Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Spadina Expressway

The Spadina Expressway, now known as the W.R. Allen Road, was proposed in the mid-1960s as part of a network of expressways in Metropolitan Toronto. Originally to run from Highway 401 into the downtown area via the Cedarvale Ravine and Spadina Road, it was only partially built before being cancelled in 1971.

The Spadina controversy

The debate over the Spadina, and its eventual cancellation, are regarded as a turning point in local history. It preceded the beginning of the so-called "Reform Era" in Toronto politics, which brought to City Hall the likes of David Crombie and John Sewell - leaders with a distrust of the rapid growth that had characterized city building in Toronto over the previous two decades.

As construction proceeded, opposition to the expressway grew among residents of the neighbourhoods in its path, including Forest Hill and The Annex. The new road, they feared, would tear apart their neighbourhoods and choke the area with new traffic. It would also ruin an irreplaceable natural area and require the demolition of hundreds of homes, as well as historic buildings such as Spadina House.

Grassroots protest by downtown residents and eventually, a considerable lobbying effort, turned the tide against the expressway. (Notable among the opposition was urban critic Jane Jacobs, who moved to the Annex in 1969, fresh from a battle to stop the Lower Manhattan Expressway in New York City.)

In June 1971, the provincial government of Bill Davis withdrew its support, effectively killing the project. Speaking in the Ontario Legislature, Davis said: "If we are building a transportation system to serve the automobile, the Spadina Expressway would be a good place to start. But if we are building a transportation system to serve people, the Spadina Expressway is a good place to stop" (quoted in Sewell, 1993).


The completed section of the Spadina now runs from north of the 401 along a shallow trench, and ends at Eglinton Avenue. Named the W.R. Allen Expressway after the then-chair of Metropolitan Toronto (and later given the less intimidating title of W.R. Allen Road), it is referred to as "The Allen" by locals. The Spadina subway line runs down its median before descending underground, following the approximate route planned for later sections of the expressway.

The cancellation of the Spadina also spelled the end for the rest of the proposed network, including the Crosstown and Scarborough expressways. To date, no further expressways have been built in Toronto, leaving only two express routes to serve the downtown core: the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway, whose own future is under continual debate. Some planners have pointed to this - along with too much investment in new subways and other rapid transit options, while ignoring the needs of road users - as a major factor in the city's considerable traffic congestion.

The Provincial Government did, however, build a parallel highway to the west of the Spadina, which is a short arterial extension of Highway 400, known as Black Creek Drive. It was transferred to the city upon completion in 1982. It was intended to draw some of the traffic away from the truncated Spadina. Black Creek Drive ends south of Eglinton Avenue on Weston Road, which continues south.


External links:
Missing Links, A Complete History Of Toronto’s Controversial Expressway System