THE CLUES ARE SCATTERED throughout Parkdale. On the west wall of the Rhino, a deteriorating mural depicts the first Miss Toronto contest. On the northwest corner of Queen and Macdonell a second mural showcases a beach vista. The large archway of the Bathing Pavilion stands regally over the Sunnyside sands.

They are all clues to a time when Sunnyside beach – a 130 acre stretch of shore[i] to the south of High Park and Parkdale – was Sunnyside Amusement Park: one of the top destinations in the city. At its peak, it had a regular rotation of tens of thousands of attendants a day.

And yet its history far precedes the amusement park. In this article we explore the History of This Spot, with a walk through the many eras of Sunnyside, and the stories of the people who lived, died, and made history there.

Figure 1. Sunnyside Amusement Park, 1920s. (PortsToronto Archives, photographed by Arthur Beales.)

Sunnyside Before the Amusement Park

First Nations

We begin at the beginning, before the arrival of the Europeans, when Sunnyside was enclosed by tall, grassy bluffs.

At this time, Parkdale and High Park were the territory of several First Nations who travelled and traded throughout the province primarily by way of water routes.[ii] Along these routes, there would usually be a trail for portaging – that is, for going on foot in the case of an interruption in the waterway.

The primary portaging trail that headed north from the lakeshore started off along the Humber River, and via connections to other water routes, ended up all the way at Lake Simcoe. It was known as the Toronto Carrying-Place Trail. Even after the arrival of the Europeans, the trail continued to be heavily used as the main artery northward. In fact, it wasn’t until the construction of a new northbound artery in 1796 – Yonge Street – that it fell into disuse.[iii]

It isn’t entirely obsolete however – Indian Road, which runs along the east side of High Park down to The Queensway is said to be the southern portion of that same trail, opening up onto the lake at Sunnyside.[iv]

Figure 2. In this sketch of Sunnyside by John George Howard in 1861, the bluffs are visible in the background.[v]

War of 1812

The next milestone in the life of Sunnyside is a more violent one – the War of 1812. In that year, the US declared war on Britain (that is, on the Brits in what is today Canada). Toronto at the time was called York and while there was a small settlement closer to what is today downtown, the Parkdale and High Park areas were still forest lands, with the exception of Fort York. Located in the same spot where it stands today, near Front and Strachan, Fort York has its own complex history, but what is relevant to our story is that at this time it was manned by the Canadian militia which was on the watch for an attack.[vi]  

On April 27th, 1813, the Americans crossed the lake with sixteen ships[vii] and landed on Sunnyside beach, where they were met by Indigenous and Canadian troops who were unable to fend them off. The Americans invaded Fort York and occupied the town for six days.

The Brits retaliated by famously attacking Washington D.C. on August 24th, 1814, and setting fire to the White House.[viii]

The Name

At what point did Sunnyside come to be known as Sunnyside?

John George Howard, the artist behind Figure 2, arrived in Toronto (York) in 1832. He was a surveyor and architect. Shortly after arriving, he acquired himself a small piece of land to the tune of 165 acres. It was a wild land in the middle of nowhere. There he built his home, Colborne Lodge, which is still standing today, in the property he called High Park.

In 1848 he built a summer villa in the vicinity of what is now The Queensway, between High Park and Roncesvalles. Sitting in an elevated spot, it had an entirely unadulterated view of Lake Ontario. He called it Sunnyside Villa.[ix]

This villa was eventually acquired by the Roman Catholic diocese which turned it into Sunnyside Orphanage (renamed Sacred Heart Children’s Orphanage in 1881), run by the Sisters of St. Joseph. By this time many additions had been made to the original house to accommodate the orphans. The City of Toronto tried to expropriate the land in the late 1800s. To resist this, the sisters converted the orphanage into a hospital, which couldn’t legally be expropriated. St. Joseph’s Hospital opened its doors in 1921. While the building was being expanded for its new calling, the original Sunnyside Villa was destroyed – but the name lived on.[x]

Popular Beach Spot

In the 1830s, a small settlement began taking root in what is today Parkdale. The Village of Parkdale was founded in 1879, and reigned independent for ten years before being amalgamated with Toronto. The city didn’t want Parkdale to become its own municipality and Parkdale was adamantly against joining the city. The following snippet from an 1877 Globe article is Parkdale’s response to Toronto, after one of the city’s many articles against the new municipality:

