Lost villages: Pickering’s Peculiar Predicament

Pickering Village, at the corner of Kingston Road and Church Street in Durham Region is a great example of a village hidden in plain sight. Thousands of cars speed past Pickering Village, many destined to the nearby Pickering Town Centre shopping mall, or the big-box complexes to the east, near Salem Road, few even noticing the mostly intact historic core of western Durham Region.

The area was settled by Quakers in the early 1800s, where the new Danforth Road to Kingston crossed Duffin’s Creek. A post office, opened in 1829 was called Pickering, after a village in Yorkshire, England (which, 175 years later, confused early web designers for Metrolinx). The Grand Trunk Railway opened a station where it crossed Church Street, just south of the village centre.¬† The settlement, which shared its name with the surrounding township, was granted “police village” status in 1900, and full municipal status in 1953.

(Police villages were settlements with limited autonomy from the parent township[s] – Thornhill, straddled by Markham and Vaughan Townships, was another example.)

However, in the round of municipal reorganizations in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Pickering Village was amalgamated with the Town of Ajax, and not with the rest of Pickering.

The village was later partially bypassed by a re-alignment of Kingston Road. This helped to preserve the village’s buildings, but removed all through traffic from the main street, though the corner of Kingston and Church remained essentially the same. When GO Transit began rail operations in 1967 between Pickering and Hamilton, it selected a station site at the junction of the new CN freight bypass, called Pickering Junction, and passenger service to the original Pickering station ended.


Looking east on Old Kingston Road.

There has been some reinvestment in Pickering Village in recent years, low-rise post-modern residential buildings anchor the west end of the village. A faux-Tudor commercial development, which seems to date from the 1980s, attempts to integrate itself with its historic neighbours. Some specialty retailers have also made their home here, and some businesses, like the ubiquitous Chinese restaurant and delivery, have hung on. But the traditional centre of Ajax (developed as a post-war New Town) are the post-war plazas lining Harwood Road (with its own BIA!), so Pickering Village feels like neither here or there.


Old and faux-old together in Pickering Village

Meanwhile, the the Town/City of Pickering, without its historic centre, has attempted to follow the path forged by Bramalea and Mississauga by centring itself around a major shopping mall, but with far less dramatic effect than Mississauga (Brampton moved its inherited city hall downtown). The civic centre, in late 1980s post-modern splendour, is embossed with its civic coat of arms. The inclusion of the Rutherford model, clearly referencing the nuclear power station, makes the coat of arms and the flag look like something out of Springfield, USA. The rest of Pickering Centre is unfortunately drab and characterless Рthe only remotely exciting news is talk of a grand pedestrian bridge spanning Highway 401 to connect the mall with the GO Train station.

4 comments

  1. “Drab and characterless” sums up a good portion of Durham Region.

  2. The old Pickering Quaker cemetery is just a little further east along Kingston Rd, at Mill St. It’s a surprisingly peaceful green place.

  3. Pickering Village is actually one of the nicer corners of Pickering…. em… I mean Ajax. Its a very small area with some old and faux-old buildings that should not necessarily bad for commercial. The heavy traffic being moved off Old Kingston Rd. actually helps. It makes the place walkable. However, it seems like many of the businesses are tired and under-capitalized. I know of one that moved out as the rent was unreasonable. There are few reasons to go there.

    The contrast with the post-war Harwood Rd area is worth looking at. This area was an ammunition factory in WW2 and a UofT campus in the post-war years. It has physically run-down but very prosperous and friendly 1950s plazas. The notion of a plaza is not devoid of culture either, this is the hangout of acclaimed writer Rabrindranath Mahara. It has a great comic book store. It has a great family run hardware store. It has a great shwarma place and a bakery.

    To put this in some context, Ajax was a city for many years that was desperate for ANY commercial development. Until the 1990s it had no hotel or movie theatre and not much shopping at all. The big box stores have only arrived since then. Pickering Village has always been dead.

    So we have two areas… one with “pretty” old buildings and one with “ugly” old buildings. Curiously, the “pretty” area is the one lacking a life.

  4. There are many things that confuse Metrolinx such as the existence of Railpath.

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