Moments before Toronto subway riders shuffle onto crowded cars, they briskly walk down the platform past oversized station titles sandblasted into the tiled walls. While the subway tiles are not exclusive to Toronto, what is unique to the city is the typographic heritage that Toronto has all to itself with what is internally referred to as ‘The Station Font’.

The opening of the Toronto Subway in 1954 coincides with the mid-century modern period of design which results in a current injection of retro-flavoured signage and typeface. In general, Toronto lacks a strong visual character; however, this unique typeface is arguably one of the most recognisable features to Torontonians.

The history of the development of the typeface is mysteriously illusive. To this day, the original designer remains unknown. The clean and mechanical grotesque style has a certain level of elegance making it widely appealing. The rescue of the typeface is credited to David Vereschagin as he painstakingly endured years of taking rubbings and photographing the station walls to revive the typeface, which is now called ‘Toronto Subway” (available online from Quadrat). David also created a lowercase to accompany the original upper-case only typeface, albeit controversial in its completion.

With numerous renovations of original stations, and the subsequent expansion of the subway lines over the past 50+ years, signage and way finding in the system are in a devastating mess. New fonts, signage types and way finding techniques have been used resulting in major inconsistencies. A crowded and narrow Helvetica-clone of Massimo Vignelli’s work for the New York subway system in 1960’s, is now the Toronto Transit Commission’s standard for new signage. This act leaves Torontonians begging the TTC to abandon the mimicking of visual culture from other cities, and to celebrate and to preserve our own heritage.

As a proud nod to our local culture, Mason chose a similar grotesque-style typeface to ‘The Station Font’ for their branding and logo. The loyal following that the mysterious subway signage has created is testament to the iconic nature of the font and the necessity for Toronto to proudly preserve this recognisable feature and call it our own.

 

For an in-depth investigation on the original TTC Station, check out Joe Clark’s ‘Inscribed In the Living Tile’.
Image Credits:
Image #1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, and 10 from the Toronto Archives
Image #4 from Quadrat: www.quadrat.com/tsr.html
Image #5 from of Dominion Modern
Image #9, Station poster : Jonathan Guy