The history of our area is the history of some former villages, and some neighbourhoods that now style themselves that way. The PCLS catchment area includes the former villages of Brockton, Parkdale and Swansea, on either side of High Park. The Roncesvalles and Bloor West neighbourhoods also like to style themselves as 'villages.' The former industrial and warehouse area south-east of King and Dufferin along Liberty Street now styles itself as "Liberty Village." To complete the coverage of our area, there is the ‘village’ known as Little Portugal up between Dufferin and Ossington south of Bloor. See map with the outline of the old Brockton and Parkdale villages below, which conform in part to City Wards 14 and 18.
The former Parkdale Village, the heart of our area, is roughly between the CPR tracks and Lake Ontario, up as far as High Park Drive, and bounded east and west by Roncesvalles and Dufferin Street.
Until close to the middle of the twentieth century, Parkdale was an upper-middle class enclave, with large homes, and the Canadian National Exhibition grounds and the Sunnyside Leisure and Amusement Complex down by the Lake.
The Sunnyside Complex was fifteen acres of impressive facilities modeled after Coney Island in New York. Sunnyside was considered by many an alternative to a summer holiday in Muskoka. The only remnants from the glory days of the Sunnyside Complex are the Palais Royale, and the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion next to the Gus Ryder pool .
DAYS OF DECLINE - LOSING THE LAKE
Parkdale started to decline during the Second World War, with the economic slowdown that accompanied it. The owners of many of the large houses were falling on hard times, and started to let out flats and rooms. In 1951 the City of Toronto voted to widen Lakeshore Boulevard to six lanes from Dowling to Parkside Drive. Then 170 homes were demolished in 1954 to make way for the Gardiner Expressway, and the Sunnyside Complex was closed down. The roller coaster was demolished, and the merry-go-round was sold to Walt Disney(!). The Lakeshore/Gardiner one-two punch was a devastating blow to the Parkdale neighbourhood. It was significantly cut off from the lake and the leisure and amusement that had been for offer there.
BLOCK BUSTING & BACHELORETTES
As former residents moved out of the area for the suburbs, speculators and block-busters moved in. The large homes on tree-lined streets such as Jameson and Tyndall were razed, and hi-rises rose in their place. The City of Toronto reacted to this by passing by-laws to prevent further densification. Many speculators, left with large houses on their hands they had intended to demolish, then turned them into poorly managed rooming houses, or rabbit warrens of small self-contained units, hastily constructed illegal fire-traps known as 'bachelorettes.'
At about the same time the 'de-institutionalization' of the former patients of what was then known as the “Queen Street Mental Hospital” occurred. [known at various times as: “Toronto Lunatic Asylum;” “Provincial Lunatic Asylum;” “999 Queen;” “1001 Queen;” “Queen Street Mental Health Centre;” and, now known as “The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health”] The former patients were released into the community with no proper community support programs, resulting in many people living in sub-standard housing with little sophistication or means to prevent their exploitation. Many still live today in abject poverty, with the ‘care-giver’ owner of the premises cashing their social assistance cheques and giving them a meager amount of ‘pin money’ or ‘chit’ to live on.
In 1998 Queen Street Mental Health Centre was merged with the former Addiction Research Foundation, the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, and the Donwood Institute merged to create a new Public Hospital: the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, affiliated with the University of Toronto.
PCLS ARRIVES ON THE SCENE
Parkdale Community Legal Services was founded around this time [LINK], and played an important role in helping the tenants of Parkdale organize to stop illegal bachelorettes, and to enforce the recently enacted Part IV of the Landlord and Tenant Act that gave greater rights to residential tenants, including roomers. Many precedent-setting cases were won battling landlords in Parkdale buildings such as the Wynn Family, the owners of 103-105 West Lodge Avenue.
The Parkdale community has been a 'way-station' in recent years for waves of immigrants and refugees from refugee-producing countries such as Sri Lanka, Somalia, Vietnam, and Tibet, as well as countries of Central and South America. The rooms and apartments of Parkdale provide relatively affordable housing for immigrants settling in Canada, who often then move onto other neighbourhoods once they become established and sponsor their families.
Parkdale's most recent history is one of creeping gentrification, with many condos being built, former artist lofts being renovated into higher rent 'pseudo' artist lofts, and large rooming houses being retro-fitted back into large single-family homes. Former 'flop-house' hotels such as the Drake and the Gladstone underwent multi-million dollar renovations, and are now cool hang-outs for the cranberry martini and oyster set. Former bargain stores and ethnic groceries along Queen and King are being replaced by trendy cafés, art galleries and high-end furniture stores.
Brockton Village was named after Sir Isaac Brock, a hero of the War of 1812. It is basically north of the old Parkdale Village, on the north side of the CPR tracks from Queen & Dufferin as far as High Park Drive, up Indian Road to Bloor, and along Bloor and back down Dufferin.
The land that makes up High Park was purchased in 1836 by John Howard, Toronto's first surveyor. He named his estate High Park because of the wonderful view of Lake Ontario. In 1873 he deeded the property to the City of Toronto. His residence in High Park, Colborne Lodge, is still standing and is now a museum. Grenadier Pond on the property supposedly gets its name from its reputation as a 'bottomless' body of water, where it is claimed that a company of red-coated Grenadiers went through the ice one winter and were never seen again.
Swansea is west of High Park to the Humber River, and north as far as Bloor Street. By 1926, it had grown to a population of 3255 persons, large enough that it was incorporated as a village, after successfully petitioning to become independent from the Township of York. By 1936, Swansea had grown to become the second largest village in the Province of Ontario. Swansea joined Forest Hill as one of the last of the old villages to be annexed to the City of Toronto in 1967. It takes its name either from Swansea in Wales, or from the Ontario Bolt Works, which was built in 1882, and acquired by STELCO in 1910 and renamed the Swansea Works. Apparently the original owner of the Bolt Works was from Swansea, Wales. So both explanations lead us to Wales. The Swansea Works were decommissioned in 1989. Swansea has the distinction of being the only Toronto neighbourhood with its own community run town hall, the Swansea Town Hall [site reference].
PCLS has done a lot of work with the residents of the Swansea Mews, a public housing project. It was built on land that had been part of Swansea Works, a steel mill making bolts. A former pond, similar to Grenadier Pond, had been filled in with contaminated waste from the Swansea Works. This public housing project, now part of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC), has been plagued with cracked walls and foundations due to the settling of the fill.
For more on the history of the Parkdale area, see: http://www.parkdalevillagebia.com/history