“What more do you want? When we come to the city to patronise your stores and your factories we pay you for what we get, and consequently you receive a direct benefit from every ratepayer living outside of your city. Are you serious, Sir, when you say that we would never have had any existence but for Toronto? We tell you, Sir, that we have had our share in building up Toronto, and now we are going to build up Parkdale. Your wretched municipal government and heavy taxes have driven us out of the city, and scores are following in our wake. . . . You speak of disreputable villages encircling your city. You surely do not mean Parkdale. A walk or a drive through the place would soon convince you to the contrary. . . . You say ‘where the city prefers an avenue the suburban prefers a lane,’ and a well-paved street and favourite carriage drive ends in a mud hole, with no gas lamps, no sidewalks, etc. Now, Sir if Toronto would fill up her mud holes and put her streets in half-decent condition, and apply honestly the enormous taxes that she grinds out of the pockets of the people there would be less grumbling in your own house.”[xi]

The population of this fierce little village grew quickly. By 1890, it had two Grand Trunk Railway stations: South Parkdale Station (later replaced by Sunnyside Station at King, Queen, and Roncesvalles), and North Parkdale Station at Queen and Dufferin. In fact, as the map below shows, the Parkdale of the 1890s was already starting to look like the Parkdale we know today.

Figure 3. Map of Parkdale in 1898.[xii]

A popular pastime for the Parkdalians was swimming at Sunnyside. And before long, it became a pastime for the whole city. In fact this stretch of lake shore became so popular, that “the bathing car” – a free street car for children only – rode around the city and picked up any kids that wanted to go to the beach. By the 1930s, the streetcar went in a circle starting at Bloor and Jane in the northwest and ending up all the way at Queen and Parliament in the southeast, before heading to Sunnyside.[xiii]

Figure 4. Sunnyside Beach in 1914. (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1548, Series 393, Item 1134.)

Another popular pastime was the Easter Parade. This was a chance for all Torontonians to dress in their very best and parade along the boardwalk on Easter Day. This tradition became more popular by the year, with head-turning numbers of attendants reported: “Sunnyside . . . boardwalks creaked under the weight of nearly 100,000 fashion paraders yesterday afternoon,”[xiv] a 1935 article reads. The attire was so impressive that the event came to be known as the Easter Fashion Parade.

Figure 5. Easter Fashion Parade at Sunnyside, 1926. (City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 7492.)

The Sunnyside Amusement Park

And now, the main event. Sunnyside Amusement Park opened to the public on June 28th, 1922.[xv] It had been a decade in the making.

The Toronto Harbour Commission was established in 1911 in the interest of regulating, developing, and expanding Toronto’s waterfront. Shortly after coming into existence, it quickly set to work on extending the city’s shoreline. This was done by dredging sand from the harbour as well as bringing in dirt from surrounding farms.[xvi] Once done, the shoreline was extended by 90 metres! And this quite literally laid the way for the construction of the amusement park.

The amusement park was filled with rides, shows, music, food and lasted for 33 years! Where to begin? Let’s ease into it with a guided tour through space and time. 

Getting There

Your means of getting to the park vary depending on your starting point.

If you are heading out from somewhere inside the city at some point between the 1920s and the 1940s, then your best bet is the streetcar, which will drop you off right at the intersection of King, Queen, and Roncesvalles.

If you are coming from outside of the city, you have two options – train or bus. The train will take you to Sunnyside Station, located on the south side of King, Queen, and Roncesvalles. If you’re travelling in 1936 or later, you also have the option of taking the bus, which will drop you at Sunnyside Bus Terminal on the north side of the same intersection.

If you’re headed to the park between the late 1940s and mid 1950s, you would most likely drive there in your own personal automobile. You would park your car on the outer two lanes of Lakeshore Road, in defiance of any drivers trying to get through.

Figure 6. Aerial view of Sunnyside, 1929. (City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 17778.)

Once you have arrived via your preferred method, you would walk south on Roncesvalles towards the crossing bridge. After which you would descend a long metal staircase into the park.

“It’s interesting that as a child one remembers certain landmarks in one’s hometown as immense structures. So it is that I recall the railway station at Sunnyside as almost as big as Union Station and certainly the long staircase from Roncesvalles Avenue down to the amusement park remains in my child’s memory as having at least a million steps, the negotiation of each requiring the careful guidance of two parents and at least three out of four grandparents.”[xvii]

– Art Eggleton, Toronto’s 59th mayor

Main Attractions

Now that you’ve arrived, you’re probably wondering where to begin. Rest assured that you will not want for activities at Sunnyside.

