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That time Toronto fought over "The Beaches"

Posted by Chris Bateman / March 9, 2014

toronto kew beachThe name of the waterfront neighbourhood in the east end of Toronto with the boardwalk and Kew Gardens? There's a chance you know it as the Beach, or, perhaps more controversially, the Beaches. Historically speaking, the community at the end of the 501 streetcar has long used the singular title, but things got decidedly murky one summer night in 1985.

Late one evening in mid August, Mary Campbell of Benlamond Avenue went to sleep in her Beach home. She woke up in the Beaches. Over night, the city had unscrewed the old acorn-style signs on Queen Street East and installed 14 new ones between Bellefair and Hammersmith Avenues with "The Beaches" written across the top. It wasn't a popular decision.

"It's very obnoxious for people who've lived here for a while to see this," Campbell, who was also the president of the East Toronto Beaches Historical Society, told the Toronto Star. "I've lived here more than 40 years and my parents lived here in the 1920s and its always been the Beach."

She was right: The neighbourhood was often called the Beach, especially by long-time residents, though there were notable exceptions such as the Beaches Branch Library, which opened in 1916. The Beaches, however, made perfect sense to outsiders. The neighbourhood was home to Woodbine, Kew, and Balmy beaches even if it was a single continuous stretch of sand.

toronto queen beachBut the sign switch was indicative of a bigger change in the community; a sudden influx of outsiders were changing the feel of the neighbourhood.

M. Jane Fairburn in her book Along the Shore: Rediscovering Toronto's Waterfront Heritage, says that in the 1960s it was virtually impossible to find a business in the Beach that sold alcohol, with the exception of the Orchard Park Tavern across from Greenwood Raceway.

As Robert Fulford wrote in Accidental City, "the 1970s were a kind of cultural nightmare" for the Beach's old guard. "It was like going to sleep in your home town and waking up in a garish Hollywood movie set."

On the signs, the Beaches Business Association and the local BIA weren't to be swayed. They had designed and paid $1,400 for the signs and even consulted with the public, they said.

"We knew we wouldn't be able to please everybody, so we took a long dispassionate look at the situation," Arthur Salvatore, an executive member, told The Star. "Historically, this area encompasses more than one beach. The plural of beach is beaches. The media and anyone living outside the area knows it as the Beaches. And the majority of people who have moved here recently call it by that name," he said.

Locals said the BIA didn't have the right to make alterations to the street and insisted Beaches was a shunned commercial and real estate term. An error by the city had allowed the signs to be installed without the consent of local aldermen, Dorothy Thomas and Tom Jakobek.

"I fed up with everything that's happened to the Beach," Shelley Shields, another 40-year resident, told The Star. "I'm tired of people walking in and changing this place."

toronto beach beachesThe unpopular signs didn't last much more than a month. In October 1985, the war of words came to an end with the return of acorn-style signs displaying only the name of the street, but still the Beaches name persisted.

In 2006, the Beaches BIA (still plural) again tried its luck with new street signs, these ones labelling the area "The Beach," resulting in an outcry from hardcore pluralists. A public vote to settle the interminable matter one way or the other resulted in a narrow win for the singularists and the BIA dropped the two controversial letters from the end of its name.

So where do we stand today? I polled several local news outlets for their style guidelines regarding the Beach, or Beaches. The Toronto Star style committee head said, definitively, it's the Beach at 1 Yonge Street. The Globe and Mail, which publishes its style guide online, says "we do not use the singular ... but there is no need to change quotes from neighbourhood old-timers who do so."

Ron Wadden, the Toronto editor of the National Post, says his paper is torn and frequently ends up using both names, though he personally prefers Beaches.

The government says it's plural tool; MP Matthew Kellway, MPP Michael Prue, and councillors Janet Davis and Mary-Margaret McMahon all represent Beaches-East York.

The street signs still say "The Beach."

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Images: City of Toronto Archives, Toronto Public Library,



Michael Werneburg / March 9, 2014 at 09:30 am
It's funny that the controversy persists. Everyone in the city seemed to call it "The Beaches" when I first moved to Toronto in 1995. I now live in the neighborhood and rarely if ever hear it referred to as "The Beach". A few blocks from here is an area known as the "Beaches Triangle" not "Beach Triangle".

