The Life and Death of Sunnyside

**The Life and Death of Sunnyside

How Urbanization Led to the Beginning and End of a Famous Toronto Amusement Park

Hannah Steele

Toronto - 2023

On January 2nd, 1888, an area of 115 acres known as Sunnyside was officially annexed into the city of Toronto.1 With the city and its surroundings growing significantly both in population and urbanization, there was hope that the area would be of great waterfront recreation and leisure, with the construction of the Sunnyside Amusement Park on the boardwalk in the early 1900s. Plans to build a “playground by the lake” started soon after the establishment of the Toronto Harbour Commission (THC) in 1911 with a \$25 million proposal to create a “complete transformation in appearance of the bay front.”2 From its opening in 1922, to its closure and demolition in 1955, the Sunnyside Amusement Park was extremely popular and, for many visiting the Toronto area, the highlight of their trip. Its immense success and popularity make it difficult to understand why Sunnyside Amusement Park was closed and demolished after a relatively short life. Sunnyside was built to reflect and accommodate for increasing urbanization of Toronto’s lakefront and the need for a tourist and amusement hub, but urbanization also led to its downfall in the form of pushes for more natural space and fewer attractions, as well as the need for more accessible ways to get in and out of the city. It was deemed that Sunnyside was more of an inconvenience for the city which unfortunately led to the end of the Sunnyside Amusement Park.

The early 1900s was a period of economic and urban growth for the city of Toronto and its surrounding area. Various plans to urbanize in the form of subdivisions, roads and parks were created to make the city more accessible and enjoyable as the population more than doubled between 1900 and 1912.3 Of these plans to urbanize, the establishment of the Toronto Harbourfront Commission (THC) and its subsequent plan for the revitalization of the waterfront was the most successful. Unlike previous jurisdiction of the harbourfront, the THC had full control of Toronto’s port to create “a systematic development of waterfront sites for industrial and commercial purposes” through large-scale landfilling across the entire lakefront of Toronto.4 The goal of urbanization by the THC meant that, in the Sunnyside Area, 5,483 meters of break wall was created for protected waterways along the beach, as well as 47 hectares of park.5 This was done to provide an area of leisure and escape from the growing urbanization of the main harbourfront to the east that, with the THC’s project, would become a large, new and improved, man-made harbourfront and commercial port. Figure 1 is a map of the THC’s plan to urbanize the lake front, including the break wall along Sunnyside beach.6 It showcases the many additions to the beach, including the bathing pavilion, amusement park, concession stands and the beach. Furthermore, it shows Lakeshore Boulevard, which runs north of Sunnyside and played a major role in Sunnyside’s success as an attraction, as it connected Sunnyside to the greater area of Toronto, making it more accessible and, thus, popular. Although Sunnyside was a smaller project within the THC’s lakefront reconstruction, it played a major role in the urbanization of Toronto as an escape from urban life within the city.

Figure 1: The Toronto Harbour Commissioners Waterfront Development.

The amusement park opened along with a bathing pavilion on June 28th, 1922, and it was an immediate hit. Thousands of visitors flocked to all the amenities including the park’s seven amusement rides, five game stands and other concession stands. The bathing pavilion was considered to be the finest in North America, accommodating up to 7,500 bathers at a time.7 Furthermore, the beach and waterfront brought thousands of visitors interested in water sports and activities including “canoe tilting, greasy pole walking, watermelon hunt [and] swimming races.”8 Sunnyside Amusement Park’s first season was a success, meeting all expectations of the city, the Harbour Commission and visitors. The Commission was excited to make improvements in the off-season (October to May) to make the park more accessible and entertaining in anticipation of even more visitors and it was deemed necessary to expand the ways in which one could access the area, both from the city and elsewhere. The Toronto Harbour Commission felt it necessary to dedicate 16 acres of land to the new Lakeshore Boulevard and Lake Shore Road, which would run north of the heart of Sunnyside, and provide transportation to, from and around the park. In addition, free transportation for kids from downtown was provided in the form of streetcars.9 Both additions made it easier to get to and from the park and, as a result, the park continued to grow in popularity over the next decade. Figure 2 showcases how Lakeshore Boulevard was incorporated into the amusements at Sunnyside, lots of cars parked and driving on Lakeshore Boulevard and even more people walking to and from the amusement park and other attractions such as the boardwalk.10 Amongst the large, dense, crowds of the amusement park, the roadway made it not only possible, but easy to get into the park by car. Streetcars going in and out of the city made it easier for those without access to a car to enjoy Sunnyside and was a free service for kids who frequented the area and its amusements. Urbanization efforts in the form of the Toronto Harbourfront Commission’s Lakefront revitalization project as well as the construction of Lakeshore Boulevard are what allowed the city of Toronto to provide its population as well as visitors with a fantastic area of waterfront recreation and leisure.

