Sunnyside Amusement Park – History of Toronto’s Lake Shore Playground

1922 - Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion, looking south
1922 – Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion, looking south (Library and Archives Canada a097214)

Sunnyside Park is located at 1755 Lake Shore Blvd W (between the Roncesvalles Pedestrian Bridge and the Humber River) along the shore of Lake Ontario, in the Sunnyside neighbourhood of Toronto. It was once home to one of the City’s most popular attractions, Sunnyside Amusement Park.

The name Sunnyside is thought to have been coined by John Howard back in the mid-1800s. In what’s known today as High Park, Mr Howard built Colborne Lodge near the sunny ridge overlooking the shore of Lake Ontario.

Before the Park

In the late 1800s, the area near the beach at Sunnyside was somewhat industrial. Just north of the beach was the railway corridor, and by the early 1900s to the south, there were large hydro towers on cement supports in Lake Ontario.

An Ambitious Waterfront Plan

In the early 1910s, the Toronto Harbour Commission released plans to develop the waterfront, including Sunnyside. Over the next decade, several acres of Toronto’s western waterfront were reclaimed from Lake Ontario. Fill was dredged from its watery depths to create a proper beach and the park.

The Harbour Commission hired the architectural firm of Chapman, Oxley & Bishop to design the park and its buildings, including pavilions, public shelters, amusement ticket offices, and kiosks.

In 1922, the Toronto Harbour Commission opened the attraction. Set on the beautiful backdrop of Lake Ontario, the park had it all – exciting midway rides, fun food, games of chance, concert stages, daredevil performances, a boardwalk nicknamed “Strutters Walk,” swimming, restaurants, a dancing hall and more.

1929 - Looking west along the busy Lake Shore Blvd towards the Sunnyside Amusement Park and boardwalk
1929 – Looking west along the busy Lake Shore Blvd towards the Sunnyside Amusement Park and boardwalk (PortsToronto Archives, Arthur Beales – photographer)

Sunnyside Amusements

The amusement park opened with seven rides, nine games and ten food concessions. Midway rides included a hand-carved merry-go-round, Derby Racer, Dodgem and more. A year later, the wooden “Sunnyside Flyer” roller coaster was added. The scent of popcorn, hot dogs and cotton candy filled the air while pleasure-seekers could hear the sounds of hoarse barkers voicing their appeals, the calliope and happy people.

The amusement park was situated on what is now a park median dividing traffic on Lake Shore Blvd W and a parking lot across from Budapest Park. Parkside Dr would have been the amusement park’s western boundary, and the Roncesvalles Pedestrian Bridge near Palais Royale, its eastern boundary.

1925 - The crowded Sunnyside pool dubbed "The Tank" looking east
1925 – The crowded Sunnyside pool dubbed “The Tank” looking east (Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photograph Archive TSPA 0109569F)

Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion & “The Tank”

On the south side of Lake Shore Blvd W at the foot of Parkside Dr are the bathing pavilion and beach. Completed in 1922, the Beaux-Arts open-air changing structure features a grand archway and panel that are flanked by Classical columns. There’s also an upper observation deck on the south side. When the pavilion opened, there was locker space for 7,700 bathers.

For a few summers, the lake was so cold it kept bathers from swimming. So, in 1925 the Sunnyside Outdoor Natatorium was opened. Located to the east of the bathing pavilion, the Olympic-sized pool was dubbed “The Tank.” It was 91 m long by 23 m wide, had a 3.4 million litre capacity. The shallow end was .75 m, the deep end was 2.75 m. It could hold 2,000 people and cost $75,000 to construct. The grand opening fee was 35¢. For a time, it was thought to be the world’s largest pool.

Opening day ceremonies included speeches and festivities under a cobalt blue sky. Canadian high-diving champion Laura Little gracefully made the first splash into the pool, diving from the 12 m tower while draped in a Union Jack.

Tommy Church, Toronto Harbour Commission chairman (and also Toronto’s mayor from 1915 to 1921), said “When the lake is too cold for bathing, we now have a pool with heated, chlorinated water, which will make it possible for every day to be bathing day at Sunnyside.”

Later that day, 3,000 swimmers filled “the tank.” There were an additional 25,000 people outside who had not arrived early enough for a dip in the pool. With the most up-to-date technology, each drop of the pool’s water was filtered every 10 hours.

Free Bathing & the Sunnyside Bathing Cars

At Sunnyside Beach, free swimming with changing houses had been available for many years before the 1922 opening of Sunnyside Amusement Park development. The ramshackle changing houses along the beach became dilapidated and were replaced in 1929.

