Undressed Toronto

From the Swimming Hole to Sunnyside, How a City Learned to Love the Beach, 1850–1935

Table of contents

Ch 1: Central Waterfront: Testing the Waters
Ch 2: The Central Waterfront: Vernacular Spaces
Ch 3: Toronto Island: Implementing a Beach
Ch 4: The Don River and the Bathing Boy
Ch 5: Humber River Encounters
Ch 6: Sunnyside and the Beach


While we take the beach for granted today, it was a novel form of public space in the nineteenth century and Torontonians had to decide how it would work in their city. To create a public beach, bathing needed to be transformed from the predominantly nude male privilege that it had been in the mid-nineteenth century into an activity that women and men could participate in together. That transformation required negotiating and establishing rules for how people would dress and behave when they bathed and setting aside or creating distinct environments for bathing.


“Undressed Toronto is a unique take on social and environmental history. It invokes a nostalgia for summer days of beachside revels, while also reminding us that bathing gave nineteenth-century women a new pastime, gave men a new way to demonstrate masculinity, and provided citizens with natural spaces to escape to from the increasingly industrialised city. Exploring Toronto through its waterways and beaches, Undressed Toronto is as delightful and refreshing as a summer evening’s dip.”

- Claudine Fortin

"Readers interested in urban environmental history and the history of recreation will find this book especially valuable. For me, the book’s most significant contribution is its portrayal of “hybrid spaces” and Torontonians’ embodied encounters with them. Undressed Toronto shows how industry and nature co-existed and even enabled bathing in the urban environment."

- Mary-Ann Shantz

“With its attention to questions of social identity and place, Dale Barbour’s study of bathing in Toronto is a welcome addition. As Toronto and other cities rediscover the pleasures and economic value of their rivers and waterfronts, [Undressed Toronto] reminds us of the messy process that first brought modern urbanites to the beach.”

- Daniel Ross

"The valuable and fascinating primary sources help readers unfamiliar with Toronto's geography understand the topic and dynamics at play in Barbour's book... Barbour's narrative is an essential addition to Toronto's history, leisure studies, cultural geography, and gender studies."

- Anne Barjolin-Smith