Downtown Toronto

The former City of Toronto that existed prior to amalgamation at the end of the 20th century (sometimes referred to as “Old Toronto”) stretches from the Humber River in the west, to the RC Harris Water Treatment Plant in the east. For the purposes of this project, I have broken up this stretch to go only as far east as the Don River, so that the Portlands can be a standalone area.

I will refer to it as “downtown Toronto”, even though the shoreline west of Strachan or Dufferin would be hard to consider ‘part of the core.’ In fact, this stretch can be broken into two distinct segments: the open parkland stretch that includes Sunnyside and Ontario Place, and the urban pier stretch that exists south of Queens Quay and Lake Shore Boulevard.

Sunnyside was a very popular recreation area in the early days of Toronto’s founding and development. It would attract crowds of swimmers and beachgoers in the early 1900s. The Sunnyside Bathing Pavillion was built in 1922 to provide changing rooms for bathers, and three years later, a standalone swimming pool was added. The pavillion and pool still stand today, and continue to be owned and operated by the City today. There was also an amusement park, roughly southwest of the King / Queen / Roncesvalles intersection, I highly recommend checking out Doug Taylor’s blog on Toronto’s history, in particular his piece on the Sunnyside Amusement Park, for a more detailed history.

Sunnyside 1953
Aerial view of Sunnyside, 1953. Images from City of Toronto Aerial Photographs collection.

Sunnyside as it exists today is not representative of how it looked in the past. Like the rest of downtown Toronto, it is based on lakefill. The Queensway sits on top of what used to be bluffs, not like the ones you find east in Scarborough, just smaller. At the foot of these bluffs, the beaches extended out for a distance. It was a large recreational district that reached its golden years in the 1930s and 1940s, with extensive beaches, the amusement park, and even dedicated streetcar service.

In the present day, those beaches are now covered by decades of urbanization: the Grand Trunk (now Canadian National) Railway lines, electrical tramission lines and other utilities, Lake Shore Boulevard, and the Gardiner Expressway. The parkland and beaches that exist today are a sliver of the public space available back in the day. That said, a large chunk of Sunnyside is public parkland. Only four exceptions exist: Palais Royale, The Boulevard Club, The Toronto Sailing Club, and the Argonaut Rowing Club. These four private clubs account for almost 600 metres (16.5%) of Sunnyside shoreline. And with 2.4 kilometres of uninterrupted access between the Humber and the Sunnyside Pedestrian Bridge, it’s hard to complain.

1947 TO waterfront
Aerial view of downtown, 1947. Images from City of Toronto Aerial Photographs collection.

East of the Argonaut Rowing Club is Marilyn Bell Park, and this is where a natural shoreline ends. The shoreline is all built dockwall from here to the Don River, as it is the extension of the original shoreline. It’s generally common knowledge in Toronto that Front Street represented the front of the water when Toronto was first being settled, so anything south of it is infill dating from the 1920s.

Under construction – more history coming soon!

Old Toronto Pie


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