Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion, built in 1922, is one of the few remnants of the city’s once lively waterside pleasure grounds. While unique in Ontario, Sunnyside was a typical amusement zone of early 20th century lake- or ocean- fronting cities in North America, from Coney Island in New York to Playland at the Beach in San Francisco. ‘Sunnyside’ once described the reclaimed land between Lake Ontario and Queen Street, High Park and Roncesvalles. It was a popular park for Toronto in an era struggling to define the good life in the face of world wars, depression, the advent of the automobile and the mass spectacles of modernity.
In Mary Louise Adams’ essay Almost Anything Can Happen: A Search for Sexual Discourse in the Urban Spaces of 1940s Toronto, Sunnyside is drawn as a marginal zone of sexual intrigue amongst youth and dubious characters. The zone was clearly for the working class. As the site of dancehalls, roller coasters, and Toronto’s first bathing-suit beauty pageant, it was not approved of by wealthier citizens. The very social improvers who supported the pavilion’s construction for the masses would not frequent it. Its architecture refers to the Beaux-Arts styles of the World Expositions, a particular vision of globalization. Sunnyside housed cathartic public spectacles from sporting events, military displays, dance clubs, and the spectacular burning of aging boats out on the lake.
The desire to make the water’s edge serve utility over pleasure has repeatedly transformed this part of the city to facilitate power lines, real estate, and highways. When Gardiner’s expressway tore up the area in the 1950’s it was an explicit condemnation of Sunnyside amusements, then described as a ‘honky-tonk’, that should be cleared away in the name of progress. This has left us with a manicured landscape cut off from the fabric of the city to the north and barely connected east-west. This history is unique in Toronto, yet typical continentally. We believe that Sunnyside is an important key to our concepts and practices of culture-nature. Beneath its layers are remnants of Toronto’s dreams, from which we find seeds of a future city rich in meaning and connection.
For more info on the history of Sunnyside, read this excellent article on BlogTO.