WALKING TOURN- Taking in Kew Beach
The Beaches has been attracting visitors since the 1880's. They came to escape the city, staying in hotels and boarding houses or pitching tents in the parks. As the area became more accessible, people built frame cottages with board walks between them and sometimes they stayed for the whole summer. By the turn of the century, the Beaches had become a permanent community with between four and five hundred residents and electric street railway service as far as Munro Park.
This self-guided walking tour of Kew Beach doesn't include everything - that would take hours - but it does give a little of the history of the neighbourhood and background on the landmarks and some other buildings of architectural and historic importance.
Start the tour of Kew Beach at the north-east corner of Queen Street East and Woodbine Avenue (near the gas station). On a clear day you'll get a great view of the city skyline and the CN Tower directly to the west.
A short walk along Queen Street, heading east, will take you past busy stores, pubs, restaurants, cafés and other small businesses. The variety of activities and the human scale of the buildings - none are higher than four storeys - give the Beaches its unique character and small- town charm.
Kew Beach Fire Station No. 227. This handsome brick and stone firehall is a beloved landmark in the Beach and the site of many local fundraisers. Completed in August 1906, it is designed in a style known as Queen Anne Revival. This eclectic style, which was very popular in Toronto between 1886 and 1914, is characterized by towers and turrets, oriel windows and large multi-paned vertical windows with arches. The tower with its illuminated clock (added later) is mainly used to dry fire hoses, but it also provides excellent views of the neighbourhood.
Lion on the Beach, 1958 Queen Street East. This unpretentious one-storey yellow brick building is listed in the city's inventory of heritage buildings for architectural reasons. Built in 1950 as a branch of the Bank of Toronto, the building is said to display the profile, symmetry and stylized features of mid-20th century Modern Classicism. In its simplicity it is much different than most banks of the last century, which were built to impress. The building now houses a popular pub and restaurant.
On the south side at 1961 Queen Street East is another heritage building. Originally Whitelock's Grocery Store, now Whitlock's Restaurant, it is believed to be the only wood corner building still standing in Toronto. The storefront and several other additions to the original building were removed and the entire building was restored by its owners in 1991.
The small mall at 1971 Queen Street East was once the Allen Beach Theatre, the most elaborate of the five theatres that operated east of Woodbine. A newspaper account of the opening of the theatre on December 15, 1919 extols the beauty of the theatre with its rose and ivory wallpaper, French windows with draped tapestries and immense chandeliers. A pipe organ was an added attraction. The theatre continued to operate until the late 1960s.
built onto houses are a familiar sight along Queen Street in the Beaches.
Continue east along Queen Street and you will come to Kew Gardens, surely one of the most beautiful parks in the city. Joseph Williams, a prosperous farmer, opened Kew Gardens to the public in 1879 for camping, picnicking and other "innocent pleasures." Since then, generations of Beachers have enjoyed this refuge, with its many tall oaks and maples, its playground, tennis court, baseball diamond and skating rink. The western edge of the park has been fenced off to allow young oak trees to become established.
The park is also the scene of community gatherings: Canada Day celebrations on July 1, the jazz festival later in July, an arts and crafts show, Remembrance Day observances, and the magical Christmas tree and menorah lighting in December.
The Beaches Library has been an important part of the Beaches community since 1916. It was one of three identical city libraries constructed with a $50,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. (The other two are High Park and Wychwood.) The Tudor Gothic interior was thought to be quite innovative at the time. It consisted basically of two large rooms. The main floor room, complete with fireplace, was for the children's library and community meetings. The second floor room, which held the adult book collection, boasted a stone fireplace, open-timbered ceiling and minstrel's gallery.
The building was renovated in 1981 and again in 2004, when 1,000 square feet were added to the building. Great care was taken to respect the architectural integrity of the original structure. As a final touch, a cast bronze owl, symbol of wisdom, was installed near the entrance of the library in July.
