Toronto’s underground tunnels, known as the PATH, offer a range of shops, restaurants and services. This network of pedestrian walkways that span over 30 km is a great way to get around the city core. It occurred to me that even though I’ve taken this for granted, the PATH is a novelty to many.
To most Torontonians, this system of underground tunnels is a way of life. Those who work in the city’s core use the PATH as a way to get to and from work. Lunch breaks, business meetings or after-work drinks can all happen here. You don’t even have to go outside. This is especially useful when the weather outside is extreme.
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Although I’ve used the PATH for years, I didn’t think of how it came to be. After all, it’s been around as long as I remember. But its history is quite interesting and goes back to the year 1900.
In those days, there was a large department store on Yonge Street called T Eaton Co. The decision was made to join the main store with its bargain annex with underground tunnels. Within 17 years, there were five underground tunnels in Toronto’s core. After Union Station was opened in 1927, an underground tunnel connecting it with the Royal York Hotel followed.
The growth years
As the city of Toronto and its downtown grew, so did the PATH, especially during the ’50s and ’60s. In the early 1970s new tunnel linked the Richmond-Adelaide and Sheraton Centres, expanding the network. As the City of Toronto took over the management of the underground tunnels, the officials hired a design firm to formalize their design.
During the 1990’s more formalized signage and maps were created to bring awareness to the PATH and to help people navigate the system. As more people used the tunnels, the more businesses opened up along the way.
The PATH today
The tunnels in the underground are a very easy way to get around the city. However, they can also be pretty confusing to people who are visiting for the first time. Even those that live here, often get lost in the maze of tunnels.
To help with that, the City of Toronto and the local BIA undertook a project to develop new signage in 2016. The new PATH wayfinding system is now installed and time will tell if it has done the job.
Toronto’s underground tunnels
So what makes Toronto’s underground tunnels so special? According to its site, the PATH holds the Guinness World Record for being the largest underground shopping complex. This makes it one of the largest in North America! It is also quite the economic engine of the downtown.
- 30 km (19 miles) of connected walkways
- 371,600 square meters (4 million square feet) of retail space
- 200,000 daily users
- 1,200 shops, restaurants and services
- $1.7 billion in annual sales
- 4,600 jobs
- 75 connected buildings
- 35 corporations involved in running and maintaining the tunnels
As six subway stations connect the tunnels, it’s really easy to get here and spend the day without going outside. When I used to work downtown, I quite often took my lunch and breaks in the PATH. There are numerous food courts, shops and restaurants that make it easy to find food, get groceries and shop to your heart’s content.
Attractions and points of interest
The whole underground network of tunnels connects Union Station in the south, through the Financial District to the Eaton Centre and Dundas Square in the north. As there are also a number of hotels connected to the PATH, you’ll find tourist and business people mingling around the underground.
You can use the tunnels to visit a few of Toronto’s attractions. After all, this is a city with so much to do and see.
The Brookfield Place
One of my favourite places on the PATH is Brookfield Place. Architecturally it is a very intriguing place. A clever blend of historical features with modern, bold style. It’s a pedestrian space that feels like a giant greenhouse, filled with light.
As you are walking along the Allen Lambert Galleria you can’t help being blown away. This giant concourse is home to frequent art exhibitions and events that take place throughout the year. The place is impressive on its own, but the various exhibitions take it to a different level.
Here you’ll also find shopping, dining options and many spots for people watching. There is no shortage of crowds passing by throughout the day. You could spend a good part of the day here just basking in the hustle and bustle of life. At other times, there is a beautiful stillness that seems almost unreal in a city with so many people.
The Hockey Hall of Fame
For the hockey lovers and those who just want to check out something different, the Hockey Hall of Fame is a great place to visit. It acts as both a museum of hockey and a hall of fame. Dedicated to all things hockey, it is your chance to learn more about Canada’s national sport.
Roy Thompson Hall
The Roy Thomson Hall, one of Toronto’s many concert venues, can be accessed through the PATH as well. Home to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, it is also used as a venue during the Toronto International Film Festival. It is also quite a picturesque spot, especially during the evening.
The Scotiabank Arena
Chances are that if you are attending a concert of a sporting event in Toronto, you are going to be at the Scotiabank Arena (formerly known as the Air Canada Centre). This is the home to three of Toronto’s sports teams – the Raptors (basketball) the Leafs (hockey) and the Rock (lacrosse).
If you enjoy reading about Toronto’s underground, you might enjoy the guide to Toronto’s sports teams!
The Eaton Centre
Officially known as CF Toronto Eaton Centre, this is one of Toronto’s busiest attractions. In addition to being a shopping mall, it is also an office complex. Back in the late 1800s, Timothy Eaton opened a dry goods store on Yonge Street. This then became the T Eaton Co., the same company responsible for the first underground tunnel. Eaton’s, as it was commonly known, became one of Canada’s largest department stores and is the namesake of the mall.
Bringing it together
While the PATH is not your typical tourist attraction, it’s one of those things that you might take for granted if you live in Toronto. For visitors, it’s a novelty and something different to check out while visiting Toronto. I am always surprised by the reactions of those who visit here. Some ask to see it while others have never heard about it. Either way, everyone is always excited to check out the underground tunnels. Who knew?