The constantly changing face of Kingston Road

One of the oldest roads in Toronto is undergoing a veritable deluge of development.  Over the next two to three years, seven, possibly nine, condominium buildings will be constructed on Kingston Road from Woodbine to Victoria Park, adding at least 500 new homes to the area.

While a spate of new developments on Queen Street has attracted a lot of community attention (and opposition), this doesn’t seem to be the case for Kingston Road, perhaps because it has quite a different historical character.

First laid out in 1800 by Asa Danforth, major construction on Kingston Road started in 1833. However, this portion of the road was never important as a destination but rather as a road to somewhere else (originally Kingston). To accommodate travelers and later, patrons of the Woodbine Racetrack, the area had a large number of roadhouses, liveries, hotels and taverns. Early hotels included the Lavender, the Norway House, the Smith family inn and brewery (near Woodbine), the Blacksmith Arms (also known as the O’Sullivan Tavern), the Benlamond (near Main), the Scarboro Heights Inn (Beech) and the Ontario House at Lawlor.

Built along Kingston Road in the 1850s and demolished in 1988, O'Sullivan's Inn was once an important meeting place for supporters of William Lyon Mackenzie. PHOTO: Beach Metro News
Built along Kingston Road in the 1850s and demolished in 1988, O’Sullivan’s Inn was once an important meeting place for supporters of William Lyon Mackenzie.
PHOTO: Beach Metro News

Thousands of commuters use Kingston Road as a thruway twice a day, but for those of us who treat Kingston Road as an integral part of our neighbourhood, the new developments, while a sign of a thriving community, will mean higher population density and the loss of some long-time local landmarks.

One of the first to break ground is the Beach Club Lofts at 303 Kingston Rd. Just east of Woodbine, the site was most recently Royal Canadian Legion Branch #1 (now combined with Branch 42 on Coxwell). It was also once the site of a tollbooth that helped cover the cost of building the road. The other was at Victoria Park, called the Painted Post. (Think of Kingston Road as the original 407.)

Plans for the property have changed over the years with different ownership. The first proposal called for a four-storey structure, then for an eight-storey building. The current plan, now under construction, is six storeys with 47 residential units and five commercial spaces.

On the north side just west of Main, at 580 Kingston Rd., will stand a six-storey condo called The Glen. It will have five ground-level town homes and 42 apartment units. When initially proposed, residents of the Glen Davis ravine mounted a campaign to either stop the development or make major changes to its impact on the ravine. Local Kingston Road businesses, however, were happy to see the demolition of some less than stellar housing stock, and welcomed the addition of potential new customers. The OMB sided with the developers and now the Glen Davis residents face the construction of another six-storey building at 646 Kingston.

The site at 646 is currently a non-profit day care. The Beaches Child Care Centre was founded in 1994. The property was purchased several years ago by StreetCar, which plans a 51-unit condo building. Alie Warren, StreetCar’s VP of corporate development, said incorporating the daycare into the new building was considered, but the developer could not accommodate the special requirements into the building’s plan. StreetCar is working with the daycare to find a new location.

Glen Davis residents may soon have another new neighbour. Leontine Major, one of the city planners for the area, said she expects a proposal for the northwest corner of Main and Kingston, on property that a garage and a house now occupy.

centre-demolition of benlamond
The Benlamond, also known as The Bennie, was demolished in 1989 at the northeast corner of Kingston Road and Main Street. It was replaced by a Neighbourhood Link apartment building. PHOTO: Beach Metro News

The Dip ‘n Sip stood on the southeast corner of Kingston and Southwood for at least 35 years. I remember taking my daughters to classes at the YMCA in the mid-80s and walking down to what was then the only place on this stretch of Kingston Road to get a coffee and a donut. They also had great chicken salad sandwiches. I admit that I haven’t been in the place for over 10 years but I am sure there are former patrons of the Dip ‘n Sip who will miss it dearly.

Replacing it is another StreetCar building called The Southwood. It’s another six-storey condo. Full disclosure: My husband and me are proud owners-to-be of a three-bedroom condo in this building.

We have been thinking of downsizing for a while, but moving to a smaller house in the neighbourhood (if you could even find one for sale) wouldn’t solve the maintenance issues. It was the last two winters that made me reconsider my willingness to shovel out the car one more time. The solution: a condo. But even with a whole lot of downsizing, we are not one- or two-bedroom people.  When I noticed the ads (in Beach Metro, of course) for The Southwood, I was excited to discover it had a number of three-bedroom units.

The Southwood is a six-storey condo planned for the former site of the Dip 'n Sip doughnut shop at Main Street and Kingston Road. Image courtesy Streetcar Developments Inc.
The Southwood is a six-storey condo planned for the former site of the Dip ‘n Sip doughnut shop at Main Street and Kingston Road.
Image courtesy Streetcar Developments Inc.

