The Beaches — or The Beach, as many residents prefer to call the area — is one of the most desirable neighbourhoods in Toronto. Located in the east end of the city, The Beaches is actually named for four separate beaches running along Lake Ontario, with a string of interconnected parks offering ample green space for residents, visitors and, especially, dogs. For hikers and nature-lovers, the Glen Stewart ravine runs north-south through The Beaches.
Coupled with the large and often historic homes, the quiet side-streets and the wide variety of restaurants and small businesses along Queen Street, the proximity to the lake and the numerous parks makes The Beaches the perfect home for those seeking what often seems like an idyllic recreation of a small English seaside town. But at the same time, The Beaches is readily accessible to downtown via car — the Gardiner Expressway is minutes away, and major roads like Queen, Woodbine and Coxwell run through the neighbourhood — or the TTC.
Bordered by Coxwell Avenue to the west, Kingston Road to the north, Victoria Park Avenue to the east and Lake Ontario to the south, The Beaches is also acquiring a series of luxury low-rise condos, as young professionals seek to escape the pressures of downtown and seniors in the area seek smaller homes. But the neighbourhood is also peopled by a large number of families — the number of schools in the area is testament to that — attracted to the many amenities, the single-family detached and semi-detached homes, many 19th-century Victorian or Edwardian homes, in the area, as well as the newer homes that have been built more recently.
As well, The Beaches is also a haven for exercise seekers. The famed wooden boardwalk which runs along the lake for most of the neighbourhood is, even in winter, full of people walking or enjoying the air and lake. Part of the Martin Goodman Trail runs parallel to the boardwalk, providing space for cyclists, runners and rollerbladers. And space for soccer, football, tennis, hockey, lawn bowling and other sports is scattered throughout the neighbourhood and especially along the beachfront.
The area also features artistic and architectural attractions, like the art-deco R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant, and the Fox Theatre, built in 1914, and the oldest continuously operating move theatre in North America. And, of course, the Beaches Jazz Festival has attracted international music stars to the area for 10 days in July since its inception in 1988.
And to top it all off, each of the four beaches annually meets international standards for cleanliness and are cleared for swimming each summer.
History and Social Profile
The area was originally sub-divided into large lots by Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe in the 1790s. Those purchasing lots at the time included the Ashbridge family from Philadelphia, after whom Ashbridge’s Bay, along the lake, is named.
The new owners built roads, and soon stagecoaches and trains were servicing the area. Over the next century, The Beaches became a popular summer destination for downtown residents. The small communities grew into towns, and towards the turn of the 20th century, they were annexed by the city of Toronto, which also took steps to preserve the natural beauties of the area. City government brought up much of the land over the three decades, and in 1932, what was known as Beaches Park, complete with the boardwalk, opened.
Today, the area is made up of four separate beaches — from west to east, Woodbine Beach, Kew Beach, Scarboro Beach and Balmy — forming one continuous shoreline. There are also parks running the length of the beaches, most notably Kew Gardens, which runs from Queen Street to the lake, and is the site of numerous concerts and events throughout the year, as well as being the primary venue for the annual Beaches Jazz Fest.
Another highlight is Ashbridge’s Bay Park, which has been left in a more natural state, making it a delight for birdwatchers and students of botany and flowers.
Today, the neighbourhood remains much the same as it did in the 1930s. The result has been that The Beaches is an area of huge interest for amateur historians of the city. One of the chief buildings of interest is the R.C. Harris Water Filtration Plant. Opening in 1941 on the site of a former amusement park and still operational today, the plant was built in Art Deco style, and its cathedral-like shape still attracts admiration. Inside, the marble entryway and the echoing halls earned it the nickname the Palace of Purification.
The Beaches branch of the public library system was originally built in 1916; the Kew Beach firehall, still used as a working firehall, was built in 1905; the Leuty Lifeguard station was built in 1920. The Beaches, in fact, is filled with such historical structures, almost all still in use today.
That well-preserved history is one of the many things that make The Beaches unique in Toronto, and one of the things that makes the neighbourhood so desirable. For families, for seniors, for young single professionals, being able to say you live in The Beaches will always carry a cachet in Toronto.
- Burger’s Priest
- Green Eggplant
- Cinnamon Indian Bistro
- Sauvignon Bistro
- ViVetha Bistro
- The Pie Shack
- Dufflet’s Pastries
- New Concept Japanese
- Malvern Collegiate Institute, 55 Malvern Avenue, 416-393-1480
- Glen Ames Senior Public School, 18 Williamson Road, 416-393-1800
- Bowmore Road Junior and Senior Public School, 80 Bowmore Road, 416-393-9450
- Adam Beck Junior Public School, 400 Scarborough Road, 416-323-2430
- Balmy Beach Community School, 14 Pine Avenue, 416-393-1565
- Kew Beach Junior Public School, 101 Kippendavie Avenue, 416-393-1810
- Kimberley Junior Public School, 50 Swanwick Avenue, 416-393-1450
- Norway Junior Public School, 390 Kingston Road, 416-393-1700
- Williamson Road Junior Public School, 24 Williamson Road, 416-393-1740
- Blantyre Public School, 290 Blantyre Avenue, 416-396-6070
- Courcelette Public School, 100 Fallingbrook Road, 416-396-6185
- Queen streetcar
- Kingston Road streetcar
- Buses run along Coxwell, Woodbine, Main, Victoria Park