Located on the east side of the Old City of Toronto, the Beaches is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Ontario. The boundaries of the neighborhood are from Victoria Park to the east to Kingston Road on the north, Eastern Avenue to Leslie on the west, and south to the shore of Lake Ontario. The lakefront is divided into four sections; Woodbine Beach to the west, Kew Beach and Scarboro Beach in the centre, and Balmy Beach to the east. The area bound by Queen Street, Woodbine and Kingston Road is nicknamed the ‘Beach Triangle’.
Once Upon a Time…
Have you ever wondered who founded this beautiful neighbourhood? In 1793, a European family from Philadelphia, called the Ashbridges, was the first to settle and farm the district where the Beaches now sits. In the latter part of the 1800s, many of The Beaches’ properties were subdivided, and large parcels of land were set aside for local parks. Today, the Ashbridge’s Bay Park is named after these pioneers ,and one of their later homesteads still sits on a large lot at the corner of Queen and Connaught.
The Beaches by City of Toronto Archives
After the Ashbridges era, the Victorian Beaches was an amazing place that attracted people from all over the city. They flocked to the sand and cool breeze on the beach, and many people camped in tents or built simple summer cottages to stay overnight. In the 20th century, the neighbourhood remained quietly tucked away in the southeast corner of the city, until the 1970s when transportation to the area improved. Young professional people, attracted by the affordable homes and relaxed atmosphere, gradually moved into the area. Within a decade, the value of a modest Beaches home had skyrocketed.
Home, Sweet Beach Home
If you are looking for a place to live in, The Beaches has now become the site of a large new home development. The housing stock here is eccentric, to say the least; you may see a handsome Edwardian brick building right beside by a modern home. However, the neighborhood retains a village-esque air, a sense of community along with being a part of the central city. All these have brought a rise in house prices and enhanced the prosperity of the neighborhood, making it the most popular section of eastern Toronto for homebuyers.
Architecture in the Beaches—Flashback
Among all the Toronto neighborhoods, The Beaches has the greatest variety of architectural house styles. The large collection of heritage-inspired custom-built homes includes detached and semi-detached houses, townhomes, and a handful of low-rise condominium apartment buildings. Before 1900, there were mostly small beach cottages here, occupied by seasonal residents, but as the community expanded, many cottages were renovated to become year-round residences. The tree-lined streets that wind their way down to the lake enhance the charm of this neighbourhood.
In 1923, the Stewart Manor property, one of the most beautiful residential areas, developed on the former Ames Estate on both sides of Glen Manor Road. It was among the older and most notable residential districts in Toronto. The stunning streetscape was laid out in harmony with the existing topography of woods, water and ravine.
Architecture in this neighbourhood was also influenced by Eden Smith, one of the most important architects of the 20th century. He was the first architect to introduce to Canadian urban architecture the principles of the Arts and Crafts Movement, which was considered a reaction to the dehumanizing aspects of the Industrial Revolution. Having adapted that Movement to the particular environmental, climatic and social conditions of Toronto, it soon became a trend to live in an Eden Smith’s home.
So innovative were Smith’s designs that in the 1920s, sightseeing buses would deliberately drive by buildings designed by him to show visitors the designs. His motto was “individuality in simplicity”; he believed a house should be designed from the inside out, and the plan should be molded to the activities of the owner so that the exterior would reflect his personality. His designs were not only unique, but also functional. From large to modest, Eden Smith’s original designs covered a wide range of buildings, even public housing, libraries and churches.
Pick Up a Map And Look Around
The Beaches contains a number of historic buildings that are either recognized by the Ontario Heritage Act, or listed in the City of Toronto’s inventory of heritage buildings:
- The Beaches Branch of the Toronto Public Library, one of four original Carnegie Libraries. It was originally built in 1916 and then revamped in 1980 and 2005. The library is located on 2161 Queen Street East.
- The Fox Theatre on Queen St. at Beech Ave, built in 1914, is North America’s oldest continuously operated movie theatre;
- 18–36 Wineva Avenue, built in 1929 (west side and even numbers only)
- The Bank of Toronto building, 1958 Queen Street East, now the Lion on the Beach bar, built in 1950;
- The Beach Hebrew Institute, 109 Kenilworth Avenue, built in 1920;
- The Dominion Bank building, at Queen and Lee streets, built in 1911;
- The Dr. William D. Young Memorial, located in Kew Gardens, erected in 1920 and partly designed by Ivor Lewis;
- Glenn Gould’s family home, 32 Southwood Drive;
- The Goof, officially the Garden Gate Restaurant, a well-known Canadian Chinese restaurant in the Beaches since 1952, located on 2379 Queen Street East.
- George Davis House on Kingswood Road.
Eat, Shop, Relax—It’s All Out There!
If you live in the Beaches, you can delight in the amenities the neighbourhood offers. On weekends, there are many ways to spend your free time. On most weekends, the sidewalks are so packed with strollers and colorful outfits that the Beaches feels more like a lakeside resort town than a big city neighbourhood. The beach itself is a single uninterrupted stretch of sandy shoreline with four names each corresponding to approximately one quarter of the length of the beach. From east to west the names are Balmy Beach, Scarboro Beach, Kew Beach and Woodbine Beach. The last two are Blue-Flag-certified for cleanliness and are suitable for swimming.
On the Boardwalk, you can walk along the beach, relax by the water or exercise along the Martin Goodman Trail, which spans the waterfront all the way to the Humber River. The Boardwalk is 3 km long, attracting joggers from 6 am until midnight; it is a beautiful park with picnic tables, biking and roller-blade trails and a sandy beach. During the week, the Broadwalk is less crowded, making it more ideal to stroll to fine restaurants, ice cream shops, bars and shopping facilities.
