Driving Airport Road (Mono Road)

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I’m working on a travelogue piece on Airport Road. It’s a bit of a follow-up on my Yonge Street blog series, but this is an article I’m actually hoping to sell. The premise is, since Yonge Street’s length as a perfect road is only 56 kilometres, there must be other straight-line and perfect roads out there, and what would they be like to explore? I’d drive the road, talk about its history, and profile the communities en route.

Airport Road runs as a perfect road (straight drive, no jogs at intersections, keeping the same name) from the border between Mississauga and Toronto, all the way to the northern boundary of Dufferin County, a trek of almost 80 kilometres. Unofficially, the Airport Road name continues a few kilometres north to the intersection with Highway 26 in the community of Stayner. At either end, road segments fit seamlessly in place, such that you can drive from the foot of Scarlett Road near the Toronto Junction, along Dixon Road, past the Airport, and via Highway 26 and Hume Street into the centre of Collingwood, on the shores of Georgian Bay.

A week ago Thursday, I drove this route. It took me about six hours, thanks to the many stops along the way. It offers considerable variety of scenery, including some spectacularly rugged territory in Dufferin County. This post does not contain my article, but it does contain some of the photographs I shot enroute. Over the next few weeks, the leaves will be changing colour. I encourage all Torontonians to drive this route, to take in some spectacular fall scenery.

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The drive starts inauspiciously at Scarlett Road and Dundas Street. Scarlett Road passes beneath a bridge holding CP’s mainline between Toronto and London. The first businesses aren’t found until St. Clair Avenue, the next street north.

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The Messina Bakery and Deli is a classic Italian store and bakery at the corner of Scarlett and St. Clair. It serves excellent cuppacino.

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Scarlett Road runs along the height of land above the Humber River valley. It’s proximity to the river limited development until after the Second World War. The bulk of the development along the road is either low density residential, or high rise apartments.

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สัตว์ใต้ท้องทะเลLooking at a map, you can see that Scarlett Road used to continue along its alignment on what is today Riverview Heights, but the area has changed. The road curves onto Dixon Road and there is no choice for car drivers on where to go.

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This area is known as Humber Heights. Its roots go back to the early 1850s when it was part of the Village of Weston. The settlement on this side of the river was washed away in a storm that raised the level of the Humber by twenty feet (Hurricane Hazel would do the same again in 1954, forcing the establishment of Toronto’s river valley park system). Only St. Philips Church and Cemetery, at the corner of Royal York and Dixon, remain from this period.

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My drive now follows the old Dixon sideroad. Suburban residential homes from the fifties slowly give way to flat industrial properties, kept low by the airport.

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High rise apartments punctuate Dixon Road around Kipling Avenue. This area has, unfortunately, become known for its poverty.

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After passing beneath Highway 401, Dixon Road becomes a hotel and convention centre strip. Again, densities are kept to a minimum to avoid conflicting with Pearson’s flight paths.

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Airport Road starts beneath Highway 427, with absolutely no fanfare. One moment you’re on Dixon Road, the next you’re on Airport Road. This shot is as close as I could get, filling up my car at the nearest gas station. The road network of Pearson Airport makes this a very pedestrian unfriendly environment.

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North of the Highway 409 entrance into Pearson, the buildings here are aircraft hangars, fast food joints and cheap motels.

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At this point on Airport Road, one of the major runways comes very close to the street. If the wind is from the west, you can stand by the Wendy’s and watch planes arrive, just fifty or so feet above the traffic. It is an amazing sight. Unfortunately, the wind was from the south today, so the planes were landing from the north.

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Two plane-watchers, waiting for the Snowbirds to arrive (they were due for the Air Show on the weekend). Airport Road, known in the 19th century as the Sixth Line, once ran straight as blazes to the corner of today’s Eglinton and Renforth. Here, it was the boundary between Toronto Township and the Toronto Gore. The route it used to take is now occupied by the airport.

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I wanted pictures of more planes coming in, so I diverted to a parking lot off Derry Road to take these shots. The corner of Airport Road and Derry is the heart of the old community of Malton. Established in the 19th century, it saw a lot of its development following the Second World War. Much of that development has been swamped by airport construction and sprawl, however.

