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Toronto Bus Terminal.Samatha Martin/Samanth Martin/CreateTO

Despite the unseasonably cold weather, business is booming at the tiny Terminal Barber Shop at 594 Bay St. Wrapping scarves a little tighter around newly shaved necks, some of the patrons that walk north past the shuttered Toronto Coach Terminal pause to take in the black and white photos filling the art deco building’s windows.

All snapped by Lori Spring while a student in 1974-75, these slice-of-life, unvarnished portraits feature mature ladies wearing updo hairstyles and cat’s eye glasses, sullen men still sporting their 1950s fedoras, immigrant families arriving in Toronto (perhaps for the first time), and a lot of teenagers and twenty-somethings who hadn’t seen the inside of a barbershop for years. And lots and lots of luggage, since all were taken at this very spot almost 50 years ago.

“We called ourselves ‘The Bus Set,’” the photographer says with a laugh. “We’d take the bus to New York, we’d take the bus to Montreal.”

And had those barbershop patrons turned onto Edward Street, they would’ve caught a geography lesson, as Ms. Spring explained to Create TO’s marketing manager, Samantha Martin, and its senior vice-president of planning and design, Carlo Bonanni, exactly where everything was located back then. In addition to the ticket counters and benches, there was a convenience store, an open kitchen/restaurant, a room just for pay phones, and, on the second floor, tandem seating with tiny, attached television sets that glowed to life after a quarter was dropped into the slot.

  • Toronto Bus Terminal. Photos taken 1974-75.Lori Spring/Lori Spring

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“I just remember the first time, when I came here as a little kid … it was the most exciting [place],” says Mr. Bonanni. “I was just shaking, because I was like, ‘Oh, my God I’m in Toronto.’ And of course, this [room] was gigantic.”

However, as the trio enters the building – closed to the public since May, 2021 – every stick of furniture is gone, which, ironically, makes the room seem very, very small. To be clear, a 1990 renovation cleared out most of what can be seen in Ms. Spring’s photographs, but, today, even their replacements have been cleared away, which leaves only the grand staircase to lord over a sad population of random filing cabinets and empty trash cans.

But not to worry, says Mr. Bonanni. Since the building is city-owned, CreateTO (a city agency formed in 2018 to manage its real estate portfolio) has things well in hand. And, specifically, they understand the importance and rarity of this 1931 space by architect Charles Brammall Dolphin (1888-1969), who also penned the Toronto Postal Delivery Building (1939-40, now Scotiabank Arena).

“This entire building is going to be repurposed; originally, what we thought is that we could build above here,” he says, pointing to the long skylight over his head, “but then we decided no, because we wanted to make sure that the actual bus building itself remained proud. So any built form would be completely behind.”

Meaning that despite putting out a “Request for Expressions of Interest” (REOI) requiring that the half-hectare site (there is an additional garage building at 130 Elizabeth St.) combine residential towers with 33 per cent affordable housing, a paramedics “multihub,” streetscape improvements, and the “ability to generate financial returns,” the heritage component will still be the star of this real estate show. And, even better, Mr. Dolphin’s building will continue to be open to the public rather than a closed-off condominium amenities space.

CreateTO also had conceptual work done to ensure that any towers that are built don’t mess with Viljo Revell’s masterpiece down the street: “We had to be cognizant that there’s an existing view corridor from City Hall,” Mr. Bonanni says. “We needed to ensure the opening between the clamshells be preserved. So if you’re on Queen Street, looking through City Hall, there’s the opening, that clear space …[also] we couldn’t pop up above the East or West towers; so what they did is they modelled a proposed building [and] we can go as high as 41 storeys without breaking that.”

As impressive as those future towers may be, as our little group walks up the grand staircase and peers down onto the travertine-columned, blank canvas below, there is more excitement in dreaming about this space’s future. Will it be a satellite location for Eataly or Sud Forno? A big location for Balzac’s or Dineen coffee? A brew-pub? Little shops for artisans? And will the balconied second floor become an art gallery? A daycare? An art school for children?

While not in the most action-packed neighbourhood, the building is located steps from University Avenue’s “hospital row” and, to the east, all of that amazing shopping on Yonge Street. Plus, it’s already connected to the underground PATH system: “It’s an amazing opportunity to get to transit, to get to the Eaton Centre, so that’s another huge plus that we have with the space.”

The future isn’t that far away, either. The REOI, which was quite successful (Spanier Group and Colliers helped the city and gave site tours), produced 16 submissions, which are currently being evaluated. Next stage, says Mr. Bonanni, is shortlisting, and then a formal Request for Proposals.

It’s an exciting time for heritage architecture in Toronto. A quarter century ago, the Toronto Coach Terminal likely would’ve become just another façadectomy. But not today. And ModernTO – an arm of CreateTO that deals with the city’s office building stock – has big plans for another Charles B. Dolphin building, the midcentury modern TTC headquarters/William C. McBrien Building (1957-58) at 1900 Yonge St.

Until then, however, keep your eyes glued to Bay and Edward streets. And when the build-out is complete and there’s reason to celebrate, Lori Spring will likely be there to capture it all with her Leica M4.

If you can’t get to 610 Bay St. to see Ms. Spring’s photographs, “Bus Station” is also up at Bob Carnie Gallery/Silvershack at 1681 Dundas St. W. until April 16.

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