken up with the need for parking space. If you link different buildings to each other and sell the space to shops then you have a captive audience each day as they wend their way in relative comfort through to their chosen cubicle in the sky.

When you get off the GO train at Union Station with the millions of other travelers you can walk underground to your destination to most of the core business centre of downtown Toronto. During the winter months it amuses me to see this bustling hive of activity that takes place under the city. This is why I refer to it as “Ant Town”. Lots of little ants running around with plenty of enthusiasm and little direction. Popping up every so often to see whether the weather has changed enough to allow them to forage above ground at the nearest coffee shop. It is a steady flow of people rushing back and forth all day.

Actually the concept has been around since the early 1900’s when Eaton’s built the first pedestrian tunnel from it’s main store to link to its bargain basement annex. As Eaton’s could be likened to Stuttafords I am not sure whether this was to help the clientele or to keep the lower classes in their proper place.

In 1924 Union Station was completed downtown and a tunnel linking the Royal York Hotel was built. This was in the days when travel by train was still regarded as “proper” by the upper class. Which I suppose is why a link to the rather posh Royal York was set up. Too short a walk to require a taxi, the need to keep the furs dry necessitated an underground trip instead.

Some time later, and much to Toronto’s horror, those pesky French in Montreal opened up Canada’s first underground shopping concourse. In 1961 the Place de Ville was opened in Montreal and set off a degree of envy in Hogtown that was unrivalled elsewhere either east or west. This was a bad thing! How could Toronto let Montreal show them up like this? Bad enough that the Canadiennes were beating the heck out of the Maple Leafs at ice hockey. Even worse that Montreal has prettier, and older buildings.

So because there was a stable economy and much downtown investment in building much activity was spent on linking the downtown area. The major areas being the Royal Bank Plaza, TD Centre and other banking or financial areas. Actually the first of these complexes’s that started the linking process was the Richmond-Adelaide complex, which was linked to Nathan Phillips Square and then the Sheraton Centre.

Nathan Phillips Square being where a lot of activity takes place during the winter month. Ice sculpting, Santa parades and the odd homeless demonstration.

Most of this activity took place from 1973 to 1983 and it was in 1992 that the official PATH name was thought up and instituted. It appears to have been an undertaking that both the City Officials and the business owners worked on together. At this time they discovered that the PATH system is the largest in Canada. Unfortunately it is only comparable in size to the West Edmonton Mall, which if memory serves me right is still the largest Mall in the World. No doubt Hogtown is working on that one. Mind you Square One out in Mississauga may beat them there if the new additions are anything to go by. Although the Edmonton mall has an indoor Roller Coaster! Beat that one eh!

At the moment the PATH system covers 12 city blocks. From the Union Station in the south all the way up to the Atrium on The Bay at Dundas Street. From the Sky Dome and CBC building in the west to One Financial Place in the east. And all stops in between. That is 52 office towers two shopping centres and five subway stations!

The one nice part about the PATH is that it allows you to get to the entertainment district warmly and comfortably during those winter months. As it is always colder at night this is a Godsend. Especially when the wind is being funneled down the streets. Now the problem with this is that despite having a large amount of shops doing a thriving business during the daylight hours at night about 1800 everything closes. Well not everything but almost all anyway. Even the obligatory coffee shops seem to close. Which means a long walk back to Union where the shops are open until the wee hours. Well until the last train leaves anyway.

Interestingly there are over a thousand shops along the walkways underground. Not all of them to do with food either and we aren’t counting the Bay and Eaton’s basements, which also form part of the PATH system. All in all a pleasant way to wander around Toronto for a while.

Unless you are one of the sixty million people who use it every year as part of their way to work. In which case scurrying to and fro makes you look ever so much like a bunch of ants intent on going nowhere fast.

Which is where I came in I suppose.

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Here's an interesting concept. Try and go agains the flow of people between 7:00am and 8:30am. I do it everytime I work night shift. By the time you get to the doors at the TTC/Union station/PATH its sometimes better to go up stairs.

I now know what a Salmon swimming up stream must feel like!! LOL :P

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