Roncesvalles was originally settled by Colonel Walter O’Hara in 1850. O’Hara was a soldier in the British army prior to immigrating to Canada. O’Hara was wounded and captured by the French in the Roncesvalles Gorge in northern Spain; hence the name Roncesvalles. O’Hara,who was originally from Ireland, named the streets here after family members including: O’Hara, Geoffrey, Constance, Marion and Sorauren. Fermanagh is the county in Northern Ireland where the O’Hara clan originated.
The development of the present-day neighbourhood was spurred on by the street-car, which came to this area in the early 1900s. Roncesvalles was a family-oriented neighbourhood right from the start. Nearby industries offered employment to the many British immigrants that settled here.The landmark St.Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church on Roncesvalles was the spiritual centre of these first residents.
Following the Second World War an influx of Eastern Europeans, predominantly Poles, settled in Roncesvalles. They built their own church: St.Casimir’s. Sir Casimir Gzowski, a Polish patriot, settled in Toronto in the early 1850s and was instrumental in the building of Toronto’s roads and railways.
Roncesvalles is known for its European ambience and small-town feel.This neighbourhood is popular with young families who appreciate the convenience of the location just west of downtown. The close proximity to High Park, Toronto waterfront bicycle and walking trails, easy access to public transit, and the Roncesvalles shops and restaurants are also popular drawing cards.
The Roncesvalles Polish Festival, which takes place annually in September, attracts thousands of visitors. Roncesvalles Avenue is closed off for this festival that includes Polish dancers, children's games and rides, polka bands and lots of food and refreshments.
Roncesvalles Avenue is said to be a favourite among streetcar enthusiasts, who relish the fact that the stops are distanced far enough apart for the streetcar to build up some speed,and who appreciate the picturesque and lively atmosphere along the route.