Roncesvalles Village

Early History

Much of the land west of Roncesvalles was once part of Sunnyside Farm, owned by John Howard, Toronto’s first surveyor and one of Canada’s greatest architects. In 1873, Howard donated a large chunk of land to the City of Toronto. In 1890, he also donated his beloved Colborne Lodge and the surrounding land. These great gifts formed most of what is today High Park, the largest in Toronto.

Colonel Walter O’Hara owned most of the land on the east, living on a large estate he named West Lodge. He named Roncesvalles after the gorge where he fought during the Battle of the Pyrenees in 1813. Many other neighbourhood streets have an O’Hara connection, such as Marion (named for his wife), and Constance (named for his daughter). Fermanagh is the county of his birth in Ireland. The Colonel died in 1874.

Residential homes began to appear from the early 1900s on, as Toronto experienced a massive building boom. For the first half of the 20th century, Roncesvalles residents were mostly of British origin. In the post WWII years, a large number of Polish immigrants settled in the area, setting up churches, banks and businesses which remain important local institutions. Every year, Roncesvalles celebrates the Polish contribution to Toronto’s cultural mosaic with the Roncesvalles Village Polish Festival.

Roncesvalles today: diverse, vibrant and creative

Today, Roncesvalles Village is a diverse, vibrant community, attracting people of all backgrounds. You can see new parents pushing strollers, as seniors enjoy a quick walk to High Park. Artists and musicians bring vitality and creativity to the neighborhood, helping to sustain historic cultural venues such as the Palais Royale and the Revue Cinema, one of Canada’s oldest movie houses.

1922 – TTC track work at Roncesvalles and Fermanagh (photo: TTC Archives)

The community is incredibly tight-knit and active. In 2007, the Revue survived extinction after a tireless group of volunteers fought to declare the Revue an historic site, and persuaded local residents Danny and Letty Mullin to purchase the property and allow the community to operate it as a non-profit business. Other community organizations include three residents’ associations, the Roncesvalles-Macdonell RA, the High Park RA and the Sunnyside Community Association. Recently, these organizations formed a partnership with the Roncesvalles Village BIA, called Roncesvalles Renewed, which is helping to advise the City as it prepares plans for a major reconstruction of Roncesvalles, currently scheduled for 2008. Such commitment to our local communities and businesses helps make Roncesvalles one of Toronto’s most unique, dynamic and welcoming places to live.

A vital transit hub

Roncesvalles Avenue has had a long and proud association with the TTC. The Roncesvalles division is the oldest in the TTC, built by the Toronto Railway Company in 1895.  Today, Roncesvalles serves as the final leg of the 504 King Street streetcar line, the busiest in the city. No fewer than five streetcar routes serve our community, which can be accessed from the 508 Lakeshore West, the 501 Queen Street, the 505 Dundas West, the 506 College Street as well as the 504 King. The northern tip of Roncesvalles is just a few minutes’ walk south of the Dundas West subway station.

No ordinary alley cat!

Roncesvalles has also served as the origin of a new breed of cat, the Sphinx. The hairless cat, made famous by Mr. Bigglesworth from the Austin Powers movies, can trace its origins to a back alley behind Roncesvalles, where a litter was discovered in 1963, according to the Toronto Star.
Roncesvalles Village was featured in a recent episode of Structures, produced by Rogers Television in Toronto. Click below to watch the video! (Video courtesy of Rogers Television).


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