Long-time Torontonians certainly remember the massive, Coney Island-esque waterfront playground of Sunnyside Beach, and younger Torontonians have probably heard stories about it. When the Sunnyside Amusement Park and Bathing Pavilion opened for business in 1922 on Parkdale’s beaches, this neighbourhood west of downtown immediately became the place to be at for a generation of Torontonians.
Parkdale by Grant Hollingworth
Unfortunately, Sunnyside was shut down in 1956 by the city in order to make room for the Gardiner Expressway and a revamped Lakeshore Boulevard. As a result, Parkdale was cut off from the lake and its prominence took a major downturn.
Of course, Parkdale ‘s history started long before the presence of Sunnyside Park in the area. The Village of Parkdale was established in 1812 when a great parcel of land was granted to James Brock, the cousin of Sir Isaac Brock, in lieu of salary. However, the development began only after Brock’s death in 1830, when his widow Lucy Brock sold the lands that became the major part of Parkdale to John Henry Dunn and William Gwynne.
By the late 1800s, Parkdale has become one of Toronto’s most upscale and desirable addresses, an elite residential suburb. Parkdale’s status as an independent village was controversial at the time; local legend has it that gypsies were signed up as local residents in order to provide enough numbers to qualify Parkdale as independent. Parkdale was eventually annexed into the City of Toronto in 1889.
If you pass through Parkdale now, you’ll realize it is one of the most diverse areas of the city, a transient neighborhood for many newcomers to Canada with a mix of low and high income working class. Low-rent apartment complexes and its proximity to the downtown core have attracted a lot of immigrants to settle here.
Through the years, many different waves of immigrants like Caribbean, Vietnamese, Filipino, Tamil, Chinese and Hungarian (Roma) have settled in the neighborhood. The area is presently home to one of the largest Tibetan diaspora outside of India and Nepal. The vibrancy and personality that Parkdale is known for is partly due to all these immigrant communities.
Unlike Regent Park, which is located on the east side of downtown, the wonderful area of Parkdale has been neglected, and there hasn’t been any urban renewal projects in the works for quite a long time. Nevertheless, there are many signs of revitalization in the area, leading to a significant rise in property values. The new lofts and townhomes of King West and Liberty Village at Parkdale’s doorstep not only attract a new generation of homeowners, but also drive improvements to Parkdale’s commercial stretch.
Former hotels such as The Drake and The Gladstone have been transformed into cool urban night spots. One of two surviving buildings from the Sunnyside Amusement Park, The Palais Royale Ballroom on Lakeshore Boulevard, has had its grandeur restored, with recent renovations turning it into a swank lakeside event facility. The Roncesvalles Village, a neighbourhood very much on the rise in popularity, resides in the western periphery of Parkdale.
Initiatives in Parkdale
- The Parkdale Community Information Centre (PCIC) maintains a strong commitment to providing assistance to Parkdale residents, with over 30 years of service. It is a charitable organization and relies on public support. If you are a Toronto resident, you can support them by becoming a member.
- Culture Link is an agency that deal with the needs of the newcomers and provide them with the necessary support as they explore the opportunities provided in Canada.
- The Healthy Organic Parkdale Edibles (HOPE) garden in the Masaryk Park, south of Queen and on the west side of Cowan Avenue, allows residents of Parkdale who don’t have growing space to grow food and build a more inclusive community area. The Youth Garden in Dunn Parkette offers a similar initiative. The volunteers of the two gardens host festivals, workshops, and field trips, along with other activities and projects in the area. Be a part of their community!
- The Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre (PARC) is a social agency that runs a drop-in centre in Parkdale for survivors of mental health ailments, for the homeless, the disabled and for those with few resources.
- The Parkdale Community Development Group is a non-profit organization that encourages economic and employment initiatives in the Parkdale area and contributes to the healthy and sustainable development of the neighbourhood as a whole.
- The Parkdale Community Watch is dedicated to the safety and well-being of the neighbourhood. Recently it was awarded the best neighbourhood watch group from the International Society of Crime Prevention.
- The Parkdale Pilot Project addresses illegal conversions, seeking to bring buildings in line.
Much of the affluent citizenry departed the community when the Gardiner Expressway cut Parkdale off from the lake, so the neighborhood evolved into an area where only low-rent apartment buildings and social housing were constructed. Some of the remaining South Parkdale mansions, built between 1875 and 1895, were illegally converted into rooming houses and bachelor apartments through the 1970s.
