Hot Summer Nights: A History of Sunnyside Pavilion & Pool

Take a trip back to one of Toronto's hottest beach parties

Now a quiet getaway from the city, Sunnyside Pavilion and amusement park used to be one of the busiest waterfront spots in the city. Perhaps you’ve swum in the pool at Sunnyside or maybe you’ve walked your dog on the boardwalk past the Pavilion. These casual strolls don’t necessarily reveal the history of the beach, but man, if those walls could talk.

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(Sunnyside Crowd, 1914: By Alexandra Studio, via Wikimedia Commons)

 
The Beginning

The bathing pavilion was opened in the late 1800s and became so popular that some streetcars were reproduced as bathing cars, offering children free rides to the beach. With a popular beach, came water sports and in the early 1900s the Parkdale Canoe Club set up shop nearby.

Through the twenties and thirties the kids came to swim and they came in the thousands. The beach would be teaming with bodies, especially during long weekends and special events like the Water Nymph Carnival, which encouraged women and girls to learn how to swim. In the days before central air, families would come down to the beach to sleep on hot summer nights.

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(Sunnyside Pool, 1925, courtesy of Toronto Public Library)

 
A Summer Hot Spot

After a few cool summers, the decision was made to open a heated pool. When the Sunnyside “Tank” opened in 1925, it could accommodate 2,000 bathers at once and it was the largest outdoor pool in the world. Today, its size is still quite impressive and it is one of the better-used facilities on the boardwalk.

Sunnyside Amusement Park 1923

(Sunnyside Amusement Park, 1923: By Toronto Harbour Commission (Toronto Harbour Commission Archives) via Wikimedia Commons)

While the pool and pavilion are still around today, the 3-km long amusement park has all but disappeared. Featuring a roller coaster, carousel, games, and concessions, the park was home to the sorts of early twentieth century amusements we’re sometimes nostalgic for, even if we didn’t experience them first hand. Entertainment like dancing bears, magicians, circus acrobats, high-wire acts, contests for babies, dish washing, red-haired, freckle-faced kids, and dogs in doll’s clothes. During the Depression in the 1930s boat burnings were a popular form of entertainment. Ferry companies that had gone out of business would bring their boats to Sunnyside to burn at night before the crowds.
 
The Gardiner Expressway Era

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(Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion entrance: City of Toronto via Flickr)

The spot was particularly popular because it was so accessible. Many Torontoians today complain about how the city is so cut off from the water because of the Gardiner Expressway and the demise of Sunnyside Pavilion and Amusement Park is a casualty of that gripe. The city bought the amusement park land to turn into the Gardiner as traffic and gridlock became a serious issue for the Torontoians. As the Gardiner was built up around it, Sunnyside got cut off from the growing city.

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(Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion, 2010: By Canned Muffins via Wikimedia Commons)

 
Rave Reclamation

In 1975, the Pavilion earned historical status. Typically, sites with this kind of designation turn into museums of sorts. Officials will usually rope off access to the public as a means of preserving the history of the building. But in Sunnyside’s case, the pavilion remained accessible and was even the site of many a rave in the early 2000.

House music DJs from around North America would come to spin at the pavilion in the new millennium. The massive beach parties typically kicked off in the afternoon and they were a Canada Day favourite. The Canada Day Picnic was first held at Sunnyside in 2011. It was headlined by DJ Mark Farina, who has been listed by BPM Magazine as one of the top DJs in the world.

The Pavilion is currently closed for restorations and will be reopened in the summer of 2015. Would you like to see Sunnyside Pavilion become a Toronto concert venue again? Let us know in the comments!

(Main Image: Sunnyside, 1924, courtesy of Toronto Public Library)