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Allen (Spadina) Expressway



The Spadina Expressway

The Spadina Expressway was proposed in the 1950's as an expressway link from the northwest into downtown Toronto. It was originally planned as the Spadina Road Extension, an arterial road to connect Spadina Road south of St. Clair Avenue West to Wilson Heights Boulevard at Wilson Avenue. In the late 1950's, the project was upgraded to a full expressway, to be known as the Spadina Expressway. At that time, plans for a subway to eventually be built in its median were added. In the 1960's, part of the route was built between Wilson Heights Boulevard and Lawrence Avenue West, serving the then newly-constructed Yorkdale Shopping Centre. The Spadina Expressway was renamed as the William R. Allen Expressway in 1969. The Spadina was now to be known as the Allen.

A massive protest against the southward extension of the Allen Expressway caused the cancellation of construction of the rest of the route in June 1971 by the Provincial Government which could overrule the city. It was later extended as an arterial road named William R. Allen Road southward from Lawrence Avenue West to Eglinton Avenue West and northward from Wilson Heights Boulevard to Dufferin Street north of Sheppard Avenue West. The subway was built in the expressway's median in the 1970's and was the only part of the project to be completed into downtown Toronto as planned. The Allen was to become the most controversial expressway project in Toronto's history.



With the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway proceeding as planned in the early 1960's, Metro began to plan for its next expressway link. This would be the Spadina Expressway which would run from Wilson Avenue, north of Highway 401, south to join Spadina Avenue at Harbord Street south of Bloor Street in downtown Toronto. It was this expressway that would bring the first signs of major controversy. Unlike the Gardiner and Parkway, the Spadina would involve much land acquisition and the demolition of many homes. Only north of Lawrence Avenue could be built easily since that section would be through open space. Opposition to the expressway already existed at the south end of the proposed route from areas such as Forest Hill and the Annex. Rosedale residents were already organized to oppose the Crosstown Expressway to eventually be built at the Spadina's south end. However, North York endorsed the Spadina and the builders of the Yorkdale Shopping Plaza insisted that the Spadina Expressway must go through or there would be no plaza built. Therefore, opponents and supporters of the Spadina were of equal numbers at opposite ends of the route. Metro felt that the Yorkdale Plaza was very much needed, so therefore, the expressway would have to be built. Much debate over the route engulfed Metro Council in 1961 and it was decided to compromise for the time being and just build the first section from Wilson Avenue to Lawrence Avenue in order to satisfy the builders of Yorkdale. The short 3 km (2 mile) first section was nicknamed "the Baby Expressway" due to its short length.

The Spadina Expressway was never very popular even at the beginning.  Here in 1962, while Metro Council was approving the start of construction of the expressway, protestors were outside opposing it. These protests would escalate into a mass movement within a few years as construction proceeded. Most of the protestors were from Forest Hill and the Annex

Construction Begins

By 1962, the expressway route was approved, only now it would also provide for a subway line to be built in the expressway's median. Construction began on the first phase from Wilson Heights Boulevard, north of Highway 401, south to Lawrence Avenue in January 1963. The Province would construct the interchange with Highway 401 which would also connect to Yorkdale. This would be built with the reconstruction of Highway 401 from a four lane to a twelve lane highway. Four lanes of the Spadina Expressway were opened to traffic from Lawrence Avenue to Yorkdale Road in 1964 to provide access to the new Yorkdale Plaza which had just opened. The full six lane section from Wilson Heights Boulevard to Lawrence Avenue, including the Highway 401 interchange opened in 1966. Allowance for a future subway was made in the expressway's median strip. The Province retained control of the 401-Spadina-Yorkdale interchange, including the piece of the Spadina through the interchange.

In 1967, Metro gave approval for plans to be drawn up for the rest of the expressway from Lawrence Avenue south into downtown Toronto. The route would curve southeasterly through the Cedarvale Ravine and go south on Spadina Road to south of Bloor Street. Spadina Avenue would then be widened south to the lakeshore. The route would tunnel under Cedarvale Ravine and Casa Loma north of Davenport Road. This would push up the cost of the expressway. The Spadina would also eventually be extended north through Downsview Airport to Dufferin Street at Sheppard Avenue. Dufferin Street would then be widened north to Highway 7. The completion date for the Spadina Expressway was set at 1975.

The next section of the expressway south from Lawrence Avenue to Eglinton Avenue was cleared of homes and a huge ditch was dug for the expressway structure. Seven overpasses were built and grading was done. By 1969, this section was ready for pavement. In that year, Phillips Electronics offered to install new lighting on the existing section of the expressway as an experiment. Metro had used white fluorescent lamps on 10 metre (30 foot) poles on all of its expressways, but Phillips offered to install new yellow-orange low pressure sodium lamps, which were more efficient, on the Spadina Expressway. If Metro liked the new lights, they could purchase them and keep them permanently. The low pressure sodium lights were installed just on the expressway, not on the ramps, from Wilson Avenue to Lawrence Avenue. In 1970, Metro decided to purchase the new lights as they were happy with their performance. In 1975, Metro installed low pressure sodium lights on existing poles on the Don Valley, the Gardiner and the Spadina ramps.

Name change to the William R. Allen Expressway

In 1969, Metro decided to rename the Spadina Expressway as the William R. Allen Expressway, after Metro's second chairman, who was about to retire. The construction of the expressway so far had taken place during his term of office (1962-1969), so it was felt that renaming the expressway after him was a fitting honour. Little did he know that it was about to become the most controversial route in Toronto's history.

The estimated cost of building the expressway was $73 Million. However, by 1969, the cost of the expressway had escalated to $129 Million and Metro needed to borrow more funds to complete it. Most of the original funding had been spent on the first section to Lawrence Avenue and the construction work on the still incomplete section to Eglinton Avenue. Between Lawrence and Eglinton Avenues, many homes had been demolished, two whole streets had to be removed and a park split in two. The beautiful Cedarvale Ravine and Annex homes further south faced the oncoming expressway and this was not acceptable to many people. Opposition to the expressway began to get organized and the Allen Expressway was made the main issue of the November 1969 municipal election. Municipal reformers, such as Colin Vaughan and John Sewell, who favoured public transit over expressways, were elected. The future of the Allen Expressway, and even the whole proposed expressway system, was now in question. Metro responded to the concerns of the citizen groups by ordering a halt to farther construction on the Allen in September 1969, before paving the section from Lawrence to Eglinton. The Ontario Municipal Board would be asked to review the project. Metro's age of building expressways was now over as major controversy had begun.

