By Myles Marcus
The intersection of Hurontario and Dundas Streets in Mississauga, near Square One Shopping Centre, is transit-accessible – by Mississauga standards, of course. It’s also accessible by vehicle, like any suburban enclave, but ironically most of the parking lots are a mess. The two-storey buildings lining the streets mimic the parking, all trying to fit in more than their capacity. Add to that the consistently gaudy storefront signage, and one could be quick to dismiss this corner in favour of on someplace better known, like Kensington Market, Queen West or Roncesvalles. But although dwarfed by those neighbourhoods in the mental geography of the Greater Toronto Area, “Five and Ten,” as some like to call it, is most certainly comparable in terms of attracting crowds. The main difference is that the crowds aren’t here because this is the latest It Neighbourhood, but because it is a haven for necessities not found elsewhere. Five and Ten is where locals assist newcomers unfamiliar with the “Canadian experience”, while longtime residents buy their favourite groceries – and try something new from time to time.
The nickname “Five and Ten” comes from the original names of Dundas Street (Highway 5) and Hurontario Street (Highway 10). The two thoroughfares, both of which run beyond Mississauga's borders, support heavy traffic regularly. But this bustling corner wasn’t always the way it is now. The intersection was once part of in the neighbourhood of Cooksville, which became a part of the new city of Mississauga in the 1970s. It sits in close proximity to the city centre, where most of Mississauga's post-war growth is concentrated. The abundance of condo developments and the opening of Square One were huge draws for new arrivals to Canada, as well as those exhausted by Toronto's pricier housing market.
The area in and around Five and Ten is an integral part of the city's nucleus. Square One, City Hall and Cooksville Go Station are all nearby. There are neighbourhood staples such as a public library branch and a series of schools. Development hasn't stopped: the Absolute condo towers (also known as the “Marilyn Monroe” towers because of their eye-catching curves) quickly became an icon of Mississauga's rapid growth – and its potential future. But the real reason people come to Five and Ten? They've come to shop.
The small independent shops are pretty much the raison d'être for Five and Ten. Many of them cater to various ethnic groups, predominantly South Asian and West Indian residents, for whom the grocery stores, hairstylists and other businesses truly do conjure images of a “home away from home.” Centre City Place, a small indoor plaza on Hurontario north of Dundas, is anchored by a butcher shop, surrounded by eateries featuring everything from dhal to donair to dim sum. Right next door is an outdoor plaza (one whose front entrance is cursed by that bad parking), where the most popular shop is Charlie's West Indian Food Mart, the definitive go-to place for Caribbeans and non-Caribbeans alike (just ask my family). Also worth a mention is the multitude of Black-owned barbershops and hair salons on Hurontario south of Dundas: places like Trinbago and Just Incredible feature an apartment-style arrangement and a busy atmosphere that mirrors any similar setup in downtown Toronto.
Other businesses provide much-needed essential services for the immigrant and second-generation population. The intersection is scattered with money transfer agencies, such as Money Mart and Cash Money, used for borrowing loans as well as sending remittances to family abroad. South of Dundas, a photography store has more than just cameras and frames: it also offers passport photos and other citizenship services, including work visas. Services west of Hurontario, such as India Rainbow Community Services of Peel and the Newcomer Centre of Peel, focus on community needs such as language education, employment help and settlement services.
I appreciate these small, independent establishments, and sometimes worry that Five and Ten might see the encroachment of larger chains. After all, it's easy to be reminded of the gentrification of neighbourhoods such as Queen West, where the presence of Starbucks and H&M has replaced the seedy, bohemian character that made the area famous. While Cooksville does have its McDonald's, Shoppers Drug Mart and the like, they’re unlikely to leave a major dent in Five and Ten anytime soon. Constant demand from across the GTA is currently maintaining the neighbourhood’s character, since the shops and essential services offered here aren’t always easy to find. This does not rule out the possibility of wide-scale transformation in the future, but residents and vendors alike can help the community continue to thrive. Hopefully they’ll redesign its parking lots too.