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Friday, 23 May 2014

Riches to Rags - What Ever Happened to the Gray Coach Lines Terminal?

Bus Travel. It used to be the bee’s knees. Now? Not so much. Personally, I loathe traveling by bus; long lines, no guaranteed seating, the fact that you are on a bus... It all sucks. To boot, I’m one of those born and raised downtown Torontonians that never bothered to get his driver’s license. Now I’m 30 and well, if I want to travel somewhere that isn’t accessible by plane or train (My favourite being the latter; old soul, remember?)then my only option is good old Greyhound. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem as the places I tend to visit have airports and train stations, but my Fathers whereabouts have neither. Visiting Collingwood means the big wheels keep on turning and Proud Matty has to suck it up and take the bus. There is one saving grace to this otherwise lackluster experience, and that’s that I get to spend some time at the Gray Coach Lines Terminal, circa 1931. It opened on December 19th to be exact and only 4 days behind its scheduled Grand Opening of the 15th. Only 4 days late? That’s unheard of these days. 

The Vision

Construction leading up to the grand opening, c. September 1931

All done!

The terminal was built to service the ever increasing need for mass transit to and from smaller cities and well, did they ever do it with style! Built at the height of the Art Deco boom in Toronto, The Gray Coach Lines Terminal boasted travertine walls, a vaulted ceiling featuring a wonderfully geometric skylight in vivid shades of blue, green, and purple, framed by five tiered chandeliers. All that, combined with the grand staircase with monel metal railings and an inspired glass window that lead you on your way up to the mezzanine lounge made for a truly remarkable coach terminal. 


Sadly, she no longer looks quite like she did. After a series of modifications in the late 1960’s followed by a botched "Restoration" in 1991, she was robbed of her glamour. While the skylight and four of five chandeliers remain intact (phew!), the mezzanine has since been closed to the public and the rails modified to feature glass paneling(Gasp!). The original wooden benches have been replaced with some pretty vulgar seating arrangements, with walls blown out for an expanded ticketing area and snack bar. They also ripped out the doorways to the Arrivals and Departures area that in my opinion, finished off the main room and rendered it complete. There used to be symmetry and style at the Gray Coach Lines Terminal, but that’s all gone now. Standing in there 83 years later, it feels as if it’s unfinished, defiled, and defaced; a truly beleaguered venue that merely shrugs at its past rather than celebrating it. Le triste.

The exterior hasn't changed a bit!
As you can see, the upper monel railings on the North (right) and South(left) sides were replaced with half transparent, half translucent glass, with offices now occupying what once was the mezzanine level. The staircase railing was modified to include glass panels for some unknown reason. Ugh.

At least the skylight remains vivid, 83 years later.
She hardly exudes the grandeur she once did. What a shame that they removed the centre chandelier....

There are whispers that the now named Toronto Coach Terminal's services will be relocating to another venue and one wonders what will happen to this old girl if that becomes a reality.  With the condo boom in this city, it’s not a stretch to assume it’s fate will land in the hands of a Real Estate developer which could (could being the operative word) be a wonderful thing. What I would love to see is a full restoration of the main building with original ticketing area being the concierge. Behind the re-produced Arrival and Departures doors would be hallways featuring historical photos and facts leading the way to the elevators. The mezzanine would be re-purposed as a lounge, cocktail bar, and restaurant giving the public an opportunity to revel in the beauty. The existing bus bay would be torn down and that’s where the residential tower would rise up to the skies. They could call it Coach House Condos or something equally catchy that pays some hommage to its roots.  It’s for these reason that when I do have to travel by bus that it’s a lot easier to deal with. I get to think about what this place used to be like, and imagine what the future has in store.

Note: All historical photos in this article are from the City of Toronto Archives, with present photos Copyright of Matthew D. Stokes 2014

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