A Brief History of Public Transit in Mississauga

Text by James Bow

See Also

As of 2015, Mississauga, Ontario, located in Peel Region immediately west of the City of Toronto is Canada’s sixth largest city. It is home to over 700,000 people. It’s also a young city, formally established in 1968 by a provincial edict which merged the settlements of Lakeview, Cooksville, Lorne Park, Clarkson, Erindale, Sheridan, Dixie, Meadowvale Village, and Malton into the newborn Town of Mississauga. Mississauga became a city in 1974, as it absorbed the towns of Streetsville and Port Credit. However, settlement in the area dates back centuries before.

Original Settlement

When French fur traders came to the area in the 1600s, they met Iroquoian and Algonquian First Nations people in the Credit River Valley. The European fur traders were largely visitors to the area until the 1780s, when United Empire Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution started settling in the area.

On August 2, 1805, officials from York County purchased 84,000 acres of land from the Mississauga First Nations people, founding Toronto Township. The purchase included much of the land in what is now Mississauga, Oakville and Brampton, but left the lands around the Credit River as well as Bronte Creek and Sixteen Mile Creek. These remaining lands were bought in the 1820s. Descendants of the Mississauga Nation disputed this sale and, in January 2010, settled their land claim with the federal government, which granted the band $145 million as proper compensation for the land and lost income.

As more European immigrants settled, villages and towns started to spring up, including Clarkson, Cooksville, Dixie, and Malton. In particular, the area around the mouth of the Credit River saw substantial growth in the early part of the 19th century. The port brought trade, and the settlers continued to develop the port and the river, maintaining a prosperous community until the arrival of the railroad in 1850.

Slipping into Toronto’s Shadow

While the communities of Toronto Township were largely rural, Port Credit was a bustling town. However, once the Grand Trunk and Great Western Railways linked Toronto with Hamilton, linking Toronto Township to larger regional centres to the east and the west, trade in Port Credit harbour diminished. The community was forced to look for other industries, finding it in brick making and in tourism.

The largely rural nature of Toronto Township precluded the development of public transit, outside the inter-city railways and stagecoaches. Toronto’s development was contained within York County, and the villages along the shores of Lake Ontario approaching Etobicoke Creek (Mimico, New Toronto and Long Branch) did not see extensive development until the 1890s. On July 1, 1893, railroad mogul William Mackenzie bought out the Toronto and Mimico Railway, which had been set up to provide services to the villages in southern Etobicoke township. The railroad extended the line to Etobicoke Creek by July 1, 1895. Eight years later, the railroad received permission to cross into Toronto Township.

The railway extension paralleling Lake Shore Road was an attempt to build an electric interurban railroad connecting Toronto to Hamilton, in partnership with the Hamilton Radial Electric Railway. The latter would build east, while the Toronto and Mimico would build west, with the two meeting in Oakville. While the Hamilton railway was able to live up to its side of the bargain, the Toronto and Mimico Railway had more trouble. The Toronto line reached Hurontario Street on December 24, 1905, and was further extended to the Credit River on November 19, 1906, before the money ran out. The gap between Port Credit and Oakville, though surveyed, would never see rails.

Through Cooksville to Guelph

Further north, another electric railroad was considering laying tracks through Toronto Township. The Toronto Suburban Railway, established in 1894, began looking to build a line to connect Toronto to the city of Guelph. In 1911, a line was surveyed that took it through the central and northwestern part of Toronto Township, following Dundas Street for a ways, then running near the village of Cooksville before turning north and passing through Streetsville, Meadowvale, Norval, Georgetown, Acton and Eden Mills on its way to Guelph. William Mackenzie took over the ownership of the Toronto Suburban Railroad about this time, and launched construction in July 1912. By 1914, 41.5 miles had been laid west from the village of Islington.

The Toronto Suburban Railway’s Guelph radial line operated almost entirely on private right-of-way, using standard gauge tracks and a 1500 volt DC electrical system. There was substantial grading and filling and ambitious engineering work, including a 711-foot long, 86-foot high steel bridge across the Humber River, and a 315-foot wooden trestle over the Credit River’s west branch. Although work on the line was slowed by the First World War, the line to Guelph finally opened to the public on April 14, 1917.

Following the end of the First World War, economic instability disrupted many of the railroads in Canada. William Mackenzie’s holdings, including the Canadian Northern Railroad, descended into bankruptcy, and eventually had to be rescued by the federal government through the creation of Canadian National Railways. Thus the Toronto Suburban Railway was rolled into CN.

