Mississauga Life — Early Spring 2015
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Home In The Valley
Steve Pecar

Making the mixture work.

It’s a valley by definition, but perhaps not the kind you imagine.

Indeed, it’s a geographically low area of the city, defined primarily by a massive park with a number of smaller parks intersected by the Cooksville Trail. But instead of mountains or hills running alongside, its peaks are hi-rise apartments, capped by the Marilyns keeping watchful eyes on the neighbourhoods below.

Welcome to the Mississauga Valley.

The Valley (or The Valleys, depending on who you ask), is a self-contained Mississauga community, defined very much by Mississauga Valley Boulevard which connects neighbourhoods through its circular path.

The Valley is not a destination point for outsiders. It’s not a place to “go” as much as a place to “be” for those who live there. “Before I moved here, I didn’t even know it was here,” says Joe Rabb as he heads to his car at Iona Plaza. “It’s pretty hidden and kind of cut off from the rest of the city.”

But rather than feeling isolated, Rabb says he feels protected from the chaos that comes with Hurontario Street, Burnhamthorpe Road and Dundas Street, the roads that surround the community. “Let them do what they do out there,” he continues. “We have our own life here. We’re doing well.”

He hits the nail perfectly on the head when he talks about his community. The Valley offers no pretense, and it just may be that lack of pretense that gives The Valley its sense of community.

The Mississauga Valley Community Centre is the focal point, with the adjacent Mississauga Valley Park; both are popular and well-used throughout the year. The centre houses a library, pool, hockey rink, fitness centre, and community meeting rooms as well as an adjacent gymnasium, and also serves as a place to go when you just need to hang out.

Having gone through several incarnations over the years, the area is now home to a diverse mix of people who come from... well, everywhere. “There is a certain bond that people share when you are new to this country,” explains Ron Cunningham. “No matter where you are from, the experience can be similar.”

He should know. Cunningham is co-founder and chief executive officer of Citizens for the Advancement of Community Development (CACD), a grassroots organization “dedicated to transforming the lives of at-risk youth between the ages of 10–25.”

Working mainly from the Mississauga Valley Community Centre, CACD helps about 1,000 individuals each year with character, leadership and skills development to become more empowered, self-reliant and positive citizens. Cunningham and his dedicated group of volunteers see this as unique to the community. “Yes, their backgrounds may be different, but all of these young people have the same goal of trying to fit in,” says Cunningham. “They have to work hard at it, but when you see results it shows that the effort has been worthwhile.”

Many who have gone through the various programs, including resumé assistance, interview preparation, employment training, and financial literacy (to name a few), now return to lend their guidance, clearing the path for the next group.

Jarvus Beecham says he should still be in high school, but he isn’t. He acknowledges that, yes, it would be easy to be up to no good, but he remains focused on taking positive steps in his life, even if it means doing so outside the classroom. He believes The Valley should be proud of the way people from different backgrounds come together here. “It’s just the way it is when you grow up together,” Beecham says. “There are some problems sometimes, but we stick by each other when it counts.”

Cunningham believes that co-operation can work wonders, especially when unemployment, crime, lack of skills training, and integrating into Canadian society as a newcomer present big challenges, though he notes that the mixture of apartments, townhouses and single-family homes in The Valley can isolate people, preventing collaboration and coping in a new culture. “No community is perfect, but we can try to make it better,” he explains. “It’s a unique place in a big city. It’s our home and we are trying to make things work.”

It’s true, The Valley might be one of Mississauga’s hidden neighbourhoods, but there are forces at work to make it an even safer, more welcoming community with a welcome mix of character.

Steve Pecar is a well experienced Mississauga-based journalist. For more information on the Mississauga Valley community, visit cacdcanada.org.