Park Mansions, at 2163 Queen Street East, is built in an L-shape which
wraps around what was originally a bank on the corner of Queen Street and
The corner of Queen Street and Lee Avenue is considered to be the hub of the Beaches commercial area. Turn right onto Lee Avenue and walk south towards Lake Ontario. The charming Italian Renaissance-style drinking fountain in Kew Gardens, with its statue of a child, was erected in 1920 to the memory of Dr. William Young, "friend of the needy."
The quaint Kew Gardener's Cottage must be the most photographed and painted building in the Beaches. The house was built in 1901/02 by Kew Williams, whose father Joseph owned Kew Gardens. Its most noticeable features are the corner tower and circular verandah, typical of the Queen Anne style. Unlike most of the houses in the area, which are made of brick or wood, the cottage is built of stone. On the south face of the house, you can see the contrast between the grey Kingston stone on the first storey and the upper storey of Port Credit stone, which has weathered to a brown colour.
The Kew Williams family lived in this house until the park was sold to the city in 1907. A succession of gardeners lived in the cottage until 2002. Since then, the Gardener's Cottage has been a popular venue for art shows and community events. Over the years, though, it had became so decrepit that its future was in doubt. The Toronto Beaches Rotary Club took on the restoration of the cottage as a centennial project. A call went out to local designers and artisans and in September the cottage reopened with a stunningly restored interior.
The image of the Leuty Lifesaving Station appears on the official Beaches community flag, as well as in numerous paintings, posters and photographs. Built in 1920, this simple wooden structure with its observation tower has come to represent the community's long-standing connection with the waterfront.
In 1993, local citizens organized the Save Our Station campaign, aimed at restoring this landmark to its previous glory. Thanks to the generosity of Beachers, they were able to raise nearly 40 percent of the $95,000 required to restore the station. The remainder came from government grants.
Kew Beach Boathouse This is one of this areas best kept secrets and most understood structures of all! This lovely white building is among the last boathouses to survive the Toronto waterfront. Built in 1932 when the need for boat storage was in strong demand, it was an architectural gem. When it was constructed, it stood right on the water, There were shuttered windows on the north side with gables above. Just above the windows the prow of a boat extended outward. On the south side were a number of large doors and ramps to launch the boats.
In 1954 Hurricane Hazel hit the area, and the boathouse was one of its victims. The remains were moved to the north side of the boardwalk and it ceased functioning as a boathouse.
Beach & Boardwalk
Kew Beach extends from MacLean Avenue in the east to Woodbine Avenue in the west. It is in the middle between Balmy Beach and Woodbine Beach. Today this looks like one stretch of beach, but in the early days of the Beaches, they were distinctly separate and had their own facilities.
Early photos of this area show frame houses and cottages along most of the lakefront from Woodbine Beach to Victoria Park. Nearly all the dwellings west of Silver Birch were removed in 1930 to make way for the Eastern Beaches Park. The $2.4-million park complete with boardwalk was opened with great fanfare in May 1932.
Donald Summerville Olympic Pool at the foot of Woodbine Avenue is dedicated to a former mayor of Toronto, overlooking the Lake Ontario. For those who would rather swim in the lake, there is good news. In the spring of 2005, Woodbine Beach became a Blue Flag beach. The Blue Flag is an internationally recognized award given annually to beaches around the world that meet high standards for water quality and environmental management.
End of the Tour: Cross Lakeshore Boulevard and walk north along Woodbine Avenue back to Queen Street. Looking east along Queen Street, can you imagine this pleasant street overshadowed by 17- and 25-storey apartment towers? It nearly happened in the 1960s. Thanks to the vigilance of residents, the construction of apartment towers on Queen Street between Lee and Leuty avenues did not go ahead as planned. Today we can enjoy the small-town flavour of the Beaches as generations have before us.Acknowledgements:
The Boardwalk Album: Memories of the Beach by Barbaranne
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