Post-War Disruption

In Toronto, the newly formed Toronto Transportation Commission started taking over the electric railroads operating inside city boundaries, and that included a number of lines also operating outside of those boundaries. The TTC acquired a considerable portion of the Toronto Suburban Railway in 1923, including lines along Weston Road to the village of Weston and along Dundas Street to the Humber River. The Toronto Suburban Railway’s operations to Guelph remained outside this purchase, remaining a division of Canadian National Electric Railways.

As for the line to Port Credit, the City of Toronto acquired the Toronto and Mimico Railway on December 1, 1920, and then turned over its management to the Ontario Hydro-Electric Power Commission. The head of the Power Commission, Adam Beck, saw the line as a part of a vast interurban network spanning across southern Ontario, but his dreams were thwarted when the City of Toronto opposed his proposal to run trains along the shores of Lake Ontario all the way downtown. Instead, the Mimico radial line was handed back to the City of Toronto on January 12, 1927, its gauge changed from standard to the TTC’s unique 4’ 10-7/8” gauge by November 5 of that year, and then converted into a double-track city-style streetcar route from Humber River to Etobicoke Creek between September 27 and December 8, 1928.

With service on Lake Shore Road east of Etobicoke Creek handled by the new LAKE SHORE streetcar, service on the remaining section between Long Branch loop and the Credit River was handled by the remnant PORT CREDIT line. The TTC’s radial equipment, most of which was inherited from the Toronto & York Radial Railways, was put to use, although with cars rarely operating more frequently than every half hour, not many cars were needed. Separate fares were charged for the PORT CREDIT line, with passengers expected to pay a new fare boarding LAKE SHORE (and, later, LONG BRANCH) streetcars at Long Branch loop.

Depression and War (Again)

Neither the GUELPH nor the PORT CREDIT lines would last for much longer. They’d both been built with far more optimism than business sense. The rise of the automobile and rubber-tired inter-city buses (some of which were operated by the TTC’s inter-city subsidiary Gray Coach) cut into both line’s ridership. The GUELPH line in particular was a less-direct route to Guelph than Canadian National’s main line through Weston, Brampton and Georgetown. When the Great Depression hit, it became hard for both lines to stay afloat.

The GUELPH line vanished first. By 1931, it was only carrying 300 passengers per day. The Canadian National Railway refused to pay the Toronto Suburban Railway’s bond interest on July 15, 1931, effectively placing the line into receivership. The last cars ran on August 15, 1931. The right-of-way would eventually be sold to Ontario Hydro, and the tracks hauled away to build munitions during the Second World War.

The PORT CREDIT line continued to operate until February 10, 1935. By then, the equipment was getting old, the track was needing replacement, and ridership justified neither expense. The province of Ontario was also looking at the right-of-way to help it widen Lake Shore Road. As a result, the TTC suspended service, replacing it with the PORT CREDIT bus, the TTC’s first foray with buses into Toronto Township.

But the rails would return. With the launch of the Second World War, Canada’s industry turned to feeding the war effort. In particular, a munitions factory was set up south of Lake Shore Road east of Dixie to manufacture small arms. In 1942, the Canadian government requested that the TTC extend streetcar service west of Long Branch loop to a new loop to serve the factory. Small Arms Loop, as it was called, would pull city streetcars into Toronto Township.

The service to Small Arms Loop would remain for the duration of the war, until October 13, 1945, when service was cut back to Long Branch loop. Although the Reeve of Long Branch protested this move, wanting the connection to remain so that factory workers in Long Branch wouldn’t have to transfer to the PORT CREDIT bus, the TTC argued that the right-of-way was needed for more road widening. The PORT CREDIT bus would have to do.

The TTC Enters Malton

The TTC’s PORT CREDIT bus was not the only public transit service, outside of inter-city buses, to operate in Toronto Township. Starting on November 1, 1938, service began on a coach line operated by the West York and District Bus Service connecting the Town of Weston to the Village of Malton, near today’s intersection of Airport Road and Derry Road. The West York and District Bus Service would expand operations, providing additional connections to the TTC at Bloor and Jane, as well as a little-known extension beyond Malton to the Town of Brampton, before the operation was taken over by the TTC’s Gray Coach subsidiary on July 1, 1954, and then by the TTC itself on December 12, 1955 as the 58 MALTON bus.