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Another plane landing.

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Development around the Derry Road/Airport Road intersection: post-war strip malls seeing the influence of Toronto’s immigrant communities and their move to the suburbs. There is an excellent Indian restaurant nearby, and a Sikh temple.

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North of Steeles, and north of Highway 407, we enter Brampton. Airport Road was the former boundary of Chinguacosy Township and the Toronto Gore before they were amalgamated into the new city in 1974. The houses of Malton have given way to large industrial/commercial buildings feeding off their proximity to the airport.

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I have been over an hour on the road (spending some time watching the planes come in). North of Brampton, we finally see some signs of countryside. But sprawl threatens even here.

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Caledon is a rural township, formed when the smaller township of Caledon was merged with Albion Township. Airport Road (Sixth Line) was the boundary here as well. Developments are gathering around some of the rural hamlets, but some of the character seems unchanged from the 19th century.

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Airport Pizza in the community of Mono Road (pronounced Moh-no!, thank you very much) in the heart of eastern Caledon. Airport Road used to be known as Mono Road, when it was established to serve the Townships of Mono and Mulmur in the 1820s (running as far south as Montgomery’s Tavern in Islington). The community itself is much newer, however…

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Just up the road is the larger community of Caledon East. A railway to Toronto used to serve this community, running along the bottom of the town’s river valley. A competing railroad couldn’t build in this valley, and so had to run along the height of land, well south of the town. The Caledon East stop was named “Mono Road Station”, and the community of Mono Road grew up around it. Both railways are now gone.

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Entering Caledon East from the south. The town boasts restaurants, an LCBO store, the Caledon Inn, and an idyllic setting. It’s a perfect place to visit.

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A big reason to visit Caledon is its nature trails. The Bruce Trail passes winds its way through the forks of the Credit River. If you want something elss strenuous but just as beautiful, try the Caledon Trailway, an abandoned railway that has been converted into a nature trail sweeping the breadth of the township. Caledon East is a perfect rest stop.

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A map of the trails of Caledon.

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Leaving Caledon East, the landscape starts to get more rugged. North of here lies the Niagara Escarpment and the headwaters of rivers running into Lakes Ontario (including the Humber River), Erie and Huron. I thought this was a steep hill, but I hadn’t seen anything, yet.

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North of Highway 9, we leave Caledon Township, Peel Region, the Greater Toronto Area and enter Dufferin County. Here, Airport Road presented an engineering challenge. The Mono Road climbed up and down valley walls and eventually hopped over to the seventh concession line. Until the 1960s, it petered out a few kilometres north of here.

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In 1966, the province of Ontario pushed Airport Road through the Hockley Valley, following the sixth concession instead of the seventh. By 1970, the road was complete to the north end of the county. It was a minor engineering miracle. Even so, the rolling nature of the road still causes accidents, as this sign warns.

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Simply letting go of the brakes will propel you to speeds of upwards of 100 km/h, and there are sharp curves ahead. Solution: don’t let go of your brakes, and pay attention. This can be a challenge.

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More hills. The first municipality you encounter in Dufferin County is the Town of Mono, home to rolling hills, farms, and small rural communities. A great place to see the change of seasons.

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Mono gives way to the Township of Mulmur at Highway 89. Also, the land flattens out, though not by much. On my right is, of all things, a German restaurant called “Ludwig’s Outpost”.

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A highlight of this trip is a visit to the Dufferin County Archives and Museum. It only costs $5 to attend, and there are a number of interesting historical displays, and a wonderful view at the top of a specially constructed silo.

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Historic log cabin preserved inside the museum building. I was here to meet Archivist Steve Brown, who kindly allowed me to look at several old maps and texts to learn about the history of Airport Road (formerly the Mono Road)

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Silo view, looking southwest towards the Airport Road/Highway 89 intersection.

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Silo view, looking east.

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Silo view, looking west.

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Silo view, looking north, towards the rest of my journey.

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Mulmur Township may not be as rugged as the Town of Mono, at least along Airport Road. However, the township barely has 3000 residents, and its density of 10.8 persons per square kilometre is half that of Mono to the south. There is a lot of beautiful scenery to enjoy.

