Toronto subway station tiles

The original Toronto subway tile colour scheme was generated by combining a number of background colours with four trim colours. The result was one of subtly varied unity, offering just enough difference between otherwise similar stations to avoid confusion. The regular pattern in the colour scheme went unnoticed by most subway riders.

The colours were chosen to discourage rowdy behaviour and loitering rather than for aesthetic reasons. Consequently, they have the institutional quality of hospital or penitentiary walls. For many years, Torontonians grumbled that their subway stations looked like public washrooms. But now, decades later, the remaining designs have become Modernist classics.

Station names were displayed in large lettering in the trim colour, at eye level at intervals along the platform. The names were repeated in small lettering in the main tile colour along the trim strip at ceiling level. Similar or identical lettering was frequently used on institutional architecture in the 1950s and 60s: see e.g. the University of Manitoba's campus entrance, the Regina Public Library, and the CN station in Windsor.

To get a better idea of how the stations look, both in their original designs and after renovation, see Jose Ongpin's series of Toronto subway typography posters:

as well as Craig White's extensive photo essay created in 2005–2006.

In the diagrams below, adjacent stations lie along diagonals running in the upper left–lower right [\] direction. The small labels to the right of each station name are the codes used by the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) for identifying escalators and other plant. Consecutive numbers with the same letter indicate adjacent stations.

Best viewed using the Toronto Subway font from Quadrat Communications, though Futura will do in a pinch.

Yonge Subway (1954)

  Red Trim Green Trim Blue Trim Black Trim
Primrose (yellow) Tiles
 St Clair16Y
English Eggshell (green) Tiles
Pearl Grey Tiles

The wall tiles were made of Vitrolite structural glass, a popular decorative material of the 1930s and early 40s associated with the Moderne style. By the time the station walls were finished in 1952, Vitrolite had been out of production for five years! The subway was retro even before it opened.


University Subway (1963)

  Blue Trim Blue Trim Green Trim
Grey Tiles
 St. Andrew6Y
 Queen’s Park3Y
Yellow Tiles
Green Tiles
 St. Patrick4Y
 St. George1Y

The University line used a small number of subdued colour schemes. This gave it a dull, dignified, 1960s appearance consistent with University Avenue's reputation as the world's longest mausoleum. Variety of materials made up for the lack of variety of colour. St. Andrew and Osgoode were finished in Vitrolite glass left over from the Yonge line. St. Patrick and Queen’s Park – the round-walled tunneled stations – required curved panels, which were made of painted metal. Museum and St. George were the first two stations to use the new ceramic tiles that later clad the Bloor-Danforth line.


Bloor-Danforth Subway (1966–1968)

  Red Trim Green Trim Blue Trim Black Trim
Grey Tiles
 Old Mill13B
 Dundas West8B
 Victoria Park14D
Yellow Tiles
 Main Street13D
Green Tiles
 St. George*1B
White Tiles
 High Park10B
Peach Tiles
 Castle Frank5D
 Royal York14B

The Bloor-Danforth line uses durable ceramic tiles that have aged well. There are two colour sequences: from Bay running west (16 stations), and from Yonge running east (13 stations).



Further Reading

Written 2005-03-26 by John Chew and Justin Bur, with additional material from Mark Brader, Dan Hammond, and Robert Lubinski.
Inspired by Spacing magazine’s subway buttons and the Mean City exhibition at the Dominion Modern museum.
Last revised 2018-02-24. URL: