Swansea is a Toronto neighbourhood with a stubborn and independent streak to it. Bordering High Park, the area was one of the last two independent villages — along with Forest Hill — to be annexed by the city of Toronto in 1967. Long-time residents still insist that Swansea is not part of Toronto.
In fact, though, Swansea has become a highly desirable part of Toronto in which to live. With High Park — the city’s largest green space — one one side, and numerous other parks and recreational areas throughout, with scenic hills running through much of the neighbourhood, and with housing ranging from mansions overlooking Grenadier Pond and the Humber River, to high-end condos and lofts, to single-family detached, semi- detached and bungalow homes, Swansea is a neighbourhood where everybody can find their dream home.
Bordered by Bloor Street on the north, the Humber River on the west, Lake Ontario to the south and High Park on the east, Swansea was originally a highly forested area that became known in the 1880s as Toronto’s Lake District, after its resemblance to the area in England. The area slowly became more urbanized and industrialized, with Stelco becoming the major industrial employer.
The industry attracted a large immigrant population, that is still reflected today in the strong Eastern European presence in Swansea, a presence reflected especially strongly in the restaurants in the area. Obtaining a hearty meal in Swansea is not a difficult task.
And from the 1950s, with the building of The Queensway through Swansea, through the 1990s to today, parts of the neighbourhood have been developed into a mix of condos, apartments and townhouses.
And, of course, dominating the neighbourhood is High Park itself, a 400-acre expanse with sports facilities, playgrounds, gardens and a zoo, dating from 1876. The presence of the park means the neighbourhood is popular not only with the residents, but with virtually everybody in Toronto, leading in turn to a boom in stores and restaurants. The result is a neighbourhood that offers something for everybody and does it with singular flair.
And if that isn’t enough, 210 Riverside Drive was also the one-time home — from 1935 to 1942 — of Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables series. A small park at the corner of Riverside Crescent and Riverside Drive is named after Montgomery.
History and Social Profile
The western half of the neighbourhood was home to Toronto’s first European resident, Jean-Baptiste Rousseau, who was granted ownership of an old French fort at the foot of the Humber River after the French were defeated. Rousseau guided Toronto’s first settlers in the harbour. Those settlers declared the area along the Humber as a lumber reserve for a sawmill, causing Rousseau to leave the area, although Rousseau House is today commemorated by a plaque. Up to the 1880s, the area remained untouched, although lots were sold for use by families as firewood. But by the mid-1880s, street development had led to the area south of Bloor being subdivided into street blocks.
The eastern half of Swansea was also a forested lot, bought in 1838 by artist and architect John Ellis, whose home overlooks Grenadier Pond, on the west side of High Park. Ellis didn’t develop the lot, and after the death of Ellis and his wife, his son sold much of the land. Most of the remaining Ellis property was bought by the city of Toronto and became part of High Park in 1930.
In 1882, what was then called the Ontario Bolt Works was opened just east of the Humber. In 1889, the name changed to Swansea Works, and became the major employer in the area. A number of cottages for workers — some of which still exist today on Windermere Place — were built at the time. In 1910, after being rebuilt following a 1906 fire, the factory became part of Stelco, and remained open until 1989. Over the years, the land around the factory was turned into residential areas, and after the closing in 1989, a large number of condos and townhouses were constructed on the grounds.
The area had become known as Swansea by 1890, when the Swansea Public School was built. Swansea was incorporated as village in 1926, and in 1954, joined Metropolitan Toronto, and was annexed by the city of Toronto in 1967.
Swansea’s history is still reflected in its official village seal, which includes explorer Étienne Brûlé, the first European to set foot in Swansea and a representation of a Native Canadian. The seal also includes the hills of Swansea, as well as the water of Lake Ontario, the Humber River and Grenadier Pond.
Swansea is criss-crossed by parks, including Rennie Park, which features four tennis courts, an artificial ice rink and a wading pool. Swansea Recreational Centre, which is part of Swansea Public School, has a gym and a swimming pool.
But, of course, the most notable feature of Swansea is High Park. Located on the east side of the neighbourhood, the park was opened to the public in 1876 on land bequeathed to the city by John George Howard, who is buried along with his wife in the park itself. The park is the largest entirely within the limits of the city of Toronto.
Howard had purchased the land in 1836 for use as a sheep farm and named it High Park. He constructed a home on the property called Colborne Lodge, which today functions as a museum. In 1873, the Howards gave most of their land to the City on condition that it be used “for the free use, benefit and enjoyment of the Citizens of Toronto for ever and to be called and designated at all times thereafter High Park.” The rest of their land also passed to the city upon their death.
The park lies on hilly terrain, with the 35-acre Grenadier Pond, and with two deep ravines running the entire north-south length of the park, one of which lies over part of the Laurentian River System which has flowed undisturbed since before the ice age.
The park contains several baseball diamonds, an ice rink, tobogganing hills, tennis courts, playgrounds, landscaped gardens, forests and the High Park Nature Centre, as well as dog-walking areas, a pool and a café. High Park is also the site of ancient aboriginal burial mounds, which the city is in the process of repairing after they were damaged by the area’s unofficial use as a track for BMX bikes.
The park also features the annual, hugely popular, run of performances known as Shakespeare in High Park, formerly called The Dream in High Park, performed in an outdoor amphitheatre.
The park also provides several examples of how the community comes together to preserved the neighbourhood’s legacies. The park also holds a zoo, dating from about 1890, which today features American bison, emu, llamas, peacocks, fallow deer, wallaby, capybara, Highland cattle, yaks, Barbary sheep and Mouflon sheep. While the city has voted to discontinue funding for the zoo, a neighbourhood group called the Friends of High Park Zoo has managed to find a sponsor until at least 2015.
And when the Jamie Bell Adventure Playground — one of the playgrounds within the park — was destroyed by arson in 2012, the neighbourhood united to restore the popular children’s spot later that year with the help of TV personality and contractor Mike Holmes.
- Kennedy Public House
- Bloom Restaurant
- Dr. Generosity
- Amber European Restaurant
- Red Bean Espresso
- Strada Restaurant
- Runnymede subway station
- Jane subway station
- Buses or streetcars run along The Queensway and Kingsway, Bloor, Runnymede and others
- Runnymede Junior and Senior Public School, 357 Runnymede Road, 416-393-9055
- Humberside Collegiate Institute, 280 Quebec Avenue, 416-393-8122
- Western Technical-Commercial School, 125 Evelyn Crescent, 416-393-0500