One of the anchors of the MALTON bus service was Malton Airport, established in 1937. By 1938, the airport covered 170 hectares and featured a full complement of lighting, radio and weather reporting equipment, as well as two hard-surface runways and a grass landing strip. It received its first scheduled passenger flight (a Trans-Canada Airlines DC-3) on August 29, 1939. The Second World War increased Malton Airport’s importance, and saw the construction of a number of aerospace-related factories for the village. Following the Second World War, air traffic grew, and US customs pre-clearance was established in 1952, speeding travel to and from the United States. The Airport was renamed Toronto International Airport in 1960, and Lester B. Pearson International Airport in 1984.

Thanks to its airport, Town of Malton grew substantially during and after the Second World War, and the TTC continued to service it. In addition to the 58 MALTON bus, the TTC tested the WESTWOOD-MALTON bus in 1966 and 1967, running a single bus in a loop from the end of the 58 MALTON line through the subdivisions, all the way to the Metropolitan Toronto border.

A Small Private Service

In the 1950s, the population of the Port Credit and Cooksville areas of Toronto Township grew to a point that a private operator stepped forward to provide public transit. Arrow Bus Lines, owned at one time by moving truck operator Joe Monk, set up shop in 1955, operating a single route.

Not much is known about this service, but transit historians Jack Knowles, Ian MacDonald, Bob Pineault and Rod Semple wrote a brief history in the September 1996 and January 1997 issues of the Toronto Transportation Society publication Transfer Points. They cited a timetable from June 1, 1957, showing a U-shaped route operating in both directions from the intersection of Centre Road (today known as Hurontario Street) and Lake Shore in Port Credit, operating north to Dundas, then east on Dundas to Dixie, and then south on Dixie to Lake Shore, returning via the reverse route. A single bus operated hourly, Monday through Saturday, with the first trip starting from Dixie and Lakeshore at 6:45 a.m. and the last bus arriving there at 9:13 p.m. Fares were cash only, with adults paying 15 cents, and children paying 10 cents. No transfers were issued or accepted, and further information could be obtained by calling “CR8-5121”.

Further, a rollsign taken from one of the 1950 Leyland buses that the company owned shows three routes: “Long Branch - Port Credit / via Dixie Road”, “Clarkson - Port Credit / via Truscott” and “Long Branch - Port Credit - Clarkson / via Dixie Road”.

During its tenure, Arrow operated a variety of buses including two 1950 Leyland Olympic EL40s, acquired used from the Guelph Transportation Commission in 1965, as well as two or three ex-TTC Fitzjohns, which were themselves obtained second-hand from one of the pre-1954 Toronto suburban bus operators. There was also an ex-TTC 1947 General Motors “old look” TDH-3610, and number 71, a circa 1950 Twin Coach model 38-S which originally served as Atomic Energy of Canada Limited bus number 151. The buses were painted with a greenish-gold body and a white top.

Post War Sprawl Changes Travel Patterns

Although Toronto Township remained largely rural up to and including the Second World War, changes were afoot. The City of Toronto and its surrounding suburbs entered a period of growth that featured burgeoning urban sprawl and a sharp increase in automobile use. The challenges posed by this growth forced the province of Ontario to establish the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto, uniting Toronto with its surrounding townships in the portion of York County south of Steeles Avenue into a single municipality. This arrangement initially allowed the new Metro Council to manage growth through the Toronto Region but, by the early 1960s, the province could see signs that this growth was spilling beyond Metro’s boundaries into Toronto Township.

In the mid-1960s, the provincial government commissioned the Metropolitan Toronto and Region Transportation Study to look at ways to manage this additional growth. The province concluded that without a coherent regional growth plan, increasing sprawl could put pressure on the province’s highways in and out of Metropolitan Toronto. Two particular policies came out of this plan: the launch of the GO Transit commuter rail line along Canadian National’s railway line paralleling the shores of Lake Ontario and the Queen Elizabeth Way, and the merger of the growing towns and villages of Toronto Township into a single municipality.

The GO Train commuter line started service on May 23 1967, operating with stops at Port Credit, Lorne Park and Clarkson. Lorne Park station at Lorne Park Road closed on April 26, 1968, but Clarkson and Port Credit stations remained. Then, in 1968, most of Toronto Township, excluding Streetsville and Port Credit, were amalgamated by provincial decree into the Town of Mississauga (the name was chosen in a plebiscite over “Sheridan”). Six years later, Streetsville and Port Credit would vanish into the new City of Mississauga.