If there's some rump of an old guard who prefers the singular, perhaps they're the same snobs and xenophobes in the area that won't speak to my Asian wife.
W. K. Lis / March 9, 2014 at 09:44 am
Yet, Ukrainians will be upset if you refer to the country of "Ukraine" as "The Ukraine". (Some news anchors or reporters continue to make that mistake.) Its like referring to "Ontario" as "The Ontario", you don't.
Rj / March 9, 2014 at 10:14 am
Ahh you should have added the latest change, courtesy of the BIA... The introduction of 'The Beach Village'
Why mess with a good thing? / March 9, 2014 at 10:30 am
Ugh...another Beach vs. Beaches article. "The Beach" sounds generic and uninteresting. It's always been The Beaches for me.
Rj / March 9, 2014 at 10:31 am
Also, the usage of 'the' often implies that you're referring to a region. Ukraine wants to be recognized for what it is, it's own sovereign state.
banana / March 9, 2014 at 11:11 am
That time blogto repeated the same title and I downvoted it on reddit because of it
Irie / March 9, 2014 at 11:25 am
Beach or Beaches?! Not really a big deal. I grew up here in the 80's so it's Beaches for me.
But this most recent "Beach Village" reincarnation that they are marketing now has got to be the most daft, wasteful & useless thing the BIA has done. Whomever thought it up should move back to Bayview.
We're a community, the Beach or the Beaches...either way it's NOT a village. Smh.
Peter McAdam / March 9, 2014 at 11:35 am
This neighbourhood is named for a single strip of sand that has four different names: Woodbine Beach, Kew Beach, Scarborough Beach and Balmy Beach. Leading to some strongly held differences of opinion. I prefer to let both names co-exist distinctly and separately.

I use The Beach when talking to someone who is local and The Beaches when referring to it as a Toronto neighbourhood to someone from away. This is like a Greek name where the 's' at the end is dropped when talking to the person and where it is kept when speaking about the person.

Bye the way, Mary Campbell of Benlamond Avenue lives in the Upper Beach in an area known a hundred years ago as the Village of Benlamond in the Town of East Toronto, but that's another story.
C H / March 9, 2014 at 12:26 pm
I don't think that the fact it is a single strip of sand makes any difference; many coastal areas of the world are a continuous strip of sand, yet there can be different "beaches" carved out along them. I don't mind, either way, but it is a turn-off when a cantankerous Beacher angrily drones on and on about it. Really, it is not life-altering for most of us.
Chester / March 9, 2014 at 12:39 pm
Interesting article, it really goes to show the complaining mentality of Torontonians was alive and well back then as it is today. I swear people in this town always find something to cry about.
Joe Q. replying to a comment from W. K. Lis / March 9, 2014 at 01:50 pm
Some people persist in calling it "the Ukraine" because that was established English usage for hundreds of years. Analogizing to "the Ontario" makes no sense as no-one has ever used that terminology in English.
Evidence / March 9, 2014 at 02:18 pm
As "Beaches Triangle" and "The Beaches Library" show, this part of Toronto really has been "The Beaches" all along. "The Beaches" sounds better and more magical. "The Beach" sounds like a bad movie.
bm / March 9, 2014 at 02:29 pm
It's the Beach. Deal with it.
BM / March 9, 2014 at 03:48 pm
It's the Beaches. Deal with it.
BM replying to a comment from BM / March 9, 2014 at 04:59 pm
Yes. It's the Beaches. If you're from Scarborough.
linden / March 9, 2014 at 05:39 pm
interesting story; it is funny one letter makes such a big difference. I've never thought of this but actually the beaches implies more action and happneing than just the beach; it sounds more isolated and quiet but I guess this is what the locals want
completely fed up of TO / March 9, 2014 at 06:09 pm
Im so fed up of Toronto 8 stabbings over the weekend. My family is worth much more than living in Toronto. No thanks, what a crap city this has become! My kids will not be victims of this constant violence and crime. Our house is going up on the market by summer and moving out of Toronto the hell hole. All of the people who insist Toronto is safe, go get a reality check, you're not safe living here!!!!!!
bm replying to a comment from completely fed up of TO / March 9, 2014 at 06:20 pm
Rich / March 9, 2014 at 06:46 pm
While its not been creating the same sort of controversy at the other end of the 501 line the BIA in the New Toronto neighbourhood is determined to rename the area "Lakeshore Village" instead. Besides being located on Lake Shore, not Lakeshore, New Toronto was its own town before being amalgamated with Etobicoke when Metro Toronto was created. There is nothing village like about it but like other BIAs they can't help but stick "Village" on the end of names.