From the early 1920s until 1950, the TTC operated the crowded and noisy Sunnyside Bathing Cars during the summer. The service was free for Toronto children with a bathing suit and towel, taking them to and from the bathing area at Sunnyside.

Miss Toronto Beauty Pageant

1926 - Contestants in the first Miss Toronto Beauty Pageant at Sunnyside Beach - Jean Ford Tolmie was crowned Miss Toronto
1926 – Contestants in the first Miss Toronto Beauty Pageant at Sunnyside Beach – Jean Ford Tolmie was crowned Miss Toronto (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1028M)

In the summer of 1926, the first Miss Toronto beauty contest took place. Arranged by the Harbour Commission and Sunnyside Concessionaires, the pageant was open to any female between the ages of 16 to 25, not married, and a resident of Toronto.

On August 13, 1926, Toronto was wild with excitement and hysteria over the contest. That day, five contestants were selected, which was later whittled down to the final two. The winner was Miss Jean Ford Tolmie.

Miss Toronto also was invited to represent the City in the 1926 Miss Atlantic City beauty pageant. According to information received from the Atlantic City contest committee, “Past winners have been untouched by the lipstick and powder puff. Natural beauty is desired by the judges, and any girl attempting to gild the lily with cosmetics has no chance.”

The Miss Toronto beauty pageant was held at Sunnyside until it was taken over by the Toronto Police Department and moved to CNE grounds in 1937.

1936 Heatwave

In July of 1936, there was a heatwave in Toronto. Temperatures topped out at 41° C, and during the 8-day hot spell, more than 225 Torontonians died. There was no air-conditioning back then, so people looked for relief from the heat at Toronto’s beaches, including Sunnyside and Balmy, as well as the Toronto Islands. Over 22,200 passengers were ferried to the Islands on July 7, 1936, compared to 13,300 on the same day a year before.

The Fall of a Bygone Era

The park opened every year in May and closed on Labour Day. When the Canadian National Exhibition started each year, things quieted down at Sunnyside.

After World War II, attendance at the amusement park began to decline. Not only that, the volume of traffic was becoming an issue on Lake Shore Blvd, so plans were put into motion to construct the Gardiner Expressway. All of this spelled the end of the Sunnyside Amusement Park, and it closed in 1955.

In November of that year, there were three separate fires at Sunnyside Amusement Park. In the third fire, the concession building under the rollercoaster and the supports for the ride were gutted. The fires only hastened the demolition of the amusements area. One by one, the amusement buildings came down that winter to make way for the Gardiner.

Sunnyside Park Today

2021 - Entrance of the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion, looking southwest from the Martin Goodman Trail
2021 – Entrance of the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion, looking southwest from the Martin Goodman Trail

In 1975, the bathing pavilion, which was being threatened with demolition, received heritage status from the City. In 1980, the pavilion underwent a renovation. That year, the pool was renamed Gus Ryder Outdoor Pool to honour Marilyn Bell‘s swimming coach. At the age of 16, Ms Bell was the first person to swim across Lake Ontario.

The Sunnyside attraction played a significant part in the development of Toronto’s park system and in the lives of many who lived in the City. Part of a series of parks along the waterfront, pedestrians enjoy the boardwalk while cyclists ride along Martin Goodman Trail. The park’s east side is home to the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion and Gus Ryder Outdoor Pool, with Sir Casimir Gzowski Park to the west.

Did You Know?

  • The Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion is one of two buildings left from the Sunnyside Amusement Park complex. The other building is Palais Royale which was originally home to Deans Sunnyside Pleasure Boats as well as a dance hall. Also designed by Chapman, Oxley & Bishop, Palais Royale is located 750 m to the east of the Bathing Pavilion, along Lake Shore Blvd W. It received heritage status in 1974.
  • In 1921, a breakwater from the Humber to the western channel was constructed off the shore of Lake Ontario. It was said to warm the water inside it by 8 to 11° C to make it more desirable for swimming. However, due to poor circulation it left the water between it murky and stagnant.
  • Bathing suits in the 1920s were made of wool.
  • On Sundays, the amusements at Sunnyside were closed; however, bands would take to the stage.
  • “Boat Burnings,” which consisted of retired Great Lakes vessels being set ablaze in the lake, were staged at night to attract people to the park.
  • In 1934, the Toronto Harbour Commission passed a bylaw requiring men to wear a shirt while on a public beach. However, by the early 1940s, mainly swimming trunks were being sold at shops, so the bylaw was repealed.
  • Patty Conklin, who operated the rides at the CNE, also controlled most of the Sunnyside amusements.
  • A few of the rides went onto life beyond Sunnyside. The Derby Racer went to CNE. The ageing merry-go-round, which had been striking many off-key notes, went to Disneyland (which opened in 1955).
  • In 1963, there was talk to close the pool permanantly. The following year, the City Council approved the $165,000 renovation slated for completion in the summer of 1965.
  • In the late 1980s, the Sunnyside Pavilion Committee raised $2 million for renovations to the pool and Spanish Garden.
  • Outside of Sunnyside Amusement Park, it also went by a few other names including the Sunnyside Amusement Area, Sunnyside Beach Park and Sunnyside Amusement Beach.

