Sunnyside, Toronto

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Sunnyside is a lakefront district in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It includes a beach and park area along Lake Ontario's Humber Bay, to the west of the Exhibition grounds, at the foot of Roncesvalles Avenue where it meets King Street West and Queen Street West. In the 1910s, the area was the site of a massive waterfront reclamation public works project. From 1922 to 1955, the reclaimed land was home to the popular Sunnyside Amusement Park which was demolished in 1955 to facilitate the building of the Metro Toronto Gardiner Expressway project. Transportation land uses dominate the area today.

The name originates in a local farm owned by John Howard, which was situated just to the north, on the location of the current St. Joseph's Health Centre hospital. Sunnyside Avenue runs north-south from that location north to Howard Park Avenue today. John Howard is also famous as the original landowner of High Park in Toronto.

Sunnyside waterfront

History[edit]

Painting of Colborne Lodge, 1865

An aboriginal settlement is known to have been present at the Baby Point area on the Humber River to the north. From approximately the area of today's Sunnyside Pavilion, an ancient trail, known as the "Toronto Carrying Place" trail went north to the Lake Simcoe area. Part of the trail is presumed to be along the route of today's "Indian Road", to the east of High Park.

The first European settlement of the area originated with the founding by the French of Fort Rouillé on today's Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) grounds, in the 18th century. The French destroyed the fort to prevent it falling into the hands of the British. Its foundations were excavated in the 1980s.

In the War of 1812, American troops attacked the then-town of York. The troops arrived by water and landed on the Sunnyside waterfront east of Roncesvalles. The troops attacked Fort York to the east the next morning and looted the town. The looting of York led to a retaliatory raid on, and looting of Washington, D.C., burning the White House.

Early development[edit]

Owen Staples painting on the beach, 1907

Settlement came in the 19th century. Land grants were given in the area of Swansea, High Park and east of High Park. Colborne Lodge, located within High Park, just north of the lake and owned by John Howard was built in 1837.

In the 1850s, the Great Western Railway built the first rail line along the waterfront, between High Park and the waterfront. At first, the rail line was built at ground level with level crossings and was not a physical barrier. Starting just east of Roncesvalles the rails used to rise the hill to the level of today's Springhurst Avenue to the South Parkdale railway station. A major change came with the 'Parkdale Grade Separation Project'. The rail lines along the waterfront were evened up to a level grade along the waterfront, with a large digging project from Dowling to east of Dufferin. The hill necessitated that trains travel at full throttle to climb the hill, a factor in an 1870s train collision. In 1910, the station was relocated to the foot of Roncesvalles and named Sunnyside. The rail lines were widened and elevated above the shoreline from Sunnyside station west to the Humber, taking more of the waterfront area, nearly to the shoreline. This necessitated the removal of a level crossing between Queen Street and Lakeshore Road and a bridge over the tracks was built, with subways at several road intersections.[1]

The first lakeshore road, a toll road along the waterfront, was built in the 19th century, prior to the incorporation of Parkdale. The Village of Parkdale extended King Street to its intersection at Queen Street to bypass the toll road. A road connection was built from the intersection of Roncesvalles, King and Queen Streets to the lakeshore road on or about 1900, giving access to trams to deliver visitors to High Park. There was a level crossing of the tracks south of today's St. Joseph's Hospital. The bridge over the tracks was completed in July 1914 and the level crossing closed. The trams then followed the new route across the bridge to King and Queen.[2]

The crossing was the location where a busker, Charlie Soley, performed for many years to those passing to High Park. Less than 3 feet (0.91 m) tall, and weighing 40 pounds (18 kg), he had a grey beard and wore a cabbage leaf to cover his head from the sun. Soley played fiddle music on the violin and his death was front page news in 1916, when he died at the age of 54 from bronchitis.[3]

Along the south side of the lakeshore road, commercial uses such as Dean's Boat House (a boat factory) and Meyer's Hotel were built on or around 1900. The Parkdale Canoe Club, today's Boulevard Club was inaugurated in 1905. With the coming of hydro-electric power from Niagara Falls hydro-electric lines and towers were erected along the waterfront. The area to the south of the rail lines was narrow, but as the Parkdale area grew in population, the foot of Roncesvalles became a popular swimming area. A series of changing booths was built in 1911 along the waterfront for bathers. A slide was built alongside the new bridge to the lake for swimmers. In 1916, the City started providing free streetcar service to take children to bathe at Sunnyside.[4]


Infilling builds a waterfront[edit]

A 1914 plan for the area.

