Museum station gets cultural makeover

Lavish suit-and-tie corporate types looked out of place early this afternoon, as many of Toronto’s elite gathered in the dingy underground world of Museum Station. The TTC, along with other city contributors and organizations, finally unveiled the subway station’s newly renovated platform.

The Toronto Community Foundation was the major player in Museum Station’s face-lift. It acted as a catalyst of Mayor Miller’s City Beautiful initiative by bringing in private money to help refurbish one of Toronto’s less appealing public spaces.

“People identified subways as important city spaces,” said Rahul Bhardwaj, president and CEO of the foundation. “We found that the major cultural renaissance happening above ground in the newly modernized ROM and George R. Gardiner Museum was not being reflected below ground. We wanted to change that. So out of this, the idea of Arts on Track was born.”

“This is the first go around with something like this in Toronto,” said Ed Drass, freelance writer and Toronto transit expert. “We’ve always put art in the stations but it’s usually as part of the construction costs. This is sort of bringing the museums down below ground,” he said

Adam Giambrone, Toronto city councillor and TTC chair, agreed with that statement in his speech this afternoon. “It shows that people in this city want to be involved in public spaces too,” he said. Therefore, the city will be looking to rejuvenate less obvious city spaces.

Arts on Track is a city-wide renewal program for Toronto’s subway lines. Pape Station is next in line for a makeover and then eventually the bathroom tile-style walls of Osgoode and St. Patrick stations will be replaced by more modern larger slab-type panel pieces.

“I like the preservation of the tiles wherever possible,” Drass said. “But there has been an issue up until now about actually being able to replace the tiles properly. You can see some stations where they just don’t match.”

The $5 million revamp of Museum Station included exhibit-inspired support columns that emulate artifacts displayed in the Royal Ontario Museum. Doric columns dated back to ancient Greece, a figure representing the Egyptian god Osiris, a replicate of a Mexican warrior, a First Nation house post and imperial Chinese columns from the Forbidden City are all part of the new design.

“We were really particular about this being authentic so Diamond + Schmidt and the design folks worked with the curators of the ROM and the Gardiner Museum to ensure that details such as the hieroglyphs on the station wall was accurate,” Bhardwaj said.

Funding for the renovation came from three sources. The province of Ontario gave $2 million, another $1 million from the TTC and the Toronto Community Foundation, through its donors, raised about $2 million.

Perhaps the new stations will bring Toronto’s commuters a sense of pride when they ride through them, but the expensive renovations did not come without speculation. Some skeptics believe that the money could have been spent in a more effective matter. Museum Station is, after all, still not wheelchair accessible.

“I don’t know if the money would have been raised or leveraged in this same way if it were for up-keep,” Drass said. “If I was one of the donors I would think that that is sort of a government thing instead.”

The TTC does have accessibility plans for Museum Station. Giambrone said that construction of the second entrance that was intended to be built two years ago will finally begin within a year and a half.

I think it will pull people upstairs into the museums,” Drass said. “At the very least, people’s eyes are going to be pulled out of the car they’re riding in and look to the station.”