Site of the Spadina Expressway looking north from Lawrence Avenue in 1949. This section of the route was mostly open space.

Click on the image below for a large detailed                Click on the image below for a large detailed
1961 plan for the Spadina Expressway                           1963 plan for the Spadina Expressway
(this is a large file and may take a few                          (this is a large file and may take a few
minutes to download)                                                       minutes to download)


The Spadina Expressway under construction north from Lawrence Avenue in 1963

The Spadina Expressway under construction looking south from Wilson Avenue in 1965. The interchange with Highway 401 is being built. Yorkdale Plaza has just opened the year before.

Looking west along Lawrence Avenue across the bridge over the Spadina Expressway while it is still being built north from Lawrence in 1963. The ramp to the under construction expressway is on the right. The Simpsons warehouse in the back on the right side of the picture is now Lawrence Square Plaza. Note the houses on the left side on the south side of Lawrence Avenue that would face demolition for the extension of the expressway in 1968.

Temporary four lanes of the Spadina Expressway were opened from Yorkdale to Lawrence Avenue in 1965. These existed on the west side of the expressway which became the southbound lanes when it opened in 1966.

The Spadina Expressway looking south from near Yorkdale to Lawrence Avenue in August 1966. It is nearing completion.

The Spadina Expressway approaching Lawrence Avenue in 1966. There are two ramps to Lawrence Avenue. The permanent ramp to westbound Lawrence on the right and a separate temporary ramp to eastbound Lawrence on the left. This temporary ramp to eastbound Lawrence remained in operation until the expressway was extended to Eglinton in 1976. Note that south of Lawrence there are houses which were demolished when construction of the expressway south of Lawrence to Eglinton began in 1968.

The Spadina (Allen) Expressway in 1969. It is completed to Lawrence Avenue and under construction to Eglinton Avenue. This 3 km (1.9 mile) section to Lawrence Avenue is all that was ever completed of the original Spadina Expressway project.

Second Metro Chairman (1962 - 1969) William R. Allen, the man whom the Spadina Expressway was renamed after upon his retirement in 1969

The Spadina Expressway has undergone several name changes over the years. As the signs read, it was the Spadina Expressway (1963-1969), the Allen Expressway (1969-1980) and the Allen Road (since 1980).

The completed Spadina (Allen) Expressway looking north from Lawrence Avenue in 1969 with original fluorescent lighting. Space is left open in the centre median of the expressway for a future subway



Construction of the Spadina Expressway south of Lawrence         The Spadina Expressway in 1969. The section
Avenue in 1968. The route has been cleared of homes and           south of Lawrence Avenue is now ready to be
the ditch is being dug                                                                      paved

The Spadina (Allen) Expressway under construction south from Lawrence Avenue in 1969
The ditch structure had been excavated and the roadbed created down to Eglinton Avenue
All work was halted at this point pending a review due to the growing opposition to the project

Sign announcing construction of the Spadina (Allen) Expressway north of Eglinton Avenue West with graffiti under it probably from an expressway opponent referring to then Metro Chairman William R. Allen for whom the expressway would later be renamed after.  'To keep pace with our growing needs' was the motto of the Roads Department.

The Cedarvale Ravine between Eglinton and St. Clair Avenues, crossing Bathurst Street. The Spadina (Allen) Expressway was planned to continue south through this ravine and then along Spadina Road into downtown Toronto. Today, the Spadina Subway passes underneath

Spadina Road looking south across Bloor Street West today. The Spadina (Allen) Expressway would have come through here and terminated just south of this location

Drawing of proposed Allen Expressway interchange with Bathurst Street looking north

Drawing of proposed Allen Expressway at Davenport Road and Casa Loma looking north

Drawing of proposed Allen Expressway at Dupont Street looking north

Drawing of proposed Allen Expressway at Bloor Street looking south

Drawing of proposed Allen Expressway at Harbord Street, north of College Street, looking south

Views of the progress of construction of the Spadina (Allen) Expressway 1963 to 1969

Click on these pictures to enlarge them


Cancellation of construction

The cost of the Spadina Expressway, (officially W.R. Allen Expressway as of October 1969), was estimated at $73 million, but most of this had been spent when construction got only as far as Eglinton Avenue. By 1969, Metro needed to reassess the cost of the expressway and borrow more funds to complete it. Therefore, Metro would have to apply to the Ontario Municipal Board, a Provincial body which approved funding for Municipal projects, to get permission to borrow the funds needed to complete the project. At this point, opponents of the expressway who were still determined to stop the Spadina were getting organized. They were not happy about the number of homes to be taken for the route and the increasing cost of the expressway. They founded the Stop Spadina And Save Our City group (SSSOC) to raise funds for their cause and to protest. This group was led by urban sociologist Jane Jacobs, author of "Death and Life of Great American Cities", and urban activists David and Nadine Nowlan. They believed a yet unproven notion that the centres of American cities had decayed due to the existence of expressways, and they did not want this to happen to Toronto. They were also caught up in the fervour of the anti-Vietnam war protests of the time. The Stop Spadina group decided to take this opportunity to force the Board to order a review of the route before allowing any more funding to be spent on it.

In September 1969, Metro stopped all work on the expressway and conducted a review of the route. By then, the expressway was completed north from Lawrence Avenue and unfinished between Lawrence and Eglinton Avenues. In 1970, the results of the review recommended the completion of the expressway and the tunnel under the Cedarvale ravine. Metro then went to the Ontario Municipal Board to ask for the funding to complete the project. In a 2 to 1 decision, approval was then given. Stop Spadina people looked for another course of action to prevent this. Their lawyers advised them that Ontario Municipal Board decisions could be appealed to the Ontario Cabinet. However, Metro was eager to restart construction of the expressway, but agreed to wait until after this appeal and for the Cabinet to make a final decision. The expressway was now falling behind schedule and its completion date was set back from 1975 to 1977. Meanwhile, unemployed construction workers demonstrated at Toronto City Hall for construction of the expressway in order to get jobs. Metro also put land acquisitions for the Scarborough Expressway on hold depending on the future of the Spadina. This was left to the Ontario Municipal Board to handle. In 1971, Ontario Premier John Robarts retired and William Davis took over the Premiership. He agreed to hear the appeal and would make a final decision on the matter that would settle it permanently before the Provincial election planned for October of that year. Both Metro and the Stop Spadina group could not anticipate how the decision would go.