That BIA though is particularly obnoxious, I don't know how many times I've heard local business people talking down the area they worked in and the people who lived there who are their customers. Fortunately there are enough shops there I can avoid giving them any more of my business. Of course not every business on the strip is like that and several even live in the area. But this BIA in particular has really driven my hatred of BIAs in general.

BIAs shouldn't have such total control over what happens in a neighbourhood and definitely not more than the people who actually live there.
Oscar / March 9, 2014 at 08:21 pm
Ye its the beaches all there is to it. Welcome to Toronto where any fuckin sane wigga wanna gtfo LOL errbody wanna move Ta LA bitches peace out
Oscar replying to a comment from completely fed up of TO / March 9, 2014 at 08:23 pm
Ye ye
Jefferson / March 9, 2014 at 09:42 pm
I grew up in the Beaches and no one ever referred to the area as the Beach. Only when yuppies moved in did the name controversetry begin. I guess Beach sounds more exclusive than the beaches. Also, the term upper beaches is a real estate marketing ploy
Fed up with Fed Ups replying to a comment from completely fed up of TO / March 9, 2014 at 09:45 pm
LOL! You will do us, and yourself a favour by getting the hell out of town and going to wherever it is you heard was "safer".

Goodbye, and don't let the screen door hit your ass on the way out.
CG / March 9, 2014 at 09:48 pm
I dunno..I went to high school in the area and in the late '70's and early '80's we were referring to it as the that's what I still call it.
kaly / March 9, 2014 at 10:10 pm
That time that time that time that time that time I couldnt think of a title. That time I decided to give up on writing titles for things. That time that time.
the lemur replying to a comment from Joe Q. / March 9, 2014 at 11:26 pm
The Ukrainians' argument is that the addition of 'the' somehow implies that it's a colony, which is absurd because:

1. there is no such rule in English
2. Ukrainian doesn't have definite articles anyway, so what do they know?
3. It's been 'the Ukraine' in English for hundreds of years
4. It takes a definite article in other languages, such as French (l'Ucraine) but Ukrainians somehow aren't complaining about that


5. Both 'Crimea' and 'the Crimea' are correct in English, without any implication as to who controls it

the lemur replying to a comment from Rj / March 9, 2014 at 11:29 pm
It implies no such thing, as there are other countries with a definite article in their names where that is not the case at all. In some languages, most or all names of countries in fact take a definite article and it would be ungrammatical not to use it.

Definite articles are just prenominal determiners, not signifiers of national status.
fed up with fed up with the fed ups / March 9, 2014 at 11:35 pm
Stop acting as if you're wearing a badge of honour by living in the shit city, loser. People are being attacked, stabbed, shot, daily. You are a moron who is probably hovelled in your 5 by 5 dark smoky room in a scummy rooming house downtown. You will surely agree with me one day when the criminals hit too close to home, hopefully not too, too close. Also, IDC what you say,you see, my family and I shall be escaping all of the maliciousness , overpriced dumps, and scum that is Toronto, whilst you differ it out. It wouldn't surprise me if bullet proof jackets will be sold at kiosks in malls within 5 years. Only in Toronto! Can't wait to enjoy the clean, safe air outside this UNSAFE AND PATHETIC HOLE OF A CITY!! Bye bye!! LOL
fed up with fed up with the fed ups replying to a comment from Fed up with Fed Ups / March 9, 2014 at 11:39 pm
LMAO TORONTO SUCKS and you know it
what the???? / March 10, 2014 at 12:23 am
Wow. I'm speechless after that last one.
gary / March 10, 2014 at 12:45 am
For Christ's sake, it's called THE BEACHES.

I grew up in that area in the 60's and everyone called it The Beaches. I didn't even hear the term "The Beach" until around 2000.
Ditto replying to a comment from gary / March 10, 2014 at 01:41 am
Ditto. I consider myself from The Beaches and I and everyone I have ever known calls it The Beaches. This "The Beach" thing was made up in the 1980s by the old stalwart homeowners who only care about property value and who only ever stepped foot out of their houses to go to council meetings and only rarely if ever to go to the actual restaurants or cafés or shops in the area.

It has been been re-made-up in the 2000s by hipsters who pretend to know everything about Toronto.

