Long Branch is a well-established, highly populated area at the furthest west tip of Toronto’s Lakeshore. It hits the sweet spot between true suburbia and urban living, although most diehard city dwellers would say it’s one step beyond that. It’s location along Lake Ontario in hand with its rich history provides some of the most diverse selections of housing in the GTA. Adding to its allure is a busy, eclectic shopping area along Lakeshore Boulevard where a good balance of staple retailers and chain restaurants rub shoulders with a growing number of locally owned businesses that keep things interesting. Little details such as the quirky nautical blue cast iron lamp posts that line Lake Shore Boulevard West in hand with the cobbled feel of interlocking brick sidewalks create a seaside village feel complete with well-pruned planters and welcoming park benches. It has its own GO train station, is at the farthest end of the Queen 501 streetcar and right on the QEW for an easy commute. All things considered it’s borderline urban, teetering on but not quite, nor probably ever will be trendy and family friendly with a strong community feel.
Long Branch is bordered by Lake Ontario to the south the railway tracks to the north, Etobicoke Creek/Marie Curtis Park to the west and 23rd Street to the east. Captain Samuel Smith was the first landowner in the area, the namesake of the immensely popular Colonel Samuel Smith Park. He served in the Queen’s Rangers during the American Revolution and was granted 3000 acres of prime land which included 400 acres in Toronto and 2600 in Etobicoke. The land is still referred to as Colonel Smith’s Tract in Toronto records.
Smith became a Colonel when Captain John Graves Simcoe left the area. He then retired in 1798. His four-room home was a log cabin located in what is now St. Josaphat Catholic School on 41st Street. Smith built a sawmill and bred horses but did not do much farming. Although he owned a large tract of land his pay in the army did not allow him to expand his estate. At the time of his death his children were left destitute. They left the house to live in a home provided by John William Gamble. The Smith family home was overtaken by squatters and their land sat unused well into the 19th century.
The old Smith log house was purchased in 1861, by the Eastwoods along with 500 acres of the Smith lakefront property. They farmed the land and sold 64 acres in 1883 to developers looking to build a resort. Well-off families purchased villa lots for their summer cottages. However, the area wasn’t fully developed until Thomas J. Wilkie took leadership of the project in 1886. The resort was named Long Branch Park, probably after the popular resort area in New Jersey.
Many of the villas in the park were designed by the first villa owner, architect Richard Ough. His original cottage, “Idlewild”, still stands at 262 Lake Promenade. Although it’s quite small its imposing design includes a charming turret style tower. All the lots were sold out by 1887 and the Long Branch Hotel was also built around that time. The hotel property was quite extensive and very exclusive with a massive fence to keep people out. It even had its own dock and a steamer boat called the Rupert which ran excursions for guests.
In 1895, the Toronto and Mimico Electric Railway reached Etobicoke Creek from Queen and Roncesvalles making the area more accessible. Between 1910 and 1920, there were seven subdivisions opened south of Lake Shore Road and east of Long Branch Park. Land north of Lakeshore Road between 23rd and 30th Streets were also slated for housing. The Eastwoods sold the rest of their land in 1920 between Long Branch Park and Etobicoke Creek which would be the site of the Eastwood Park housing development. The developments included both summer and year-round homes.
The Eastwood home changed hands a few times following Robert Eastwood’s death in 1927. For many years it was a tourist home and licensed hotel. However, it fell into infamy as a strip joint in the late 1980s and was demolished in 2008.
Long Branch was a popular resort destination well into the late 1930s where the area featured attractions set up by residents looking to make money off the tourists. The south side of Lake Shore Road had many spots for tourists including stands for food, souvenirs, dancing, and games. The same area between Long Branch Avenue and 35th Street is now a popular shopping spot.
As owners began to winterize their larger cottages, more homes were used year-round and the tourist area slowly faded away. Adding to the resort’s downfall was the installation of the Queen Elizabeth Way in 1939 which diverted traffic away from the Lakeshore.
