Pickering , Ontario

Pickering's attractive waterfront, the 19th-century Pickering Museum Village on Duffins Creek and the city's quaint rural villages have been featured in several movies, including Lars and the Real Girl, as well as in TV commercials.

With a magnificent waterfront and a date with rapid growth, Pickering quietly goes about building a sustainable city

Fast Facts
ERNIE COOMBS, KNOWN to generations of Canadian children as television’s Mr. Dressup, lived in Pickering. So did Neil Young, who says it was while living in Pickering that he began to focus on rock ’n’ roll.

PICKERING IS THE headquarters of the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation, the agency homeowners either love or hate. Known as MPAC, the agency is responsible for assigning property values for Ontario’s municipalities.

THE PICKERING NUCLEAR Generating Station is the only nuclear plant in the world to also house a wind turbine.
Pickering has worked hard the past few years to preserve its Lake Ontario waterfront for public use. The results speak for themselves.

The city lakeshore extends from Petticoat Creek Conservation Area, across a boardwalk to an environmentally sensitive area at Frenchman’s Bay, around the bay to a yacht club and several marinas, along a “barrier beach” that protects marshland from the lake, through Millennium Square and on to Home Place, a park that celebrates the sculptures of local artist Dorsey James.

Pickering offers miles of trails that hug the waterfront and provide vistas across Lake Ontario, as well as opportunities to bicycle, in-line skate or just stroll along. You can tie up your boat at the sprawling Frenchman’s Bay, fish and enjoy the many waterfront activities, such as the annual Artfest on the Esplanade. Later, hop back into your boat and head out onto the water for amazing views of the Scarborough Bluffs.

Many waterfront spots to love

It’s hard to choose a favourite site along the water. It might be Frenchman’s Bay, well-sheltered from the storms by a narrow sandbar named Fairport Beach. The channel entrance was first constructed by the Pickering Harbour Company in the 1840s. This entrance is protected by parallel breakwaters that extend 120 metres into the lake.

Perhaps it is Rotary Frenchman’s Bay West Park, a place of diverse vegetation designated an environmentally sensitive area. This is a place of outstanding natural features in an urban setting, where the valuable ecosystem is managed, preserved and protected by the community.

Or maybe you’d choose Millennium Square as your favourite spot. Millennium Square is the heart of ongoing waterfront revitalization. It is testament to the hard work of a citizen’s committee that sparked rejuvenation as a way of transforming an underutilized waterfront into a major destination for visitors and residents alike. The waterfront’s new vibe has attracted musical entertainment, including a waterfront concert series, and theatre-in-the-park.

Away from the waterfront is the city centre, dominated by the Pickering Town Centre’s more than 200 stores, restaurants and services. Then, north of the urban area, Pickering turns into woodlands and charming rural villages.

Downtown set for major people injection

Downtown Pickering has received considerable attention recently. The Province of Ontario has identified the core as an Urban Growth Centre under its Places to Grow program, and envisions attracting 20,000 more people to the core in the next two decades. This in turn is designed to reduce urban sprawl by concentrating new development downtown.

The city’s planning department says it frequently fields inquiries from those interested in taking part in downtown developments, and expects there will soon be many new residential and commercial projects under way. Many of the ideas combine commercial, retail and high-density residential development.

In September 2009, the federal and provincial governments teamed with GO Transit to announce a $30-million investment to support intensification, urban renewal and public transit in Pickering’s city core. The project will include an enclosed pedestrian bridge that will span Highway 401 and connect the Pickering GO Station to a new, 132,000-square-foot LEED environmentally certified office tower. GO will also build a $20-million, 500-parking-spot structure at the base of the office tower to encourage greater public transit use.

Emphasis on sustainable transportation

It is hoped these projects will foster sustainability and create a more cohesive and accessible downtown district. Through GO Transit and the greater Toronto transportation authority, Metrolinx, the city’s GO Station and downtown have been designated an Anchor Mobility Hub, with efforts taken to meld commercial, retail, transit and cultural institutions.

Pickering has also been praised for its environmental and sustainable growth initiatives. In 2008, it received the Sustainable Community Planning Award, a year after it became Ontario’s first municipality to establish an Office of Sustainability. Through its Sustainable Pickering website, the city advises citizens of the various environmental programs they can access. Pickering is also one of only a handful of Ontario municipalities to have a council-approved greenhouse gas reduction target.

In 2009, Pickering had a population of 94,700. It is estimated that will grow to 132,000 by 2013, and to 141,145 by 2023. Right now, Pickering’s biggest employer is Ontario Power Generation, which employs 6,000 at its Pickering Nuclear Generating Station.

Pickering residents have a choice of several hospitals in nearby Toronto and Oshawa. None exists within the city limits, although the joint Ajax and Pickering Health Centre is right next door in the Town of Ajax.

Scenic waterfront, rural villages attract film crews

The attractive waterfront, and the care with which officials have tried to preserve Pickering’s many rural villages, as well as establish the 19th-century Pickering Museum Village on Duffins Creek, have paid off by attracting several film and television crews and advertisers. Pickering takes a sophisticated approach to attracting and assisting these companies, offering location-scouting assistance and making must-know information on regulations and filming fees readily available.

The Duffins Creek heritage village in Greenwood has proved popular with those seeking “period” locations, as have the many country roads, century farmhouses, rolling farmland, abandoned graveyards, historic homes and wooded conservation areas.

It all began back in 1957 when the joint CBC/Hollywood TV production of Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans was filmed in Pickering. In 2003, the two-part mini-series based on Leamington-born author Nino Ricci’s Lives of the Saints, co-starring Sophia Loren, filmed scenes on a Pickering farm. More recent productions have included Degrassi and the films Traitor, Diary of the Dead, Lars and the Real Girl and various TV commercials.

Airport expansion would spell boom for Pickering

And what of the future? Since the 1970s, there has been frequent talk about building a Toronto-area airport to relieve congestion at Pearson. As air traffic increases and predictions are that Pearson will reach its capacity some time between 2017 and 2023, attention is again turning to the nearly 19,000 acres of northern Pickering expropriated in 1972 by the federal government. If the airport goes ahead, it will be a major economic boon to the city.

On the real estate front, recent listings for waterfront property in Pickering included a three-bedroom, two-bath, 16th-floor condo apartment with views of the lake and Frenchman’s Bay for $198,000, and a nearby three-bedroom, three-bath townhouse for $334,900. Another listing featured a three-storey, three-bedroom executive townhome overlooking the lake and marina — complete with docking at your doorstep — for $505,000.