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What Sunnyside looked like before the Gardiner arrived

Posted by Derek Flack / April 18, 2012

Sunnyside Toronto ParkAlthough still a well-known beach, the Sunnyside of today only hints at the area's former glory. As one makes his way from the Humber Bay Arch Bridge heading east across the Boardwalk or the Martin Goodman trail, it's difficult to imagine that he's approaching what was once the city's most popular amusement area, a place that could look almost Coney Island-like on its busiest of days.

Opened in 1922 (the name predates the amusent park), some landmarks from Sunnyside's early days remain — the Bathing Pavilion chief among them — but with the arrival of the Gardiner Expressway in the 1950s, the so-called "poor man's Riviera" was confined to memory.

Sunnyside's demise can't, however, be attributed solely to the war-path of urban development that accompanied the foundation of Metro Toronto in 1954. To a great degree the area's faded lakeside glamour can be attributed to the rise of car-culture and the burgeoning tradition of heading north to cottage country. The park's heyday came at a time before personal car ownership was widespread, and city-bound Torontonians were desperate for accessible summer entertainment.

There's plenty of good reading about this bit of Toronto's lost history out there. Along with a host of web articles, Mike Filey's I Remember Sunnyside probably provides the most in-depth account of what an exciting place this really was (just picture Duke Ellington playing the Palais Royale on a steamy summer night). From a photographic standpoint, we're less spoiled. Although the Toronto Archives has a decent supply of scanned images of the area dating back to its days as lazy swimming area dotted with hydro poles, there are precious few that capture the notorious nighttime scene and the park's attractions.

Even without them, one gets the sense that this would be an extraordinary place to visit should one manage to get his or her hands on a time machine.


2012417-sunnyside-bathers-1907-f1244_it0244.jpgSunnyside bathers, 1907

2012417-meyhers-hotel-1911-f1231_it1107a.jpgMeyhers Hotel, 1911

2012417-sunnyside-1914-hydro-f1548_s0393_it1089.jpgHydro poles, 1914

SunnysideSunnyside layout, 1914

2012417-sunnyside-station-1915-GTR-f1231_it1024.jpgSunnyside Station, GTR

2012417-sunnyside-crowd-1920-f1244_it1362.jpgCrowds, 1920

2012417-west-sunnyside-1920-f1244_it1117.jpgWest Sunnyside, 1920

2012417-sunnyside-pavillion-1922-f1231_it0540.jpgSunnyside Pavillion, 1922

2012417-kqr-intersection-1923-s0071_it1976.jpgKing, Queen and Roncesvalles leading to Sunnyside Bridge

2012417-sunnyside-bridge-1923s0372_ss0031_it0010.jpgSunnyside Bridge, 1923

2012417-sunnyside-spring-1923-f1266_it0423.jpgSpring 1923

2012417-bathing-cars-sunnyside-1924-s0071_it3272h.jpgBathing cars, 1924

2012417-sunnyside-band-stand-1924-f1266_it2560.jpgBandstand, 1924

2012417-sunnyside-boardwalk-1924-f1266_it2413.jpgBoardwalk, 1924

2012417-sunnyside-bathing-station-1924-f1244_it0219a.jpgBathing station, 1924

2012417-sunnyside-traffic-1924-f1244_it2530.jpgSunnyside traffic, 1924

2012417-sunnyside-traffic-1925-f1266_it4966.jpgTraffic, 1925


2012417-sunnyside-boardwalk-1925-f1266_it4959.jpgThe Boardwalk, 1925

2012417-sunnyside-night-f1266_it5170.jpgLighting up the night, 1920s

2012417-miss-toronto-1926-f1244_it1028j.jpgMiss Toronto, 1926


2012417-sunnyside-tank-1929-f1231_it0659.jpgSwimming tank, 1929

2012417-crowd-sunnyside-1930s-f1257_s1057_it0090.jpgCrowds, 1930s

2012417-sunnyside-ship-julia-b-merrill-s0372_ss0041_it0262.jpgJulia B. Merrill and swimmers, 1931


