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Forgotten Histories: Parkdale

Parkdale is at once one of the trendiest neighbourhoods in Toronto and the least accessible. Bordered by the traffic-snarled Gardiner Expressway to the south and the street sluicing CP Rail tracks to the north, Parkdale is not the easiest to get to. Public transportation to the neighbourhood is dreadful – a moment of silence for our Queen Street commuters, please.

Queen Street Horse Car

(Queen Horse Car: By Alfred Pearson [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

But Parkdale is more than the sum of its transportation woes. It’s a neighbourhood in the throes of gentrification. It’s the coffee shop capital of the city. It’s home to the best fabric store in the GTA and it’s one of the most diverse neighbourhoods (both culturally and economically) around. So how did it get this way? A journey back in time should shed some light on the anomaly that is Parkdale.

Before it was a neighbourhood, Parkdale was a collection of estates which were then divided up. Some of the street names today were named after estate owners from the mid-eighteenth century: James Brock, John Henry Dunn, William Gwynne, and Walter O’Hara were all estate holders until their land was divided to encourage and accommodate population growth.

Queen Street West Looking West To Roncy

(Queen Street West Looking West To Roncy: By Creator:William James via Toronto History from Toronto, Canada [Public domain or CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Parkdale amalgamated into the city of Toronto in 1889 and grew into a prosperous residential neighbourhood at the beginning of the twentieth century. But the prosperity enjoyed by the neighbourhood went into decline when Sunnyside Amusement park was demolished for the building of the Gardiner Expressway in the 1950s.

The new highway cut the neighbourhood off from desirable access to the waterfront and instead put traffic in residents’ backyards. Stately Victorian mansions were torn down and replaced with large apartment buildings to accommodate low income and new immigrant families. Over the course of the second half of the twentieth century, many of the remaining Victorian mansions were transformed into rooming houses.

Queen Street West Looking East To Duffering

(Queen Street West Looking East To Dufferin: By Josiah Bruce [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

With the building of the Gardiner Expressway, came the demise of local businesses that were dependent on the crowds from Sunnyside. Movie theatres, restaurants, and hotels were shuttered through the 1950s to 1970s. Meanwhile, the Government of Ontario made the decision to release some of its mentally ill patients from the Queen Street Hospital (now CAMH) and Lakeshore Psychiatric Institute (now Humber College’s Lakeshore campus).

Jameson Apartments

(Jameson Apartments: By GTD Aquitaine at en.wikipedia (self-made Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Given the neighbourhood’s proximity to both hospitals as well as the large number of bachelor apartments in the neighbourhood, the provincial government saw fit to set up their de-institutionalized outpatients in Parkdale. Through the end of the twentieth century, Parkdale developed a reputation as a place for crime, drugs, poverty and the ill-supported mentally ill.


(The Morning After: By marc falardeau from toronto (THE MORNING AFTER THE DAY BEFORE) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

But in recent years, Parkdale has become a neighbourhood of marked by gentrification, like almost all others. The poor reputation Parkdale suffered from at the end of the twentieth century meant that rent in the neighbourhood stayed low as it skyrocketed elsewhere. This brought a new type of resident to the neighbourhood: artists.


(Jason’s: By Grant Hollingworth from Toronto, Canada (Jason?s Uploaded by Skeezix1000) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Flea markets, restaurants, and independent coffee shops began to spring up in the early 2000s. As Toronto “yuppies” marched onward in their aggressive takeover of Queen Street to the east of Dufferin, Parkdale developed a reputation for being more gritty and authentically cool than anything on the other side of the Dufferin tunnel.


(Skyline Restaurant: By Arthur Gron (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

The neighbourhood remains a hotly contested site of debate. As wealthy families move into some of the better-maintained homes on either side of Queen Street and condo developers begin to take notice; rent continues to climb for the lower-income residents, threatening their toehold on the neighbourhood they have called home for years. Changes in Parkdale will likely remain a key part of affordable housing discussions in years to come. Like everything else in this city, nothing stays still for too long. So we’ll see what Parkdale has in store for us yet.

Queen Setting Sun

(Queen Setting Sun: By sookie (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

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