When I moved to Mississauga from Toronto three weeks ago, I was confident I’d find my way around my new, temporary home on a bicycle. I like challenges, and how hard could it be, really?
Hard. Almost impossible, sometimes. The east-west routes are challenging. For instance, I’ve cycled into Toronto using Dundas Street twice, but was writing my last will and testament the entire ride. Bloor is better but still not what I consider bike-friendly.
On top of that, things aren’t well advertised. What I’m looking for isn’t clearly mapped on Google, or the website (if it exists at all) hasn’t been updated recently. The area farmers’ markets are a great example of this frustration. Another is the Mississauga indie coffee shop. “Is there even such a thing,” I wondered last week, when I couldn’t come up with any in a Google search. All I could find were Tim Horton’s and McDonald’s, and a very occasional Second Cup. Even Starbucks hadn’t ventured into this area yet. That I’d discovered Vilamor was more surprising when I realized it didn’t appear in any of these searches. I’d found it on a tip from a new friend.
One day last week, I decided to cycle south for an adventure. My naturopath works at Hillcrest Centre for Health and of her two clinics, one is in Port Credit. It made sense to travel down there and have a look.
The Port Credit clinic is on Lakeshore Boulevard between Cawthra and Hurontario, so I needed to find a relatively direct bicycle route that didn’t involve amputations and shouting matches. I also hoped to find an indie coffee shop near the clinic, where I could check email and do some writing. The Google searches were inconclusive.
As in so many southern Ontario searches I’ve done recently, the maps show bike paths that begin and end in isolation, disconnected from each other and inaccessible from main roads. The main roads, like Dixie, Cawthra and Hurontario, move outrageously heavy north-south traffic. The cars, buses and trucks travel fast, and while I don’t feel animosity, many drivers are oblivious to how dangerously close to the curb they pin me.
I decided to ride south on Constitution Boulevard/Stanfield Road to the Queensway, where one of my neighbours had recommended a shared sidewalk to me. I found a fun solution: according to Google maps, I thought Alexandra Street opened onto the Queensway, which also conveniently connects to Lakeshore. The street name was easy to remember because it’s my doctor’s name, so this was a no-brainer.
It was also a fantasy. Alexandria doesn’t feed onto the Queensway: it feeds onto the Queen Elizabeth Way. All these similarly named streets are beginning to get to me. I cycled the shared sidewalk all the way to Cawthra and found only one feeder (not Alexandria), which hooked into a small, vaguely marked neighbourhood. At one point my travels took me along one of the Service Roads that run parallel to the QEW. The few pedestrians I met had no idea how to get down to Lakeshore from there. I didn’t want to get more lost; in the end, I rode along Hurontario on the sidewalk. It was disheartening and humiliating.
On Lakeshore, I found the clinic alright, but then couldn’t find a coffee shop that appealed to me. I had to wonder whether anyone in the history of Mississauga had ever attempted this adventure before me.
The neighbour who’d given me the tip about the shared sidewalk on the Queensway had also suggested I ride straight down Stanfield and that, with a little imagination, I’d find an honest-to-goodness Bike Route. The week before, when I’d asked his wife for a safe route to the Square One Farmers’ Market, she’d given glowing commendation to a bike path along Burnamthorpe. That bike path had turned out to be another shared sidewalk. I prefer not to use these too often because you’re constantly approaching from behind people who move more slowly than a bicycle and who could potentially be unnerved (or worse) at my approach. Besides, having to slow down every time I meet someone isn’t my idea of commuting by bike. With this in mind, my confidence waned at the husband’s advice about the Stanfield bike route. Still, here I was in Port Credit, looking to avoid the Service Road when I headed north.
Cycling east along Lakeshore, I looked for Alexandra Street again but instead I found Ogden Street, which rang some vague bells in my brain. Riding north (hey, this is what embracing adventure means, right?) I discovered all the things I sought, at last.
Ogden Street is like riding small-town Ontario, at its finest. There are elementary schools with large yards. Small, wartime-homes.
Signs clearly advertising a Bike Route.
Surprisingly, Ogden Street is not marked as a bike route on Google maps.
Just before the GO Train tracks, my attention was drawn to a hand-chalked sign that advertised Fair Grounds Roastery Cafe. I’d found another indie coffee shop at last. This one offers very good coffees, a limited (but excellent) array of muffins, scones and bars, and free wifi. This location was originally opened as a bean roasting site to support the east-end Port Credit cafe (which explains why I didn’t find it on a Google search). The owner decided to try opening a cafe at the roastery location, and while it’s a little off the beaten track, it gets regular customers. And now, me.
Back on the bike again, I decided to see just how far I could get on Ogden. At the end of Ogden looms Service Road, which means I’m coming to the QEW. You can’t cross the QEW unless you’re travelling on one of the three main north-south roads. Horrified, I slowed down. On my right, there suddenly appeared an enormous overpass, constructed similar to those I used all the time in Jakarta, Indonesia to transect the endless, deafening, impersonal roadways there. This overpass was constructed to allow anyone to cross the QEW, even on a bicycle. I was immediately smitten with some nameless Mississaugan who’d used forethought.
When I got home, I realized that this overpass does appear on Google maps, but completely out of context because the bike routes it connects aren’t illustrated.
On the other side is a funny little, two-block street called Insley Road. The Bike Route sign points to the back alley, behind a plaza. You can take that, or you can cycle to the next intersection at Henley Road. Both of these options open onto Stanfield Road, which turns into Constitution Boulevard, which intersects with my street.
I found my way with help from my very thoughtful neighbour. Anyone who declares Mississauga impersonal has been getting directions from the internet.