Parkdale is a neighbourhood and former village in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, west of downtown. The neighbourhood is bounded on the west by Roncesvalles Avenue, on the north by the CP Rail line where it crosses Queen Street and Dundas Street. It is bounded on the east by Dufferin Street from Queen Street south, and on the south by Lake Ontario. The original village incorporated an area north of Queen Street, east of Roncesvalles from Fermanagh east to the main rail lines. The village area was roughly one square kilometer in area.
Parkdale was founded as an independent settlement within York County in the 1850s. It became an incorporated village in 1879 and later joined Toronto in 1889. It was an upper income residential area for the first half of the 20th Century, with several notable mansions. The area changed dramatically with the building of the Gardiner Expressway in 1955, demolishing the southern section of the neighbourhood together with the Sunnyside Amusement Park, and the creation of a barrier between the neighbourhood and the lakeshore. This led to both an outflux of prosperous residents west, and a decline in the local economy. Most of the residential buildings remain though many were converted into rooming houses, but the demographic composition has changed considerably, including a higher proportion of lower incomes and newcomer families. Today, it is largely a working-class neighbourhood, with a mix of low and high income residents, as well as new immigrants, and many artists and young professionals.
The Village of Parkdale was founded in 1879, but settlement of the area predated its foundation. In 1812, the of land bounded from Lot Street (today's Queen Street) on the north, and Jameson on the west and Dufferin Avenue was granted to James Brock, the cousin of Sir Isaac Brock, in lieu of salary. Brock did not occupy or improve the land during his lifetime. After Brock's death in 1830, his widow Lucy Brock sold the lands which became the major part of Parkdale to John Henry Dunn and William Gwynne. The area north of Queen Street was subdivided from the O'Hara Estate, given to Walter O'Hara for military service. Another parcel of land north of Queen given to James Brock, east of the O'Hara estate, was developed along Brock Avenue, and became Brockton Village.
The area's development started with the rail line built along the lake in the 1850s and a train station at the intersection of Springhurst and Jameson Avenues. A census of residents showed 783 residents of the area, more than enough for the legal requirement of 750 at the time. A local legend is that Gypsies were signed up as local residents to provide enough numbers. Parkdale's status as an independent village was controversial at the time, and was opposed by the City of Toronto and the York County councils.
It was purely a residential suburb, home to large Victorian mansions and views of Lake Ontario. The first house of worship in Parkdale, the Anglican Church of St. Mark, was completed on January 20, 1881 on Cowan Ave just south of Queen Street. In 1884, the Village council passed a bylaw to join Toronto, to be annexed by the City of Toronto, as the village was in fact surrounded by the city of Toronto. The act did not take place immediately as the Village's finances were not in order. Liabilities of the village were not clearly stated in the village's financial statements. On October 27, 1888, another vote was held and the annexation was upheld. The village was annexed by the City of Toronto in March 1889.
Good examples of Victorian housing can still be found on Cowan Avenue and Dunn Avenue, south of King Street. Victorian row homes with original gaslights can also be seen on Melbourne Place.
Throughout the first half of the 20th century, Parkdale's desirability stemmed from its proximity to the lake, the Canadian National Exhibition to the south east and the popular Sunnyside Beach at the foot of Roncesvalles to the west. From 1911 to 1992, the Toronto Harbour Commission improved the lakefront extending the shoreline from the rail line 100 metres south, with a breakwater and boardwalk. As an example, in 1905, the Parkdale Canoe Club (today known as the Boulevard Club) opened. When built, it was on a pier extending out into the lake. As part of the infill project, it became situated inland. To the east of the current building, a baseball and lacrosse field existed. It was the site of a popular women's softball league for many years.
Sunnyside Amusement Park was opened in 1922, providing a popular day vacation for Torontonians. Cottage industries sprung up in the neighbourhood, creating a vital economic region. Movie theatres were opened, such as the Brighton on Roncesvalles and the Odeon on Queen Street to the east of Roncesvalles. Hotels like the Edgewater at Queen and Roncesvalles were established.
