The great ongoing debate amongst Beachers is the neighbourhood name, should it be called “The Beaches” or “The Beach?” The pluralists have a point: There are four distinct Lake Ontario beaches: Balmy Beach, Scarboro Beach, Kew Beach and Woodbine Beach but they all ﬂow into one continuous shoreline, joined by one long boardwalk and the Martin Goodman Trail bike path. It’s a debate worth having over a few pints on a sunny day at the Balmy Beach Club patio, overlooking the sandy beach and the glistening lake. One thing than can be agreed upon is comedian Ricky Gervais’ post on Twitter when he was visiting the neighbourhood: “What a beautiful place to live.”
The neighbourhood is defined by Coxwell Avenue, east to Victoria Park Avenue,Kingston Road south to Lake Ontario. Queen Street East, where the 501 streetcar runs to Neville Park, is the main strip where all the shops and restaurants are located.However, Kingston Road has its own ﬂourishing community of unique stores and definitely worth the hike up the hill to visit.
The area’s land was once open ﬁelds and swamp land, and was ﬁrst developed and divided into lots in 1793 by Alexander Aitken for the Lieutenant Governor John Simcoe and the new owners. There was stagecoach and rail service and over time the neighbourhood became a place where the wealthy Torontonians built summer cottages.The community grew and was divided into distinct villages. Balmy Beach was its own resort town with summer cottages, tent sites, and the waterfront park. Soon Kew Beach and Victoria Park opened up, expanding the neighbourhood. By the early 1900s,schools, churches, banks, and a ﬁrehall were built as people were living there year round. Local governments bought the land with a plan to build the entire area as a public non-commercial recreation site which would ﬁnally come into fruition in 1932.
But before that, the beach strip was a melee of manic activity. Olden day Beachers were a vigorous bunch. The original Balmy Beach canoe club opened and included all sports such as hockey, bowling, volleyball, shooting, and more. The club spawned elite athletes who would compete in the Olympics and the Grey Cup. A $600,000 amusement park, Scarboro Beach Park, was built in 1907 just west of Balmy Beach. It was modeled after New York’s Coney Island park Dreamland and Luna and was a huge attraction along with The Toronto Athletic Field, which a stadium with a bandstand and bleachers where baseball, football, and lacrosse were plays, a bicycling track with a wooden velodrome where 6 day marathon races were held. Good times.
Modern Beachers are still an active lot and today’s boardwalk reﬂects this, there’s definitely something for everyone here. From the sailboats at Ashbridges Bay, beach volleyball, the detached. The area still has distinct neighbourhoods such as the tony Glen Manor Ravine with its cobblestone road to the relaxed porch life of the multifamily homes south of Queen near the lake. There are new low rise condos being built as well as converted loft space.The Cape Cod style 3-story homes that were built on the Greenwood Racetrack in 1994, coyly nicknamed “Pleasantville,” has grown in character over the years, showcasing some of the city’s most beautiful landscaping that extends over to the west at newly developed Woodbine Park. Surrounded by a playground, a pond, and winding trails through the high grass which feels like cottage country, is a cleared area with a bandstand where all the local festivals like the Jazz, Blues, and Ribfest take place, plus there’s a great view of the Ashbridges Bay ﬁreworks displays.
Just like over a century ago, the Beaches still attracts the tourists from the more urban neighbourhoods in the summertime. It’s a great place for families to get away for the day, set up picnics and enjoy the sun, play games, and swim. Of course, the real local beachers love being here all year round. There’s something magical about walking along the boardwalk in the middle of winter, looking out at the century-old Leuty Lifeguard Station amid the frozen lake and wondering all the stories it could tell.