Beach Memories: Reflecting on the history of local parks including Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens park in the Beach is shown in this Beach Metro Community News file photo.


I was in Kew Gardens watching and listening to the breeze whistling through the trees; watching people walk and play and enjoy the park all through the day.

I often wondered did they know the origin of these parks and recreation areas in our city, and how they began and grew? So here, dear Beachers, is a short history of our parks and recreation in the great City of Toronto.

One of the first parks in Toronto was referred to as Garrison Common, located in the west end of the city near Old Fort York around 1840. Even further west was High Park, owned by John G. Howard and donated to the city in 1873.

Towards the east in 1861 was Allan Gardens with its historical horticultural glass building. There was also a part not as well known in the King Street and Bathurst Street area known as Victoria Square. This park also served as a cemetery to our soldiers buried there during the War of 1812.

There were parks-and-recreation-minded people also involved in the building of programs for the city. In 1884 the city appointed John Chambers as the first Superintendent of Parks. In 1903, recreation programs were introduced and were held in schools prior to permanent recreation centres which came at a later date.

Ordinary people became involved in 1911. A group of citizens formed under the leadership of Mr. C. A. Brown formed what was called The City Playground – forerunner of the modern playgrounds in the city.

A couple of years later, S.H. Armstrong was named Chief Supervisor of the Playgrounds and Recreation Branch of the Parks Department. He was responsible for bringing in new ideas and programs that stabilized the parks and rec system. In his honour they named a city playground after S.H. Armstrong in the East End.

Later, another innovator and executive in the parks department named George Bell was responsible for the building of the city’s Parks and Recreation system in 1955.

In 1965, the person who became most responsible for building the modern Parks and Recreation community centres was Ivan Forrest, a Beach resident. He became Parks Commissioner, and Ivan Forrest Gardens in the Beach is named after him.

Now we come to the Riverdale area. The land for Riverdale Park was purchased by the city in 1856, the Riverdale Zoo opened in 1894.

Kew Gardens opened in 1907 when the city purchased 20 acres from Joe Williams for park purposes for the residents of the area, for programs and events.

In later years, there have been many more playgrounds, swimming pools (both indoor and outdoor), ice rinks and more built in city parks and as part of community centres. The first indoor pool was at the John Innes Recreation Centre, on Sherbourne Street, in 1953. The first indoor skating rinks operated by the city were introduced in 1951.

Locally, in honour of legendary local sportsman and journalist Ted Reeve, a skating rink was opened in 1954.

There are just too many rinks, pools, wading pools and more across the city to mention them all. Our parks also have tennis courts, baseball diamonds, soccer fields, lawn bowling, fitness trails and more. The community centres offer programs for seniors and children, and fitness facilities and training for all ages.

Readers should know that the wading pool in Kew Gardens was built with donations from the Lions Club in the 1950s. Let’s end on some programs and centres in our Beach community.

The Donald D. Summerville Pool in 1963 was named in honour of the late Mayor Summerville who died while taking part in a charitable activity.

And if I do say so myself, the jewel of all recreation centres in the city – the Beaches Recreation Centre on Williamson Road – was opened in 1972.

We also have Community Centre 55 on Main Street at Swanwick Avenue in what used to be the former police station.


A reminder I will be conducting an historical walk on Saturday, May 13. It will be along Queen Street East. It starts at 1 p.m. at Corpus Christi Catholic Church, at Lockwood Road and Queen Street East, and then travels east along Queen to finish at Beach United Church on Wineva Avenue.

Along the walk we will see the Beach Fire Hall, just east of Woodbine Avenue; the Beach Hebrew Institute on Kenilworth Avenue; a number of old theatre locations and more.

Historically yours!

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