On June 2, 1971, Premier William Davis stood up in the Provincial Legislature and announced that he had reached a decision which would be final and could not be appealed. He agreed with the Stop Spadina group, so therefore the expressway would be stopped at Lawrence Avenue. His famous statement was that "Cities were built for people and not cars. If we were building a transportation system for the automobile, the Spadina Expressway would be a good place to start, but if we are going to build a transportation system for people, the Spadina Expressway is a good place to stop". The Premier approved the construction of the Spadina subway line, which would be completed into downtown Toronto with 75% Provincial funding. It would have parking garages at Wilson, Yorkdale, Lawrence, Glencairn and Eglinton stations. Expressway opponents had argued that the city should promote public transit instead of roads in order to reduce car use to save neighbourhoods and reduce pollution. The Spadina cancellation helped to elect David Crombie, one of these pro-transit urban reformers, as mayor of the City of Toronto in 1972, along with a number of reformer Councillors elected in the downtown core. This provided the political strength to put these policies into practice. Metro was infuriated over the Provincial decision on Spadina. They felt that they had been betrayed and were even considering suing the Province for breach of the 1963 contract to build the expressway. However, this did not happen. Metro was now left with a partially-built expressway which went nowhere. A 3 km (2 mile) completed section of the Allen Expressway north from Lawrence Avenue which was so short that it did not serve a major purpose, and an incomplete 2 km (1 1/4 mile) section south from Lawrence to Eglinton that people nicknamed the "Spadina Ditch" or the "Davis Ditch" as a joke about the Premier who had stopped it. It was all prepared with overpasses and space for ramps, but it was not paved. Many suggestions were made as to what to do with this site. They included housing, an arterial street, a park or a parking garage for the subway. Urban designer Buckminster Fuller was commissioned to come up with a development for the ditch site. He prepared an elaborate plan for shops and residential units in climate-controlled pyramid-shaped buildings. This was known as 'Project Spadina'. However, nothing ever came of these plans and the ditch sat empty for several years, except for snow collected from streets, which was dumped there in the winters. 

Click on this link to read a 1971 article from the old Toronto Telegram about 'Project Spadina'

In 1972, Metro carried out a study of feasible uses for the Spadina Ditch. In addition to the approved subway line, they included an arterial roadway to Eglinton Avenue, a parking garage, or possibly closing the completed Allen Expressway south of Highway 401. The idea of closing the expressway was rejected as not feasible from a traffic point of view and would reduce access to the Yorkdale Plaza. The report finally recommended that the Spadina Ditch be completed as a four lane arterial road from the south end of the completed expressway at Lawrence Avenue south to Eglinton Avenue. It also recommended that parking garages be built at the proposed Lawrence, Glencairn and Eglinton subway stations. Metro Council approved the arterial road recommendation only. Some councillors even wanted to call it Wilson Heights Boulevard, as it was directly south of the existing Wilson Heights Boulevard. However, the arterial recommendation was rejected by the Province, which saw it as a southward extension of the expressway, which they had prevented. All ideas for feasible uses of the Spadina Ditch were rejected as not workable, so the site would remain empty for now. The expressway was stopped from going south, but a northern extension was still possible, depending on the future of the Downsview Airport. Without the rest of the Spadina Expressway into downtown, Metro felt that the proposed Crosstown Expressway would no longer be needed, so it was scrapped, eliminating the downtown portion of the proposed expressway system. In 1973, Metro considered reserving two lanes on all three of its expressways for express buses and car pools. It also considered paving two lanes along the Spadina Ditch also for this purpose. However, this plan went nowhere due to disagreement among Metro politicians.

Protests against construction of the Spadina (Allen) Expressway at the University of Toronto in 1970 

Protests against construction of the Spadina (Allen) Expressway at Toronto City Hall in 1970


Stop Spadina and Save Our City (SSSOC) staging a protest following the expressway route past Casa Loma in March 1970. They used horses to show their opposition to cars.

Stop Spadina and Save Our City (SSSOC) staging a protest following the expressway route on Spadina Avenue at Bloor Street in March 1970. They used horses to show their opposition to cars. The expressway would have come through here

Protesting the Allen (Spadina) Expressway became fashionable that even young children from the Annex area protested. Signs such as 'Love Not Expressways' showed the 1960's hippie influence

Anti-expressway protestors plant trees in the uncompleted section of the Allen Expressway south of Lawrence Avenue on Earth Day, April 22, 1970, calling it "W.R. Allen Park". This did not last.

'The Bad Trip' by David and Nadine Nowlan - a book published in 1970 outlining the reasons against further construction of the Spadina (Allen) Expressway

Click on this newspaper below to enlarge it so that it becomes readable

Toronto newspaper from June 4, 1971 announcing the cabinet decision to cancel construction of the Allen (Spadina) Expressway, but build the Spadina Subway line. The decision was actually made two days earlier

The Allen Expressway looking north from Eglinton Avenue after cancellation of construction south of Lawrence Avenue in 1971. The expressway is completed north of Lawrence Avenue and unfinished between Lawrence and Eglinton Avenues (the 'Spadina Ditch')

Boys remove the Spadina Expressway construction sign at the south end of the Spadina Ditch at Eglinton Avenue soon after the cancellation of construction in June 1971.

The completed Allen Expressway looking north from Lawrence Avenue in 1971. It has Toronto's first installation of low pressure sodium lighting.

The unfinished section of the Allen Expressway known as the 'Spadina Ditch' looking south from Lawrence Avenue before the halting of construction in 1969

The unfinished section of the Allen Expressway known as the 'Spadina Ditch' looking south between Lawrence and Eglinton Avenues one year after the cancellation of construction in 1972, where Glencairn subway station is located today. After stting idle for three years, the ditch is deteriorating and weeds are beginning to grow in it. It was used to dump snow from city streets in the winter and people often threw garbage in it.

