PATH – the underground in Toronto!

In the last week of December and the first week of January the temperature in Toronto plummeted to -30 degrees Celsius (including windchill, which off Lake Ontario can be ferocious), but fear not – I was still able to remain toasty whilst walking around this incredible city… underground!

Toronto has a system called “PATH” (or as it seems to be referred to: ‘The Path’) which comprises 29 kilometres (18 miles) of walkways and 1,200 shops. It links many important buildings and attractions downtown to six subway stations.

I thoroughly enjoyed navigating the PATH in my first few weeks in Toronto and I actually managed to perfect the route between the Eaton Centre and Union Station. From what I’m gathering, even the locals struggle a bit around Union at the moment due to the enormous amount of construction work that is taking place.

Keeping to the RIGHT is very important. When I first moved here I naturally gravitated to the left (per what we would do in Australia, as we drive on the left) and this caused chaos. I feared for my life and thought I may be trampled by businessmen/women! I would strongly suggest that if you are not familiar with the PATH, you do not try to learn how to navigate it at peak hour. I made this mistake and despite the fact I am usually fairly calm and collected, I did scamper off into a cafe at one stage to sit and let the masses pass by me!

  • The PATH network in Toronto is the largest underground shopping complex in the world with 371,600 square metres (3,999,869 sq ft).
  • Toronto also has a separate, smaller “underground city” connecting several building complexes and two subway stations on Bloor Street.

PATH is a network of underground pedestrian tunnels and elevated walkways which are connected with office towers and residential buildings (“condominiums”). According to Guinness World Records, PATH is the largest underground shopping complex in the world with 371,600 square metres (4,000,000 sq ft) of retail space. It may now become evident as to why I have struggled with shopping the past few months – so much on offer!

The PATH network’s northerly point is the Toronto Coach Terminal on Dundas Street/Bay Street, while its southerly point is Waterpark Place on Queens Quay. Its main axes of walkways generally parallel Yonge Street and Bay Street.

It all started in 1900, when the Eaton’s department store constructed a tunnel underneath James Street, allowing shoppers to walk between the Eaton’s main store at  Yonge and Queen streets and the Eaton’s Annex, located behind the (then) City Hall. It was the first underground pedestrian pathway in Toronto, and is often credited as a historic precursor to the current PATH network. The original Eaton’s tunnel is still in use as part of the PATH system, although today it connects the Toronto Eaton Centre to the Bell Trinity Square office complex, on the site of the former Annex building.

Another original underground linkage, built in 1927 to connect Union Station and the Royal York Hotel, also remains an integral part of today’s PATH network.

The network of underground walkways expanded under city planner Matthew Lawson in the 1960s. Toronto’s downtown sidewalks were overcrowded, and new office towers were removing the much-needed small businesses from the streets. Lawson thus convinced several important developers to construct underground malls, pledging that they would eventually be linked. The designers of the Toronto-Dominion Centre, the first of Toronto’s major urban developments in the 1960s (completed in 1967) were the first to include underground shopping in their complex, with the possibility of future expansion built in. The city originally helped fund the construction, but with the election of a reform city council this ended. The reformers disliked the underground system based on Jane Jacob’s notion that an active street life was important to keeping cities and neighbourhoods vital and that consumers should be encouraged to shop on street level stores rather than in malls (whether they be above ground or below); however, the system continued to grow, as developers bowed to their tenants’ wishes and connected their buildings to the system. This also converted low-valued basements into some of the most valuable retail space in the country.

The first expansion of the network occurred in the 1970s with the construction and underground connection of the Richmond-Adelaide office tower and the Sheraton Hotel hotel complex

In 1987, City Council adopted a unified wayfinding system throughout the network. The design firms Gottschalk+Ash International and Muller Design Associates were hired to design and implement the overall system in consultation with a diverse group of land owners, City staff and stakeholders. A colour-coded system with directional cues was deployed in the early 1990s. Within the various buildings, pedestrians can find a PATH system map, plus cardinal directions (P (red) for south, A (orange) for west, T (blue) for north, H (yellow) for east) on ceiling signs at selected junctions.

The signage can be hard to find inside some of the various connected buildings. Building owners concerned about losing customers to neighbouring buildings insisted that the signs not dominate their buildings, or their own signage system. The city relented and the result is the current system. Many complain that the system is hard to navigate. I would tend to agree, as I have recently discovered some additional areas of the PATH, found completely by mistake and which resulted in me getting quite lost!

PATH provides an important contribution to the economic viability of the city’s downtown core. The system facilitates pedestrian linkages to public transit, accommodating more than 200,000 daily commuters, and thousands of additional tourists and residents on route to sports and cultural events. Its underground location provides pedestrians with a safe haven from the winter cold and snow, and the summer heat.

More than 50 buildings or office towers are connected through the PATH system. It comprises twenty parking garages, five subway stations (Osgoode station connects only to the Four Seasons Centre), two major department stores, two major shopping centres, six major hotels, and a railway terminal. The CN TowerRipley’s Aquarium of Canada, and Rogers Centre are connected via an enclosed elevated walkway, called the SkyWalk, from Union Station, although the walkway does not have indoor connections to these facilities.






winners entry on the PATH20121031-firstcanadianplace-06path (2)PATHPATH signsscotiaplaza_4the-air-canada-centre

Here is a very informative video I found on YouTube. It pretty much summarises everything I’ve included above, so if a video is what you would prefer, check this out!


2 thoughts on “PATH – the underground in Toronto!

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