Kew Gardens – The Beach

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Kew Gardens and Kew Beach have a long history of entertaining those who were looking for an escape from the city.  Joseph and Jane Williams moved to the area of the beach in 1853 and set up a garden farm north of Queen Street.  The following year they were selling their Kew Farms Vegetables to the markets in the newly named city of Toronto.  Williams took the name for his farm from Kew Gardens in London, England which had just opened in 1841.  In the mid-1860’s Williams gained the lands below Queen Street all the way down to the lake.  At the time Queen Street was almost impassable with stumps still stuck in the middle.  Much of Williams new property was swamp and, along with his three sons, he began to clear it.  I went to see what the property looked like today.  There is some free street parking in the neighbourhood.  I parked on Leuty Avenue right beside the beach to begin my exploration.

As Joseph cleared the land he cut up the wood into cords and shipped it by his own barge to Toronto to sell.  In 1879 he opened the Canadian Kew Gardens as a beach resort.  He took on summer boarders and built camping houses and set up tents for guests.  Food and lawn bowling, as well as swimming, and picnic lunches, were provided for entertainment.  The garden still retains a section that has been left natural and has many older trees, although perhaps not original ones.


Kew Williams was the grandson of Joseph Williams and when he got married in 1902 he gave his wife a new house built at Kew Gardens.  The Queen Anne style house has a round veranda and cupola.  Stone for the house was collected from the bottom of the Bay of Quinte by Tom, Joe and Johnny Williams in a process known as stone hooking.  All three of Joseph’s sons made a living off of Lake Ontario working as sailors.  When the city bought Kew Gardens in 1907 they paid 43,200 for it.  One condition was made by Williams and that was that there should never be a road passing through the property.  Within a year they had removed or demolished all the original buildings on the land except for this house which they kept for use by the gardener.


In 1916 the city built a library on the northeast corner of Kew Gardens.  It was one of three built in the English Cottage style, High Park and Wynchwood being the other two.  It was one of the city’s first libraries to allow the public to have direct access to the books.  It also features a fireplace on the second floor.  Although the residents generally refer to the area as The Beach the library uses Beaches.  Perhaps in reference to the three beaches, Woodbine, Kew and Balmy that made up the early communities.


The city of Toronto made a huge contribution to World War One with over 70,000 men enlisting.  As the war progressed the number of widows and fatherless increased.  Doctor William D. Young lived in The Beach and began to take care of the sick and needy free of charge.  It is said that wealthier patients helped cover the cost of treatment for the poor through the use of Victory Bonds given to the doctor.  It is also said that the good doctor paid for coal and food for those who were in need of help.  When he passed away in 1918 it was a tremendous loss to the community.  Two years later a drinking fountain was installed in Kew Gardens in honour of William Young.


In 1930 the city enlarged the current beach and added wooden groynes to reduce erosion on the beach.  In 1932 the boardwalk was added although it has been replaced more than once and has also been lengthened and widened.


The Leuty Lifeguard Station was built in 1920 and has been a fixture on the beach ever since.  It was designed by the same firm that designed Sunnyside Bathing Pavillion, Palais Royale and the Prince’s Gates at the CNE.  They also built the Cherry Beach lifeguard station to the same design although it has since been modified.  The beach used to be crowded with private boathouses and commercial buildings where you could buy food.  The city has slowly removed most of the structures on the beach to help stabilize it.  It is said that this lifeguard station has been involved with saving over 6,000 lives during the years that it has stood watch at the foot of Leuty Avenue.  It was recognized as a historical site in 1993 and has been carefully restored.


The Leuty Boathouse was built in 1932 and stood closer to the water until 1954.  Hurricane Hazel damaged the building and it was moved to its present location north of the beach. The gables and other architectural elements were removed when it was restored after the hurricane.


Lake Ontario was very clear as I walked out a short finger pier that was made out of chunks of stone.  In the 1970’s the city built stone groynes into the lake to help retain the sand on the beach.  The longshore drift in the lake carries sand from the Scarborough Bluffs west along the shore and deposits it to form the various beaches that extend as far as Mississauga. Efforts to stop the erosion of the bluffs have reduced the amount sand arriving at the beach.  Groynes are needed to keep the beach from being reduced as sand is carried away and not replaced.


