Like the city itself, Sunnyside was an ever-changing landscape from its heady opening days in the early 1920s to its final sad demolition in the 1950s. The book captures the spirit of the best of times a magical era which can only be recaptured in memory and photographs. It also presents the reality of a newer Toronto where change, although necessary, is sometimes regrettable.
In a bid to further inspire me to words, Resa recommended this book which had already grabbed my imagination before it even arrived and although it didn’t pull me in quite as much as I had convinced myself it would, it was nonetheless still a quirky, interesting, immersive and speedy read.
Mostly my pre-reading thoughts were inspired by such literary mainstays as Joseph Heller’s thoughts on Coney Island, Stephen King’s Joyland as well as, to a lesser extent the feeling of exploring Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. Films such as The Lost Boys and The Warriors played a part with their atmospheres as well.
Establishing a fundamentally, albeit mostly American idea of what to expect, I feel the fond imagery of these amusement parks is established in the romantic landscape these days as something of a golden age. It is hard to imagine people speaking so eloquently today about their experiences at Alton Towers or Disneyland as this:
…as I thought of the days of Sunnyside when all things seemed possible and the late afternoon sun lit up the summits of the rollercoaster and you felt you were somehow at the source of things, a warm and tattered tent of life, convinced that something wonderful was going to happen within the next few minutes…
It’s a fond feeling of nostalgia to those who lived it and a love transmitted down to those readers who never got to experience such times and instead got the sanitised parks of later years. It’s an evocative adventure to put ourselves back there, a place of charm and excitement, it makes me think of those long ago nostalgic days of rides and shows sadly gone in this modern age of queueing for hours to get 30 seconds of ‘thrill’.
On Page 39 there is a caption to one of the many detailed photos filling the book and it says simply that photographer William James captures a moment in time for all time, what a perfect statement that is. Each photo gives a sense of the people, their emotions and how well Sunnyside was doing at various times. Through the Depression and World War II, it was a place where people could always turn to and feel as involved in a collective and be a part of the romance and fun that meant so much to so many through the years.
There is a wonderful feeling of quaintness to the book now, an era of community singalongs and dance halls where ‘no jitterbugging or fancy dancing’ were allowed, a bygone era indeed. I want to explore more of this type of book now that they are truly on my radar, everywhere has a story and some can capture the heart of people from other times and places effortlessly. Any recommendations are most welcome.
If I had a better working knowledge of the layout of Toronto, I would have appreciated the book slightly more and a few mistakes with the placing of the photographs touched my pedantry nerve but that doesn’t detract from what is a delightful tribute which helps to retain the aura of such places as Sunnyside, as well as being a necessary social chronicle.
Books like this show why it is necessary to protect and combine heritage with advancement and why we should retain as much of our local history as we can. The sad transience of things that seem so stable and precious, especially in childhood arguably don’t matter to society as much these days as people move around a lot more but they nevertheless represent a loss to the beating heart of our towns and cities…or perhaps I am just too much of a sentimental old romantic.
but the Sunnyside of out youth has all but vanished. The long, cool evenings, the noise and colour, the good times will live in the memories of a generation.