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I Remember Sunnyside: The Rise and Fall of a Magical Era – Mike Filey

28 Sep

sunnysideupFirst published in 1982, I Remember Sunnyside is a mine of golden memories, bringing back to life an earlier Toronto, only hints of which remain today.

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.

 

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29 Comments

Posted by on 28/09/2016 in History, Memoir, Photography

 

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29 responses to “I Remember Sunnyside: The Rise and Fall of a Magical Era – Mike Filey

  1. Christy B

    28/09/2016 at 18:34

    I can feel the wistfulness of your words… As I read your review, I thought of the drive-in movies and diners that my parents have told me they went to when they were dating… They smile as they share the stories with me… I think this is the type of memories that fit with this kind of a book. Your review is wonderful and has me wanting to feel those kind of warm moments for myself.

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    • Ste J

      28/09/2016 at 18:39

      It’s was a different world, I don’t think we had drive-in movies over here or if we did they were very rare. I think that is why readers love to read books such as this or stories and films based around amusement parks and such, it’s very evocative and makes me slightly jealous. The fairs we have these days retain a ghost of it but even that seems to be struggling in the face of all the other entertainment out there. I am hungry for more such anecdotes about such places and how they made people feel. Next time I venture over to your side of the pond, I definitely want to seek out a bit of that era.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  2. Jill Weatherholt

    28/09/2016 at 18:40

    What a wonderful book! Thanks for reviewing it, Ste J.

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    • Ste J

      28/09/2016 at 18:45

      As always, thanks for reading, this is the sort of book that deserves a wider audience.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  3. shadowoperator

    28/09/2016 at 21:05

    Do you know, I lived for six years in Toronto, and never realized that the place I heard called “Sunnyside” was actually local? I just didn’t connect the dots. I suppose no one spoke about it in my hearing in a way that clued me in. Is there a major amusement park in England like it?

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    • Ste J

      29/09/2016 at 15:13

      I don’t think there are many places that capture the feeling Sunnyside, over here we have a few big theme parks, Alton Towers has some nice big gardens to wander in which is a nice change from the obligatory loud rides that take up the rest of the space. I hear that there isn’t much left of Sunnyside these days so it perhaps isn’t surprising that you didn’t make the connection.

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  4. colemining

    29/09/2016 at 01:32

    I love that you reviewed this! I had no idea such a book existed- and I’m pretty up on the history of my hometown. Although I’m not quite old enough to remember Sunnyside in its glory years, my parents told stories and we spent a fair bit of time down there by the lake when we were small. You’ll have to come visit some day and get that perspective. It’s still among one of the loveliest spots in the city. I will def have to pick up a copy of this! Thanks, Steve!

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    • Ste J

      29/09/2016 at 15:28

      I would like to come over and see what is left and get that special kind of melancholy for the ghost of things past and indeed passed. It’s strange the books that pass us by in the course of life but glad that I can bring this one to your attention, hopefully being local you will be able to source a copy easily enough.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  5. Alastair Savage

    29/09/2016 at 07:10

    I’m not sure that our amusement parks are ‘sanitised’ today. There have been all sorts of horrible accidents recently both in the UK and Spain where I live. They can still be pretty dangerous places if that’s what you’re after!

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    • Ste J

      29/09/2016 at 14:59

      It’s not so much the element of danger but the lack of magic these days in what these places offer, gone are the days of fun games and diversions and now its all about the queues. I remember Butlins at Skegness back in the day had loads on offer and it was always busy and then over a few years the skating rink, golf and crazy golf and all those family things went in favour of car parking space and the usual blander modern stuff.

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  6. Resa

    29/09/2016 at 17:26

    What a great review of a book that is not a novel, that has no other purpose but to be a time machine to some very tasty past glory days. It is amazing how progress without …morality …. ruined the area & era. There’s a new boardwalk of man-made materials, The Palais Royale remains, but has been renovated a few years ago, and other than location & exterior facade has been stripped of its romance.
    The old bathing pavilion still remains. It has been restored (not renovated) and is now a wonderful restaurant on the beach. I adore it there, as much of the romance still breathes.
    The sad part is that the city has severed the beach off from its community with a hi-way, a major freeway & multi-tracks train metrolinx and express rails.
    They did add a bicycle path that goes for miles along the Lakeshore.
    Nonetheless, it’s still a nice slice of beach that struggles to remain a beach against encroaching needs of the city’s callous endeavors.
    I like that Christy mentioned the drive-ins. I got to experience them before they disappeared. They were all just out of the city’s limits, but housing developments and giant malls needed the space.
    Thank you for reading the book, & taking the trip into the past!