Sunnyside Amusement Park Photos

1922 - Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion, looking south
1922 – Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion, looking south (Library and Archives Canada a097214)
2021 - Entrance of the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion, looking south
2021 – Entrance of the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion, looking south
1924 - Crowds at Sunnyside Beach on the south side of the Bathing Pavilion
1924 – Crowds at Sunnyside Beach on the south side of the Bathing Pavilion (Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photograph Archive TSPA 0109552F)
2021 - A view of Sunnyside Beach and the south side of the Bathing Pavilion, looking northwest
2021 – A view of Sunnyside Beach and the south side of the Bathing Pavilion, looking northwest
1929 - Looking west along the busy Lake Shore Blvd towards the Sunnyside Amusement Park and boardwalk
1929 – Looking west along the busy Lake Shore Blvd towards the Sunnyside Amusement Park and boardwalk (PortsToronto Archives, Arthur Beales – photographer)
1929 - The Sunnyside Amusement Park concessions, games and the Flyer rollercoaster on Lake Shore Blvd, looking northwest
1929 – The Sunnyside Amusement Park concessions, games and the Flyer rollercoaster on Lake Shore Blvd, looking northwest (PortsToronto Archives, Arthur Beales – photographer)
1925 - The crowded Sunnyside pool dubbed "The Tank" looking east
1925 – The crowded Sunnyside pool dubbed “The Tank” looking east (Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photograph Archive TSPA 0109569F)
1960s - Swimming at the Sunnyside Pool, looking east
1960s – Swimming at the Sunnyside Pool, looking east (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 6495)
2021 - The Gus Ryder Pool at Sunnyside, looking east
2021 – The Gus Ryder Pool at Sunnyside, looking east
1926 - Contestants in the first Miss Toronto Beauty Pageant at Sunnyside Beach - Jean Ford Tolmie was crowned Miss Toronto
1926 – Contestants in the first Miss Toronto Beauty Pageant at Sunnyside Beach – Jean Ford Tolmie was crowned Miss Toronto (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1028M)
2020 - A mural of the 1926 Miss Toronto Beauty Pageant at Sunnyside Beach, located on a building that is home to The Rhino Bar & Grill at 1249 Queen St W
2020 – A mural of the 1926 Miss Toronto Beauty Pageant at Sunnyside Beach, located on a building that is home to The Rhino Bar & Grill at 1249 Queen St W (could not find details on the mural’s artist)
1925 - Entrance to the Sunnyside Flyer rollercoaster
1925 – Entrance to the Sunnyside Flyer rollercoaster (Library and Archives Canada a097289)
1945 - The east end of Sunnyside Amusement Park
1945 – The east end of Sunnyside Amusement Park (Library and Archives Canada a098481)
1925 - Postcard of beautiful Sunnyside Beach area looking west along Lake Shore Blvd
1925 – Postcard of beautiful Sunnyside Beach area looking west along Lake Shore Blvd (Toronto Public Library PC960)
1926 - Trolley cars and traffic on Lake Shore Blvd, looking west towards the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion
1926 – Trolley cars and traffic on Lake Shore Blvd, looking west towards the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion (Library and Archives Canada a136423)
1924 - Children getting to Sunnyside Beach on the free TTC bathing cars - the Bathing Pavilion in the background
1924 – Children getting to Sunnyside Beach on the free TTC bathing cars – the Bathing Pavilion in the background (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 3272H)
1925 - Kids on the diving platform at Sunnyside pool
1925 – Kids on the diving platform at Sunnyside pool (Library and Archives Canada a097303)
1925 - Carousel at the Sunnyside Amusement Park
1925 – Carousel at the Sunnyside Amusement Park (Library and Archives Canada a097296)
1925 - Pleasure-seekers near the Red Hots, Orange Crush and O'Keefe's Ginger Ale concession stand at Sunnyside Amusement Park
1925 – Pleasure-seekers near the Red Hots, Orange Crush and O’Keefe’s Ginger Ale concession stand at Sunnyside Amusement Park (Library and Archives Canada a098485)
1922 - The Derby Racer
1922 – The Derby Racer (Library and Archives Canada a097232)
1920s - Pleasure-seekers at Sunnyside Amusement Park, looking east
1920s – Pleasure-seekers at Sunnyside Amusement Park, looking east (Toronto Public Library r-608)
2021 - View of the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion archway entrance
2021 – View of the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion archway entrance
1925 - Looking east along the boardwalk, also known as "Strutters Walk," near the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion
