Going Underground: Visiting Toronto’s Egyptianising Museum Station

Museum Station, located on the eastern part of Toronto’s Bloor Street Cultural Corridor, conceals Egyptianising treasures from the eyes of passers-by on the street above. Its design for most of its life was like any other Toronto subway station – bland colours and a band running along the top with the name of the station. As the name indicates, the station was built to allow transit-takers to visit either the Gardiner Museum of Ceramics or the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). Today, visitors using the station can marvel at columns decorated in the traditions of Canada’s First Nations as well as those of Ancient China, Egypt, Greece, and Mexico.

Museum Station with the 2008 redesign with a Toltec column and a Forbidden City column
Museum Station after the 2008 redesign showing First Nations and Forbidden City columns (authors’ photo)

Background to the station

Museum Station was originally opened in 1963, but was renovated in 2008 by Diamond and Schmitt Architects to complement its unique location between two museums. The station’s remodelling in 2008 came shortly after the reopenings of both museums. The ROM added the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal in 2007 and the Gardiner Museum completed their renovations in 2006. The architects told us that the redesign of Museum Station was only the first remodelling of three stations. Osgoode station connected to the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts and St. Patrick station with the Art Gallery of Ontario unfortunately never went beyond the initial stages.

Five new columns were designed for the platform, drawing inspiration from objects in the collections of the ROM and Gardiner Museum: 1) Wuikinuxv First Nation Bear House Post, 2) Toltec Warrior Column, 3) Chinese Forbidden City Columns, 4) Doric Columns, and 5) Osiris Pilaster.

Museum Station before the redesign in 2008 (Photo: Ian Muttoo)
Museum Station before the redesign in 2008 (photo: Ian Muttoo)

What are the Egyptian elements?

(1) The Egyptianising Osiris Pilasters

The Egyptianising columns, of course, drew our interest; the architects called them Osiris pilasters. They modelled these in two parts: (1) the top depicts typical royal regalia with the nemes headdress, crook, and flail and (2) the bottom reflects the wrapped body of the god Osiris. The image of the king resembles that of the formulaic New Kingdom (1,539-1,077 BC) pharaoh, such as the famous golden mask of Tutankhamun.

The royal regalia and their position reflect well the statues of Ramesses II decorated in Osirian fashion within the Great Hypostyle Hall at Abu Simbel. Looking at the ears, they may also recall the over-emphasised ears of kings of the Twelfth Dynasty, who scholars suggest wanted to emphasise their penchant for listening. However, the overly emphasised musculature of the arms as well as the flatness of the column overall seem to suggest modern Egyptomania influences.

Statues of Ramesses II in Osireian fashion from the Great Hypostyle Hall at Abu Simbel
Statues of Ramesses II in Osirian fashion in the Great Hypostyle Hall at Abu Simbel (authors’ photo)

(2) Hieroglyphic Inscriptions

The back and sides of the columns contain an Egyptian offering formula. It describes the reciprocal relationship between the gods and the kings and reads:

“(The king) offers the best fresh incense to Amun-Re, Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands, Lord of the Sky, so that he will give (the king) life, stability, dominion, health and joy like are, forever.” (1)

The outline of the station’s names contains a hieroglyphic inscription
The outline of the station’s names contains a hieroglyphic inscription (authors’ photo)

The station’s remodelling incorporates beautifully another inscription, which is visible within the outline of the station’s name. It is an excerpt from an Old Kingdom (2,543-2,120 BC) relief from the tomb of the official Met-jet-jy from Saqqara. The ROM purchased this piece in the 1950s and it is now on display in the museum. It reads:

“I was loved by my father, honoured and praised by my mother. I gave them a proper burial – by royal decree because I was honoured by the king – so that they could praise the god forever. I was a good son from my childhood until their demise, never causing them anger. Moreover, my opinion was considered in every royal project.” (1)

Relief sculpture of Met-jet-jy and his son Sabu-Ptah
Relief sculpture of Met-jet-jy and his son Sabu-Ptah (authors’ photo)

More photos of Museum Station:

Have you been to Museum Station? Let us know in the comments!


Notes

  1. After the Info Pack provided to us kindly by DSAI Architects.
  • DSAI Architects (who were commissioned to do the redesign) produced a cinematic model of what the station were to look like before construction. You can view it here.
  • 1,000 Things Toronto named Museum Station “Toronto’s coolest subway stop”

The Nile Scribes are grateful for Michael Treacy and DSAI Architects for providing some background information on their project.

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