Protests in favour of completing the Allen Expressway in 1974 in the Spadina Ditch

Protests in favour of completing the Allen Expressway in 1974 at the Lawrence ramps to the Allen Expressway

Paving the Ditch

Supporters of the Spadina were not going to give up. They formed a group known as Go Spadina and fought for completion of the route. Local resident Esther Shiner led them. They placed their emphasis on traffic congestion on their local streets caused by the abrupt end of the completed Allen Expressway at Lawrence Avenue. They knew that they had an uphill battle to convince Provincial politicians to change their minds, but their were determined to do it. The political situation had made it difficult for Metro to build other expressways in the same area as the Spadina, so Metro turned its attention to building an eastern extension of the Gardiner Expressway. A Metropolitan Toronto Transportation Plan Review was set up in 1972 to draw up a new Metro transportation plan in the wake of the Spadina cancellation. Construction of the Spadina subway in the Allen Expressway's median began in 1975.

Esther Shiner (left) and Ontario Premier Bill Davis (right) standing on one of the bridges over the empty Spadina Ditch south of Lawrence Avenue in 1974. Mrs. Shiner was trying to convince the Premier to complete the expressway. The ditch was paved two years later and Highway 400 would be extended as an arterial road after the next Provincial election in 1975

In 1972, Metro approved a plan to pave the Spadina Ditch as a four lane arterial roadway to Eglinton Avenue after doing a detailed study of the unfinished route. However, it took another three years for the Province to agree. By then, the leader of the Go Spadina group, Esther Shiner, had been elected to North York Council and had gained the support of that Council for the completion of the expressway further south. By 1975, another Provincial election was called, and the Spadina Expressway would be made an issue again. In that year, the Transportation Plan Review group presented its final report, called "Choices For The Future", in which it published its recommendations. Six alternate plans were offered. Four contained no new expressway development, one contained new expressways only in the northwest, and one retained the original system approved in 1966. The report stated that there was a severe deficiency of roads in Metro's northwest. It stated that if Metro wanted a new expressway in the northwest, the Highway 400 Extension to the Gardiner Expressway, or at least to St. Clair Avenue (the only proposed Metro expressway where no decision had yet been taken) would do a better job than completion of the Allen Expressway because it was further west and did not penetrate downtown Toronto. Therefore, the 400 Extension, possibly with the Richview Expressway as a westerly arm of it, could be given serious consideration. This report verified that stopping the southward extension of the Spadina was the right thing to do as it preferred the Highway 400 Extension for a northwest expressway route.

The 1975 report recommended that Metro do a detailed study of the 400 Extension. However, the report also stated that it was not necessarily the best option and that northwest traffic was not downtown oriented. Due to opposition to expressways, particularly in the northwest, the report also recommended, as an alternative, that serious consideration should be given to extending the Allen Expressway as a four lane arterial road from Lawrence Avenue to Eglinton Avenue, with single lane ramps at Eglinton. Additionally, Highway 400 could also be extended as a four lane arterial road south along the Provincially protected right of way and further to St. Clair Avenue, where existing streets would connect it to the lakeshore. It also suggested extending the Allen Expressway north to the proposed Highway 407, north of Metro, making use of the Allen as a northern route instead of a downtown route. Dr. Richard Soberman, head of the plan review group, stated that while he understood the environmental concerns of the anti-expressway groups, he also believed that traffic congestion on expressways proved for some people that expressways work better than other forms of transportation. This is because the expressway is being heavily used and drivers tolerate that congestion. Even though Dr. Soberman's report recommended more road improvements in Metro's northwest, it also confirmed its 1974 recommendation against construction of the Scarborough Expressway in the east, which was seen as unnecessary at that time.

Both sides of the Spadina battle lined up to debate these recommendations. However, this time, the City of Toronto sided with the anti-expressway forces against any road improvements as sympathizers of this opinion had been elected to Toronto City Council. Nevertheless, Metro, which was considering the 400 Extension at that time, but reluctant to face another northwest expressway battle, eagerly passed the Spadina and 400 Extension arterial roads recommendation which it saw as a good compromise, as in 1972. Dr. Soberman, however, was less enthusiastic about the proposal. He stated that he wanted Metro to choose a transportation system and policies before proceeding with any specific plans. He felt that Metro was just lifting a suggested option out of his report without choosing policies first. However, Metro had chosen Plan Number One which eliminated the proposed Metro expressways south of Highway 401 and included new cross-town transit lines. This plan was not inconsistent with the recommended road improvements in the northwest. Metro wanted to proceed with the new arterials because it agreed that roads were needed in the northwest and that to pursue a 400 Extension as an expressway would be futile due to massive opposition that would occur, similar to the Spadina battle. The Go Spadina group also argued strongly for the new roadways. Anti-road activitsts saw this plan as a betrayal of the 1971 agreement to stop the Spadina and appealed to Premier Davis to stick to his 1971 statement that the expressway would not go through.

However, the Premier was convinced that this was to be an arterial road and not an expressway, so to the delight of Go Spadina, he approved the plan. The Premier had great respect for Dr. Soberman and accepted his suggestions openly. The Premier was not allowing the extension of the expressway, but allowing the construction of a new and smaller road, something different. The Premier also promised to keep to his earlier conviction that the Spadina would not be extended into the downtown area. Dufferin Street, north of Sheppard Avenue, would be widened and connected to the north end of the Allen Expressway, as a northern arterial extension of the Allen. This would be done instead of extending the expressway north to the future 407 because land acquisition for it would be difficult north of Sheppard Avenue. Construction of the new arterial roads would be very easy since no land expropriation had to take place. They would be built across open space rights-of-way that already existed and were in public ownership. The Spadina Ditch was an existing grade-separated expressway structure, with provision for ramps at both Lawrence and Eglinton. The northern extension would be built across the Downsview Airport, requiring only the shortening of a runway. The 400 Extension would be constructed in an open right-of-way already owned by the Province. There should be no major opposition to these projects in their immediate vicinities and costs would be low due to no land having to be acquired. This was much easier than the expropriation Metro had had to carry out previously for the Spadina and Scarborough Expressways.