Figure 2: Looking west along the busy Lake Shore Blvd towards the Sunnyside Amusement Park and boardwalk.

It seemed for most that Sunnyside was significantly important to tourism and recreation on the waterfront of Toronto. However, Torontonians were already wary about the park’s true impact on the city and efforts to accommodate even more visitors did not make them any more confident. Many felt that with the urbanization of the City of Toronto, natural areas throughout the city like Sunnyside Beach and High Park were needed to escape from urban life and the creation of an amusement park, would be symbolic of the city’s growth as an urban area and take advantage of the free, quiet, and natural wonders of the area. As one woman wrote in the Globe in March of 1922, “the beach, together with the natural charms of high park, [Torontonians] felt made their city a unique and most desirable place in which to reside.”11 Prior to the construction of the Sunnyside Amusement Park, Sunnyside was popular among visitors for its beach, natural parks, such as High Park, and quiet atmosphere. The establishment of the Amusement Park and other amenities meant that the quaintness and serenity of the area was gone and replaced with construction, noise and a loss of natural beauty.

As the city was becoming a hub for business, and many would live outside of the city and commute in and out every day for work. With more and more commuters, it was clear that the current state of Lakeshore Boulevard (the main roadway entering downtown Toronto from the west) could not keep up with the amount of traffic. One article in the Globe and Mail from 1956, a few months after the official closing of the park, describes the sentiment that a lot of commuters felt towards the park as they sat in traffic. The author, Bruce West, details himself “sitting in the middle of a Sunnyside traffic jam silently cussing the place” and seeing the park “only as a source of delay in [his] excursions between the office and the house.”12 It seemed that despite drawing in thousands of visitors daily to enjoy its rides, concessions, bathing pavilion, beach and swimming pool there remained a certain disdain for the park among Torontonians who felt as though it was becoming a nuisance as they tried to navigate the growing amount of traffic on Lakeshore Boulevard. Concerns regarding flow of traffic on Lakeshore Boulevard and Lakeshore Road, extended beyond anecdotes from commuters, as there were already significant repairs being made to the boulevard and the tracks that serviced streetcars going to and from the park in its first off-season.13 The repairs required the tracks at the King-Queen-Roncesvalles intersection to be torn up to make room for new ones, causing traffic issues along Lakeshore Boulevard and impacting businesses in the area who were seeing fewer customers due to traffic. Furthermore, there were significant delays in the work and the tracks were left torn up for months, making many wonder if they would be ready for the next summer season.14

By the late 1940s, over 100,000 people were coming in and out of the city every day using Lakeshore Boulevard, and major change in urbanization was required in the form of a multi-lane highway which would allow for more traffic to flow in and out of downtown.15 In May of 1947, the city of Toronto’s Planning Board released a “report to the citizens” in which it detailed a completely new system of roadways from all directions going in and out of the city, including a 4-lane “Waterfront Highway” cutting through Sunnyside.16 That plan was scrapped, and it wasn't until 1952 that another plan was proposed, this time by the city’s mayor, Allan Lamport. In this proposal, Lakeshore Boulevard would be enlarged by cutting through the grounds of Sunnyside Amusement Park, and the park’s amenities and concessions would be moved to Exhibition Park. This inspired the recommendation by a subcommittee of the City of Toronto's Planning Department, led by Fred Gardiner, to go through with the expansion of Lakeshore Boulevard into a four-to-six lane Lakeshore Expressway, running from the Humber River to Woodbine Avenue.17 Although the plan had remained to transfer Sunnyside’s Amusement Park ground to Exhibition Park, the gradual loss of popularity due to gas and tires no longer being rationed, and the uncertainty of Sunnyside’s future made the park less and less appealing to keep up. Furthermore, several fires over the last few years of the park’s life left it even less attractive and repairable and, thus, the decision to demolish it was inevitable.18 It was very clear at this point that the amusements and pleasure of Sunnyside Amusement Park could no longer keep up with the urbanization of Toronto. A request to demolish Sunnyside Amusement Park was sent in by William Bosley, the chair of the Toronto Harbour Commission at the time on November 26th, 1955, and by February 1956, the site was completely cleared.19 Work started on the expressway and by 1966, the now called Gardiner Expressway officially opened as a thoroughfare connecting downtown Toronto to its western suburbs. In Figure 3, Sunnyside Amusement Park no longer stands, and it is instead replaced with construction of the Expressway.20 The break wall that provided protection of the beach still stands and some buildings can still be seen, but it is nothing like what it was 20 years prior. The Gardiner Expressway still stands today and is a vital element in the daily commute that upwards of 100,000 vehicles take daily.21

Figure 3: Expressway construction along Sunnyside waterfront in Toronto.