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Towards the northern end of Dufferin County, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. The County was created out of five townships snatched from neighbouring Simcoe and Wellington Counties, and is thus one of the smallest counties in Ontario.

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You can tell where Airport Road ends thanks to a sign welcoming you to Simcoe County, and the fact that good pavement ends. Airport Road moves seamlessly into Simcoe County Road 42, through the community of Avening, and on into the town of Stayner (population 3000).

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Approaching Stayner, Ontario, in the township of Clearview. The land has really flattened out from Dufferin County, as we approach Georgian Bay.

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Simcoe County Road 42 ends here, at a four-way intersection where Highway 26 comes in from the east and takes a right turn, continuing north. That’s where my journey will continue. Simcoe County officially recognizes a nearby sideroad as its own Airport Road (thanks to the Collingwood Regional Airport), but the locals all refer to County Road 42 as “Airport Road” and are well aware of its direct route to Toronto.

I took more photographs north of here, but my cell phone lost them, for some reason. The road continues as Highway 26 into the Town of Wasaga Beach. Reaching the shores of Georgian Bay, it turns northwest and follows the water to the edge of Collingwood, Ontario. Then Highway 26 takes a right turn, and my street becomes Hume. A few more blocks takes me to the edge of Collingwood’s downtown (a beautiful place with restored turn-of-the-century buildings), before ending at a T-intersection with Hurontario Street (yes, that Hurontario Street from Mississauga, even though it breaks in several places north of Orangeville).

The traffic picks up dramatically past the Highway 26 intersection in Stayner. Wasaga Beach and Collingwood are Ontario’s playground, boasting beautiful water, beautiful cliffs, trails, snowmobile runs and, in Wasaga Beach’s case, the longest stretch of freshwater beach in the world. People use Highway 26 to get here, after first taking the speedy (but congested) Highway 400 to get out of town.

At the Messina Bakery and Deli at the start of my trip, they knew that Airport Road was a quieter, slower alternate they could take to get to Collingwood; the owner himself had taken it when he had time on his hands, but mostly he rides Highway 400 with its 100 kph speed limits. The street is something of a secret, kept that way because Torontonians don’t want to wait in order to escape the big smoke to cottage country.


Update

Glenn Kapasky writes:

Interesting blog on Airport road. I found the part about Sixth Line particularly interesting as I grew up a few blocks from the foot of Sixth Line. My parents still have their house off Renforth Drive. Today the only evidence of Sixth Line ever having been there is the fence gate where the road used to be. When I was growing up we used to ride our bikes up Sixth Line (although I recall the street sign reading “Sixth Line East”). Sixth Line was there until about 1981as I recall the road being closed when I was in high school.

In the late Seventies Sixth Line was being used as an illegal dump with the dead end just south of the 401 full of refuse. Eventually the garbage was cleaned up, the area was fenced off and a gate was installed at the south end of Sixth Line closing the road to traffic. Sometime between 1981 when the gate went up and 1985 when the ‘Airport Corporate’ area was built up (1985), the remaining pavement was ripped up leaving only the gate as a reminder of Sixth Line.

The Renforth loop is located just east of where Sixth Line ended. To say Sixth Line went to the corner of where present day Eglinton meets Renforth isn’t entirely accurate as you can see from the photos. I would have to check with my parents who moved into the area in the early Sixties but I believe Eglinton was formerly Richview Sideroad. Renforth ended at Richview (Eglinton). The portion of present day Renforth north of Eglinton was known as Indian Line which continued up what is now 427 (north of Eglinton). Regardless, the portion of Renforth (Indian Line) north of Eglinton used to continue in a straight line southbound from the present day Matheson bridge (built 1992) and ended beside Sixth Line, exiting out on Richview where the Renforth loop now stands. This was later moved east to connect with Renforth around the time Richview became Eglinton. Whew.

Glenn points out that the remains of Sixth Line and Indian Line can be barely made out in satellite photos showing a V-shaped field and a tree line between Eglinton Avenue and Matheson Boulevard just west of Renforth. The left side of the V is the former Sixth Line and the right side is the former Indian Line. Thanks Glenn!

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