The Palais Royale at the eastern edge of Sunnyside Beach opened in 1922 as a canoe factory and dance hall. Many important big bands played there in the 1930s and the 1940s, and this attracted a large youth patronage. Many war generation Torontonians courted their future partners in this building. The Palais Royale operates today as a special occasion hall and is a favourite venue for bands, including the Rolling Stones, who played a 2002 concert there, and has been the location for live recordings by Sloan and Downchild Blues Band.
1950s-1970s: Gardiner Expressway and urban changes
In 1955, the city began work on the Gardiner Expressway, a limited access highway. The Sunnyside Amusement Park was demolished, except for the Bathing Pavilion and the Palais Royale hall. The southern section of Parkdale to the west of Dufferin, south of the Great Western railway was also demolished. Parkdale was now separated from Lake Ontario and Sunnyside Beach and the expressway effectively halved the amount of usable lakeside parkland. A reorganization of the area's residential streets was also done. Patronage of the beach declined rapidly.
Both the Parkdale and Sunnyside train stations closed during the 1970s. Since this time, Exhibition station at the CNE is the only train station operating in the neighbourhood.
The neighbourhood changed greatly after the highway was completed and the park closed. Population density increased with the building of numerous apartment buildings. Jameson Avenue, which became the conduit to the highway changed from single family homes to a street of apartment buildings, many cheaply built. Nearby, many of the mansions and large houses became makeshift low-rise 'bachelorette' apartment buildings and rooming houses. Several had operated as tourist hotels for visitors to Sunnyside and the CNE. Industrial activity declined along the railways. One former industrial site on West Lodge Avenue became a two-tower apartment complex that has repeatedly been cited by the City for various by-law infractions. Businesses suffered during the transition, with leisure-type businesses compatible with the Park, such as the Brighton and Odeon theatres closing. Along Queen Street, which saw traffic decline substantially, many businesses closed or changed hands.
1970s: Absorption of out-patients
In the mid-1970s, the Ontario provincial government decided to release many long-term care mental illness patients from its Queen Street and Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital facilities to integrate them into the community. Many of the old Victorian mansions of South Parkdale had already been converted to boarding houses, and were only a short distance away from both hospitals. Many illegal 'bachelorette' units were also being created and the inexpensive rental stock of South Parkdale soon became home to many of the released patients. The area developed a reputation as a neighbourhood rife with poverty, crime, drugs, homelessness, and large numbers of people living with mental illness. Parkdale is home to a food bank and day centres for the homeless. A pilot programme for a needle exchange is new to the area.
Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre
The Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre (PARC) is a social agency operating a drop-in centre in Parkdale for survivors of mental health ailments, the homeless, the disabled and those with few resources. PARC was founded in 1977 when community volunteers observed that there were a large number of adults living in rooming houses and boarding homes throughout the Parkdale community after local mental health facilities began to de-institutionalize psychiatric patients. Most of these adults possessed little income, had few or no family contacts, did not have a place to go during the day and had been ostracized. In 1980 PARC found funding, staff and a venue and opened its doors to provide support, meals, employment opportunities and various programs to people with serious mental health and addiction issues. PARC offers support to help sort out lives; it is a springboard for self-improvement, finding shelter, seeking education and finding employment opportunities. It is a place where people can go during the day; a place where they can make friends, set direction, find peace of mind and gain a sense of emotional grounding and personal fulfillment. PARC works to provide hope to marginalized persons and help them rebuild their lives. The philosophy of PARC is reflected in its mission statement- "PARC: A community where people rebuild their lives."
Owing to the many affordable rental apartments and its proximity to the downtown core, Parkdale has evolved into a transient neighbourhood for many newcomers to Canada. Waves of Caribbean, Vietnamese, Filipino, Tamil, Chinese, Tibetan, Hungarian and Roma immigrants have marked Parkdale in different times between 1980 till present. Parkdale presently hosts a large number of Tibetan settlers, with the area being home to one of the largest Tibetan diaspora outside of India and Nepal. Parkdale has a number of settlement and immigration agencies that deal with the needs of the newcomers and provide them with the necessary support as they explore the opportunities provided in Canada. Some of the agencies are Parkdale Community Information Centre (PCIC), Parkdale Community Legal Services, PIA, and Culture Link.
