Monday, June 8, 2009

Heritage: Swansea Historical Society Annual Walk

Walk leader Denise Harris talked about the Argonauts Rowing Club as Brian Katz held up a picture of their lost 1921-era boathouse during the annual Swansea Historical Society walk on 6 June 2009

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Thousands of people walk along the western beaches of Toronto, Ontario every day, and I've tended to take visitors on walks there myself. Likely few of them are aware of the density of history on this stretch of Lake Ontario, but they would be had they gone on the annual Swansea Historical Society walk, this year entitled "Along the Boardwalk of Humber Bay," on Saturday.

The brick building near the center of this view across Humber Bay from the Humber River was the Argonauts Rowing Club, the starting point for the Swansea Historical Society walk on 6 June 2009

The walk technically began in Parkdale, not Swansea, at the Argonauts Rowing Club, founded originally in 1872. In the first of many revelations of the day, I learned that the Toronto Argonauts of Canadian Football League fame were a spin-off of the rowing club in 1957--and in fact, one of the few things saved in a 1947 fire at the club's boathouse was the Grey Cup.

The Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion still faced Lake Ontario near the former site of the Sunnyside Amusement Park on 6 June 2009

Much of the history centered around the Sunnyside Amusement Park which operated in a location now occupied by roadways near the foot of Ellis Avenue from 1922 to 1955. The amusement park was a focal center of attracting residents to the western beaches, and led to the construction of other nearby buildings that survived the dismantling of the park, including the Bathing Pavilion and the Palais Royale dancing club. Both of those structures are going concerns after various changes over the years and are impressive sights along the waterfront today.

The Joy Oil Station sat in Sunnyside Park in Toronto, Ontario, the last example of its design in Canada on 6 June 2009

While the walk stopped at many locations including the breakwater, the Royal Canadian Legion, the Boulevard Club, Budapest Park, and the Sir Casomir Gzowski memorial, my favorite location was the relocated Joy Oil Station. The distinctive 1937 structure, the only one of 31 still in existence in Canada, had been relocated from Lake Shore and Windermere in 2006 and was under restoration--maybe someday people will again be able to go to the throne (restrooms) in its turret.

A "definitely British" Lion was the focal point of the Queen Elizabeth Way memorial, which had marked the beginning of the QEW at the Humber River until 1971, now located nearby in Toronto's Sunnyside Park on 6 June 2009

The final stop on the walk was the Lion Monument to the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW). I had no idea that this monument was tucked away near the Boardwalk in Sunnyside Park not that far from the Humber River. From 1940 to 1971, it had marked the eastern end of the QEW nearby. While I knew that the QEW was significant as the first truly limited-access highway in North America, this monument was a surprise--even more so that sculptor Frances Loring had completed the lion on-site herself, and that the crown of the monument had temporarily disappeared after its move.

There's more than a nice walk along Humber Bay through the western beaches of Toronto--there's a lot of history, too. My thanks to the Swansea Historical Society for bringing that history to light.

More photos from the Swansea Historical Society annual walk will be in a forthcoming update to my photo page

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