The major shopping district at the heart of the Beaches Community is Queen Street. Its side streets are mostly lined with semis and large-scale Victorian, Edwardian and new-style houses. There, you’ll find not only a large number of independent specialty stores and restaurants sporting a beach motif, but also the local branch of the Toronto Public Library. If you’re looking for exotic fabrics, foods, and imported goods from India, you can visit the India Bazaar which runs along Gerrard from Greenwood to Coxwell. Shops attracting local clientele can be found on Kingston Road.
Every spring, the Toronto Beaches Lions Club puts on a fun-filled, colourful and entertaining Easter parade with elephants brought in from the Bowmanville Zoo, stylish convertibles, marching bands, and amusing floats. The idea was conceived in 1967 by the East Toronto Community Association to mark Canada’s Centennial year. The first route of the parade was along the boardwalk, but in 1974 the parade was moved to Queen Street because of its increasing popularity. The parade has become a traditional “go-to” Easter attraction for thousands of Torontonians.
The beautiful Kew Gardens park, running from Queen Street to Lake Ontario, is full of enormous trees. Ideal for afternoon picnics, the park attracts both locals and visitors who come to take a walk or enjoy the scenery. The current beach was artificially enlarged and made continuous in 1930 with the use of wooden groynes. The park is home to several annual events, concerts and fairs—the Menorah lighting festival is one of them, but the most popular is the Beaches International Jazz Festival, which boasts one of the most eclectic jazz line-ups you’ll find on the summer circuit and draws thousands of tourists to the area.
A place of natural beauty and magnificent views is Ashbridges Bay. It’s not only a swimming beach, but also a marina, a sports venue and a natural habitat, where you are very likely to spot ducks, loons or even swans undisturbed by the Marina, which is home to the Ashbridges Bay Yacht Club. The City of Toronto has placed thousands of huge boulders along the shoreline to protect it from erosion.
The R. C. Harris Water Treatment Plant is another notable site in the area, having been featured in several television programs as well as in the films “Half Baked”, “In the Mouth of Madness”, “Four Brothers” and “Undercover Brother”, and also in Michael Ondaatje’s novel In the Skin of a Lion.
The Beaches or the Beach?
The name of the community is the subject of a longstanding dispute. While “The Beaches” is believed to be the more universally recognized name, particularly by non-residents, some long-time local residents assert that “The Beach” is the proper historical name for the area. The fever pitch of the dispute came in 1985, when the City of Toronto installed 14 street signs designating the neighbourhood as “The Beaches”. Though the signs were removed, the municipal government continues to officially designate the area as “The Beaches”.
In April 2006, The Beaches Business Improvement Area board held a poll to determine whether the new street signs would read “The Beach” or “The Beaches”, and 58% of participants selected “The Beach” as the name to appear on the signs. Regardless of the dispute and the number of other beaches located elsewhere in the city, most Torontonians recognize either name as referring to this particular neighborhood.
Here is a list of schools in the Beaches—most of them public—for parents to consider:
- Malvern Collegiate Institute, located on Malvern Avenue, one block north of Kingston Road.
- Neil McNeil Catholic Secondary School, located on Victoria Park Avenue, just south of Kingston Road
- Notre Dame High School, located on Malvern Avenue, just north of Kingston Road.
- Glen Ames Senior Public School, a public middle school (grades 7 and 8 ) located on Williamson Road, two blocks south of the intersection of Main Street and Kingston Road.
- Adam Beck Junior Public School, located on Scarborough Road, one block north of Kingston Road.
- Balmy Beach Community School, located at corner of Pine Avenue and Beech Avenue. The school dates from 1906; the current building was erected in 1975.
- Beaches Alternative School, located entirely within Kimberley Jr. PS (see below)
- Kew Beach Junior Public School, located on Queen Street East at Kippendavie, one block east of Woodbine Avenue.
- Kimberley Junior Public School, located at Main Street and Swanwick Avenue.
- Norway Junior Public School, located on Kingston Road, one block east of Woodbine.
- Williamson Road Junior Public School, located on Williamson Road near Main and Kingston, attached to Glen Ames Sr PS.
The following public schools, although technically outside of the Beaches area, are in close proximity to the neighbourhood and serve many Beaches residents:
- Blantyre PS, located on Blantyre Avenue, near the intersection of Victoria Park Avenue and Gerrard Street East.
- Bowmore Road PS, located on Bowmore Road, south of Gerrard Street East between Woodbine and Coxwell.
- Courcelette PS, located on Fallingbrook Road, south of Kingston Road.
- St. Denis CS, located on Balsam Avenue, just north of Queen Street East.
- St. John’s CS, located on Kingston Road, just west of Malvern Avenue.
Streetcars heading to and from downtown Toronto run east-west along Queen Street East (route 501) as well as along Kingston Road (routes 502 and 503) and Gerrard Street East (route 506). A bus line runs north-south along Woodbine Avenue to Woodbine subway station (route 92). Another north-south bus line snakes its way along several side streets before making its way to the Main Street subway station (route 64). A third bus line runs north-south down Coxwell Avenue from Coxwell subway station, and then turns east travelling the entire length of Kingston Road as far as Victoria Park Avenue (only from 7PM-5AM on weekday evenings, and 24hrs on weekends) (route 22A).
Interested in living in the neighbourhood? Browse the MLS Listings for the perfect house or condominium available in this area.