Nostalgia Tripping: The Ocean House Hotel
The building depicted on the postcard above is the former Ocean House Hotel in Parkdale, located at the southeast corner of the junction of Roncesvalles Avenue, King Street West, Queen Street West, and the Queensway. According to Margaret Laycock and Barbara Myrvold's Parkdale in Pictures: Its Development to 1889, in 1882, Thomas E. Scholes, the proprietor of the Scholes Hotel at Queen Street West and Dundas Street West, bought a triangular lot at Queen and Roncesvalles and announced his plan to erect a "first class summer hotel" in the spot. The Park Hotel officially opened in December 1884 and was popular enough to encourage Scholes to build an addition of fifty rooms in 1885.
Scholes had originally come from Quebec in the 1840s, entering the hotel business some years later. By the time of his death in January, 1898, he was well known and established in the trade as is evident from mentions in the Globe and Mail and his other hotels around the city (see above photo). Following his proprietorship, the establishment then known as the Sunnyside Hotel, passed into the hands of J.J. Kane, who changed the name to the Ocean House Hotel. He headed up operations until his death in May, 1907.
In October, John E. Laxton purchased the hotel, along with the licence, from Kane's widow for $70,000. Laxton must have been a prominent business figure in the West end and his iteration of the hotel was most likely also reputable, as attested to by the fact that a nearby street was named after him.
The Toronto Daily Star reported that in August, 1912, he sold the establishment to W.R. Reid, the president of United Cigar Stores Limited. As a publicity stunt, Reid boasted that he paid $250,000 -- claiming that the city estimated value of the property (which was $37,800) represented only about a seventh of the actual market value.
He also revealed that he planned to convert the ground floor of the hotel into several stores, at least temporarily, and to erect an apartment building on the adjoining space of the triangular lot. He eventually did alter the structure in order to offer rental space to retailers, but the apartments were never built.
Over the years, some of the stores that have occupied the first floor include Laura Secord, Bake-Rite, Tamblyn Drugstore, United Cigar, and Men's Toggery. Later, the first floor was altered to accommodate one large store in the front and a restaurant in the back, which also required the demolition of the back porch.
In 1922, the Sunnyside Amusement Park opened on the shore of Lake Ontario, soon becoming a hugely popular summer destination for both locals and tourists. It's safe to conclude that this attraction provided sizable profits to the hotel. In 1955, however, it closed as one of the casualties of the Gardiner Expressway.
In the same decade, Parkdale started to experience social and economic decline. It's not known when the building ceased to operate as a hotel, but the upper floors were eventually converted into apartments. The Star mentions the name of the hotel in a 1949 article, so the conversion likely occurred between 1949 and 1955. It's also not known when the copula was removed in order to make way for a much larger billboard on the roof, but several photographs on the City of Toronto Archives web site reveal that it was already gone in 1959.
In 1989, the municipal government recognized the former hotel as a heritage property and the building is thus currently protected under the Ontario Heritage Act. It is unfortunate, however, that such a formerly handsome structure has been allowed to deteriorate to its current state. And the Coffee Time and restaurant that currently occupy the space aren't exactly the most aesthetically pleasing use of the noble structure. But the lead postcard and archival photos provide an insight into the potential of the building if it was to undergo a rigorous historical restoration.
One can always hope, can't she?
Photo Credits (in order): City of Toronto Archives Fonds 1231, Item 1131; City of Toronto Archives Fonds 1244, Item 1564; City of Toronto Archives Fonds 1231, Item 1113. Postcard and 2008 photograph from the author's collection.
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