2012417-sunnyside-pool-1940s-f1257_s1057_it0092.jpgSunnyside pool, 1940s


2012410-sunnyside-1949.jpgAerial view, 1949

2012410-sunnyside-20years.jpgThe Gardiner runs through it, 1960s



adam / April 18, 2012 at 01:20 pm
Wow the gardiner really killed sunnyside
W. K. Lis / April 18, 2012 at 01:30 pm
Your third photo, "Hydro poles, 1914" and seventh photo, "West Sunnyside, 1920" shows that Sunnyside was a sandbar used by the railways to get from the Humber River to the Exhibition Grounds. When the dumped sand in the 1920's, it was for recreation purposes, as shown in the other photos. That was lost in the 1950's, in the name of "progress". Even High Park lost some land in the south, just north of the railways, for the Queensway that we have today, all for "progress".
Todd Toronto / April 18, 2012 at 01:41 pm
Can someone explain that 1920 photo of all those well-dressed people standing on the beach? What are they doing there?!
Emily McInnes / April 18, 2012 at 01:50 pm
These photographs are amazing treasures - all we have left of a waterfront that you could actually SWIM in no less. My grandmother tells me stories of how she used to go down to Sunnyside on Sundays with her friends and would spend the day there. We need to rally together to stop this casino project from being built on the Ontario Place grounds or we are just repeating the same disastrous mistakes.
Michelle / April 18, 2012 at 02:10 pm
My older relatives reminisce about how Sunnyside was THE place to be 4 nights a week for several months a year. They were saying how people would walk, eat, swim, picnic, and listen to bands all night long. It's still physically there, but it's just not the same.
Mark A. / April 18, 2012 at 02:20 pm
Almost makes burying the Gardiner still seem worth it
Jonathan / April 18, 2012 at 02:32 pm
What Instagram filters did the photographer use on these photos? I don't think I have the latest update! FML.
Brad / April 18, 2012 at 02:34 pm
I never realized there was the fair there, but it certainly looks like it would be a huge draw if something existed like that today. even now, sunnyside is quite busy in the summers but having even more to do could make it more of a tourist destination.

I find it odd that they would have the amusement park there though in addition to the one that existed on center island around the same time. they seems quite close together.
Max / April 18, 2012 at 02:41 pm
*low whistle* man, Sunnyside looks like it used to be awesome.

I wish I had lived in Toronto 100 years ago. Seems like it would have been cooler than it is now.
Kara / April 18, 2012 at 02:52 pm
Wow traffic was bad even back in the 20s.,
Little Fury / April 18, 2012 at 02:52 pm
I love just north of Sunnyside and these pictures are just heartbreaking. There's a bit of graffiti near the Sunnyside pavilion that says it all: "We could have been a beach community."
Greg / April 18, 2012 at 03:06 pm
It used to look so much better. Tear the gardiner down!
the lemur replying to a comment from Todd Toronto / April 18, 2012 at 03:22 pm
My best guess is that that's what 'being at the beach' amounted to in those days. Not everyone swam or went in the water ('bathed'), standards of dress were different and people went there in order to be near the water and get relatively fresh air as much for anything else.

I'm not sure why everyone in the photo is standing but either it's that lying on the beach was not as popular as it would later become (again, people preferred to be covered up and didn't necessarily want to go in the water) or else they're actually watching some kind of event happening on the lake, like rowing or swimming.
mike in parkdale / April 18, 2012 at 03:23 pm
worth noting that there'sa rapidly fading mural on the side of The Rhino (in Parkdale) that is a really nice painting of the 'Miss Toronto 1926' photo. I hope they decide to fix it up.
Justin / April 18, 2012 at 03:24 pm
There's an eerie modernity to the Miss Toronto 1926 photo... something about it looks like it could have been taken recently. I can't put my finger on it.
mike in parkdale / April 18, 2012 at 03:26 pm
also worth noting that part of the old rail platform is still there. You can see the stone base of it on the west side of the current foot bridge that cross from King/Queen down to the lakeshore.
Stella replying to a comment from Todd Toronto / April 18, 2012 at 03:28 pm
Todd Toronto, it was an old practice called "taking the air". My grandmama used to tell us about this ... after church, you would go down to the lake to breathe the fresh air (because the downtown was quite cramped and smelly)
Popop / April 18, 2012 at 03:29 pm
Will you look at those dames in the 1926 Miss Toronto pageant? Hot diggity! If you can find finer ladies elsewhere, why I'll lick Calvin Coolidge's bootstraps, see!
pyew / April 18, 2012 at 03:35 pm
Wow everybody must have been so sweaty and stinky back then. Covered from head to toe for a visit to the beach.
iSkyscraper / April 18, 2012 at 03:58 pm
Nearly every city had a similar area lost to midcentury changes -- the Gardiner may have killed Sunnyside, but air conditioning, suburban backyard pools and declining water quality all played a role.