The Allen Road

In July 1976, the Spadina Ditch became the Allen arterial road which was opened from Lawrence Avenue to Eglinton Avenue after the existing ditch structure was paved. The new arterial road was constructed in the original expressway structure, so it was completely grade-separated. It included double lane ramps which came to a T-junction at Eglinton Avenue. No lighting had been installed on this new road because Metro could not decide whether it qualified for expressway lighting or just regular street lighting. In 1978, the speed limit on this section was raised to the same as that on the six lane expressway section north of Lawrence Avenue, and low pressure sodium expressway lighting, the same as that on the expressway, was installed. This was the only initial installment of low pressure sodium lighting that had not been converted from fluorescent lighting. Also in 1978, the Spadina Subway line opened in the route's median, but there were no parking garages constructed south of Yorkdale Plaza, as had been previously recommended.

In 1980, the new arterial road south of Lawrence Avenue was officially named as the William R. Allen Road, so the Spadina route was now officially the Allen Expressway north from Lawrence Avenue and the Allen Road south from Lawrence to Eglinton Avenue. Also in 1980, construction began on the northern arterial extension, from Wilson Heights Boulevard to join Dufferin Street near Finch Avenue, to be built as a six lane arterial road with reserved bus lanes. This extension opened in 1982 and was also named as the William R. Allen Road. In that year, signs on Highway 401 were changed to show the existence of the new arterial extensions.

A new Official Plan adopted by Metro in 1980 deleted all of the unbuilt expressways and showed the permanently truncated status of the Allen, which was now just a short local highway instead of a proposed through route.

The unfinished Spadina Ditch (left) about 1974 and after its completion as the Allen Road with the Spadina Subway in the median (right) 

                                                                                            Click on these pictures to enlarge them
The completed Allen Road in the former Spadina Ditch from Lawrence Avenue to Eglinton Avenue after opening in 1976. The subway in the expressway's median was being built

North York Mayor Mel Lastman and Deputy North Mayor Esther Shiner (leader of the Go Spadina committee) driving the first car down the completed Allen Road in July 1976

The backlog of traffic getting off the southern end of the Allen Road at Eglinton Avenue in 1978 due to the expressway coming to an abrupt end at a T-junction intersection with Eglinton. The subway had just opened and lighting on the section of the Allen south of Lawrence Avenue was not yet installed.

View of the Allen Expressway and Allen Road in the 1980's

Click on the images below to enlarge them

Allen Expressway looking south at Lawrence Avenue. Traffic can now proceed onward to Eglinton Avenue  

Allen Road looking south from near Lawrence Avenue. The Spadina Subway has just been opened in the expressway's median

Allen Road looking south near Glencairn Avenue. Glencairn subway station is in the middle

Allen Road looking south approaching Eglinton Avenue. Not much traffic - yet    

Photos courtesy of Ontario Vintage Highways http://asphaltplanet.ca/ON/vintage/Tor_1989_misc/Tor_1989_misc.html

Lineup of traffic to exit the end of the Allen Road at Eglinton Avenue in the 1980's. Eglinton West subway station is in the centre median of the expressway. Low pressure sodium lighting had been installed on this section of the route

Despite the previous opposition to the expressway in 1971, polls showed that support for constructing expressways was growing by ten years after the cancellation, including completing the Allen. This was probably due to the growing traffic levels in Toronto. Many people hoped for a completion of the route into downtown once Premier Wiliam David left office. However, this was not to happen. 

Toronto newspaper from April 17, 1982 about polls showing the growth of support for constructing expressways at that time.

In 1983, Premier William Davis announced his retirement and one of his last actions as premier was to keep his promise not to allow the Allen to go south of Eglinton Avenue. He announced that Metro would receive Black Creek Drive from the Province for free, if it transferred the Allen lands from Eglinton Avenue to Bloor Street to the Province which would lease the lands out for purposes other than for a road. A 1 metre (3 foot) strip of land south of Eglinton across the route would be given to the City of Toronto, thus barring any possible further extension. If Metro did not agree, the lands would be seized and Metro would be billed for half of the costs of the construction of Black Creek Drive. Metro reluctantly agreed. Metro believed that a new Ontario Premier might have a different opinion and would allow the expressway to be completed. Mr. Davis's successor, Frank Miller, even supported some idea of completion of the Allen in a tunnel. However, he was reminded that a promise had been made and the government could not go back on its word. Future governments also would honour the promise to not let the expressway be extended southwards.

The dotted line shown crossing below the southern terminus of the Allen Road at Eglinton represents the 1 metre (3 feet) strip given to the then City of Toronto by the Province of Ontario in 1983 to prevent further extension of the expressway southward

The Allen Expressway and Allen Road since the 1980's

The Allen Road came to an abrupt end in a T-Junction with Eglinton Avenue. This caused traffic to back up on the Allen and to use local streets to go further south. A traffic management plan of no left and right turns was put in place at the request of residents restricting the use of local streets south of Eglinton by through traffic. However, Metro wanted a permanent solution. Additional ramps from the Allen to Eglinton were considered in 1983. Metro also looked at a southern extension of the Allen along the original Spadina route; it could extend to Davenport Road, north of Bloor Street, to connect to Spadina Road which goes further south, along with an extension of Leslie Street to Bayview Avenue. At the very least, Allen Road could connect to Bathurst Street, north of St. Clair Avenue, which also goes further south. Metro was even willing to build it just as a two lane local road in order to get it through and provide some relief for congested streets at the south end of the route. However, Metro had to abandon these plans due to the Allen lands agreement with the Province. A stricter traffic management plan south of Eglinton was implemented, and it was hoped that increased use of Black Creek Drive and the Spadina Subway would alleviate much of the Allen traffic, but this was not becoming apparent.  Also at this time, Esther Shiner, the leader of the Go Spadina group, died, so the Spadina Expressway issue was brought to an end, as nobody was willing to take over the leadership of the pro-expressway lobby. The City of York also constructed a large trunk sewer under the Cedarvale Ravine next to the Spadina Subway, making even a tunnelled extension of the Allen virtually impossible. By 1990, it was evident that the Spadina battle was over and the route would permanently end at Eglinton Avenue.