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    • Ste J

      30/09/2016 at 13:27

      I love the book for its simple celebration of a lost place, it helps to highlight the tragedy of modernisation. Things need to move on of course but to destroy one’s heritage when their must be more innovative ways of doing so is a shame. It will be both wonderful to see what is left and also sad for what isn’t. Progress is a strange word and not always an accurate one. Once again thank you for bringing my attention to the book, it will certainly be one I flick through many times.

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  7. Bumba

    29/09/2016 at 21:13

    When I was writing the Bronx book I I tried to avoid the nostalgia stuff. Too easy or something. But those old amusement parks were indeed a kick. A certain wistfulness… Someone once said about Hollywood, tho: “It’s not what it used to be. And it never was.”😢

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • Ste J

      30/09/2016 at 12:32

      That’s a good quote, things always seemed better after the fact, well in most cases at any rate. I have nostalgia about reading Up in the Bronx now, heady days they were, sir.

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      • Bumba

        30/09/2016 at 17:06

        Isn’t that a fine quote? A client of mine in LA, a displaced New Yorker, told it to me. But it’s a good line for a lot of situations.

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  8. clarepooley33

    01/10/2016 at 00:43

    Interesting sounding book and a good review!

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    • Ste J

      01/10/2016 at 14:53

      It is something different for me but a book I very much enjoyed not only reading but also reviewing.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  9. Maniparna Sengupta Majumder

    02/10/2016 at 00:15

    Nostalgia, it gives rise so many memories! Books like these make us stop for a while and ponder over the life we left behind. A beautiful review, Ste… 🙂 It’s very much evident from your words that you have really enjoyed the book.

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    • Ste J

      02/10/2016 at 11:41

      It is always a source of quiet melancholy, thinking of those places that made us happy in years gone by that have been lost to us, this book really taps into that universal feeling. I loved learning about something I had never known existed until a few months ago, it gets the traveller and historian in me a blatant push.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  10. Andrea Stephenson

    03/10/2016 at 13:07

    I think I have a similar romantic view of American amusement parks from the same type of books and films as you, so this does sound really interesting. We have the Hoppings in Newcastle once a year and when I was growing up it still had some of the sideshows that strike me as similar to these times – the wall of death, the freakshows, etc. An era I was never part of and therefore has a romance to it.

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    • Ste J

      04/10/2016 at 11:58

      You have just reminded me that the Goose Fair is happening in Nottingham this week, thanks for that, if I can get it will be worth a blog maybe. The wall of death and freakshows and such are still fascinating, I would love to see some of those. I think we are bombarded with so much in the way of TV and books from America that is almist becomes a part of our nostalgia oddly. Still long may fairs remain to entertain us with flashing lights.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  11. Letizia

    06/10/2016 at 22:10

    I’m a sentimental romantic too so I think I would like this book. The cover alone makes me smile.

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    • Ste J

      08/10/2016 at 12:22

      You certainly would, it fuels the imagination and is a proper appreciation of the simpler pleasures in life. Much more fun than a lot of the places these days and more varied, importantly.

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  12. macjam47

    12/10/2016 at 12:36

    Steve, you are definitely speaking to me, as is I Remember Sunnyside.

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    • Ste J

      12/10/2016 at 17:27

      Well that’s made me jealous! This book would be a wonderful nostalgia trip for you on a positive note.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • macjam47

        13/10/2016 at 01:28

        Well, I did also discover you are a softie at heart. Hugs.

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        • Ste J

          13/10/2016 at 18:56

          I suppose I am in some respects but don’t tell everybody otherwise my street cred will be shot!

          Liked by 1 person

           

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