By this time very little lands were left along the waterfront, and the lands were used for buildings on piers, rail lines, road ways, hydro towers and temporary changing booths for bathers. The general sentiment was that the lakeshore was in a dismal state. Thomas Joseph Stewart, a federal MP in 1913, remarked that Sunnyside was a "dirty, filthy hole."[5] In 1914, the Toronto Harbor Commission started a CDN$25 million ($334 million in 2014 dollars)[6] project to improve the waterfront from Ashbridge's Bay in the east, to the Humber in the west.[7] Following this plan, most of the 1910s and early 1920s was spent on construction and most of the waterfront lands were little used. All of the buildings on the water west of Sunnyside were demolished. The Commission extended the shoreline about 100 yards to the south, from Wilson Park to the Humber River (the western boundary of Toronto at the time), using landfill brought from Pickering, Ontario and sand dredged from the lake bottom. The hydro-electric lines and the Canoe Club building, previously located on the water, were now inland.

The new lands were divided between roadway expansions and park land. The shoreline itself was converted to beach along most of the length. A 'breakwater' would serve to create a protected waterway along the shore from the Humber to Bathurst Street. Lakeshore Road, now connected to King and Queen by bridge, was widened to four lanes from the Humber to the Jameson Avenue area.

The Harbour Commission made waterfront land available for lease and several of the waterfront businesses returned. Dean's Boat House would be rebuilt in the eventual Palais Royale building. The location of Meyer's Hotel became the site of the Sunnyside Pavilion Restaurant. The new Beach and its Bathing Pavilion would open in 1922.


Sunnyside in 1931

Sunnyside Amusement Park[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Sunnyside Amusement Park.

The Sunnyside Pool (known also as the "Tank") was opened in 1925. The Beach grew in popularity and the Harbour Commission leased land for rides on a temporary basis, eventually leading to the construction of the Sunnyside Amusement Park and its permanently located rides. The Park's popularity grew, leading to more rides, night clubs and outdoor bandshells. Dean's Boat House was converted fully into the Palais Royale night club, the Sunnyside Pavilion into the Top Hat night club. Events such as ship burnings, tight-rope walkers and outdoor concerts made the Park a popular spot into the 1950s. Ambitious plans were planned to build a massive "Palace Pier" amusement area on a pier at the Humber River, although only a dance hall was ever built.

Marilyn Bell swim[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Marilyn Bell.

In 1954, Marilyn Bell a 16-year-old marathon swimmer from Toronto became the first swimmer to swim across Lake Ontario. Her arrival to the east of the Parkdale Canoe Club was greeted by an estimated crowd of 300,000. She had joined a swim challenge sponsored by the CNE for another swimmer and was the only one of the three that attempted it to finish. Marilyn Bell Park at the foot of Jameson Avenue is dedicated in her honour.

Coming of the automobile[edit]

As suburbs to the west were built, and the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) to Fort Erie was built, the Lakeshore Road became very busy with traffic. The QEW eastern terminus connected with the existing Lakeshore Road at the Humber, meaning that travellers from points west would have to travel through Sunnyside to get to Queen Street to get to central Toronto. Transportation engineers studied the problem beginning in the 1940s. Plans were discussed with various routes for a highway along the lakeshore or as far north as Bloor Street. While the Amusement Park was popular, there was considerable opposition to its demolition. However, its popularity started to decline in the 1950s.

When the new "Metro" government of Toronto was formed in 1953, one of its first priorities was to build the Lakeshore Expressway, connecting the Queen Elizabeth Way to downtown Toronto in partnership with the provincial government. Under the leadership of Fred Gardiner, the project, which necessitated the demolition of the Park and a waterfront neighbourhood south of Jameson Avenue to the east, was pushed through, starting in 1955. The Toronto Harbour Commission cancelled all land leases in the area after some off-season fires and demolished all but the Palais Royale and the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion and Pool. The highway required most of the Amusement Park lands along the railway right-of-way and the Lakeshore to Queen Street bridge was demolished. Where the road link from King, Queen and Roncesvalles existed, a narrow, high pedestrian bridge over all of the roads was built to link to the waterfront.

At the same time other roadways were built or expanded, including the new Queensway, with a dedicated streetcar right-of-way to the north, using some of the High Park lands on the north side of the railway right-of-way. The Lakeshore Road was doubled in width to six lanes, and redesigned into a 'scenic drive' style with the two directions separated by a grassy boulevard with no facilities for pedestrians. Today, a majority of the lands are given over to transportation uses.

What was left was converted to park lands, eventually subdivided into Budapest Park and Gzowski Park. Two children playgrounds were built and numerous trees were planted. In the 1960s, the park lands were transferred from the Harbour Commission to the City of Toronto. While a small children's amusement park next to the Palais Royale on the waterfront was attempted in the 1960s, the amusement park idea was finally abandoned for good and the Centreville Amusement Park was built on the Toronto Islands.