The Spadina battle represented the gradual maturing of Metro and the changing of attitudes. By the mid 1970's, the City of Toronto's earlier enthusiasm of new expressways had gone. Pro-expressway politicians within the city had either retired or had been defeated by anti-expressway politicians. The City of Toronto became fiercely anti-road in its planning and policies. This caused a serious rift with the other municipalities within Metro, particularly North York, which had remained pro-expressway. Anti-Spadina forces were concentrated mainly at the south end of the route within the City of Toronto, while pro­-expressway forces gathered at the north end within the City of North York. People at the north end wanted to get downtown to their jobs, while people at the south end of the route wanted to preserve neighbourhoods. The City of York, which existed in the middle, opposed extending the Spadina route when it stopped at Lawrence. However, it switched sides and favoured completion into downtown Toronto, when the arterial extension opened to Eglinton Avenue within York's boundaries. This now left the City of Toronto opposed to all of its neighbours when it came to issues like expressways. The Spadina had been stopped at Lawrence in 1971 and at Eglinton in 1975. The name Spadina Expressway became unfamiliar to young people in the 1990's who had got used to its newer names of Allen Expressway and Allen Road. Leaders of both the pro and anti expressway sides had become elected officials, but it was now believed by Metro that with the Spadina Subway located in the expressway's median, the Allen should not be extended south to compete with it.

The 1960's conventional illumination, originally fluorescent north of Lawrence Avenue, later remodelled into low pressure sodium in 1969, and originally low pressure sodium south of Lawrence Avenue since 1978, has been replaced by shaded high pressure sodium lighting on similar conventional poles since the early 1990's.

In April 1998, City of Toronto Council approved the construction of a multi-million dollar technological entertainment complex, known as the "Technodome", for the former Downsview Airport site, which had closed in the early 1990's. This complex, due to open in 2000, would be built by private funding and would be located at Sheppard Avenue and Dufferin Street, on the northern Allen Road. The proposal called for the Technodome and new housing to be connected to the Allen by grade-separated ramps and the removal of the bus lanes on the northern Allen arterial. This would increase the importance of the Allen even though only the original part of the Allen from Wilson Heights Boulevard south to Lawrence Avenue was built to full expressway standard.

A new road classification plan adopted by the City of Toronto in 2000 redesignated the Allen as an expressway from Wilson Heights Boulevard to Eglinton Avenue, thus absorbing the southern arterial road into the expressway, though the name was not changed for political reasons.

The Technodome plan for the Donwsview site later fell through and was eventually moved to Montreal, however, housing development of the Downsview site would still take place and have an effect on the Allen. A plan for new housing and a park to be located on the Downsview site was announced in 2000. It would be accessed by new ramps to the northern Allen Road, where the bus lanes had been removed.

In 1991, many of those involved in the first against the Allen (Spadina) Expressway gathered for a reunion, and posed for this photograph

In 2006, people who had fought and won the battle to stop construction of the Spadina (Allen) Expressway in 1971 celebrated the 35th anniversary of their victory with displays at Spadina House on Spadina Road next to Casa Loma which was in the path of the original expressway route. Plaques were later made to commemorate the fight.

On June 21, 2010, a series of four plaques commemorating the controversial history of the Spadina (Allen) Expressway were dedicated. The plaques are located at Matt Cohen Park, a parkette at the southeast corner of Bloor Street and Spadina Avenue near the southern terminus of the planned expressway route, at Dupont subway station and at the Norman B. Gash house, which is the northeast entrance to the Spadina subway station.  The ceremony was attended by former Toronto mayors David Crombie and John Sewell (both active opponents of the expressway), Councillor Adam Vaughan, whose father, the late Colin Vaughan, was also active in the battle, Bobbi Speck, a community activist involved in the Spadina fight in the late 1960's and Heritage Toronto board member Robert Prouse.

The Allen Expressway and Allen Road since the adoption of the new Road Classification plan in 2000. The arterial road at the south end between Lawrence and Eglinton Avenues is now considered part of the expressway

An aerial view of the Allen Expressway today looking south from Wilson Avenue
Photo courtesy of Cameron Bevers

The short Allen Expressway looking south from Highway 401 with downtown Toronto in the background. Note the residential area and ravine which the expressway was originally planned to have cut through to reach downtown.

Views of the northern Allen Road from north to south today

Click on these pictures to enlarge them

North of Sheppard Avenue looking south. It is a regular arterial road with traffic signals

South of Sheppard Avenue looking south. The arterial crosses the former Downsview airfield

Views of the Allen Expressway from north to south today
(the road between Lawrence and Eglinton Avenues is now part of the expressway)

Click on these pictures to enlarge them

At Transit Road and the ramps to Wilson Heights Boulevard looking north. It continues north from here as an arterial road

At Wilson Avenue looking south through the interchange with Highway 401.

At Ranee Avenue looking south. The expressway starts to descend into a trench

At Lawrence Avenue looking north . The Spadina Subway line runs along the expressway's median

At Lawrence Avenue looking south. The elaborate Lawrence West Subway station with its bus entrance is over the expressway and the subway in the median

Congested southbound Allen Expressway ramp to Lawrence Avenue 
before the ramp was widened to two lanes and the far left through lane ends 

Southbound Allen Expressway ramp to Lawrence Avenue 
after the ramp was widened to two lanes and there is no left lane ending. The ramp is still congested due to the traffic lights at the top 

Looking south from Lawrence Avenue. This section used to be the 'Spadina Ditch'

Looking south from near Glencairn Avenue - the former 'Spadina Ditch'

Looking north at Viewmount Avenue  

Looking south from Viewmount Avenue to the expressway's terminus at Eglinton Avenue. The off-ramps are very congested   

The result of the abrupt stopping of construction of the Allen Expressway is that today there is a huge backlog of traffic getting off the southern end of the Allen Road. There is a huge traffic backlog trying to get off the expressway at Lawrence Avenue that stretches back to Highway 401. The backlog trying to get off Eglinton Avenue begins just south of Lawrence Avenue.

Spadina (Allen) videos:
View of the Allen Expressway and Spadina Subway from the back of a Toronto TTC subway train heading northbound on the Spadina subway line between Eglinton West and Lawrence West Stations.
It runs in the middle of the Allen Expressway from its southern terminus at Eglinton Avenue to Lawrence Avenue (the former 'Spadina Ditch').

View of the Allen Expressway and Spadina Subway from the back of a Toronto TTC subway train heading northbound on the Spadina subway line between Lawrence West and Wilson Stations.
It runs in the middle of the Allen Expressway from Lawrence Avenue to Wilson Avenue near its northern terminus at Wilson Heights Boulevard north of Wilson Avenue (the original expressway section opened in 1966).

