COLUMN: Surrey, meet Mississauga

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Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Mississauga, Ontario on a brief trip to that province.

The similarities between Mississauga and Surrey are significant, and it could be said that Mississauga is a picture of where Surrey will be in 10 to 15 years’ time.

For those who don’t know, Mississauga is the largest Toronto suburb. Located immediately west of Toronto, it is home to the Toronto International Airport, so almost anyone who has visited Toronto has been in Mississauga.

Its current population is approaching 750,000. Surrey’s estimated population for 2010 was 474,000.

Mississauga is ethnically diverse – as is Surrey. In 2006, Surrey’s population was 46 per cent Caucasian, 27.5 per cent South Asian and five per cent Chinese, with many other ethnic groups making up the balance. Mississauga had a Caucasian population of 49 per cent; South Asian, 21.6 per cent; and a Chinese population of 6.9 per cent.  In both cities, the number of residents born outside Canada is high – 30 per cent in Surrey, 46 per cent in Mississauga.

Mississauga’s background is somewhat different from Surrey’s. It was once a rural farming community, and gradually became suburban and then more urban, as a result of freeways, the airport and proximity to Toronto. The first big urbanizing factor was the building of Ontario’s first freeway, Queen Elizabeth Way, back in 1935.

Surrey also was once totally rural. The first factor in gradual change to a more suburban community was the opening of the Pattullo Bridge in 1937. The construction of the Highway 1 and 99 freeways in the early 1960s threw the gates wide open.

Mississauga has lots of jobs and a young population, as does Surrey. It has a downtown civic centre with a major shopping centre and city hall. It is encouraging more density there. It sounds very similar to what is going on in Surrey – with city hall relocating to what is known as Surrey City Centre. The presence of Simon Fraser University has made the area much more vibrant, and Sheridan College is planning a similar downtown campus in Mississauga, which is also home to a campus of the University of Toronto.

There are many head offices located in Mississauga – 60 Fortune 500 companies have head offices there. This is not surprising, considering that Toronto is the financial capital of Canada, and there is also the proximity to the airport. Surrey will likely never come close in this category.

However, Surrey’s two border crossings add strength to the Surrey economy, and the annual Surrey Economic Summits have served to give Surrey an even higher profile in some respects than its Ontario counterpart.

Mayor Dianne Watts is finishing her second term as Surrey’s mayor. In Mississauga, Hazel McCallion has been mayor since 1978, and often wins unopposed. Watts has started to build that type of hold on power in Surrey, but it is unlikely she is planning to be mayor for 33 years.

Transportation issues are important in Mississauga, as they are here. While GO trains provide good commuter service to and from downtown Toronto, the bus service is operated within the city. This gives Mississauga more control over transit, but on my visit there, I didn’t see too many city buses. Most people are dependent on their cars, as they are here.

Mississauga has developed as a very important city in Ontario. In fact, it is larger than many U.S. cities that front on the Great Lakes, including Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo. Its diverse population and strategic location mean it will continue to grow, and likely provide a disproportionate share of jobs in the Greater Toronto area.

Surrey’s future may be quite similar.

Frank Bucholtz is the editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.


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