For the love of the game

While organized clubs and leagues may have been restricted to wealthy men at the time, sports were also taken up by women, children, and the working class.

People of all ages turned to casual recreation as a way to enjoy our long, cold winters — skating, skiing, tramping, and sledding in Toronto’s public parks.


Grandstand (1907-1946)

Girls 75 yard race at Rani Ghar Grotto picnic
Unknown photographer
Photograph, 1924

Foot races and other amateur competitions were common at social picnics, like this one held at Exhibition Park and hosted by the Rani Ghar Grotto, a charitable fraternal organization.

Hanlan, Hotel (1880-1909), Hanlan's Point

Tennis at Hanlan Hotel
Unknown photographer
Photograph, 1905

A sport with British and French roots, tennis began to take hold as a competitive sport in Canada in the 1880s. It was also a popular pastime for players of all ages.

In the 19th century, the northwest tip of the Toronto Island, known as Hanlan’s Point, was a popular destination for amusement and recreation. This hotel was established by John Hanlan in 1878. His son, Ned, became a world champion sculler.

Don River (West Don River), slightly west of Bayview Ave.

Dunnett’s swimming hole in the Don River
William Wallace Judd (1883-1981)
Photograph, 1900

Once a popular place to cool off in the summer heat, it is no longer advisable to swim in the Don River because of pollution and sewer overflow.

This swimming hole was located on the west branch of the Don River, close by present day Bayview Avenue. Dunnett was a local farmer and blacksmith.

Victoria Skating Rink, Gerrard St. E., s.w. cor. Sherbourne St.; looking n., Allan Gardens immediately behind rink.

Victoria Skating Rink

Unknown artist Photograph of engraving, coloured with watercolours, 1863

Gift of John Ross Robertson

Located at the corner of Sherbourne and Gerrard (where Allen Gardens is now located), the Victoria was once the city’s most fashionable skating rink.

This engraving, originally printed in the Canadian Illustrated News, depicts the presentation of prizes for a skating match held March 7, 1863, the first of its kind to have taken place in Toronto.

Chestnut St. (Boys rolling hoop)

Hoop rolling on Chestnut St.
James and Son
Photograph, 1922

Hoop rolling was a popular children’s game in the 19th and early 20th century.

This photograph of three boys rolling bicycle rim hoops was published in The Globe on August 29, 1922 along with the caption: “The illustration shows three young Canadians, representatives of three races, Greek, Hebrew and Polish rolling their hoops in happy unison on Chestnut street.”

Little York Junior Soccer Team

Little York Junior Soccer Team
Unknown photographer
Photograph on postcard, 1909

The Little York Junior Soccer Team played in the Danforth area of Toronto, and were part of the Ontario Soccer Association. The team won the Ontario Cup in 1908.

Merry Games for Children

Merry Games for Children
Author unknown
Toronto: William Bryce, ca. 1890s

In the late 19th century, children in Toronto enjoyed many toys and games that originated in Victorian England. Kids often played with simple, homemade equipment, like balls made out of old rags or bats fashioned out of wood.

This colourful book includes a number of familiar pastimes, like marbles, kite flying, and tag.

You can read the whole book online or download it on our Digital Archive.