View of the Allen Expressway and Spadina Subway from the back of a Toronto TTC subway train heading southbound on the Spadina subway line between Downsview and St. George stations.
It runs in the middle of the Allen Expressway between Wilson and Eglinton West Stations and follows the route of the rest of the unbuilt expressway into downtown. You see the entire Allen Road expressway on both sides of the subway within the first six minutes of the video.

The 'Toronto Tunnel'

During the 2010 municipal election, Mayoral candidate Rocco Rossi proposed extending the Allen Expressway in a tunnel from its terminus at Eglinton Avenue West to the Gardiner Expressway, called ‘The Toronto Tunnel’ as a bold solution to Toronto’s traffic problems.  This would go further south than the orginial Spadina Expressway plan which would have stopped just south of Bloor Street. Mayoral candidate Rocco Rossi faced ridicule and condemnation this week but continued to propose an underground expressway as a bold solution to Toronto's traffic problems. Some of his opponents called it a dangerous retreat to plans abandoned in 1971 when citizens groups stopped the Spadina Expressway. But Rocco Rossi said he was convinced that new technology and private financing could complete that expressway as a toll highway in an eight-kilometre tunnel south from Eglinton Avenue to the Gardiner Expressway without disrupting neighbourhoods above it. Rocco Rossi said that he would consult the best engineers and have the project started within four years. However, he said the tunnel might not have any entrances or exits before it reaches the Gardiner, and suggested the project may be dropped if engineers found merging the toll road's traffic with the Gardiner Expressway won't work. He estimated the cost at $110 million per kilometre.

The project was quickly condemned by other candidates and by downtown councillors, particularly Councillor Adam Vaughan, whose father Colin Vaughan had fought the original expressway plan. Any revival of the Spadina Expressway, even underground, would be met with the ire of downtowners. Rocco Rossi later dropped out of the mayoral race so any plans for an extended Allen would not happen.

ith the election of Rob Ford as mayor in October 2010, a turnaround in Toronto’s transportation policies was now possible, but remains to be seen. He pledged that the Gardiner and Allen Expressways would remain intact, but had no plans for any new routes. The return of existing downtown councillors and fiscal restraints would also make any new major road construction unlikely.

Note: The 'Get Toronto Moving' transportation plan committee does not support an extension of the Allen Expressway even in a tunnel as it would compete with the Spadina Subway and be very expensive to build. They do, however, support a tunnelled highway from the northwest to the Gardiner Expressway, but as an extension of Highway 400 instead which would be far cheaper to build and have more transportation and economic benefits.


Making the expressway fit into the community

In 2009, plans to redevelop the Lawrence Heights area near the Allen and Lawrence looked at ways to make the expressway fit better into the surrounding community and easing the traffic backlog on the ramps trying to get off the expressway. Various ideas were studied involving decking over the expressway, adding pedestrian overpasses, reconfiguring the ramps at Lawrence and landscaping along the edges of the expressway. Even filling in the expressway and replacing it with a surface boulevard was suggested. A new 'greenway' would be added next to the east side of the expressway north from Lawrence Avenue, which would include a bicycle path and a walkway lined with trees. Supported by Councillor Michael Thompson, Zeidler Partnership Architects unveiled a grand plan to deck over the Allen Road south of Lawrence Avenue and put parks and buildings above and beside it.

All of these ideas were examined in an environmental assessment starting in 2010. However, a tight budget meant that nothing too drastic would be done. The ideas were to finally make up for the demolition that was carried out when the expressway was sliced through a built-up area, particularly between Lawrence and Eglinton Avenues. In 2011, plans were approved to widen the ramps to and from the Allen Expressway at Lawrence Avenue from single lane ramps to double lane ramps to ease the traffic backlog getting off the expressway at Lawrence Avenue and to make pedestrian access along Lawrence Avenue across the interchange safer. This would be carried out in 2012.

A similar plan to develop the Downsivew Airport site would make the northern Allen Road from Wilson Heights Boulevard to Dufferin Street more into a boulevard with a wide median with trees and pedestrian pathways on both sides. A controversial plan to remove the Wilson Heights Boulevard ramps and replace them with access to new local roads stretching north to Sheppard Avenue was included in the development proposal. This part of the plan was fiercely opposed by local residents and was dropped by City Council, thus retaining the Wilson Heights ramps.

The Environmental Assessment on the Allen would look at these potential options:

1) Do nothing – leave the expressway as it is.

2) Reconfigure the ramps from the Allen north of Lawrence to operate more like standard intersections and remove the ramps to the Allen south of Lawrence as they were greatly underutilized. The retaining walls alongside the Allen would be replaced by landscaped grassy slopes with new pedestrian bridges.

3) Replace the ramps at Lawrence with longer service roads that come off the expressway further north and meet Lawrence Avenue in standard intersections. Also, the expressway would be decked over for about 200 metres on the north side of Lawrence Avenue and parks placed on top.

4) Bring the Allen up to grade by filling in the trench it runs in and rebuild it on the surface as a grand boulevard with a standard signalized intersection at Lawrence instead of an interchange.

The then Councillor for the area, Howard Moscoe, personally preferred the last option – the grand boulevard. These options would go through a lengthy environmental assessment starting in 2010. In early 2011, City Council voted to retain the Wilson Heights ramps. In 2012, the ramps at Lawrence Avenue were widened from one to two lanes to ease congestion.

The Terms of Reference for the Allen study were ready by Spring 2013. Council accepted the report, but the assessment was put on hold waiting for further funding and Ontario Ministry approval to proceed. This could mean that the whole issue was shelved for a while. To date, the assessment has not yet been reopened. Construction of the Lawrence Heights redevelopment began in October 2015, leaving the Allen Expressway intact.

A request by Metrolinx to close the expressway between Lawrence and Eglinton Avenues northbound to store equipment for the construction of the Eglinton-Crosstown Light Rail Transit line was turned down by Council due to traffic congestion concerns. However, this was request was brought forward again in April 2014. The new proposal suggested closing the northbound Allen between Eglinton and Lawrence Avenues for nearly two years to help crews construct the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT tunnel a few months faster. 150 trucks per day would use the closed lanes to haul dirt excavated from the tunnel construction. However, 36,000 vehicles per day pass through the intersection of Allen and Eglinton and local councillors were concerned about the impact of the traffic on local neighbourhoods. This is the reason why the request was turned down before. Metrolinx agreed to study the issue and come up with traffic impact mitigation measures before bringing the proposal forward again. The proposal was withdrawn after community opposition and the expressway remained open. Metrolinx used a nearby parking lot instead for its equipment.