The area north of the rail lines is no longer a connecting point for different modes of transportation. Sunnyside railway station closed in 1971 and the Sunnyside bus depot closed in the 1980s. The changes in traffic patterns and the closing of the Park also affected businesses in the Queen and Roncesvalles area, leading to much upheaval.

Increasing neighbourhood interest[edit]

The changes in the area led to a decline in its usage. Increasing pollution of Lake Ontario also led to a decline in use of the waterfront for swimming. The boardwalk was removed. This changed in the 1970s, when local environmental groups organized regular cleanups of the waterfront, removing trash from the lakeshore. Interest in cleaning the water to allow swimming in the Lake again was raised. The Bathing Pavilion was renovated in 1980 and its cafe became a popular local spot to enjoy the waterfront. A pedestrian bridge was built at the foot of Jameson Avenue, restoring a link to the waterfront that had been lost in the demolition of the waterfront neighbourhood. In the 1990s, the Martin Goodman Trail for cyclists was inaugurated, including a pedestrian bridge over the Humber. A new boardwalk was built out of recycled plastic planks along the water.

In the first decade of the 21st century, there has been renewed local political interest in the waterfront. Neighbourhood associations raised concerns about private land usage including proposals to lease more waterfront by the Boulevard Club and other organizations. Concerns were raised about the Palais Royale renovation and subsequent parking lot development. The building of the Gardiner and the road expansions effectively put a barrier between the neighbourhoods and the waterfront, and this remains unresolved.

Park lands[edit]

The Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion

Park buildings[edit]

The Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion was renovated in 1980 and now houses a cafe with patio on the boardwalk and a tea garden. The beach to the south of the pavilion now hosts beach volleyball. The Pavilion and surrounding park hosts regular multicultural events and a Canada Day celebration. The pool was rededicated as the 'Gus Ryder Pool', named after the founder and coach of the Lakeshore Swim Club of New Toronto. At the foot of Roncesvalles, the former nightclub Palais Royale is operated on a special events rental basis.

Budapest Park[edit]

In 1964, to commemorate the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the parklands between the Palais Royale and the Sunnyside Pavilion were named Budapest Park. The area has a major monument to the conflict, picnic lands, a children's playground and wading pool.

Boardwalk/Martin Goodman Trail[edit]

A boardwalk existed in the 20th century. A new boardwalk was built in the 1910s by the Harbour Commission, in the Amusement Park area. In the 1930s, the boardwalk was re-constructed as a make-work project and extended from the Humber to Jameson Avenue to the east. This was eventually removed in the 1960s. In the 1990s, a new boardwalk, constructed of planks of recycled plastic was built along the shore from the foot of Roncesvalles west to the Humber River. The route of the boardwalk was changed to be closer to the water. Along the path of the old boardwalk, the Martin Goodman Trail recreational pathway path has been constructed. These meet at the Humber River mouth where the Humber Bay Arch Bridge bridge was constructed to cross the Humber River to lakeshore parks to the west of the river.

Sir Casimir Gzowski Park[edit]

Sunnyside's western section, from the Humber River to west of the Bathing Pavilion is named in honour of Casimir Gzowski, a pioneer engineer in the building of railways in Canada. The park houses a monument built in the 1960s that has displays of his personal history. The park contains a children's playground and picnicking areas, a food concession stand and a stormwater catchment pond. At the western end of Gzowski Park is the Queen Elizabeth Way Monument, relocated from its location between the east and west lanes of the then Queen Elizabeth Way, which had its starting point from the Humber River. The monument was relocated to the park and rededicated by Queen Elizabeth in 1989. The park is now the site of another relocation, a Joy Oil heritage gas station from the 1930s. It has been moved from its original location north of Lake Shore Boulevard to the south side at the intersection with Ellis Avenue.

Lakefront[edit]

Boating and watercourse[edit]

Sailboats during a race on Humber Bay.

A protected waterway from Ontario Place to the Humber River exists behind the 1912 breakwater along the full length. In 2006, a special watercourse was built at the foot of Jameson Avenue at Marilyn Bell Park for a Dragon Boat Championships. At 600 metres, it is too short for other boating races and may be extended to 1300 metres in length.

The waters of Humber Bay are popular for boating. Several canoe, rowing and dragon boating clubs exist. The Boulevard Club, the former Parkdale Canoe Club operates a large facility to the east of Roncesvalles Avenue with a marina and tennis courts. The Argonaut Rowing Club is headquartered at the foot of Dowling Avenue on the waterfront and trains in the area.

Beach and water conditions[edit]

A view of the beach, looking west

There are several beaches along the waterfront. A small beach exists to the east of the Boulevard Club. At its easternmost point, a small area of the original bluff still exists. This is the last vestige of the original shoreline in the area.

