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Nostalgia Tripping: Sunnyside Amusement Park

Posted by Agatha Barc / May 15, 2011

Toronto, history, Sunnyside Amusement Park, Sunnyside Pavilion, Sunnyside BeachAt the foot of Roncesvalles Avenue today eight lanes of traffic roar in close proximity to Sunnyside Beach, but merely 50 years ago, Torontonians would flock to what was then the city's favourite summer playground, affectionately dubbed "the poor man's Riviera."

Toronto, history, Sunnyside Amusement Park, Sunnyside Pavilion, Sunnyside BeachAccording to Mike Filey's I Remember Sunnyside: the Rise and Fall of a Magical Era, Sunnyside Amusement Park first opened in last 1922. The idea for a lakeside attraction can be traced back to Charles Phillips, who in 1911 applied for a permission to the Toronto Harbour Commission to operate an amusement device on the shore of the Humber Bay. THC was created the same year in order to redevelop and revitalize the waterfront (a project that's yet to be completed today).

Toronto, history, Sunnyside Amusement Park, Sunnyside Pavilion, Sunnyside BeachPhillips's scheme never came to fruition, but THC continued to receive various requests with proposal for other concessions, which were an exotic mix of palmistry tents, "guess your weight" scales, drug store, rides, and beach chair rental. Finally, THC settled on the installation of seven rides, a merry-go-round, and a Whip. The new park also included a bowling alley, fish pond, Kentucky Derby, Torpedo Race, balloon race, ten refreshment stands, as well as various other attractions, such as boat rentals at the Palais Royale, operated by Walter Dean. Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion was also part of the park, officially opened on June 28, 1922 by Mayor Alfred Maguire.

Toronto, history, Sunnyside Amusement Park, Sunnyside Pavilion, Sunnyside BeachAdvertised as "one of the best equipped and most modern amusement resorts on the continent," the headlines on the opening day were ecstatic: "Sunnyside Ushers Toronto the Threshold of Her New Era," proclaimed the Globe, "Sunnyside Inspires Visions of Greatness-to-be of Toronto," read the front page of the Evening Telegram.

The name "Sunnyside" precedes the park by few decades. The villa of John George Howard, the Warden of High Park, located in the close proximity of the present site of St. Joseph's Hospital, was the first structure on the shore of Lake Ontario to bear this name. The moniker was later used to refer to an area between Roncesvalles Avenue to the east and Humber River to the west, annexed to the city on January 2, 1888.

Toronto, history, Sunnyside Amusement Park, Sunnyside Pavilion, Sunnyside BeachIn addition to the numerous attractions of all sorts, the park was also home to various landmarks, some of which later became prominent and survive to this day, and which include the Palaise Royale (constructed as a boat factory, later converted to a dance hall), the Parkdale Canoe Club (first established in 1906) and the Sunnyside Pavilion (built in 1922). Toronto's lakeside playground also hosted a number of major annual events, which always attracted sizable crowds, such as the Easter parade, which took place on the wooden boardwalk, and the Miss Toronto Contest, first held in 1926.

Toronto, history, Sunnyside Amusement Park, Sunnyside Pavilion, Sunnyside BeachThe attraction came to an end in 1955, and the closing and subsequent demolition in 1956 are often perceived as one of the foremost causalities of the automobile age in Toronto. The aging park gradually came to be seen as a major barrier between the increasingly suburban west end and downtown. While the area declined quickly after the construction of the Gardiner Expressway, today Sunnyside Beach is still a popular summer spot in the city, though not nearly to the extent that it once was.

