humber bay shores history

What Humber Bay Shores looked like before the condos

Slowly but surely, Humber Bay Shores is becoming a bonafide neighbourhood. There's an annual street festival, weekly farmers' market, and enough restaurants and retail that a sense of community has been forged where only a few years ago it seemed like the area was all shoreline and condos.

We're accustomed to speaking at length about the massive changes that have transformed downtown neighbourhoods like Liberty Village, West Queen West, Harbourfront, and Yonge Street, but the foot of the Humber is every bit as compelling an example of rapid urban redevelopment.

The area was an early recreational draw for its position on the lake. Crowe's Beach was a popular spot for locals, and the cottages, hotels and restaurants around Humber Bay supported a small but significant tourist trade. This was the entrance to Toronto at the time, but more than just a stopping point.

Notably, the first tourist camps (precursors to the motel) in Toronto arose here. On the other side of the city, Kingston Road's early tourist scene was more closely tied to the rise of the automobile, and so developed later. Humber Bay featured these low cost and amenity camps as early as the 1910s.

The area's history as a motel strip grew out of this, and by the 1950s much of the area between Park Lawn Avenue and the mouth of the river was lined with motor courts that backed right onto the shoreline. Tons of postcards and other ephemera from the following 20 years attest to just how popular and robustly populated the strip was back then.

humber bay shores history

It's worth remembering that beyond the lake and the view, Humber Bay had a major attraction at the time in the form of the Palace Pier. Originally planned on a grander scale, the pier was nevertheless a destination sport from the time it opened in 1941 to the day that it burned down in January 1963.

The site of the pier didn't cease to be interesting in the years that followed. In 1978 the future of the area was foretold when construction wrapped on the Palace Pier Tower, the area's first condominium, which takes its name from the old entertainment venue. A second tower was added to the complex in 1991, which helped to kickstart further development in the area.

It wasn't until the early 2000s, however, that redevelopment kicked into high gear. In 2004 the Voyager condos started the push from Palace Pier westward, and the motels started to fall like dominoes. By 2012 nothing of the old strip remained save for the old postcards.

In the years that have followed, the condos have continued to come at almost alarming rate. The city doesn't yet know how to provide adequate public transit options to all the new residents of the area, but slowly the new vertical neighbourhood builds an identity as distinct from downtown Toronto but not entirely from its own past.

humber bay shores history

Early tourist camp at Humber Bay 1914.

humber bay shores history

Crowe's Beach in 1926

humber bay shores history

Humber Tourism Office (1930s-50s).

humber bay shores history

Palace Pier under construction in 1931.

humber bay shores history

Note the "Welcome to Toronto" sign that greet those approaching the Humber River.

humber bay shores history

The TTC's Humber Loop, where streetcars pass from the Queensway to the Lake Shore. A contemporary view would be lined with condos in the background.

humber bay shores history

The Dutch Sister Restaurant and Motel, which later became Casa Mendoza.

humber bay shores history

Hillcrest Motel postcard. See here for a view of the motel in 2007.

humber bay shores history

Looking east from Park Lawn in 1966. The Esso station is still on the corner.

humber bay shores history

The Lake Shore motel strip in the early 1980s.

humber bay shores history

Ditto.

humber bay shores history

An areal aerial shot of Humber Bay in the late 1980s.

humber bay shores history

The Humber Bay Arch Bridge being installed in the early 1990s

humber bay shores history

Lake Shore Blvd. looking east in the 1990s.

humber bay shores history

Mr. Christies factory in the 1990s.

humber bay shores history

Early condos appear on Lake Shore Blvd.

humber bay shores history

The Casa Mendoza begins to be demolished.

humber bay shores history

A similar fate befalls another motel along the strip in and around 2012.

humber bay shores history

The past and the present of Humber Bay as the Beach Motel gives way to condos.

humber bay shores history

The Nautilus at Waterview condo towers above the remains of the Beach Motel in January 2012.

humber bay shores history

A view of Humber Bay 2012.

Photos via the Toronto Archives, Chuckman's Nostalgia, and Martin Reis, and George Socka.


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