In 1882, one more local resident was killed crossing the GTR tracks on Kingston Road. People called for immediate action to install better protection at the crossing. (Toronto Daily Mail, August 12, 1882) Many more had been killed there since the railway was built in the 1850’s, but the carnage at the level crossing wasn’t over.
In 1883 the Toronto Board of Trade urged the City of the Toronto, the Government of Canada and the Grand Trunk Railway to improve the railway right-of-way through the East End of Toronto by elevating the tracks on a viaduct. It wasn’t done. They got gates instead.
The deaths and maiming had increased as the former Leslieville and Riverside, now called Riverdale, became industrialized and densely populated.
In 1913 the Toronto Board of Trade passed a resolution calling for the parties to start the Toronto Viaduct right away. The railroads, the City of Toronto, the Toronto Harbor Commissioners and the Government of Canada finally reached an agreement, but, choking at the expense, the railways stalled. Then World War One pushed most major infrastructure projects.
William W. Hiltz (Hiltz Avenue is named for him) had been a city alderman, but from from 1921 to 1923 controller, representing Riverdale and strong advocate for the Viaduct. In 1924, he became Mayor, installed time clocks at City Hall so employees had to “punch in” and generally shook things up. This devout Christian, teetotaler and East End contractor, had the negotiating skills to get all the parties at the table and the intestinal fortitude to push hard enough and long enough to finally get the Viaduct built. Hiltz was also championed the construction of the new Union Station we know today as “Old Union Station.” Construction began June 17, 1925 on the Toronto Viaduct (also known as the “Toronto Grade Separation”. It was finished on January 31, 1930.
Known to train engineers and other railway employees as the “High Level”, the project required huge land filling. Work crews not only raised the rail lines to a height of 18 feet above the ground surface, but they also extended the railway corridor out into Toronto Harbour some distance. To build the Viaduct, contractors installed a narrow gauge construction railway to move the earth and materials. (Traces of that light rail line can still be seen in some places.) We take it for granted now but it was considered a major engineering feet in the 1920’s.
Below is a picture gallery of the Toronto Viaduct at Leslieville’s west end.
Creator: Alfred J. Pearson
Date: December 14, 1926