Toronto, history, Sunnyside Amusement Park, Sunnyside Pavilion, Sunnyside BeachImages from the City of Toronto Archives, Wikimedia Commons, and author's collection.



bee / May 15, 2011 at 12:24 pm
I can't wait to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon by the pool and enjoy a pint on the patio of the beachfront Sunnyside pavilion...
Bubba / May 15, 2011 at 12:58 pm
Gotta get me one of those straw hats! It's the bee's knees!
ct / May 15, 2011 at 01:24 pm
2 attractions from Sunnyside did "move on" when the park closed to the CNE grounds: The Flyer coaster (now torn down) and the Derby Racer carousel (which I loved as a kid but that just disappeared sometime in the 80's...shame since there are only 2 operating Derby rides left in all of North America!)
Joe / May 15, 2011 at 04:53 pm
The Sunnyside Flyer and the CNE Flyer were two different coasters. The Sunnyside version was simply demolished when the park closed.
pat / May 15, 2011 at 06:12 pm
Thanks for the article! Would love to know what the event was that had so many people down at the park -- surely it wasn't that crowded all the time?

pssst--Palais doesn't have an "e" at the end.
Ratpick / May 15, 2011 at 08:50 pm
Probably worth noting that by the 50s, people did NOT "flock to" Sunnyside park. By then, it was way past its prime and not valued by anyone.

It's a miracle that the bathing pavilion and Palais Royale survived.
Steeplejack / May 16, 2011 at 06:04 am
There is another survivor of Sunnyside, although no longer in Toronto. The big merry-go-round, with its wooden horses and other animals, was sold to the then-new Disneyland theme park that was being built in the 1950s in California, and is still very much in operation today.
mike in parkdale / May 16, 2011 at 09:32 am
there's a great book called "I remember Sunnyside" by Mike Kiley (a great Toronto+ historian). It gives a history of the area that goes well beyond the amusement park.

one cool thing to look for - next to the pedestrian bridge that crosses from King/Queen/Roncy over the tracks to the lake, there's still the stonework for the old rail platform. It's next to the tracks, and the grass grows over it, but it still peeks out to say Hello from the Past.
cabbagetown kid"40's" / May 16, 2011 at 02:16 pm
Wow,does that ever bring back memories.I remember as kids we took the street car there from Cabbagetown.
the lemur replying to a comment from pat / May 16, 2011 at 11:34 pm
There's shouldn't really be an 'e' at the end of Royal either, since <i>palais</i> is masculine.
Charles / June 11, 2011 at 09:02 am
That's Mike Filey, not Kiley, by the way. He's written numerous books about old Toronto and has a weekly column in he Sunday Sun on the way it used to be.
Charles / June 11, 2011 at 09:04 am
That's Mike Filey, not Kiley, by the way. He's written numerous books about old Toronto and has a column in the Sunday Sun about the way it used to be.
George Appleby / March 24, 2012 at 02:17 pm
The bumper cars, the smell of vinegar and french fries, the electric cars for the kiddies, the
roller coaster for the adults, the assortment of games, the merry-go-rounds, ah yes,
I remember it well, a simpler time, before the birth of the computer.

Lauren Taylor / May 16, 2012 at 10:15 am
I live close by, and love this area. I dream of seeing the highways buried underground (it can be done, highways all over the world are buried), and the park coming back to life - it seems like such a blight on a beautiful landscape, that was once well utilised by the people of Toronto. Not everyone has a cottage to escape to, and the lakeshore should be the 'city cottage' for all Torontonians in summer, without having to cross frantic lanes of traffic, and listen to the sounds of cars whizzing past. What short sighted thinking to get rid of all these historical recreation areas. There is an old amusement park in Melbourne, Australia, called Luna Park, that has been lovingly restored, and is now a major attraction for both locals and tourists alike. The sign of a progressive city is one that retains it's history while looking towards the future. I still dream of that highway gone.
harold morpurgo / January 6, 2013 at 12:12 pm
trying to recall some of the great jazz concerts at cne stadium in early 1960s; mjq count basie, brubeck. ringing any bells out there?
Penn replying to a comment from Lauren Taylor / January 17, 2015 at 04:28 am
Dream on, lady.

Unless you can come up with the millions needed to bury the highway, or alternate means of getting goods into Toronto by means of teleportation or by airship, we are going to have what we have (it would also help if people voted for the NDP or the Green Party so that they could accomplish this feat.)
Bananas / January 17, 2015 at 09:25 am
It looked so busy at times, and I find it so funny that everyone basically wore the same thing. Every man had the exact same hat on.
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