The main beach is located to the south of the Bathing Pavilion. It is also used for beach volleyball. The water at the beach was long considered too polluted for swimming, but is now open for swimming most of the summer and efforts are being made to reduce pollution further. After major rainfalls, swimming is closed for several days due to high bacteria counts attributed to run-off into the Humber River.

Water quality is improving; a major tunnel was built to contain most of the storm water that was polluting the river, diverting the water to wastewater treatment. Two storm water management ponds were built north of Lake Shore Boulevard West in 2007. Water conditions are indicated by flags posted along the beach.

In 2012 the planners from the City water department proposed using landfill to construct a chain of artificial islands at the west end of Sunnyside Beach to divert the flow of the Humber River away from the Beach.[8][9][10][11] Heavy rains can flush pollutants down the river, temporarily making the beaches near its mouth unsafe for swimming. These Humber Islands would extend approximately one kilometer off shore, and would be connected by an underwater berm, directing the river's flow into deep water.

Plans[edit]

The City of Toronto City Council has commissioned a study of this area of the waterfront entitled the "Western Waterfront Public Consultation". Plans include the realignment of Lake Shore Boulevard West to free up space for pedestrian, recreational and cycling uses.[12]

Sunnyside Bike Park[edit]

Due for construction in Fall 2012, the Sunnyside Bike Park is a new recreational bicycling facity. It will be situated on the land north of Lake Shore Boulevard between Ellis Avenue and Colborne Lodge Drive, west of the storm water pond. It will have several different sections: a skills zone, pump tracks, jump lines and a "drop and wall ride".[13] The park is scheduled to open in July of 2014[14]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ "A Great Engineering Achievement". The Globe. August 3, 1914. p. 4. 
  2. ^ "Radial Line Ready to Operate Over Viaduct". The Globe. July 27, 1914. p. 7. 
  3. ^ ""Little Charlie" of Sunnyside is Dead". Toronto World. December 14, 1912. p. 1. 
  4. ^ "Children Learn To Swim, (advertisement)". The Globe. July 11, 1916. p. 7. 
  5. ^ "Wires on One Pole May Be The Order". The Globe. March 19, 1913. p. 7. 
  6. ^ Canadian inflation numbers based on Statistics Canada. "Consumer Price Index, historical summary". CANSIM, table (for fee) 326-0021 and Catalogue nos. 62-001-X, 62-010-X and 62-557-X. And Consumer Price Index, by province (monthly) (Canada) Last modified 2013-12-20. Retrieved January 8, 2014
  7. ^ "Making Great Harbour While Toronto Sleeps". The Globe. November 13, 1914. p. 7. 
  8. ^ Kristin Anabelle (2012-04-05). "WFT: Have dirt? Make a Leslie Street Spit West". National Post. Archived from the original on 2013-12-06. Retrieved 2014-03-24. "If you’ve been wondering what the City of Toronto might do with all that rock and soil that will be removed during construction of the Eglinton crosstown LRT, here is one possibility courtesy of Toronto Water: A proposal has been made to build a series of man-made islands extending from the mouth of the Humber River. A kind of Leslie Street Spit West, the land would extend about one kilometre from Sunnyside Beach." 
  9. ^ Marcus Gee (2012-03-20). "Man-made Humber islands would solve two problems at once". Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on 2014-03-03. Retrieved 2014-03-24. "Officials often come to city council to propose new bylaws, garbage fees or tree-planting programs. It is not every day that one of them suggests creating an archipelago. That was what Lou Di Gironimo did this month when he presented a clever plan to build a series of small islands off the mouth of the Humber River on the western waterfront." 
  10. ^ Paul Moloney (2012-04-03). "Island life coming to Humber?". Toronto Star. Archived from the original on 2014-03-24. "The string of islands would go in at the mouth of the Humber River and extend about one kilometre from shore. The plan would take clean fill from construction jobs to build a solid earth barrier underwater that would deflect polluted Humber River water out into the lake and away from Sunnyside Beach." 
  11. ^ Paul Moloney (2012-06-19). "Humber islands plan could solve soil dumping woes". Toronto Star. Archived from the original on 2014-03-24. "The city’s water department proposed building the archipelago to deflect Humber River water away from Sunnyside Beach to make it consistently safe for swimming. It would require up to 2 million cubic metres of soil. A staff report suggested Eglinton Crosstown could supply 800,000 cubic metres." 
  12. ^ "Western Waterfront Report" (PDF). September 25, 2006. Retrieved May 5, 2008. 
  13. ^ "Sunnyside Bike Park: coming soon to Toronto". The Grid (thegridto.com). July 4, 2012. Retrieved July 12, 2012. 
  14. ^ "Sunnyside Bike Park", City of Toronto, retrieved June 13, 2014 

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 43°38′16″N 79°27′23″W / 43.637737°N 79.456301°W / 43.637737; -79.456301