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.
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.
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
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.
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
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 the Palais Royale which was initially home to Deans Sunnyside Pleasure Boats as well as the 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
- City of Toronto Heritage Register: 1755 Lake Shore Blvd W
- Ontario Heritage Trust: 1755 Lake Shore Blvd W
- Ontario Heritage Trust: Marilyn Bell
- PortsToronto: History
- Heritage Toronto
- City of Toronto: Sunnyside Park
- Sunnyside Pavilion: About Us
- Vintage Dancer: 1920s Swimsuits
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Nov 4, 1922, pg 15
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Jul 29, 1925, pg 10
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Jul 30, 1925, pg 10
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Jul 31, 1926, pg 17
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: May 15, 1936, pg 11
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Nov 26, 1952, pg 1
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Nov 25, 1955, pg 5
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Feb 2, 1956, pg 25
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Jun 16, 1956, pg 25
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Apr 10, 1963, pg 1
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: May 21, 1964, pg 5
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Aug 7, 1989, pg A10
- Toronto Star Newspaper Archives: Jun 7, 2015, pg A9
- Toronto Star Newspaper Archives: Jul 17, 2016, pg IN7
- I Remember Sunnyside: The Rise and Fall of a Magical Era by Mike Filey
- Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives, Toronto Public Library, Library and Archives Canada & PortsToronto Archives (photographer Arthur Beales)
- Street Photo: Google Maps