Chances are you’ll start by heading straight to the rides. The park opened with seven of them – think swings, roller coasters, and merry-go-rounds. You might want to ease into things with the King Arthur Carousel. Spanning twenty-two metres in diameter, with three courses of horses[xviii], it will give you a 360 degree view of the park, so that you can decide what to do next.

If you get overheated, you might like to go for a swim in the lake. Don’t show too much skin though, at least not before 1936! In the early decades of the 20th century, full body bathing suits were very much the norm: think shorts and a sleeveless top for the men and loose dresses for the ladies. In 1936, Toronto was experiencing one of the worst heatwaves in its history. People even cooled off at night by abandoning their homes in exchange for sleeping by the lake. One day, in a heat-driven craze, thirty men at Sunnyside rebelled by removing their bathing suit tops. They were promptly arrested for indecent exposure. They weren’t convicted however, and from then on, men gained the right to go topless in the city.[xix] Women would have to wait another sixty years.[xx] 

On the flip side, if, like many Toronto residents in 1923 or 1924, a cold spell has made a swim in the lake out of the question, you might instead choose to swim in the world’s largest outdoor pool, which was kept at a comfortable temperature. The Sunnyside Tank opened to the public in 1925 in direct response to these chilly summers, and could accommodate 2,000 swimmers![xxi] 

Figure 7. The Sunnyside Tank, 1925. (Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.)

In either case, don’t worry about finding a place to change, store your personal belongings, or shower. The Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion, opened along with the park in 1922, has you covered.

Figure 8. Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion, circa 1924. (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 219A.)

Live Events

If you’re attending in 1926 or later, you might be able to catch the Miss Toronto contest. In its first year, 475 women applied to compete. The entry requirements included age (16 to 25), marital status (single) and of course, residency (Toronto).[xxii]

And don’t make the mistake of thinking that your day ends when the sun sets. There is an activity for every hour at Sunnyside:

“At night, the park was transformed by sound and a profusion of light. Patrons could take in an evening softball game at the Sunnyside stadium, purported to be the first such park in Toronto to install lights. Musical concerts were staged in the Sunnyside bandstand, along with sing-alongs. Open air dancing was in the offing at the Seabreeze dance pavilion, situated to the east of the Sunnyside Tank.”[xxiii]

In addition to the Seabreeze there was also the Palais Royale. Originally built in 1889 as a boat factory, it opened its doors as a dance hall in 1922. Here, you can catch a big-name band and dance the night away. Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Bert Niosi – they all blew the roof off the Palais. On an average night, 1,000 people might be found dancing there, tightly packed.[xxiv]

The Eats

If you’re going to spend the whole day at the park, you must keep nourishment in mind. You have your pick among the food stands serving typical fair food like french-fried potatoes and red hots. When it comes to red hots, you might be more familiar with the alternate name – hot dogs – though that term was highly contentious for a time, as seen in this 1929 headline:

“Sunnyside Listens as Vendors Argue Name of ‘Hot Dog’ | Term Called Suggestive of Canine Content in Product | Frankfurter Preferred.”[xxv]

History in the Making

If you were lucky enough to be attending in 1954 you would have a chance to see history made by sixteen-year-old Marilyn Bell. In September of that year, the CNE had offered $10,000 to famous U.S. swimmer Florence Chadwick, to swim across Lake Ontario from Youngstown, New York to the CNE grounds. Two Canadian swimmers decided to attempt the swim at the same time and on their own dime, with no prospect of a prize: Winnie Roach and Marilyn Bell. 

Florence became ill a few hours into her swim and had to quit. Winnie made it three quarters of the way before she was overcome by cramps. Sixteen-year-old Marilyn swam from 11 pm on September 8th to 8 pm on the following day – 21 hours, with eels biting at her limbs as she went. Newspapers released extra editions during her swim and radio stations gave hourly reports. While she was meant to land on the CNE grounds, she instead followed the bright lights of Sunnyside Amusement Park, emerging historically from its shore as the first person ever to swim the lake. 250,000 people had gathered for her arrival. The CNE decided to give the $10,000 prize to her instead. She “did it for Canada,” she said.[xxvi]

The End of an Era

It had to end sometime. The newspaper articles about Sunnyside Amusement Park in the 50s have a distinctly different tone from the ones that came before. They are mocking, speaking from what seems to be a general understanding that Sunnyside was a cesspool – good for nothing but a traffic jam.