1925 – Looking east along the boardwalk, also known as “Strutters Walk,” near the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 4959)
1931 - Strolling along "Strutters Walk" at Sunnyside
1931 – Strolling along “Strutters Walk” at Sunnyside (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 23537)
1936 - Honey Dew concession stand along the boardwalk at Sunnyside Beach
1936 – Honey Dew concession stand along the boardwalk at Sunnyside Beach (Library and Archives Canada a098574)
1925 - The natural-looking children's pool and playground at Sunnyside Beach
1925 – The natural-looking children’s pool and playground at Sunnyside Beach (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 5486)
1922 - Crowds on Sunnyside Beach with the Amusement Park in the background
1922 – Crowds on Sunnyside Beach with the Amusement Park in the background (Toronto Public Library r-596)
1929 - "Boat Burning" staged at Sunnyside Beach as an attraction
1929 – “Boat Burning” staged at Sunnyside Beach as an attraction (Library and Archives Canada a054973)
1928 - Sunnyside Beach Orthophonic bandshell
1928 – Sunnyside Beach Orthophonic bandshell (Library and Archives Canada a098213)
1922 - Mayor addressing the crowd on opening day, June 28, in front of the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion
1922 – Mayor addressing the crowd on opening day, June 28, in front of the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion (Library and Archives Canada a097147)
2021 - Entrance of the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion, looking southwest from the Martin Goodman Trail
2021 – Entrance of the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion, looking southwest from the Martin Goodman Trail
2021 - Decorative panel on the archway entrance of the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion
2021 – Decorative panel on the archway entrance of the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion
1922 - Looking west along Lake Shore Blvd towards the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion
1922 – Looking west along Lake Shore Blvd towards the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 540)
Early 1920s - Crowds at the Sunnyside Amusement Park, looking south towards Deans Sunnyside Pleasure Boats, which is present-day Palais Royale
Early 1920s – Crowds at the Sunnyside Amusement Park, looking south towards Deans Sunnyside Pleasure Boats, which is present-day Palais Royale (Toronto Public Library r-610)
1922 - Beach-goers enjoying Sunnyside Beach
1922 – Beach-goers enjoying Sunnyside Beach (Library and Archives Canada a097238)
1921 - Construction of the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion, looking northwest
1921 – Construction of the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion, looking northwest (Library and Archives Canada a097108)
1916 - Diving off of dredging pipes in Lake Ontario, near Sunnyside Beach
1916 – Diving off of dredging pipes in Lake Ontario, near Sunnyside Beach (Library and Archives Canada a069809)
1916 - Bathing station/changerooms at Sunnyside Beach
1916 – Bathing station/changerooms at Sunnyside Beach (Library and Archives Canada a069810)
1916 - Train along the rail corridor with Sunnyside Beach in the background
1916 – Train along the rail corridor with Sunnyside Beach in the background (Library and Archives Canada a072540)
1914 - Bathing/changing houses along Sunnyside Beach with hydro towers along Lake Ontario, looking east
1914 – Bathing/changing houses along Sunnyside Beach with hydro towers along Lake Ontario, looking east (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1548, Series 393, Item 1089)
1914 - Bathing change area at Sunnyside Beach
1914 – Bathing change area at Sunnyside Beach (Library and Archives Canada a061184)
1911 - Changing houses at Sunnyside Beach in front of the old Sunnyside Water Works building
1911 – Changing houses at Sunnyside Beach in front of the old Sunnyside Water Works building (City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Sub Series 51, Item 134)
1940s/50s - Aerial view of Sunnyside Amusement Park area, looking east along Lake Shore Blvd
1940s/50s – Aerial view of Sunnyside Amusement Park area, looking east along Lake Shore Blvd (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 334, Item 4)
2021 - Overhead view of the area once home to Sunnyside Amusement Park, looking northeast
2021 – Overhead view of the area once home to Sunnyside Amusement Park, looking northeast (Google Maps)
2021 - Sunnyside Amusement Area heritage plaque
2021 – Sunnyside Amusement Area heritage plaque
2021 - Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion heritage plaque
2021 – Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion heritage plaque
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