Remembering a civic battle won

Activists and politicians gathered on June 22 to commemorate the successful 1960s campaign to stop the Spadina Expressway

About 60 people gathered at the corner of Bloor St. and Spadina Rd. last week to commemorate the citizen movement that famously quashed the Spadina Expressway in the 1960s and ’70s.

“To me, it’s an excellent example of how citizen participation on a small scale can ripple into a movement with powerful consequences,” said Bobbi Speck, an Annex resident and founding member of the Committee of Concerned Citizens, one of the first groups to oppose the expressway in 1968.

Others who were involved in the ‘stop spadina’ movement also came out to unveil a set of plaques and commemorate the battle they won nearly 40 years ago.

“The voice which came out of this neighbourhood and emanated to the rest of the world was one which we can be very proud of and now we can take our relatives and our friends to this corner and remember forever,” said Trinity-Spadina councillor, Adam Vaughan.

Planned as part of a larger expressway network that would have defined how people moved around the GTA, the Spadina Expressway was meant to be a traffic artery on the west side of the city. It would have run from today’s Hwy 407 all the way downtown, but its path would have destroyed distinctive parts of Toronto, such as the Annex neighbourhood.

Aside from the fact that he is now the councillor who represents the area that was ground zero for the fight, Vaughan talked about his own personal involvement in the expressway history.

“(The Spadina fight) robbed me of my childhood,” joked Vaughan, whose parents were both involved in the anti-expressway effort.

“My first trips down to city hall before I even turned nine were to fight the expressway and to sit in the stands and jeer as the politicians made the wrong call time and time again… It was a profoundly important time for Toronto. It made me who I am today.”

A number of citizens groups banded together to oppose the project, eventually coalescing into the Stop Spadina Save Our City Organizing Committee (SSSOC), an organization that counted Jane Jacobs and Marshall McLuhan amongst its membership. With a great deal of support from municipal politicians, the plan was stopped only through the eventual intervention of then-premier Bill Davis in 1971 when he famously declared: “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.”

Today, the fight against the expressway is considered a milestone in Toronto’s civic history. Only the initial stretch of the expressway survives as the William R. Allen Road, which ends abruptly at Eglinton Ave. Even that portion of the original Spadina
project may eventually disappear, however, as the city is currently exploring long-term options for the area that include transforming Allen Road into a boulevard.

Asked whether they think the city has otherwise kept pace with its transportation needs, a number of former anti-Spadina activists ironically described the city’s public transit services as poor and admitted they currently prefer driving.

About this article:

By: Joshua Freeman
Posted: Jun 29 2010 4:56 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto