Deconstructing the Myth of Dangerousness on 10 and 5
Written By Mahek Basar
When I was thirteen, my friend Ananya came over to my new place from school. We decided to go out and get an Iced Cap from Tim Horton’s that was only five minutes away. On our way, her 20-year-old brother called her. She rolled her eyes as she listened to her brother on her flip phone.
“I don’t believe him”, frustrated, Ananya shoved her green phone in her Jansport backpack. “He ordered me to leave at once because apparently, this place is dangerous”.
“Why, what happened?”
“I don’t know. Some guy got shot in the Timmies parking lot or something. Whatever, I don’t care.”
This was the first time I found out my new home was in a dangerous neighbourhood. Over the next few months, Ananya’s visits to my house became infrequent. Or only occurred in daylight. Soon, my friends stopped visiting my house altogether, as their parents insisted I come to their Square One homes instead. I could not understand how Cooksville was dangerous for my friends to merely visit when my family was living in it.
Intrigued, I decided to research the perception of my neighbourhood. While surfing digital real estate platforms like Village Guru, I realized Cooksville was often referred to as “affordable” and dense (2017). I am certainly not fluent in the housing market lingo, but affordable is a nicer term for cheap, as cozy is for small. Also, a popular website visited frequently by Mississauga residents and visitors alike, insauga.com, ranks Cooksville as the top “rough” neighbourhood of Mississauga (2017). I also came across numbeo.com, a website where lay people compare cities in terms of costs of living, pollution and crime rate. Interestingly, many recent commentators described Cooksville as Mississauga’s ghetto. Anonymous users also claimed that the crime rate in Cooksville has increased significantly, with recent shootings and frequent drug deals, that are swept under the rug. These users also warned other not to visit Cooksville at night, and then complain about getting robbed. With its sketchy parlors, diverse and dense population, Cooksville seems to have earned a spicy reputation for itself among its Mississaugians. As someone who has resided in Cooksville for over seven years, I found these accusations quite exaggerated, which is why I decided to dig deeper into the character of my neighbourhood through this article.
History of Cooksville
Mississauga and youth are often synonymous terms since Mississauga is a relatively new establishment compared to its ancient neighbour, Toronto. However, unlike the rest of Mississauga, Cooksville was an up-and-running community way back in the Victorian Era. Daniel Harris, an American settler came to present day Hurontario and Dundas in 1800, such that the intersection was initially named ‘Harrisville” after him. Some 20 years later, however, a pioneer, Jacob Cook, set his eyes on Harrisville when he realized how fruitful Harrisville’s location was to his endeavours. Cook delivered mail between York and Niagara, and soon his entrepreneur spirit awakened. He established coach services to major cities around Ontario, like London, Kingston, Hamilton along with York and Niagara. Thus, Harrisville became travelers’ crossroads, and was renamed after its most influential resident, Cook, to Cooksville. This presented the ambitious Cook with another business opportunity. As weary travellers needed a place to relax, get a drink, or even spend the night before continuing their journeys, Cook built them a tavern in the heart of his burgeoning community.
However, if you visit Cooksville today, you will see no taverns. All remnants and memories of Cook’s community were either destroyed by a fire in the mid-19th century, or demolished through gentrification over the years. After the birth of Mississauga, Cooksville was chosen as the new city’s capital of politics. It housed several municipal offices, along with the central library branch and two school board offices. Five decades later, Cooksville is no longer its city’s centre of politics as that dominion has been taken over by its polished neighbour: Square One.
The neighbourhood of Cooksville has survived fires, served as the headquarters for Cook’s empire, hosted political activities for decades, in addition to housing Canada’s first winery in the 1860s. Yet, today the words most often associated with Cooksville are crime, ghetto, or dangerous. While Cooksville may not resemble any aspects of its heritage, its current character is still misunderstood. To determine just how dangerous or ghetto this historical neighbourhood really is, I conducted a few interviews with its residents.
People of Cooksville
I addressed some version of the following question to my interviewees: “Do you think this area is dangerous?”
Rauf, the father
I first spoke with Rauf, a Pakistani man in his mid-thirties who recently moved out of Cooksville. After taking a moment to think about his answer, Rauf finally said, “I mean in the past few months before I left in summer of last year, I definitely felt a rise in criminal activity and police surveillance, so I thought okay this place is no longer safe for my family and that’s why I moved. Even my wife used to see these things”.
“You’ve seen a lot of police presence?” I probed him further.
“Yeah, I have seen them in uniforms as well as in regular clothes. I used to go out for a smoke in the evening and I would see the cruisers pull up. They usually came to that white family with legit warrants. I think they are involved in drugs”.
“What kind of drugs?”
“I don’t know. I mean I have never seen any drugs around. I just think it may have been drugs.”
My mother joined in on the conversation as well, and informed me that, “[Police] once came for that Pakistani guy too. You know the one with the bad temper? I don’t know what it was for though”.
“Yes, and you know that Guyanese guy that was murdered last year?” Rauf reminded me of an incident I had no recollection of, “his friends hosted a memorial for him across the street. Don’t you remember that day when it was very crowded? He was involved with drugs too I think.”
Rauf, after witnessing the rise in criminal activity in Cooksville, decided to move into the suburbs of Oshawa. He was afraid of the negative influence living in Cooksville would have on his young boys. “There are a lot of shady people living here, you know?” He once told me, when encouraging us to move out as well. “Guyanese, blacks, Arabs and those trouble-making bachelor Pakistani boys”.
After interviewing Rauf, I realized he had no concrete evidence against Cooksville. Most of the “criminal activities” he recalled were drenched with rumors and stereotypes. He witnessed police arriving to someone’s house and assumed it was for drugs. He insisted the Cooksville was being populated by “shady” people, who were in essence young, coloured men. The association of young, coloured men with crime is no new phenomenon. And while there are many coloured men living in Cooksvile, most of them are living with their families. Cooksville with its affordable rent rates, and proximity to banks, ethnic grocery stores, Square One and GO station allows car-less newcomers to conveniently carry out day to day activities in a foreign land.
Karim, the butcher
One day, as I was buying meat from my local butcher, I asked him whether he felt there was too much police presence in our neighbourhood.
“They came the other day, looking for Rauf”, he told me in his thick Afghani accent.
“Rauf?” I was surprised to hear police would be interrogating the gentle father of three.
“Not him. The other one,” he pointed with his thumb to the left, his hand covered in chicken blood. “He beat up his boss, you know? The man wouldn’t pay him, so he lost it.”
Hamid, the teenager
The next day, I ran into my seventeen-year neighbour while coming home from school, and decided to gather his perception of our neighbourhood.
“How dangerous would you say this place is?”
“In what sense?” Hamid, the skinny Arab boy, countered. He was wearing faded jeans and a hoodie, and he was leaning back on the wall to an Indian takeout, while taking a drag on his cigarette.
“Like crimes, drugs, stuff like that…”
“I dunno. I mean, the other night I was smoking at the back, right. And this one white boy came up to me. I guess he was a boy or a man, kind of a fatty. He asked me for a cig, and I gave him one. Pretty common stuff, right? Then he went on and offered me weed but I told him I wasn’t into that shit. So, he walked away. I think those guys are his customers. The ones that come out in the evening and make the whole place smell like weeds.”
“That’s about all the drugs I seen.”
Victor, the policeman
Also, last year, I had an opportunity to speak with a police officer about Cooksville during a previous research study.
“Oh, yes 10 and 5,” the Russian constable’s eyes flashed with recognition when I told him where I was from, “you know, that area is very notorious.’”
“I know, you guys are always dropping by.”
“Yeah, too many people jaywalk on that intersection”. Jaywalkers? Crossing the road without a regard for traffic was the most notorious criminal activity that 10 and 5 was known for in the cops’ world? To say I was surprised would be an understatement. I had grown up with outsiders explaining to me just how dangerous and unsuitable Cooksville was. Surely, a police officer would be better aware of its situation. Maybe he was more aware of the situation, and didn’t find Cooksville particularly alarming. As a police officer, the constable was well aware of the worst things that could happen in a neighbourhood, and maybe they weren’t happening in Cooksville.
While I have encountered police presence in Cooksville on a regular basis, it has mostly been for road accidents, or for individual actions. For instance, they showed up to inquire about Rauf after he assaulted his employer. Or when they came asking around for a man who had gone into hiding after his work permit expired.
Cooksville may be a little more dangerous or edgy or have more character with its rich history and commercial setting, compared to other neighborhoods in Mississauga, but it is by no means the Jane and Finch of Toronto or E Eh Crump Blvd of Memphis, Tennessee. Thus, I think the dangerousness of Cooksville really depends on the identity of the individual. To middle-class parents of my friends, and the father of young children Rauf, Cooksville may seem like an unsuitable environment. But to a butcher, Cooksville may serve as the optimum location for his halal meat shop, as the neighbourhood is mostly populated by south Asians and Arabs. To Ward 7 Councillor, Nando Iannicca, the Cooksville Creek with its colourful eloquence seems like the perfect location to build Cooksville’s own Central Park, which will contribute to its prosperous legacy.
As for me, Cooksville is my home. It is by far the most interesting neighbourhood in Mississauga. At any point in its rich history, Cooksville has always displayed fascinated character that doesn’t go unnoticed. It was the host to Cook’s entrepreneurial empire. It was the centre for the politics of Toronto Township. It was the downtown of Mississauga. Today, it is a diverse, colourful neighbourhood that celebrates many cultures from around the world. Host to some of the finest and authentic Pakistani restaurants, like Bar B Q Tonite; the Chinese super store, Perfect Supermarket; the Indian takeout, Eastern Foods; as well as smattering of fast food restaurants like Popeyes, McDonald’s, Subway, KFC, and Pizza Pizza, Cooksville has something to offer for everyone. Whether you are a busy housewife looking for affordable groceries, a new immigrant needing settling services, an international student from Asian or Caribbean’s missing the taste of home, or seeking transportation to Square One, Toronto, Hamilton or Oakville, Cooksville is at your service.
Present Day Cooksville
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Mahek Basar is undergraduate student at University of Toronto, majoring in sociology and molecular biology. She would like to study and practice medicine through a sociological lens by providing health care to underprivileged populations.
She is the founder of EOFP-Educate Orphaned Females of Pakistan, a non-for-profit, charitable organization which seeks to provide underprivileged, orphaned girls in the rural areas of Pakistan with school supplies.