The beach has an interesting art form on it.  These 41 evergreen trees hang upside down to represent the great north above us.  They hang in precarious balance to remind us of the balance of nature and how precarious it can be.


Two of the stone groynes along the end of Kew Beach have been broken apart.  Others in the distance stand well above the water line.


Kew Gardens is used for all sorts of community events including the jazz festival.  When the bandshell needed to be replaced in 1992 it was named after Alex Christie who played a major role in local politics.


The little community of Norway grew up at the crossroads of Woodbine and Kingston Road.  A toll booth existed here and as early as 1837 there were already 80 residents.  The community was named after its supply of Norway Pine and soon had a hotel, brewery and a general store.  In 1850 three acres were set aside for a church and cemetery.  The first church was replaced in 1892 with the brick church we see below.  Many members of the Joseph Williams family were laid to rest here.  When Dr. Young was buried here in 1918 they lined the streets to get into the church.


In the corner of the gardens, along Queen Street, is a memorial to the soldiers from the area who fought in the two world wars.


There’s plenty more to explore in The Beach on some sunny day in the future.

A collection of our top 15 stories can be found at this link.

Google Maps Link: Kew Gardens Park

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13 thoughts on “Kew Gardens – The Beach

      1. hikingthegta Post author

        That’s interesting, thanks for taking a moment to share that information. Both of you lived there during the “supposed” height of controversy over the name. Wikipedia has a lengthy section on the name controversy but they need to be backed up with some other source. In this case M. Jane Fairburn in her book Along The Shore covers this in some detail. There’s nothing quite like feedback from actual residents though. 🙂

  1. Pingback: Norway – Ghost Towns of the GTA | Hiking the GTA

  2. Ana

    The upside-down trees were a temporary art installation that was in place for a couple of weeks several years ago… It is by no means a permanent feature of the Beach in any way.

  3. Pamela

    My grandparents were born and raised in the Beaches (as they called it). They were born in 1911 & 1912. My parents were also born and raised there in the mid 1930’s. This article would have made them all very happy to read. Being from the Beaches was something they were all very proud of.

  4. Tati

    Thank you so very much. I learned so much from your posts that pique my curiosity or deepen my knowledge about the places in the GTA. I went for a walk most days growing up in the area. I never knew how it developed in the early days. I wonder if the snack bar is still there? There are many more stories about the neighbourhood, some not so flattering but what a gift it was to live there.

  5. Jack Waton

    In High School, MCI 1965 my new beacher pals as I was hahaha Upper Beach, insisted that it was The Beach. On the lakes were various beaches.

  6. Sharon Missen

    I too have always known the area as the Beaches.
    I had a birthday one year near the boardwalk and had my wedding photos done in Kew Gardens.
    We often went down for a walk there when we were happy sad or in between.
    Always seemed so magical.

  7. Anne Cuff

    I was born in The Beach 81 years ago, still live here & the area was always called The Beach. The area was from Victoria Pk to Woodbine & Kingston Rd to the lake.

  8. Debra Parker

    Interesting read. I grew up in the beach and lived there since I was 5. I moved away when I bought a home not far from the area but still have friends that live there. This is the best area to grow up in with the woods on Neville the street I grew up on, over to the Bluff where I walked many a Saturday. Collecting pop bottles and golf balls. I remember the Pavilion at the bottom of the 100 steps. I remember the fire that reduced it to rubble. I remember the Balmy Beach Canoe club and sadly they also had a fire that reduced it to rubble as well. Warm nights walking on the boardwalk and the bike trail that took you along the trail that took you along to Leslieville Spit. I remember my friends from Balmy and Glen Ames. I remember the Goof and the Fox theatre, and Willow Fish & Chip with the best potato fritters on the face of earth…..

  9. Pingback: The Boardwalk | Hiking the GTA

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