Ontario Government approval of the Terms of Reference for the Allen Environmental Assessment was delayed for two years and the study was not expected to continue until late 2015. This has still not yet happened.

Video of a news item showing the Allen Expressway and controversial plans to change it.

Save the Allen flyer

Allen Technical Feasibility Study pdf report outlining various options for the future of the Allen

Map of the study area for the Allen environmental assessment looking at changes to the route 

Plan for making the northern Allen Road into a tree-lined boulevard as part of the Downsview Airport redevelopment. A proposal calling for removal of the interchange with Wilson Heights Boulevard and replacement with ramps to new parallel local roads was fiercely opposed by local residents and was eventually dropped.

Proposed vision for a revamped Allen Road at Sheppard Avenue

Drawing of a proposed revamped Allen Expressway looking north from Lawrence Avenue

Proposed vision for a revamped Allen Expressway north of Lawrence Avenue with a greenway on its east side

Zeidler Partnership Architects' plan for decking over the southern Allen Road between Lawrence and Eglinton Avenues

Artists drawing of the reconstruction of Lawrence Heights with new high rise buildings, looking south on the Allen Expressway from Ranee Avenue. The plans leave the Allen intact as it is.

Allen (Spadina) Expressway History Timeline

1943 - The Annual Planning Board Report proposes a series of expressways through central Toronto in order to cut automobile congestion. This is the first expressway plan for Toronto

- Metropolitan Toronto is incorporated by the Province of Ontario. This federates Toronto with its 12 surrounding municipalities. Transportation is included as one of Metro's jurisdictions

- Metro tables its Official Plan which includes the Spadina and the Crosstown Expressways

- The first section of the Spadina Expwy. from Wilson Avenue to Lawrence Avenue West is approved. largely due to pressure from developers of the Yorkdale Shopping Plaza

- Construction of the Spadina Expwy. between Wilson Avenue and Lawrence Avenue West begins

- The Official Plan for Metro is adopted. Among the proposals is the completion of the Spadina Expwy. to Harbord Street. The Spadina Expwy. is opened from Wilson Heights Boulevard to Lawrence Avenue West 

- Metro gives approval for the completion of the Spadina Expwy. from Lawrence Avenue West to Harbord Street. This allegedly puts in jeopardy neighbourhoods including the Annex and Forest Hill and threatens the Cedarvale Ravine, through which the Spadina Expwy would run

- The Annex Residents Association becomes increasingly active in opposing the proposed expressway route, particularly through its community newspaper, ‘The Voice of the Annex’. Stop the Spadina and Save Our City group is formed. Jane Jacobs moves to the Annex from New York City and quickly becomes involved in the Stop the Spadina campaign in a leading role.

Sept. 1969
- Metro halts construction on the Spadina Expwy. and commissions a review of the project

Oct. 1969
- The Spadina Expwy. is officially renamed the W. R Allen Expwy. after Metro’s second Chairman

Nov. 1969
- The Allen Expwy. becomes a major issue in the November city elec­tion. Colin Vaughan and John Sewell are elected to City Council and quickly become key players in the leftist reform wing of Toronto politics

- Metro recommends completion of the expressway and applies to the Ontario Municipal Board for funding. David and Nadine Nowlan release "The Bad Trip: The Untold Story of the Spadina Expressway" with Anansi Press

- The OMB produces its Official Decision approving completion of the Allen Expwy.

June 3, 1971
- In a statement in the Ontario Legislature, Ontario Premier Bill Davis overturns the OMB's decision on the Allen Expwy. effectively killing the project

Oct. 12, 1971
- Bill Davis delivers a speech outlining a vision of public transportation and private development along the former Allen Expwy. corridor south of Lawrence

– North York resident Esther Shiner creates the ‘Go Spadina’ movement to fight for completion of the expressway, and is elected alderman on this platform.

Aug. 1975
- Bill Davis approves extension of the Allen Expwy. from Lawrence Avenue West to Eglinton Avenue West as an arterial road

July 1976
- The new arterial road opens from Lawrence Avenue West to Eglinton Avenue West after five years of being known as the ‘Spadina Ditch’

Jan. 1978
- The Spadina subway line opens from St. George station to Wilson station

- Metro adopts a new Official Plan placing its entire focus on transit. The new Allen arterial road is officially named as the W.R. Allen Road

1982 - A northern arterial road extension from Wilson Heights Boulevard to Dufferin Street north of Sheppard Avenue West opens and is also officially named as the W.R. Allen Road.

- Just before leaving office, Premier Bill Davis grants the City of Toronto a three foot wide strip just south of Eglinton Avenue West, ensuring that the expressway will never go further south into the centre of the city

- Esther Shiner dies

- Planners recommend extension of the Allen Road to Davenport Road, which is quickly deleted

2000 - A new road classification plan adopted by the City shows the Allen Road as an expressway from Wilson Heights Boulevard to Eglinton Avenue West, absorbing the southern arterial extension into the expressway without changing the name

2006 - Jane Jacobs dies

– Environmental assessment on reshaping the Allen Road between Wilson Heights Boulevard and Eglinton Avenue West begins

2010 - Toronto Mayoral candidate Rocco Rossi advocates extension of the Allen Expwy. in a tunnel from Eglinton Avenue West south to the Gardiner Expwy.

2011 - Approval is given to widen the Allen Expwy. ramps to and from Lawrence Avenue from single lane to double lanes to ease the traffic backlog
 getting off the expressway at Lawrence and to improve pedestrian crossings

2012 - Allen Expwy. ramps to and from Lawrence Avenue are widened from one to two lanes each.

2013 - Environmental Assessment on changes put on hold pending funding and Ministerial approval.

2014 - Metrolinx proposes to close northbound Allen between Eglinton and Lawrence Avenues for nearly two years for trucks to haul dirt away to speed up construction of the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT. This proposal is withdrawn after community opposition and the expressway remained open.

2015 - Environmental Assessment expected to get under way again. Work begins on Lawrence Heights development.