Sunday, August 4, 2019

toronto tubes

I spent a three weeks in Toronto recently, and stayed on the 36th floor of a downtown apartment building. It felt high, really high considering I had been living in the Netherlands for so long now. I had to put my garbage down a chute and spent hours of my trip waiting for and riding elevators. It got me thinking about pneumatic tube systems though, and how they traverse vertical distances so efficiently, more efficiently it feels than people or garbage.

It reminded me too of the article "That time Toronto had a system of Pneumatic Mail Tubes", which describes the revolution that the pneumatic tube systems built in the 1930s brought to communication between the city's newspaper, the Toronto Star, and the city hall. The system was a collaboration between the rail, telecommunication and newspaper heavyweights of Canada. Chris Bateman, author of the article in BlogTO, writes that:
In a rare show of co-operation in 1928, Canadian Pacific and Canadian Nation Railways laid what would become the foundation of the Toronto Star and Telegram system by running an elaborate 4,500-metre pneumatic tube network from their respective transmitting offices - at Yonge and Melinda and Bay and Temperance - down Bay to Postal Station A at Union Station. A small spur connected to the mail room at the Royal York Hotel ... Manholes every 300 feet down Bay provided access to the 2 1/4-inch copper tubes - which were laid on a concrete foundation and encased in creosoted wood - in case a canister became stuck.
Two years later, the Star and Telegram joined the pneumatic mail system, installing two sets of pipe in parallel down Bay Street. At its extent, the system included 7 properties, though there was no central exchange and most were only connected to one other place. It's not clear when the pneumatic tubes fell into disuse. The Royal York still has the transparent pipes of its internal system on display but, sadly, its staff have found more convenient (though infinitely less exciting) ways of getting messages through the giant old building." 
I always seem to come across or remember these articles when it is too late and I write this now from back home in Maastricht, trying to remember if I saw any manholes on the street which would have provided access to those tubes. Probably not, I was too busy looking skyward, in awe of all those tall buildings.

Photo: my own