From Summer Cottage Colony to Metropolitan Suburb: Toronto's Beach District, 1889-1929

By Luka, Nik | Urban History Review, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview
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From Summer Cottage Colony to Metropolitan Suburb: Toronto's Beach District, 1889-1929


Luka, Nik, Urban History Review


Abstract

Over four decades beginning in the 1890s, the east-end Toronto district now known as "The Beach" was transformed from a summer second-home setting into a metropolitan suburb dominated by the middle classes (occupationally defined). Using a systematic random sample drawn from the municipal property tax assessment rolls for the study area at six intervals from 1889 to 1929, along with narrative examples and illustrative analyses of growth and change in urban form, this paper examines three compelling aspects of this transformation. First and foremost, this district is a fine example of pre-Second World War suburban growth: slow, piecemeal, and inconsistent in pattern and form, as now reflected in its eclectic built form and fine-grained mix of housing types. "The Beach" is also a place-based example of how metropolitan social geographies were being sorted out from within by user groups early in the twentieth century. Without becoming exclusively or solely a middle-class district, the Beach came to be dominated by the middle classes--typifying the "weave of small patterns" that characterized the social fabric of the early North American metropolis. Finally, the term cottage colony is used quite deliberately, for it appears that the Beach's role as a summer leisure destination was instrumental in spurring its transformation into a middle-class suburb, imbuing it with particular qualities that enhanced (or ensured) its desirability. In effect, this district's "summer cottage" period was a telling prelude to its emergence as a markedly middle-class district in Toronto of the 1920s and later.

Resume

Comment les lieux de villegiature sont-ils devenus des banlieues metropolitaines? Cette etude de cas porte sur un secteur de Toronto localise au bord du Lac Ontario--The Beach--soit une zone de chalets d'ete etablie au cours des annees 1880. Pendant une periode de 40 ans, cette zone s'est progressivement transformee en une banlieue peuplee majoritairement de residants de la classe moyenne (ainsi definis en fonction des occupations de ces derniers). En utilisant des donnees issues du role municipal d'evaluation fonciere et de l'histoire locale, croisees avec l'analyse de la croissance de la forme urbaine du secteur, cette etude avance trois enonces. En premier lieu, The Beach constitue un exemple typique de la croissance des banlieues qui datent d'avant la deuxieme guerre mondiale: un processus de developpement lent et eparpille, integrant a peine les caracteristiques le plus souvent associees aux banlieues pavillonnaires, comme en temoigne, d'ailleurs, l'eclectisme actuel de la forme des tissus qui composent ces secteurs. En deuxieme lieu, la geographie sociale des grandes agglomerations industrielles resulte d'une appropriation collective par ses usagers entre 1890 et 1930. Finalement, le chapitre discute du role des lieux de villegiature comme antecedents de la banlieue metropolitaine. Peut-on en conclure que l'origine de ces middle-class suburbs reste ancree dans les usages et les representations de l'espace en lien avec les notions de loisir et de detente?

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The rise of metropolitan suburbs is at once well-scrutinized and neglected in studies of Canadian urban history. In general terms, the literature is abundant, as recently exemplified by Creeping Conformity: How Canada Became Suburban, 1900-1960, in which Richard Harris presents an excellent overview of suburbanization in Canada's metropolitan areas. Yet on how general patterns of socio-spatial sorting, emergent types of urban form, and processes of transformation all played out in specific places, we are somewhat lacking. This paper presents one such case study by examining how factors intersected in the east-end Toronto district known as the Beach (map 1). (1) Named for the wide strand lining the Lake Ontario shore, it is now a sought-after neighbourhood with an upper-middle-income population and a surprisingly fine-grained mix of built form, housing types, and architectural styles.

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