Those hydro poles were nasty - Toronto has always treated the waterfront as an industrial area.

richard / April 18, 2012 at 05:48 pm
If you can show/tell me how to upload photos, I can add some pictures to this collection if you'd like.
Living by the lake / April 18, 2012 at 06:29 pm
Sunnyside is sometimes swimmable now, but E.Coli is a huge problem. Unfortunately, there was an effort to clean the swimming water with UV filtration, but the project was squashed a year in due to "algae", which I think means that someone had a vendetta to stop the project, or simply did not want to put any effort into resolving the "algae" issue. (Google Beach of a Plan make Sunnyside Swimmable; and "Sunnyside swimming enclosure is being removed".
frenetico / April 18, 2012 at 09:20 pm
I would love to see the Gardiner buried (from Humber Bridge area to Parliament st) during in my lifetime. It would be costly as hell -- road tolls, congestion charges, property tax hikes all required -- but future generations would surely thank us for it.

Step 2 would be to give Lakeshore Blvd the "Champs-Élysées" treament: I'm talking roundabouts instead of intersections, tree-lining, adjacent cafes & restaurants -- and (most definitely) restoring Sunnyside to it's former glory. Imagine what a boon it could be for the local economy! But alas, it requires long-term vision; something which Ford Nation has absolute disdain for :(

Karen Stintz is pushing Metrolinx for a feasibility study of a Downtown Relief Line that would run underneath Lakeshore Blvd -- why not include in the report the cost of simultaneously burying the gardiner? If they're gonna rip up that corridor anyway, make it two birds with one big-ass stone! Email your Councillor and request that this scenario be included in the Metrolinx study. What can it hurt, right?
Ratpick replying to a comment from frenetico / April 18, 2012 at 10:06 pm
"Step 2 would be to give Lakeshore Blvd the "Champs-Élysées" treament: I'm talking roundabouts instead of intersections, tree-lining, adjacent cafes & restaurants "

Sounds great. I'm with you. Too bad all the condo towers have been built with their backs (service rooms) turned to Lakeshore Blvd.......
Gregory Alan Elliott / April 18, 2012 at 11:27 pm
You had no pictures of The Parkdale Canoe Club! My grandfather Herbert Elliott and his brother Ernie Elliott (yes, Bert and Ernie) raced canoes there. They and their teammates were Canadian Champions. A couple of decades later, my father Graydon Elliott was Canadian Waterski Champion for few years when it was a new sport... Back then, they had to make their own skis. Graydon also was instrumental at creating the Canadian National Exhibitions Water Ski Show. Please post photos if you can find any in the archives.
Sunny / April 19, 2012 at 08:47 am
My cousin would take my brother and I down to the amusement park at Sunnyside in the 30's and it was the greatest thing we would do. We just loved it. Those were the days.
Adam Gorley / April 19, 2012 at 09:35 am
Great pics. I didn't realize that so much of Sunnyside was infill. I guess there's no more detail about where the "West Sunnyside" photo is.
cookie / April 24, 2012 at 05:37 am
I can remember the street cars giving school chilren free rides to sunnyside as I rode on them too. I blieve it was mayor thompson who had something to do with that. I think that it was him at the time eh. made many trips there 8, 9, 10 years old or so. Canadians always say eh , eh?
Gordon Forgrave / May 1, 2012 at 07:05 pm
The photo of Sunnyside swimming pool in the 40's shows a building at the bottom of the stairs leading to the west end of the pool. In order to access the pool one had to pass through this structure. I can remember dashing through, because jets of ice cold water came from both sides to ensure none but wet (and cold) swimmers entered the pool.
The board walk was the place to be on Easter Sunday when the ladies paraded in there finest and the men were dressed in suits, white shirts, and ties.
ART PRESTON / May 2, 2012 at 01:11 pm
I lived in Parkdale in the late 40's early 50's on Dunn Ave. We could hear the loud speakers from Sunnyside, the EX and the train announcements from Sunnyside train station. My mother worked in the refreshment booths at Sunnyside. I also remember Peoples Credit Jewelers Bandshell.I also remember in 1951 going down to the Lakeshore to see the Princess Elizabeth drive by.

A couple of my buddies houses were expropriated to make way for the Gardner Expressway. They lived on Dunn Ave., south of Springhurst.

There good times back in that era...
June replying to a comment from Brad / May 4, 2012 at 10:12 am
In those days, Sunnyside was the ONLY amusement park around Toronto. Today, we have Canada's Wonderland, & a host of small travelling ones that visit many of the mall parking lots, etc. It's really a seasonal business & cud not substantiate the real estate that Sunnyside used all year around.