The area was hard hit by Hurricane Hazel in 1954 with severe flooding which destroyed 43 homes. An additional 160 homes were expropriated to create Marie Curtis Park. In 1955, Samuel Smith’s house was demolished despite being the second oldest house in Toronto. It was razed to make room for a supermarket parking lot.
Long Branch became an independent village in 1930. The council passed by-laws allowing multi-family dwellings, which led to the demise of many a charming cottage. The mature trees and lovely lots were cleared to make way for apartment buildings. Long Branch was united with Mimico and New Toronto to create the Borough of Etobicoke in 1967.
Because Long Branch put development above history, locals continue to fight development in the area. Remaining original cottages and their tree lined lots are still at risk of being demolished to make way for multi-story semi-detached homes, stacked townhomes, and condos. The group argues such development will change the historic character of the neighbourhood. Although so many historic homes and cottages were destroyed, the area still boasts many heritage buildings including 28 Daisy Avenue, the oldest building in Long Branch, ca. 1847-52. The home is now protected by a Heritage Designation by-law.
Long Branch offers easy access to the city with many options including its own GO train station, buses connecting riders to both Union Station and the Yonge-University-Spadina subway line and the 501 Queen streetcar. It’s also an easy 10 to 20-minute drive on the QEW or Lakeshore into downtown Toronto.
The Long Branch BIA supports the local community making it one of the best places to live, shop and play. It has its own Santa Claus parade on Lakeshore every year and is committed to keeping streets pretty with seasonally driven banners and planters. This is no mini strip of shops and restaurants. The area features over 125 shops, restaurants, and professional services with many small, locally owned businesses. It’s fondly referred to as “Toronto’s Village by the Lake”. However, there’s also a large selection of big box stores, major retailers, and the popular Sherway Gardens Mall to the north.
Plenty of parkland keeps everyone happy including the scenic lake and city views from Marie Curtis Park, with its lovely beach, pool, and family friendly playground. Long Branch’s waterfront is also home to Long Branch Park with an endless list of things to do all year round. The summer concert series at Long Branch also speaks to the area’s commitment to its community. Colonel Samuel Smith Park is in nearby New Toronto, while Lenford Park offers waterfront trails smack dab in the middle of the neighborhood. There are also many parks to the north including Birch Park and Laburnham Park which are ideal spots for tennis lovers. The lovely, scenic Etobicoke Creek wends through the area.
Winter is just as exciting in Long Branch as the summer months with local skating along the Colonel Samuel Smith Skating Trail and tons of holiday events to enjoy. Local hockey lovers frequent Long Branch Arena in Birch Park while avid readers find solace at Long Branch Library.
Thanks to the BIA, there’s always something happening to promote local businesses and provide good old-fashioned family fun.
Long Branch is a typical Toronto area with an inclusive community welcoming all walks of life. You’ll certainly find a lot of families here, mostly in the middle to upper classes. However, with the varied housing options which includes plenty of multi-family dwellings you’ll also find people of average incomes as well. The new condos are attracting more single young professionals and millennial couples to the area seeking affordable vertical living options with picturesque views of the lake and city.
The Best Part
This neighbourhood has a seaside town vibe with all the amenities you could ever want. It feels slightly detached from Toronto’s history as it holds on to its own former life as an illustrious, swank resort town.
The Worst Part
While you’re only a short drive to the city, taking transit can take up to an hour. You can hop the GO train if you work in the Financial District for a quicker ride, but anywhere else in the city will require more TTC travel time.
The Real Estate
Long Branch is one of the most diverse neighbourhoods when it comes to housing options. Although many homes and cottages were sacrificed in the name of progress, there are still some stunning, turn-of-the-century homes available with their original features and lovely lawns and trees. You’ll also find homes from the first sub-divisions built in the 1920s with their Tudor style cottages, charming bungalows, and lovely, shaded streets. Mid-century homes built in the 1950s offer their own sense of style, while more recent builds offer modern designs, condos, and townhouses. Because of the variety, there really is something for everyone in Long Branch. From affordable condos to mid-size townhouses and from pricier prominent, older homes to executive new builds, you’re sure to find something to suit your needs.
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