When I started doing research for this story, I noticed the original proposal included mostly one- and a few two-bedroom units. I asked Warren about the changed plans. Warren, who is a Beacher, said that when they started to get feedback from the community, there appeared to be a “demand for larger format units.”

Major said that she has been trying to convince a number of builders that people in the area like the “turnkey” idea of a condo but still want space for a dining table, not just breakfast bar.

Two blocks east of The Southwood, at 715 Kingston Rd., a three-storey building with eight townhouses is under construction. This replaced Louis’ Garage, which had been a Kingston Road fixture for more than three decades.

Major told me another development may also be in the offing on the south side near Beech, replacing three small bungalows just west of the Shnell Dental office.

The project that is getting the most attention is Beech House at 907 Kingston Rd. The building will be eight storeys with 93 units. What has the neighbourhood buzzing is the rebuilt YMCA. The Y, which will occupy the ground and the first below-ground floors, will include a gym, pool, therapy pool, fitness areas, child care, and spaces for community programs.

The two floors below ground will also include Green P parking. Those who buy into the Beech House will have a parking space and a two-year membership to the Y included in the deal.

As an aside, the original East City Y was the first home of Beach Metro News. From its founding in 1972 to 1988, the newspaper, then known as Ward 9 News, operated out of the Y.

Volunteers bundle copies of the Ward 9 News at the East City YMCA in 1987. PHOTO Beach Metro News
Volunteers bundle copies of the Ward 9 News at the East City YMCA in 1987.
PHOTO Beach Metro News

The downside of the new Y is the loss of the last funeral home in the area, Sherrin. At the turn of the century the property at Beech and Kingston Road was a chicken farm. In 1928 John Wear built a small building which included the John Wear Burial Company. In the early 1930s Bill Sherrin bought and expanded the business. In 1994 Sherrin was acquired by the Arbour Group. Unfortunately, while the Y will provide almost 100 new places to live, the development will take away the only place in the Beach to be memorialized. In July 2015, Sherrin will close and business will be moved to McDougall and Brown at Kingston and McCowan Road.

Across from one of the first major condominiums on Kingston Road, Henley Gardens, will be the largest development on this part of the street. Kingston & Co will be a 10-storey development with 137 units and eight to 10 retail stores. It replaces an iconic gathering place, The Alpine. This loss will throw planning for future Malvern reunions into total disarray.

A grocery store once stood at the current site of Henley Gardens, at Kingston Road and Victoria Park Avenue. PHOTO: Beach Metro News
A grocery store once stood at the current site of Henley Gardens, at Kingston Road and Victoria Park Avenue.
PHOTO: Beach Metro News

So will all this development be good or bad?

Any community meeting on development I ever attended included concerns about traffic and parking. I admit that I think local traffic will increase, but since there are already so many cars using Kingston to commute, I don’t think the increase will be noticeable. Parking? Well, the Beech House includes a parking place in the purchase price. And quite frankly, there is no street parking available anyhow.

While the scale of development along Kingston Road will certainly have an impact on the neighbourhood, it will expand the retail district into the dead zone between Main and Beech.  With so few houses for sale in the area (and the few that do come up going for prices that would have seemed ridiculous 10 years ago), the expansion of available units will allow not only more people to move into the area but allow locals to downsize in their community.

Kingston Road character has always included multi-unit dwellings, from hotels, to apartments, to extended care facilities. As a part of the process, I will be most interested in seeing what happens next.

Carole Stimmell is the past editor of Beach Metro News and a long-time Beach resident.

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Well remember Kingston Rd. growing up in the Beach. Worked at the YMCA and that set me on my way to George Williams College in Chicago. Sherrin funeral home looked after my parents when they passed away. Sherrin was a major team in the beaches fastball league. The great games on Friday nights at Kew Gardens. Fallingbrook bowling alley gone. Does anyone remember the KFC at Malvern and Kingston Rd. A great street that was the gateway to the East.Once a beacher always a beacher.

good article. i welcome all this development as i see the ‘dead zone’ from Main to Vic Pk (not just to Beech Ave) the retail space, increased density, downsizing in the area etc will all be good for this much maligned and ignored area. i bet a lot of the new condo buyers won’t even own a car as the TTC and shops are so close > more pedestrian traffic. yay!

I always enjoy reading about Beach history. This was an entertaining article and is one reason I continue to check in with the paper. I was on staff with Beach Metro News and moved to Victoria, B.C., in 2006. It’s interesting to see the transformation of my old stomping ground and I look forward to more such articles in the future.

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