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What’s New and What’s Next at Union Station

Checking on progress at Toronto’s historic Beaux Arts transportation hub

By Eric Mutrie

Azure’s recent 30th anniversary issue dedicated to Toronto included an overview of the ambitious revitalization currently underway at Union Station. While key elements of the project – most notably, a basement retail and food hall – won’t be complete until at least 2017, here are five flashy, newly-finished areas ready to be appreciated.

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1 Outdoor Plaza
A pop-up market operating on this newly-expanded stretch of sidewalk ensures visitors to Toronto won’t have to venture far to experience a taste of the city. For the next eight weeks, Union Summer offers fish and chips, pork belly sandwiches and funnel cakes, among other food and drink options. TIFF is also taking advantage of Union’s new plaza space by hosting a free screening of Hugo on July 23. The Martin Scorsese-directed flick pairs well with this venue, since the movie is set in a train station and features a title character who is the son of a clockmaker. Last week, Deputy Mayor Pam McConnell unveiled a restored version of the antique clock that has stood in front of Union since it opened in 1927. Apart from helping visitors adjust to the local time zone, the rejuvenated landmark also makes for a great rendezvous spot.

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2 Second Subway Platform
Completed last week, Union’s overhauled TTC station mediates congestion with an improved concourse level and second subway platform. The reno also introduces a public art installation by Stuart Reid. A total of 166 glass panels are covered with sketches and poetry inspired by Reid’s subway rides around the city. Titled Zones of Immersion, the work has garnered criticism from some for being too dreary. (Notably, Reid’s isn’t the first piece of subway station art critiqued for being too honest about the subterranean travel experience: “The Commuter’s Lament”, a poem inscribed into the ceiling of the passageway between New York’s Time Square station and Port Authority, has been dispiriting transit-riders for the past 20 years.) At least the promise of a less crowded commute and the end of weekend construction closures at Union will give TTC passengers something to be cheerful about.

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3 Union Pearson Express
Pearson Airport-bound trains painted in earth-tone stripes started shuttling travellers from Union Station station last month for $27.50 a trip. The downtown UP Express train platform they depart from is appropriately tailored to the rail link service’s target audience of well heeled business travellers with refined taste. Both The Drake General Store and Balzac’s Coffee operate small kiosks here, while a bar run by Mill Street Brewery is under construction upstairs. Designed by Zeidler Partnership, the oak-and-concrete space complements uniforms and branding by Winkreative that nod to the golden age of rail travel.

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4 York GO Concourse
Opened in April, GO’s new concourse is a bright, spacious waiting room decked in the transit system’s signature palette of white, green and black. Navigating is a cinch: glass-enclosed staircases are arranged in a row and labeled with bold numbers that clearly identify which track they lead to. The area is currently operating in tandem with GO’s older Bay concourse. After the Pan Am Games, the latter will close to undergo a similar transformation, reopening in 2017 ready to accommodate the increased ridership brought on by the province’s planned GO upgrades.

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5 Train Shed Glass Atrium
Maple Leaf Square offers an excellent view of the now-finished glass box that replaces the central portion of Union’s train shed roof. A futuristic cousin of OCAD U’s Sharp Centre for Design, the tabletop-on-angled-pillars design by Zeidler Partnership is a spectacular first sight for passengers disembarking in Toronto. The 30,000 metres of existing, heritage-designated shed roofing on either side of the atrium is due to be replaced next. When finished in 2017, a new green roof will help the enclosure shed its industrial roots and improve the view from surrounding office towers.

Big unveils we’re looking forward to in 2017:
• The “moat” passageways linking the TTC station to the Great Hall and GO concourses will eventually be covered in glass canopies, shielding transit riders from the elements.
• Underground, a food and retail concourse designed by Partisans promises to turn Union into a bustling mall. Expect a Burger’s Priest outpost and Union Chicken, a rotisserie restaurant.


Categories: Urban Update
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