People from outside the area often ask me, “What is the Beach?” I have pondered and asked myself the same question, and in answer, this is what I think is the Beach – or, at least, my Beach.
The geological beach was created about 10,000 years ago after an ice age formed a large lake called ‘Lake Iroquois’ that was high as the Scarborough Bluffs and extended to the Niagara Escarpment. After Lake Iroquois subsided, it formed the present Lake Ontario, with a long sliver of land extending from the Bluffs to the present Toronto Islands. To the north of this spit of land was a marsh which covered all the land up to the present Queen Street – it was called Ashbridges Bay. About a dozen or so rivers and streams ran south from Kingston Road between Fallingbrook and Coxwell Avenue. Many are still active today but now run underground with houses built over them.
The original ‘Beachers’ included the Ashbridge family who came to British Canada in the early 1790s and settled on a few hundred acres deeded to the matriarch of the Ashbridge clan, Sarah Ashbridge, one of the few women to get a land grant. Descendants of Sarah Ashbridge continued to live on a portion of that grant until the end of the 20th century. The house that the Ashbridges built in the 1830s still remains at 1444 Queen St. E.
The Beach community is composed of people from all walks of life: teachers, preachers, garbagemen, artists, politicians, sports figures, store owners, singers and dancers, etc. All, in their different ways, make the Beach viable. Of special note, we have had sportsmen like Ted Reeve, hockey great Hooley Smith, pianist Glenn Gould, billionaire sportsman Jack Kent Cooke, producer director Norman Jewison, to name but a few.
We have people who give their heart and soul to the Beach like our Citizens of the Year: Glenn Cochrane, Pat Silver, Mary Christie, Maria Perrotta, Jean Cochrane, Arie Nerman, Ted Randall and Dave Breech. These people have distinguished themselves far and above the call of duty.
We have Beachers like Lido Chilleli who developed the Beaches International Jazz Festival, bringing hundreds of thousands to the area every year, an important source of revenue for local merchants. And speaking of stores, the Beach is filled with lovely shops, restaurants and coffee shops along Queen, Kingston Road and the Danforth. The people who operate these businesses are the backbone of the Beach.
The Beach is also a place where people of all religions can worship.
The oldest place of worship is St. John’s Norway, originally called Berkeley. This Anglican church and cemetery can traces its roots back to the late 1840s. Before the first church was built, the congregation met in a tavern near Kingston Road and Main, O’Sullivan’s Inn, and moved later to Woodbine and Kingston Road.
The present Beach United Church, a merger of Bellefair and Kew Beach churches, had its origin in 1882 on the south side of Queen near Wineva. Beaches Presbyterian Church was founded in 1926 on Glen Manor. St. Aiden’s Anglican located at Silver Birch and Queen originally started as a summer tent church in the 1890s. Kingston Road United originally started as a Methodist Church located on Beech Avenue. Waverly Road Baptist Church was started on Kenilworth Avenue by Mr. Phillip Whitelock.
The Beaches Synagogue on Kenilworth Avenue is celebrating 90 years in the Beach this year. Calvary Baptist Church on Main Street was originally the East Toronto Baptist Church. Other places of worship include the Salvation Army on Gerrard Street, Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church at Lockwood and Queen, St. Johns’ Catholic Church on Kingston Road, Hope United at Danforth and Main, and Grant African Methodist Episcopal Church on Gerrard.
When speaking of the Beach, you have to mention the importance of schools to the area.
The oldest is the present day Norway Public School with its origins dating from 1848. Another old school is Kew Beach Public School located at Kippendavie and Queen. One of the first Catholic schools, St. John’s on Kingston Road, is over 100 years old.
Many schools have changed names over the years. Just up the street from St. John’s on Malvern Avenue, we have Malvern Collegiate, which started out as East Toronto High School. Near Main and Swanwick is Kimberley School, which was originally named Mary Street School. Neil McNeil High School was originally the St. John’s Training School.
When I think of the Beach I think of those institutions that shaped the community.
The old Woodbine Race Track goes back to the 1870s, The Queen’s/King’s Plate was featured there for many years. King George and Queen Elizabeth came to Woodbine to watch the Plate in 1939. The name of the track was changed to Greenwood in the 1960s and continued to operate until the 1990s.
There were a number of amusement parks which operated in the Beach. The Scarboro Beach Amusement Park (1907-1925) might have had as many as 35,000 people on a Saturday. Munro Park Amusement Park operated from 1896 to 1906. Victoria Park Amusement Park (1876-1896) was located where the R.C. Harris Plant now stands. The plant itself is a great Art Deco architectural treasure.
When I think of the Beach, I do mean the beach – the grey, glittering sand and the blue-green water, the bouncing boardwalk with the Martin-Goodman trail and the lovely green grass filled with thousands of people who throng to this vicinity from all over Toronto.
And then there are the houses. The unique fourplexes of the Price development on Glen Manor, Scarboro Beach, Hubbard and MacLean. The stately old homes on Balsam, Beech, Silver Birch, Neville Park, all the way to the 100 steps at the bottom of Fallingbrook. And the ravines. There is a great nature trail starting at Queen and Glen Manor, going north following a little babbling brook through a dense forest ending at Kingston Road.
But most of all the Beach is its people, as it has been for the past 150 years. The police from 55 division and the firemen from Kew Beach and Main Street keep us safe. Our Beach Metro News is the best community paper in the city.
All these things, all these people are what makes the Beach – my Beach and your Beach.