Written by: Sue London
To discover Grimsby Beach’s history, take exit 68 off QEW (Bartlett Avenue North) and head toward the lake. Turn left onto Lake and then right onto Betts. Here you’ll find a series of narrow lanes and a circle with a collection of colourful Victorian gingerbread cottages. The buildings date back to the late 1800s, when they were first used as summer cottages.
In the mid-1800s, a group of Methodists held week-long revivals during the summer. People would come and stay in tents on the grounds overnight and listen to preachers during the day.
In 1875, as the event became more popular and the revival grew to fill more weeks of the summer, the camp’s organizers began replacing the tents with board-and-batten cottages. In 1888, a large temple was erected in the centre of the park that could seat 7,000 people.
By this time, even non-Methodists were coming out to visit Grimsby Beach, just to enjoy a day of picnicking and sports at the park. Vacationers came by train, streetcar and ferries from Toronto, Hamilton and all over the Niagara Region to picnic and play along the shore of Lake Ontario.
Grimsby Beach’s attractions over the years have included two hotels, a restaurant, a heart-shaped garden, tennis courts, a sports field for football, lacrosse, quoits and exercise programs. New speakers came too, not all of them religious. People started calling it “The Chautauqua of Canada.”
Unfortunately, Grimsby Park faced a crisis in 1909. The Methodist group managing the park went bankrupt. A new owner turned it into an amusement area. A midway, merry-go-rounds, a large roller coaster, dance hall, casino, movies and live theatre were added.
By the 1920s, the crowds were heading elsewhere. Then a terrible fire destroyed about 30 cottages. Around the early 1930s, local residents (the Cottages’ Association) took over the park. The casino saw a bit of a revival during the big band era of the 1930s and 40s. Many of the other attractions shut down eventually, but people still came to enjoy the natural scenery of Lake Ontario.
Today, Grimsby Beach is a quiet residential neighbourhood. Only a memorial cairn, bell and the charming historic cottages, now yearround homes, are a reminder of a colourful past.