(Also known as “Sunnyside Amusement Beach“)
The name “Sunnyside” had been used to denote a beach and its surrounding area for 70-plus years before the amusement park opened. The name may have been coined by George Howard, a prominent citizen whom in 1848 had built a home overlooking the shore on the sunny side of a hill. The other possibility is that subsequent owner George Cheney, named it after American author Washington Irving’s home in Tarrytown, New York.
The Ocean House Hotel was built in 1884. It came to house a Bake-Rite shop, Laura Secord Candy Shop, Tamblyn Drugstore, and a United Cigar Store. Some of these early Canadian businesses would survive into the present to become country-wide chain stores. The structure itself, still stands at the corner of present-day Queen Street and Roncesvalles Avenue above what would generally become the amusement park and specifically, The Boulevard Club’s location.
By the 1890’s the population was large enough to warrant the building of a streetcar service to the district, which was extended by new owners in 1893. One promotion started in that decade was the bathing-car service offered free to kids in the summer. They would pick up any children with bathing suits & towels and transport them free to and from the beach area west of Toronto. This service would continue until August of 1950 when lack of patronage caused it to be discontinued.
Free bathing cars, Sunnyside Free Bathing Station, West of Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion
14 July 1924
Thanks in part to the tram lines, the beach became a more popular summertime attraction, so a boardwalk was constructed along which the tradition of Easter Parades was started. The waterfront enticed canoeists, whom at first met at Myer’s beginning in 1905. In 1908, they opened their own clubhouse near the south end of present-day Indian Road as The “Parkdale Canoe Club” (PCC).
Sunnyside Beach Bathing Pavilion c. 1923
This is the lake-side view of the bathing pavilion. Shown are the central two towers. The terraces to either side extend out of frame, with each ending in another tower. The crowds are here for a special event: The Water Nymph Carnival on August 23, 1923.
Bathing Pavilion c. 1925
Sunnyside Midway From Above c. 1949
This early-season aerial photo was taken from the west end of the main amusement area of Sunnyside. It’s bounded by Lake Shore Road on the left and Lake Shore Boulevard on the right. Easily visible are the Auto Ride layout, the carousel building, and The Flyer coaster. The increased height of the hills in this second version of the coaster is quite evident. Note the double-down just behind the carousel building. The building in the lower left is The Club Top Hat (formerly The Pavilion Restaurant and Club Esquire). Out of frame to the right are the beach area and more attractions.
This club was built on pilings at the end of a boardwalk just over 20 meters from shore. It unfortunately burned in 1912, but a new one was constructed at the end of a pier further south of the 1908 location. As bad luck would have it, this new building burned before it was even completed. Another was built on the same pier in 1915.
Early Boulevard Club c. 1907
A land city reclamation project eventually caused the building to end up close to shore so the pier ultimately became unnecessary. This clubhouse burned in a fire in 1923. A fourth and final structure was erected in 1924 of which the name later changed to The “Boulevard Club”. Despite numerous alterations over the years, it still exists just east of present-day Marine Drive. The letters “P.C.C” are still visible near the entrance.
The amusement park’s genesis at Sunnyside began in around 1912 with the formation of The Harbour Commission (T.H.C.), as a way to have master control of the waterfront in and near Toronto. One of their plans was to establish an amusement area and beach somewhere west of Victoria Park, which had closed in 1906. Since the Sunnyside area was already popular, this was deemed the logical place to do so. Another factor favouring this area was the destruction of the former Parkdale pumping station, around which had established a popular swimming area.
By 1917, The Sunnyside Pavilion Restaurant had commenced business on the former site of Myer’s. International shows and revues were booked along with top orchestras. By 1939 the club was taken over by Parklyn Holdings as “Club Top Hat”. It would continue until 1956 when it would be torn down as part of a new highway plan that would also see Sunnyside Park demolished.
Although The Great War had slowed progress, by the early 1920’s new wharves, breakwalls, parklands, and streets had been developed by The Commission in the area of Humber Bay. Land had also been reclaimed by dredging the bottom of Lake Ontario and placing over 3 million cubic meters of fill along the shoreline. The total initial park area was 53 hectares, but that increased over the years as more land was reclaimed from Lake Ontario so that the park eventually spanned a 3-kilometer strip along the waterfront. The Harbour Commission also created a new beach and bathing pavilion which was to be the focal point of the park. The 4500 square-meter Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion was designed by A.H. Chapman and had swimming areas with diving platforms, flotation devices, and water.
Spurred by all these developments, independent merchants and ride operators vied for permits to operate in the new area. For the 1922 opening of the new amusement park, The T.H.C. selected 7 rides.
Although there was a lake bathing area and pavilion, it was not being patronized as well as expected due to a couple of cool summers. So a heated pool opened next to the beach area on July 29, 1925 under the name “Sunnyside Outdoor Natatorium” but eventually became known as The Sunnyside “Tank”. It was the largest outdoor pool in the world at 2100 square meters. It contained 3.4 million liters of water and could hold 2000 swimmers at once! Water was drawn from the pool, filtered & heated to 20 degrees, then reintroduced into the pool. The “Tank” also extended the swimming season, even during years with warm summers, by providing swimming activities when the lake was too cool.
The park promoted entertainment in the 1920’s and 30’s that ranged from Ballet Canadienne and Ukraine song & dance, through dancing bears & trained seals, escape artists & magicians, female impersonators, and fireworks, to circus acrobats, pole-sitters, high-wire acts, various vaudeville performers, and community sing-alongs. Contests held were held for babies, dancer, dish washing, red-haired, freckle-faced kids, dogs in doll’s clothes, and beauty. The Miss Toronto Beauty Pageant started here in 1926 and ran until taken over by The Toronto Police Department in 1937, when it moved to the CNE grounds Grandstand. Other entertainment at the park in the 1920’s and 30’s consisted of the many bands of the time, aerial displays including parachutists and wing walkers, and most unfortunately by today’s standards: the Boat Burnings. This consisted of old ferries and other vessels were burned at night as crowd drawers to the park. The Depression saw many businesses go under which included ferry companies. These boats were often bought by parks to burn as an attraction. Today, of course, we are much more interested in preserving the past.
In 1948, it had been recommended that since traffic congestion had become a major problem and safety hazard, the park’s land was needed in order to push through a new expressway to relieve traffic in crowded Toronto. All concession owners were eventually put on year-to-year leases, which were not renewed after the 1955 season
One ride preserved was the carousel which went to Disneyland in California (in 1954?) where it was refurbished and modified to a 4-row unit by using animals from other carousels. It was named “King Arthur’s Carousel” and supposedly opened with the park in 1955. Another, The “Derby Racer”, went to The Canadian National Exhibition where it ran for several decades. At some point some of the horse movement mechanism was removed but it remained at The CNE until sold in pieces sometime in the early 1980’s. It is assumed that the remaining flat rides were removed by their owners and sold or set up elsewhere. Highway construction on the Sunnyside property began in the spring of 1956.
In 1975, the Bathing Pavilion was deemed a historical site. It was restored and rededicated June 14, 1980 and may still be seen today.
These books are the primary sources of information on this page. To learn more about Toronto’s past, visit your local library and explore these and many other fascinating books about Toronto’s past.
Filey, Mike. I Remember Sunnyside. Dundurn Press, Toronto, 1982.
Filey, Mike. Trillium and Toronto Island. Dundurn Press, Toronto.