As far as the one at the Island is concerned, it was a pretty sad excuse in those days.
Alec / May 6, 2012 at 10:22 am
Some more information... Back then there was also an amusement area in Kew Gardens in the East end around Lee Avenue...also on Sunday evenings at Sunnyside there was a radio show broadcast with the "World's Largest Songbook" where people would sing along.. I must be old i remember going there and the free streetcars etc....
Don / May 8, 2012 at 12:43 pm
These pictures don't bring back any memories - I'm not all THAT old! - but Sunnyside itself sure does. I think I spent most of my late elementary/high school days playing miniature golf on the "course", and the other half in the Sunnyside swimming pool. I've just finished writing a fictional story that starts in the mid-30's and ends in the early 60's. One of the key events of the work takes place in Sunnyside. Sort of a personal salute to my teenage home away from home, I guess.
Risus replying to a comment from Greg / May 29, 2012 at 06:16 pm
Bury the Gardner and they will put up condos instead...
Rob / June 19, 2012 at 12:06 am
Not many people realise this, but a little piece of the Sunnyside magic lives on... The carousel form the Sunnyside Amusement park was relocated to Disneyland in Anaheim and operates to this day as the King Arthur Carousel
Fred / June 19, 2012 at 02:08 am
I've lived at Queen & Roncesvalles since 1996. I'd like to see a Sunnyside GO train stop. It could be right there at the pedestrian bridge, and hook people up with TTC (routes 504;501+). The GO bus (and others) used to stop at the McD's.
Great photos!
Astute Citizen / June 30, 2012 at 04:12 pm
Sunnyside's fabled Toronto beach lore evokes my late parents Hugh & Mary Kelly's reminscences of the many dance, swim, picnic dates of their youthful yore ...

& while living in High Park area 1977-1980, many a summer weekend found me biking thru' High Park down along waterfront path that took me all the way downtown to St. Lawrence & Kensington Markets ... Every time passed by Sunnyside Beach Pavilion -- or, in fact, any time, such as this past Friday, when driven by it -- always remark to whomever with about Sunnyside's heyday during my parents halcyon days ... Really great to see these priceless photos & story highlighting a very special place in the hearts, minds & memories of multi-generational Torontonians ... Hope likewise for those presently experiencing its lakeside pleasures & treasures ...

-- Mary C. Kelly, native Torontonian,
now Toronto Centre Rosedale Ward
cowboy dick / July 1, 2012 at 01:52 pm
all i remember from my mother is that at 3yrs old she left me on the beech while they went swimming and i had the worst possible sunburn you could imagine .

year 1934 still alive in alberta
Jim Lewis / August 29, 2014 at 03:50 pm
I was born in 1938,and in the late 40's & early 50's I would
go to Sunnyside amusement park with some friends during the
warm months and have a great time.These pictures certainly
bring back those feelings.
Sparky the Aquaclown replying to a comment from Gregory Alan Elliott / September 13, 2014 at 03:17 am
After waterskiing in the Aquarama show for three years I did a season as a lifeguard on the beach at Sunnyside. I loved rowing those old Watts Brothers, THP boats. I still have a very similar one of my own. Toronto owes it's very existence to little boats and we're turning our back on them to make the island into a jet airport. So sad.
Mike Tawton replying to a comment from Gregory Alan Elliott / September 13, 2014 at 03:23 am
The Parkdale Canoe Club was wiped out in a storm but the Sunnyside Boatbuilding company, home of the 'Torpedo Canoe', lives on. It's been the Palais Royale since the 1940's.
Charles F. Konkle / November 20, 2014 at 03:47 pm
I remember during the war, donating coat hangers for metal needed in the war effort. The pick up was by horse and buggy, which travelled down College St. weekly. As my dad was overseas in the war, the carriage driver always told me I was helping him win the war. My grandfather would perform acrobat routines on Sundays in the early 40's down at Sunnyside beach and gather a large crowd even though he was in 60's. Great memories!

maureen Noftall / November 26, 2014 at 12:27 pm
I have so many memories of Sunnyside from when I was young. My dad managed the miniature golf course there and then bought in the late forties. The outdoor bowling ally was managed by Peter Jones who was friends with my dad and next to the bowling ally was a french fry and refreshment booth run by a man I believe was called Al. Every saturday night when my dad was working mom would take us up along Street to the movie theatre. I seen so many movies when I was a kid that grew to love the older stars like Clifton Webb and Clark Gable. Dad use to give me trouble for running at the golf course because I would kick up stones on to the greens. We also knew the custodian for the Palace Royale and that is where I got my first kitten. I guess they had a cat there to catch the mice. We lived in Lakeview at the time. I have pictures of my mom and I play badminton on the Gardner expressway before it opened as well.
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