The urbanization of the Toronto area in the early 20th century was an effort to expand the lake front and harbourfront for commercial use, as well as increase its popularity through recreation and tourism attractions. As a result, the city implemented measures including the building of parks such as the Sunnyside Amusement Park with the hope of increasing the appeal of the city. The Toronto Harbour Commission’s plan to completely change the look of the lake front and its decision to build Lakeshore Boulevard meant that the area of Sunnyside saw huge success with thousands of people visiting daily for various waterfront and amusement activities. However, as Toronto’s population skyrocketed in the mid-20th century, the need to accommodate was clear. The call by Torontonians for more natural space and fewer attractions, as well as the need for more accessible ways to get in and out of the city in the midst of intense traffic difficulties made the park more of an inconvenience for the city than the marvel that it once was, and Sunnyside Amusement Park had to be no more. Now, fragments of Sunnyside’s amazing era live on elsewhere, and there are reminders of what once was in and around the Sunnyside Beach area. The carousel was sold to Walt Disney to be put in his new amusement park, and the Derby Racer ride to the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE). Walking around Sunnyside today, one is vaguely reminded of the joys of the park as the Palais Royale dance hall, the swimming tank, and the bathing pavilion still stand and are available for use by the public.22 What the life and death of Sunnyside Amusement Park shows is how urbanization opens the doors for opportunity but leaves behind a history that few remember today.

  1. Mike Filey, “I Remember Sunnyside: The Rise Fall of a Magical Era” (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2008), 31-138, 31. 

  2. “History,” Ports Toronto, 2023,; “Making Great Harbor While Toronto Sleeps: Amazing Work Going on All Along the Waterfront Twenty-Five Millions to Be Expended What Has Already Been Done Trip Over Territory,” The Globe, November 13, 1914, 7. 

  3. James Lemon, “Plans for Early 20th-Century Toronto,” Urban History Review 18, no. 1 (1989): 11-31. 

  4. Roy Merrens, “Port Authorities as Urban Land Developers: The Case of the Toronto Harbour Commissioners and Their Outer Harbour Project, 1912-68,” Urban History Review 17, no. 2 (1988): pp. 92-105,

  5. T. Chillingsworth, “Plan of York Harbour and Humber Bay,” Plan of York harbour and Humber Bay (1988), 339-342, 

  6. Figure 1: The Toronto Harbour Commissioners Waterfront Development. Toronto Harbour Commissioners, Waterfront Development. University of Toronto Libraries, G3524.T61 G43 14 1937. Map, 1937. 

  7. “New Pavilion Finest of Kind,” The Globe (The Globe and Mail), June 30, 1922, 17. 

  8. “Sunnyside Swimming.” The Globe (The Globe and Mail), Jul 25, 1929. 

  9. Filey, “I Remember Sunnyside,” 68. 

  10. Figure 2: Looking west along the busy Lake Shore Blvd towards the Sunnyside Amusement Park and boardwalk. Mike Filey, “The Way We Were: When Sunnyside was full of Amusement.” Dec 2, 2017. Image, Sunnyside Amusement in Spring 1922.

  11. Making Great Harbor While Toronto Sleeps,” 7. 

  12. Bruce West, “Nostalgia: A Fond Farewell, Sunnyside,” The Globe and Mail, February 2, 1956, 25. 

  13. Filey, “I Remember Sunnyside,” 81 – 124. 

  14. “Motor Car Drivers Alarmed at Delay.” The Globe (The Globe and Mail), April 19, 1923, 14. 

  15. “About the Gardiner Expressway,” City of Toronto, February 8, 2019, - :~:text=Gardiner Expressway began in 1956,cost of approximately %24103 millio

  16. “Board Seeks High-Speed Arteries,” The Globe and Mail, May 21, 1947, 4. 

  17. “Hope to Start Work in 1954: $20,000,000 Lakeshore Expressway Gets Top Metro Planning Priority,” The Globe and Mail, July 8, 1953, 1; “Board Seeks High-Speed Arteries,” 4. 

  18. Filey, “I Remember Sunnyside,” 125. 

  19. Filey, “I Remember Sunnyside,” 125. 

  20. Figure 3: Expressway construction along Sunnyside waterfront in Toronto. Richard Cole, “Expressway construction along Sunnyside waterfront in Toronto, February 19, 1957.” The Globe and Mail. 

  21. “Gardiner Expressway,” CNU (Congress for the New Urbanism, May 7, 2019),

  22. Filey, “I Remember Sunnyside,” 125; David Silverberg, “The Rise and Fall and Rise of Sunnyside Beach — 100 Years Later,” The Toronto Star, August 21, 2022,