The Beaches, Toronto: History and Highlights

Just to the East of Envision Realty’s home in Leslieville sits one of Toronto’s most beautiful and prestigious communities: The Beaches. Today we’ll take a look at the history of the area, events it regularly features, and public facilities and amenities available for all to use.


The History of The Beaches

The area of the beaches was originally settled in 1793 by the Ashbridges family who travelled to Canada from Philadelphia. Ashbridges Bay Park, adjacent to Woodbine Beach, is named after the family. The Ashbridges farmed the district until the latter half of the 1800s when the beachside properties were subdivided, with large amounts of land set aside for local parks.

The bay itself was used for ice collection around the 1900s, until the area became so polluted that it became unsafe. Nowadays the area has turned around and is now one of the most consistently safe lakeshores in Ontario. Around this time there were a number of amusement parks in the area, whose names now live on in the form of streets, such as Victoria Park, and Munro Park.

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By the time the 1920s came around, Toronto was expanding rapidly eastward, and the area was soon cleared for residential development.

The area of Woodbine was not always an open beach. It started out as an area known as “The Cut.” It was a dark, heavily forested area where the only regular traffic was teenagers hanging out with friends.  

The area progressed into a cottage community, quite similar to the type of homes still seen on the Toronto Islands. The more widely attended public areas, their facilities, and boardwalk were officially opened to the public in 1932.

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The titular “beach” is an uninterrupted shoreline which is now accompanied for the most part by a long boardwalk and bike trail, with stretches named Balmy Beach, Scarboro Beach, Kew Beach, and Woodbine Beach. The beaches are regularly losing sand as it’s pushed by lake currents from East to West. It was once easily replaced by erosion from the Scarborough Bluffs, but preservation efforts has led to less of a supply from that front. A number of rock groynes are now used to stabilize the shoreline.  

The area is now a particularly affluent neighbourhood, boasting a population of mostly semi-detached homes and a community concerned with maintaining the cozy, cottage-like atmosphere that gave the area its charm years ago.



The Beaches: Public Spaces and Events

The massive Woodbine park plays host to a number of events over the course of the average year, such as the recurring Buskerfest and Woofstock – North America’s largest festival for dogs. It includes pleasant areas for walking, including a fountain surrounded by a miniature boardwalk and graced by public restrooms. The large facility that was once Greenwood Raceway sits nearby, founded in 1874 for various types of horse racing. It now plays home to off-track entertainments, with a new cinema in its eastern site.

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Woodbine Beach is the largest of all the eponymous beaches, stretching along Lake Shore Boulevard at the food of Woodbine Ave. The water quality of the area is certified Blue Flag for cleanliness, which combined with its carefully groomed sand and low level of seaweed, makes it the perfect swimming venue in the east end. The beach plays host to over a sprawling sandy field of volleyball courts, rental facilities for bicycles, canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards, as well as an Olympic sized swimming pool. The Donald D. Summerville Outdoor Olympic Pool is an outdoor facility which overlooks the beach and hosts a number of events. Woodbine is a popular venue to view fireworks every Victoria Day.  

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While slightly smaller, Kew Gardens is still a sizeable park which is home to tennis courts, a baseball diamond, wading pool, and a seasonal skating rink. The historic cottage of the land’s original owner, Joseph Williams, still stands as a heritage site, along with a bandstand and Leuty Lifeguard Station. The Beaches International Jazz Festival takes place there each year.

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On structures of note, the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant sits just north east of Balmy Beach Park. It is both a crucial piece of city infrastructure and a critically acclaimed historical site. The dramatic art nouveau architecture houses a water treatment facility built in 1941 that still provides approximately 45% of the city’s water today. The grounds are free for the public to peruse and appreciate this historic site.

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We hope you enjoyed this dive into one of our favourite neighbourhoods, and we encourage you to visit one of the many lovely beaches and parks on your next day off! Toronto is fortunate to have so many wonderful spaces to enjoy and it’s just one of the many reasons we like living here. If you’re interested in viewing properties in The Beaches, or anywhere in eastern Toronto, feel free to contact us and we’ll be happy to help!