Some of the recent developments in Parkdale include the Healthy Organic Parkdale Edibles (HOPE) garden in the Masaryk Park, south of Queen and on the west side of Cowan Avenue. This community garden was founded by Shannon Thompson of Greenest City, along with many community members to allow residents who don't have growing space to grow food and build a more inclusive community area. The environmental and community organization based in Parkdale since 2006 works with food sovereignty, youth employment, environmental awareness and community building. Greenest City has also initiated the Youth Garden in Dunn Parkette. The volunteers of the two gardens also host festivals, workshops, field trips along with other activities and projects in the area.
The area has seen an influx of artists working in the relatively inexpensive spaces, close to the exhibit spaces on Queen Street within Parkdale and along Queen Street to the east. The opening of the Parkdale Arts and Cultural Centre, along with efforts to promote businesses in the area, such as the Parkdale-Liberty Economic Development Centre, has spurred the growth of a vibrant creative area along Queen Street, which puts on a large display during Toronto's annual 'Nuit Blanche.'
The housing stock has seen some gentrification, especially in the area north of Queen Street identified with the "Roncesvalles Village" area, again due to the relatively inexpensive property values. In recent years housing prices in Parkdale have caught up with much of the rest of Toronto. Still, sub-standard housing in the units within the older buildings remains a concern of local city councillors and local community members. Numerous conversions into bachelorettes were done illegally and conditions did not conform to building or fire codes. An initiative, known as the "Parkdale Pilot Project" was formed to address the illegal conversions, seeking to bring the buildings into line. One location on King Street was the location of the famous "Pope Squat" where poverty activists squatted in a vacant converted apartment building during a visit of Pope John Paul II. After being vacant for over ten years (most of which it was owned by the Government of Ontario), the building eventually re-opened as apartments, after its redevelopment was approved by the Pilot Project's housing committee.. An apartment building on the corner of Queen Street and Dowling Avenue also lay vacant for some time before being expropriated by the city for an affordable housing re-development underway in 2009. It will be known as Edmond Place and is a partnership of the City with PARC.
The primary source for basic documents (vital statistics, land records, wills) for people who lived in the Province of Ontario is the Archives of Ontario, 134 Ian Macdonald Blvd, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M7A 2C5.
Civil registration did not begin in the province until 1869. Before then there may be church records of baptisms and burials. For the most part these are still held by the denomination who recorded them. Copies of marriage records made pre-1869 had to be sent by individual clergymen to the registrar of the county in which the marriage took place. These marriage records are available through Ontario Archives, on micorfilm through LDS libraries, and on paid and unpaid websites, but because they were copied at the registrars' offices, they cannot be considered a primary source.
Vital Records after 1869
Birth, marriage and death registrations are not open to the public until a specific number of years after the event occurred. Births to 1914 are now available [October 2012]; dates for marriages and deaths are later. Birth and death registration was not universally carried out in the early years after its adoption. Deaths were more apt to be reported than births for several years. The more rural the area, the less likely it would be that these happenings were reported to the authorities.
Land Records and Wills
Information on how to access land records and wills is best sought on the Archives of Ontario website. An ancestor's land holding might be found on Canadian County Atlas Digital Project if he was in occupancy circa 1878.
Association for the Preservation of Ontario Land Registry Office Documents (APOLROD). A list of Land Registry Offices for all Counties of Ontario.
The original censuses are in the hands of Library and Archives Canada. All of the original census (1851-1911) images are online with the exception of that for 1861. Not all of them are indexed. Later censuses are not yet available. Census divisions were redrawn as the population increased and more land was inhabited.
E-books and Books
Websites with more local information on the City of Toronto