A pictorial journey to Toronto’s Sunnyside Beach–1900-1922

01 Feb


                                  Sunnyside Beach and boardwalk in July of 2012

In 1834, when the City of Toronto was incorporated, it changed its name from York to Toronto. In that year, the area that became known as Sunnyside was far to the west of the city, as Toronto’s boundary extended only as far west as Peter Street.  In 1848, John G. Howard purchased land in the remote area that today we call Sunnyside, and built a modest structure. He named it Sunnyside,” as it was on the “sunny side” of a grassy hill, a short distance north of the present-day Queensway Drive. Howard’s path to the lake was unobstructed until 1855, when the Grand Trunk Railway line, which extended from Toronto to Hamilton, was constructed along the lake front. On the site of Howard’s Sunnyside Villa, in 1876, the Sisters of St. Joseph’s Sacred Heart built an orphanage and named it the Sacred Heart Orphanage. Howard’s Sunnyside Villa was retained by the orphanage as an office. The villa survived until 1945, when the villa and orphanage were demolished to construct St. Joseph’s Hospital.

By the beginning of the 20th century, Sunnyside was one of Toronto’s most popular summer destinations, as residents sought relief from the hot humid weather that often descended during July and August. However, the city was expanding westward, and the area previously visited for its beaches, was becoming increasingly residential. This necessitated that a streetcar line be built, making Sunnyside more accessible, increasing its popularity.

                              f1244_it0154a[1] 1907

A group of boys climbing on an old tree trunk at Sunnyside Beach in 1907. In the background is  the restaurant of P. V. Meyer and Company.

Sunnside in 1908

This photo looks west at Sunnyside Beach in 1908. A train is headed eastward toward the old Union Station on Front Street, built in 1884. The lake is closer to the railway tracks than it is today, as landfill eventually extended the shoreline further south. The narrow early-day boardwalk is visible, and out in the lake can be seen a portion of the break wall. The entire break wall had not been completed when this photo was taken. The Lakeshore Boulevard of the future also has not yet been built. In this picture it is merely a dusty road. The streetcar tracks to the right of the roadway, originally went as far as Mimico, but in 1905 were extended as far west as Long Branch.

f1231_it0572[1]  1911- beach before landfill

This photo shows Sunnyside Beach on 26 July 1911. It reveals how close the railway tracks were to the lake, in the days prior to landfill extending the shoreline further south. A row of “changing stations” can be seen beside the water, to allow bathers to change into their bathing attire. The building with the ornate turret, on the hill behind the train, is at the corner of Roncesvalles Avenue and Queen Street. The houses on King Street are also visible, on the hill, behind the train. It appears that there is a squatter’s shed on the beach, to the left of the “change stations.” The train cars belong to the Grand Trunk Railway.

f1231_it0534[1] breakwall 1909

Men working on the Sunnyside break wall in September of 1909. Eventually, 17,895 feet of break wall were constructed, creating the equivalent of over a hundred acres of protected waterways that were safe for bathers, between the shoreline and the break wall .


Bathing in the refreshing waters of Sunnyside in 1911, near the south end of Roncesvalles Avenue. In the background is the Sacred Heart Orphanage, built in 1876 on the site of Howard’s Sunnyside Villa. 

Series 372, Subseries 51, Item 155

The railway tracks at Sunnyside, looking east toward downtown Toronto, and the old Sunnyside train station perched on the embankment. The photo is labelled in the Archives as being taken in 1912, but I suspect that it was taken a few years earlier. The houses along King Street are visible, and in the upper left-hand corner of the photo, Roncesvalles Avenue can be seen, extending northward. The lake can be seen to the right of the railway tracks, as the landfill that extended the shoreline further south has not yet started.  

Series 372, Subseries 51, Item 166

The new Sunnyside train station, in April of 1913. It overlooks the beach to the south.

Although Sunnyside was popular since the early-days of Toronto, the magnificent Sunnyside Amusement Park, which became known as “The Poor Man’s Riviera,” did not materialize until 1922.

Note: the historic photos in the this post are from the City of Toronto Archives.

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To view other posts about Toronto’s past and its historic buildings:

A pictorial view of Sunnyside between the years 1922-1956

Memories of Toronto’s Sunnyside on a sweltering hot summer day

In mid-winter, recalling the hot sun of Toronto’s Sunnyside Beach

The Art Deco bus terminal at Bay and Dundas Streets.

Photos of the surroundings of the CN Tower and and the St. Lawrence Market in 1977

The old Dominion Bank Building at King and Yonge Street

The Canada Life Building on University and Queen Street West.

Campbell House at the corner of Queen Street West and University Avenue

A study of Osgoode Hall

Toronto’s first City Hall, now a part of the St. Lawrence Market

Toronto’s Draper Street, a time-tunnel into the 19th century

The Black Bull Tavern at Queen and Soho Streets, established in 1822

History of the 1867 fence around Osgoode Hall on Queen Street West at York Street

Gathering around the radio as a child in the 1940s

The opening of the University Theatre on Bloor Street, west of Bay St.

122 persons perish in the Noronic Disaster on Toronto’s waterfront in 1949

Historic Victoria Memorial Square where Toronto’s first cemetery was located, now hidden amid the Entertainment District

Visiting one of Toronto’s best preserved 19th-century streets-Willcocks Avenue

The 1930s Water Maintenance Building on Brant Street, north of St. Andrew’s Park

Toronto’s architectural gems-photos of the Old City from a book published by the city in 1912

Toronto’s architectural gems in 1912

Toronto’s architectural gems – the bank on the northeast corner of Queen West and Spadina

Photos of the surroundings of the CN Tower and and the St. Lawrence Market in 1977

The St. Lawrence Hall on King Street

Toronto’s streetcars through the past decades

History of Trinity Bellwoods Park

A history of Toronto’s famous ferry boats to the Toronto Islands

Toronto’s Old City Hall at Bay and Queen Streets


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Posted by on February 1, 2013 in Toronto


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