The Beach has drawn Torontonians east since the 1800’s when it boasted an amusement park and cottages. Fast forward to 2015 and the Queen Street East Strip and the Boardwalk pair up to provide the best of both worlds – great shopping and dining alongside one of Toronto’s most beautiful nature walks.
The Beach is well known as a destination for families and for anyone looking for a place for a great meal and a fantastic shopping experience. You can literally find a business to suit any need as well as many unique shops. With over twenty blocks, hundreds of shops and friendly people are along the route, many people enjoy walking Queen Street in one direction and the boardwalk in the other.
Down by the waterside, The Beach comes alive in summer when people flock to the Blue Flag beaches to enjoy the sun, the sand and the water with their friends and families. Exciting board sports like Kite Boarding, Stand Up Paddle Boarding and even Surfing have taken off over the past few years and bring action to the water that is fun to watch. The largest Skateboard Park in Ontario was recently built at Coxwell Avenue and Lake Shore Boulevard and local kids and many visitors can’t get enough time there. Bring your board when you visit.
The Beach did not just magically become Toronto’s favourite Lakeside Community. The area along the water has a long history that has contributed to it having become one of the most visited and well-known areas in Toronto. Historically, Torontonians have always visited the lake front for recreation and fun with their families.
In the 1800’s people started building summer and permanent homes in the area and the streetcar line extended along Queen Street. In the early 1900’s the Scarboro Beach Amusement Park was built right on the water’s edge as was the Balmy Beach Club which remains today.
It wasn’t until the mid 1900’s that the Beach saw the residential and business development that it is known for today.
The Boardwalk and the sandy beaches. Beautiful parks and gardens. Lake Ontario at our doorstep. It’s no wonder that the Beach has long been one of Toronto’s favourite destinations.
From its earliest days, people from across the City flocked to the Beach to relax and enjoy its race tracks, amusement parks, and lakeside camps. What was once an isolated settlement was absorbed by the growing city of Toronto by the turn of the last century, and it has long been an established residential neighbourhood.
The Beach has its beginnings in a survey commissioned in 1793 by Upper Canada’s first Lieutenant-Governor, John Graves Simcoe. Lots were laid out south of the what is now Queen Street, and the first family to arrive in the area was the Ashbridges, who left Pennsylvania to settle by the bay that bears their name today.
By 1800, a major road was built to connect York (Toronto’s original name) to the Bay of Quinte. It was built by Asa Danforth, and eventually became known as Kingston Road. In 1833 it was upgraded with planking and became more passable, and settlements began to spring up along the route.
Because Kingston Road bypassed the present-day Beach area, it took longer to develop, yet it was still included in the newly incorporated City of Toronto in 1834. People began building their country estates here, and subdivisions soon followed. By the 1870s, the Beach began to be served by streetcar and steamer, and the Beach became a favourite summer retreat for Torontonians.
Hotels and resorts sprung up, including Victoria Park, Kew Gardens, and the Scarboro’ Heights Hotel. Development continued at a brisk pace, and by the end of the 1880s, the first church and school had been built as the area became more established.
By 1900, the Beach was fully absorbed into the City of Toronto with the amalgamation of the surrounding communities, and the community had become more than just a summer settlement. Yet it was still Toronto’s playground.
Beachers and visitors alike continued to enjoy a wide range of outdoor activities year-round. In 1903, the Balmy Beach Club was founded. Two treasured Beach structures – the Leuty life-saving station and the boathouse – also date back to the early years of the last century.
Perhaps the best-known Beach summer attraction was the Scarboro’ Beach Amusement Park, which opened in 1907. It featured rides like Chute the Chutes, Tunnel of Love, freak shows, funhouses, refreshment stands, bathing and dance pavilions, band concerts, and a host of other amusements. By 1925, it was bought by developers and was transformed into a quiet residential neighbourhood.
Yet even today, the Beach betrays its roots as a summer resort. People still come for our parks and lakeside attractions. But it has also become a thriving commercial district, and people are also drawn by our stores and boutiques, and our restaurants, pubs, and cafes
There are now more than 320 businesses running along Queen Street, from three blocks west of Woodbine all the way over to Toronto’s Art Deco gem, the R.C. Harris Waterworks. It’s become one of Toronto’s favourite destination neighbourhoods, yet after all these years the Beach has still retained its strong community roots. It’s no wonder that Queen Street in the Beach was designated as Ontario’s best small-town Main Street.
The Beach in Pictures: 1793-1932 by Mary Campbell and Barbara Myrvold
175 Years of Beach History by Gene Domagala, thanks to the Beach Metro Community News.