Parkdale History Toronto

What Parkdale used to look like in Toronto

At the turn of the 20th century, Parkdale was one of the most desirable places to live in Toronto. Marked by large properties, ample green space, and unparalleled access to the lake, the village was incorporated in 1878 before being annexed by the city of Toronto in 1889. During its short-lived term as a town unto itself, its relationship with the city proper was defined by a sort of urban/suburban tension whereby commuters were criticized for the daily use of city services and infrastructure that they ultimately had no hand in paying for.

The neighbourhood retains a certain independent character from those days, but mostly in an architectural sense. Despite the arrival of high-rise apartment housing in the 1970s, Victorian homes once occupied by the city's elite still dot the area, even if many of them have been repurposed to accommodate multiple dwellings. Nevertheless, it's sometimes difficult to imagine Parkdale as the affluent place that it once was.

Part of the reason for that is the degree to which the neighbourhood is now cut off from the lake. As much as Sunnyside is affiliated with Roncesvalles, Parkdale's geographic orientation made the presence of the amusement park (and the water in general) a major draw for well-to-do families looking to get settled.

That relationship with the lake would end in the 1950s when Sunnyside closed and the Gardiner Expressway was built. The presence of the latter serves as both a physical and mental barrier to the lake and altered the nature of the neighbourhood in a profound manner. Although the exodus of wealthy residents from the area can't be pinned solely on the rise of the Gardiner and the lost connection to the water — post-war economic struggles certainly also played a role — the neighbourhood was never the same.

Various reasons are given for Parkdale's acquisition of a sketchy reputation back in the 1970s and '80s. Now vacant mansions were converted into rooming houses and multi-unit dwellings, which attracted a lower income demographic. Outpatient programs at what is now referred to as CAMH in the 1970s have also been highlighted as a potential reason for Parkdale's decline. In the absence of community support networks, many of these patients were left to fend for themselves and lived in poverty.

While the Parkdale's current reputation still bears the mark of this recent history, it's obvious that much has changed in the last decade or so. Condo-central the neighbourhood has yet to become, but other signs of gentrification — be it the indie cafes, trendy restaurants, art galleries (there's even a moratorium on new bars and restaurants!) — continue to pile up. One need only travel by Queen and Dufferin to see that the condo push is moving westward.

Will all of this amount to a return of Parkdale's glory days? Assuming it's even fair to call them that — the area is, after all, a hell of a lot more diverse today than it was back then — it's obvious that the quiet, leisurely qualities that once wooed residents are long gone. In their place, however, is a vibrant community that's certainly on the rise.



Village of Parkdale — Goad's Fire Atlas, 1884


Parkdale — Goad's Fire Atlas, 1910



Looking east toward the Queen Street Subway


Postcard, 1920s


Ocean House Hotel (King, Queen and Roncesvalles)



Queen Street Subway construction (Gladstone Hotel in the distance), 1897


Queen Street Subway looking west (south side)


Queen Street Subway looking west (north side)


Queen Subway, 1899


GTR crossing at Dunn Avenue, 1899


Queen West at Triller Avenue, 1890s


King and Beaty, 1903


Parkdale Collegiate, 1905


South Parkdale GTR Station, 1910


GTR crossing at Dunn Avenue, 1911


98 Dowling, 1911


Train passing through Parkdale, 1914


Queen at Elmgrove, 1916


Odeon Theatre, 1919


Cowan Fire Station, 1920s


Queen and Beaty, 1921

2012724-track-qkr-1923-wow-s0071_it2040 (1).jpg

Trackwork at King, Queen and Roncesvalles, 1923


107-109 Cowan Avenue, 1933


14 Brock Avenue, 1938


Queen and Lansdowne looking north, 1946


Seaforth and Lansdowne looking south, 1946


Dowling looking north of Lakeshore, 1946


King and Dowling, 1946


Sunnyside aerial, 1949


Bye-bye easy lake access, 1960 (above Jameson)


King, Queen and Roncesvalles, 1971


Photos from the Toronto Archives / Maps and postcards from the Toronto Public Library

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