The Beaches. That's all ya need to know. :-)
Second gen beacher / March 10, 2014 at 08:00 am
I grew up in the beach as the second generation to do so . In the sixties if you lived above Kingston rd. it somehow made you less of a beacher. At that time there were only beachers ,clubbers and greasers in that small world.When we moved to Muskoka it somehow morphed into the Muskokas and how that happened I will never know,However the beach became the Beaches district as that was the name of the political riding. All this confusion was brought by some politico riding namer in Ottawa.I guess it was thought up when skating on the Rideau canal(s)...................
Rick / March 10, 2014 at 09:25 am
Just like idiot "Torontonians" to argue and waste a copious amount of their time to such a retarded issue.

#whitepeopleproblems #torontoidiots
Second gen beacher replying to a comment from Rick / March 10, 2014 at 10:40 am
Perhaps one side should get the russians to intervene, no wait that sounds idiotic. What if we just talk like sane rational folks? Where was that you were from again? Somewhere where there is no history and nothing to talk about except how much you hate Toronto.
Rick replying to a comment from Second gen beacher / March 10, 2014 at 10:50 am
..... I love being justified.
the lemur replying to a comment from Second gen beacher / March 10, 2014 at 10:55 am
AFAIK, 'the Muskokas' is not up for debate: it only ever seems to be used by people outside Muskoka who aren't familiar with the area. Possibly because they're confusing with the Kawarthas (= the Kawartha Highlands).
hola replying to a comment from Rick / March 10, 2014 at 12:02 pm
Really, Rick? When was the last time it happened? Curious which city you live in, for clearly you are an embittered man looking at Toronto with envy. Maybe try reading your own city's news for a change.. if there is any, that is. Have a nice life, Rick! :)
Welshgrrl replying to a comment from fed up with fed up with the fed ups / March 10, 2014 at 12:40 pm
Hey Fed Up, don't let the door hit you where the good lord split you. I love my city, have felt as safe in it as I do in every big city I've travelled to or lived in, and it will do fine enough without hysterical alarmist ninnies like yourself.

On topic - lived in the neighbourhood for almost seven years and never heard it referred to as "The Beach" ...
tommy / March 10, 2014 at 12:42 pm
And don't forget that these aren't the only beaches in Toronto. Calling it "The Beach" is a bit arrogant. Also, didn't the old-timers try to drive Jews from the beach with their Swastika Club? Maybe their opinions are best left in the past.
katie / March 10, 2014 at 01:24 pm
everybody calls it the beaches, the majority of people who live in the beaches, myself included, call it the beaches, there are multiple beaches.

it's called the beaches, not the beach, nor the beach village.

it is, and will always be, the beaches no matter what a handful of people vote.

opensource1111 / March 11, 2014 at 02:28 pm
what a non-issue. Show of hands from anyone who calls it the Beaches who cares whether that name is reflected on signage etc. No one. That is in recognition that names of places take on their form organically, and so no matter how hard "the Beach" camp tries, they aren't going to make anyone else in Toronto change what they call the place. Put up all the official signage you want - ain't going to change a thing.

On a a topic that is actually important, old guard residents of the Beaches have a well deserved reputation for being xenophobic. If you are not a WASP, you can expect to encounter at some point during your time in the neighbourhood subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, discrimination or exclusion. That is highly problematic for a city like Toronto. Part of the village like "charm"? If so, it's time to open up the gates and bring this sleepy little enclave into the greater Toronto fold.
Lori / March 11, 2014 at 03:26 pm
I live in Burlington. I don't get to Toronto that often nor do I know much of it's history. But I do know that if I am having a conversation and they refer to the 'beach', it could be any beach, anywhere. I would have to ask where they were talking about. On the otherhand if they had said the 'beaches' I now know where they are talking about. I've only known this for a few years but I think it gives them their own identity. For example if you say 'Toronto', 'Burlington' 'Daytona' or 'Sauble' you know the specifics. Not to use terms like 'that city, the beach'.
Scarberica / March 11, 2014 at 03:31 pm
I live at St. Clair and Eglinton. My real estate agent told me I live in the Upper Beaches.
BM replying to a comment from BM / March 11, 2014 at 10:45 pm
Yes it is the Beaches. If you are from the Beaches (that area of Queen St in between Woodbine and Vic Park).
FormerBeacher / March 13, 2014 at 10:47 am
I grew up in The Beaches from 1973 until 1998. I knew it as "The Beaches" and I had NEVER heard it called "The Beach" until the controversy hit in 1985.
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