The population of Toronto was rapidly increasing, with the average number of monthly vehicle sales in Canada quadrupling from the mid-40s to the mid-50s.[xxvii] Lakeshore Road being the main route to the west of the city, its proximity to Sunnyside meant a continuous traffic jam in the vicinity, with cars constantly parked on both sides of the road. 

A 1950 Globe and Mail article describes the chaos:

“At Sunnyside the other day, a motorist blocked Lake Shore Road traffic while he wiggled his car into the curbside. He then emerged with his whole family via the left-hand doors and sauntered across the street to an amusement place. If this had happened at a village fair it might have been natural enough. Yet it is typical of what is going on all the time on what is supposed to be the major traffic route in and out of the city. There, through the heaviest traffic hours, cars are parked in solid rows on both sides, using up two of the four traffic lanes. As likely as not, the remaining lanes are blocked while some pleasure-seeker manoeuvres his car into a convenient spot near a honky tonk or hot dog stand.”[xxviii]

While suggesting that the amusement park visitors use a parking lot further down, the journalist writes: “People who can spend hours trudging around from peep shows to ferris wheels are not going to suffer from a little walk to a parking lot.”

Another article from 1950 pushes for the park’s removal in these words:

“The Sunnyside amusement area, astride the most important traffic artery of the entire city, simply cannot remain there. . . . There is nothing sacred about merry-go-rounds and mechanical rides, hot dog stands or roller coasters.”[xxix]

Once the construction of the Gardiner Expressway (then just ‘Expressway’) was approved in 1954, there was even a suggestion that “Sunnyside amusement area may be turned into a 1,200-car parking lot as an adjunct to the Expressway.”[xxx]

In this post-war era, it was almost as if the city had grown up. It no longer had time for carousels and red hots. 

The message was clear – you can’t have a massive amusement park next to one of the biggest arteries in the city, especially with the incoming Expressway. It would clog up traffic the same way it had been doing. Dozens of articles vehemently argued for the removal of Sunnyside in the early 50s. As it happened, the park suffered a series of fires in the span of a few weeks in November 1955. With attendance already at an all time low, that was the nail in the coffin, after which the Toronto Harbour Commission put out a notice accepting tenders for its demolition. It was razed in record time, within a matter of weeks.[xxxi] 

And as it came tumbling down, the angry mob of a city that had called for its removal had a moment to reflect on its past.

Bruce West wrote in a 1956 Globe and Mail article:

“Although I’ve been just about as annoyed as anyone else, at times, about the presence of the Sunnyside amusement park straddling one of the busiest thoroughfares in Canada, I can’t help feeling certain nostalgic pangs as I drive by these days and see the workmen wrecking it. . . . I visited it many times when I was a youngster. But during the past few years I always found myself merely passing through it. . . . Not once did I slip out of a traffic jam and into a parking lot to stop for just one more walk around. . . . I was always in too much of a hurry. There was Sunnyside, just as sparkling and noisy and perfumed as ever and all I could see was the rear bumper of the car ahead of me.”[xxxii]

Sunnyside Today

Figure 9. Sunnyside, June 2024.

Sunnyside is still a popular summer spot, albeit not nearly to the same degree. You could say it has returned to its roots as a lakeside attraction for the Parkdalians – less so the rest of the city. Walking through it on a sunny afternoon, you might find some people in the lake (E. coli permitting), some partaking in sports like volleyball, or rowing, and plenty more walking the boardwalk.

But the clues to its past are scattered throughout the neighbourhood. The large archway of the 102-year-old Bathing Pavilion stands regally over the sands of Sunnyside. It is still in use today, with a constant flow of people sitting on its patio, enjoying a meal or a drink.

On the west wall of the Rhino, a deteriorating mural depicts the first Miss Toronto contest from 1926.

On the northwest corner of Queen and Macdonell a second mural showcases a beach vista, with the inscription “Parkdale celebrates 136 years.”

Figure 12. Mural on corner of Queen and Macdonell, June 2024.