Now, some of these mansions and homes are being immaculately restored to single family use, mixing elements of Queen Anne and Richardson Romanesque styles. You will find affordable grand detached Victorian housing, often three storeys high with five or more bedrooms, on Cowan Avenue and Dunn Avenue, south of King Street and on Melbourne Place. These homes on the wonderful tree lined streets remind us that Parkdale was once Toronto’s wealthiest district.
Free Time Activities in Parkdale
If you love vibrant places, then you should head for Queen Street, the main commercial shopping district in Parkdale. There you will discover a number of eclectic shops and restaurants, cafes, chic bars, boutiques and galleries.
Don’t miss the Roncesvalles Village shopping district north of Queen Street, which is the cultural centre of Toronto’s Polish community, offering outstanding food markets, delis, and restaurants.
For those who enjoy solitude in nature, Parkdale is within walking distance of Toronto’s waterfront parks and other greenspaces, including:
Want to join some community activities by yourself or with your loved ones? There are four Community Centres serving Parkdale residents:
- Holy Family Community Centre at 141 Close Avenue
- Masaryk-Cowan Community Recreation Centre at 220 Cowan Avenue
- McCormick Recreation Centre at 66 Sheridan Avenue
- Parkdale Community Recreation Centre at 75 Lansdowne Avenue
For those who love art, The Parkdale Arts and Cultural Centre is a must-see spot. The building is home to Gallery 1313, an incorporated non-profit organization with charitable status. This gallery shows contemporary Canadian art and occasionally has international exhibits. Its opening has spurred the growth of a vibrant creative area along Queen Street, which puts on a large display during Toronto’s annual Nuit Blanche event.
The Parkdale Bazaar provides locals with an outlet to showcase vintage, craft, recycled and homegrown merchandise. Featuring over 60 vendors, the event takes place 5 times throughout the year as a response to the neighborhood’s thriving vintage and craft communities. The Parkdale Bazaar Holiday Edition is the biggest and best market of the year and takes place in the Masaryk-Cowan Community Center (220 Cowan Ave.).
The Junction Arts Festival is a creative annual event that offers a cutting-edge combination of classic arts, community arts and popular culture, helping to give the area a cool, funky image. The ethos of the festival is to present the arts as necessary, relevant, accessible and exciting. The Junction attracts a great mix of bright, savvy and curious people interested in making new discoveries and widening their knowledge though the arts.
Nuit Blanche is an annual all-night arts festival where museums, private and public art galleries, and other cultural institutions are open to the public free of charge, with the centre of the city itself being turned into a de facto art gallery, providing space for art installations, performances, themed social gatherings, and other activities.
The Parkdale Arts and Crafts Festival was first organized in 2006. A resounding success, it has become an anticipated annual event.
- Parkdale has seen an influx of artists working in the relatively inexpensive spaces, close to the exhibit spaces on Queen Street within Parkdale and along Queen Street to the east.
- The area is also becoming a new gay village. Several gay couples have moved into the area and renovated the properties. Consequently, Parkdale has the alternate nickname of “Queer West Village”.
Boundaries & Transportation
Parkdale spans from Dufferin Street to Roncesvalles Avenue. It is bounded by the Lake Shore to the south, and the rail line to the north, all the way up to Bloor Street. Homes in Parkdale can be found in Toronto Real Estate District W01.
Streetcar service on Queen Street, King Street, Dundas Street, Roncesvalles Avenue, and Macdonell Avenue connect passengers to the downtown core and business district or to subway stations on the Bloor-Danforth subway line. Motorists are just minutes away from downtown. There is also direct access to both the Gardiner Expressway and Lakeshore Boulevard at the south end of Parkdale.
Parkdale is home to several well-regarded public schools:
- Parkdale Jr. & Sr. School
- Fern Ave. Public School
- Shirley St. Jr. School
- Garden Ave. Jr. School
- Alexander Muir & Gladstone Ave. Public School
- Central Commerce Collegiate Institute
- Kent Sr. School
- Queen Victoria School
- Total Population (2006): 7,007
- Total Households (2006): 3,122
- Average household income: $52,421.00
- Average age: 38
- Most common religion: Roman Catholic (30.07%)
- Most common ethnicities: East Indian (13.0%), Chinese (8.0%), English (7.0%)
- Job types: White collar (35.9%), Grey collar (43.5)%, Blue collar (20.6)%
- Total Population (2006): 21,271
- Total Households (2006): 10,108
- Average household income: $40,046.00
- Average age: 37
- Most common religion: Roman Catholic (33.41%)
- Most common ethnicities: Tibetan (7.0%), English (6.0%), Irish (6.0%)
- Job types: White collar (32.2%), Grey collar (47.4)%, Blue collar (20.4)%
Interested in living in the neighbourhood? Browse the MLS Listings for the perfect house or condominium available in this area.