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Infrastructure as Cultural Legacy: Reading Resistance in the Toronto Transit Commission’s Spadina Subway Line Public Art Programming (1971-1978)

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9:30 AM, Saturday 28 May 2022 (20 minutes)

During the late 1960s, the city of Toronto was facing a critical question with the potential to radically transform its urban fabric: will the future be for cars or for people? The construction of the Spadina Expressway promised to ease traffic congestion for those living outside of the city centre but galvanized citizens groups within to resist what was seen as a destructive renewal project that would lead to the indiscriminate destruction of neighbourhoods and dislocation of communities.

Intrinsically linked to the expressway mega-project was the expansion of the city’s public transportation network. The extension of the Toronto Transit Commission’s (TTC) existing Yonge-University subway line would follow the route of the new automobile expressway and capitalize on the shared economies of construction. Four years into the Spadina Expressway’s implementation, Ontario Premiere Bill Davis announced the cancellation of the project, signalling a radical shift in infrastructure planning and demonstrating the capacity for citizens to enact change.

Fifty years later, the remains of the Spadina Expressway exist as the truncated Allen Road and the TTC Spadina Subway line’s eight subway stations, each station designed by a different architect and each prominently featuring public art by a different artist. Ambitious commissions include works by Joyce Wieland, Rita Letendre, Michael Hayden among others. In assessing the legacy of this infrastructure, we revisit these singular works of public art in reading a celebration of resistance and an affirmation of people-centered public spaces.

Alan Webb


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