The McDonald’s at King, Queen, and Roncesvalles is the same building that housed the Sunnyside Bus Terminal. The Palais Royale is still standing and now serves as an event venue, primarily for weddings. The 99-year-old Sunnyside Tank – that 2,000 person capacity pool – continues to be very popular. It has since been renamed Gus Ryder Pool in honour of Marilyn Bell’s swimming coach. A stretch of Sunnyside was named Marilyn Bell Park, on the 30th anniversary of her swim.[xxxiii]

If you ever find yourself at Sunnyside, take a look around and consider the history of the place and those who frequented it over the centuries. The Indigenous peoples pulling their canoes onto the shore and portaging towards the Carrying-Place Trail. The soldiers that fought and died on its sands in 1813. The children running out of the free bathing car, in a dead sprint towards the water. The crowds of tens of thousands walking amongst the shadows of the rides and concession stands. The fashionable ladies parading along the boardwalk on Easter Day. And Marilyn Bell, emerging exhausted from Lake Ontario surrounded by 250,000 people, cheering her on.

  • [i] Charis Cotter, Toronto Between the Wars: Life in the City 1919-1939 (Firefly Books, 2004), 74.
  • [ii] C. Stuart Mackinnon, “Portage,” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada. Article published February 07, 2006; Last Edited March 04, 2015.
  • [iii] James H. Marsh, “Toronto Feature: Carrying Place Trail, Humber River,” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada. Article published January 27, 2013; Last Edited July 02, 2015.
  • [iv] Mike Filey, I Remember Sunnyside: The Rise & Fall of a Magical Era (Toronto: The Brownstone Press Limited, 1981), 52-53.
  • [v] Jack Gibney, “Did Indian Road Really Follow a First Nations Trail?” Sunnyside Historical Society,
  • [vi] “Fort York,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,
  • [vii] James H. Marsh and Pierre Berton, “War of 1812,” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada. Article published March 06, 2012; Last Edited October 31, 2018.
  • [viii] Filey, I Remember Sunnyside, 34.
  • [ix] Ibid.
  • [x] “St. Joseph’s Orphanage,” Toronto Historical Association,
  • [xi] John Clark, “Parkdale Aroused and Indignant,” The Globe, December 12, 1877,
  • [xii] The Enlarged Business Atlas and Shippers Guide (Rand, McNally and Co., 1901),
  • [xiii] Filey, I Remember Sunnyside, 89-91.
  • [xiv] “100,000 Join Easter Parade on Sunnyside Boardwalk,” The Globe, April 22, 1935,
  • [xv] Filey, I Remember Sunnyside, 52-53.
  • [xvi] Filey, I Remember Sunnyside, 49.
  • [xvii] Filey, I Remember Sunnyside, 105.
  • [xviii] “King Arthur Carrousel,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,
  • [xix] Cotter, Toronto Between the Wars, 85.
  • [xx] “Female toplessness in Canada,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,
  • [xxi] Cotter, Toronto Between the Wars, 81.
  • [xxii] Filey, I Remember Sunnyside, 96.
  • [xxiii] M. Jane Fairburn, Along the Shore: Rediscovering Toronto’s Waterfront Heritage (Toronto: ECW Press, 2013), 363.
  • [xxiv] Lisa Rochon, “Palais Royalty: For the Kings and Queens of Swing, There’s Always a Dance to be Danced at the Palais Royale,” The Globe and Mail, November 5, 1988,
  • [xxv] “Sunnyside Listens as Vendors Argue Name of ‘Hot Dog’ | Term Called Suggestive of Canine Content in Product | Frankfurter Preferred,” The Globe, September 2, 1929,
  • [xxvi] “Marilyn Bell,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,
  • [xxvii] Statistics Canada. Table 20-10-0001-01 New motor vehicle sales,
  • [xxviii] “Serious Nonsense at Sunnyside,” The Globe and Mail, June 14, 1950,
  • [xxix] “Move Sunnyside First,” The Globe and Mail, September 23, 1950,
  • [xxx] “In Amusement Area: Favor Sunnyside Lot to Park 1,200 Autos,” The Globe and Mail, April 15, 1955,
  • [xxxi] Filey. I Remember Sunnyside, 129-133.
  • [xxxii] Bruce West, “Nostalgia: A Fond Farewell, Sunnyside,” The Globe and Mail, February 2, 1956,
  • [xxxiii] “Marilyn Bell Park,” City of Toronto,