Growing Together

The challenge of the new municipality was to unite the disparate settlements through Toronto Township and to manage the suburban development that was growing up between them. Not only did each community struggle with the loss of their identity due to amalgamation, but the suburban sprawl that built up largely served as a bedroom community for Metropolitan Toronto. The new city’s sense of itself was bolstered through the work of mayor Hazel McCallion, first elected as mayor in 1978, and serving until 2014. As Mayor of Mississauga, she was outspoken in defending Mississauga’s interests, campaigning for investment, and at one point arguing that Toronto’s International Airport be named Mississauga International Airport because it was located within Mississauga’s boundaries.

The launch of Mississauga, and the increase in suburban growth demanded an increase in local public transit service. Unlike the communities of York Region, the City of Mississauga did not contract with the Toronto Transit Commission to extend bus routes west of Metro’s boundaries. In 1969, the Town of Mississauga instead launched a six-month trial using buses contracted from Charterways Transportation Limited and Georgetown Transportation Company.

Charterways bought out Arrow Bus lines and inherited bus #71, renumbering it Mississauga Transit bus #761 (in the early 1980s, Toronto Transportation Society member Bob Pineault owned this piece of Mississauga Transit history). From this start, Charterways launched a small system of seven buses operating on three bus routes in southern Mississauga (possibly related to the Arrow Bus lines network implied above. Meanwhile, Georgetown Transportation Company set up shop in Malton, operating a single local route (likely serving the same subdivisions served by the short-lived WESTWOOD-MALTON TTC bus). The two systems did not connect with each other. The service was successful enough that the contracts were continued beyond the six-month trial period.

The Rise of Mississauga Transit

In the early 1970s, the province of Ontario increased funding to cover municipalities’ transit capital and operating costs. This made it more economical for Mississauga to expand local transit. In November 1973, just before becoming a city, the City of Mississauga took over transit operation from its contractors. Around this time, Mississauga’s distinctive “double diamond” logo was introduced, suggesting the letter “M” reflected in Lake Ontario. Service expanded.

Though Mississauga Transit may have been established in part to enhance the city’s identity, it still had to deal with the reality of being a bedroom community for Metropolitan Toronto. Bus routes established on Dundas Street, Bloor Street and Burnhamthorpe Road (and, later, Rathburn Road) all went to the TTC’s Islington station on the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway line. Service to Malton was centred around an express route to Islington via Highway 27, before other routes were launched connecting Malton routes with other Mississauga Transit services.

However, ridership grew, as did the network. On February 8, 1976, the TTC’s 74 PORT CREDIT bus was replaced by Mississauga Transit’s route 23. Mississauga also developed another major transit terminal. With the opening of the Square One Mall near Burnhamthorpe Road and Hurontario Street in 1974, a number of routes started linking up there. Mississauga’s City Council eventually set to work establishing a downtown core in this area, opening its new city hall there in 1987.

Growing Pains

Mississauga’s growth was not without its challenges. The city council led by Mayor Hazel McCallion strongly advocated a no-debt approach to fiscal management, and largely funded the construction of its infrastructure through development charges. It was also frugal in building public transit infrastructure. Proposals to extend the Toronto subway into Mississauga were rejected by McCallion, who felt Mississauga taxpayers shouldn’t be burdened by such a project. Proposals to build a regional transit centre at Kipling station failed to materialize as Mississauga, Toronto and the province of Ontario argued over who should pay for it.

By 1996, over 400 Mississauga Transit buses were using Burnhamthorpe Road in Toronto to get to Islington subway station. As this traffic increased, local residents protested. Mississauga Transit buses could not pick up passengers in Toronto heading to Islington station, so residents saw a lot of traffic congestion and very little benefit to themselves. Their complaints escalated to political arguing between Toronto and Mississauga city councils, and the occasional resident blockade in an incident known as “the Battle of the Buses”. TTC commissioners escalated by blocking Mississauga Transit buses from using Islington station’s transit terminal in 1998, before cooler heads prevailed in 2001.

Stepping Out of Toronto’s Shadow

But Mississauga Transit has grown and matured with its city. By 1990, Mississauga Transit could boast of some impressive achievements. In 1982, it became the first transit system in Ontario to use 60-foot long articulated buses, after accepting a shipment from General Motors. In 1987, it began using electronic fare boxes, one of the first transit agencies to do so. In 1989, Mississauga Transit became the first transit agency in Canada to introduce air conditioning on its vehicles.

And in the 1980s, planners started work to change the transit network from routes winding their way through neighbourhoods to a grid system of more frequent routes. While the network was initially heavily focused on Toronto-bound traffic (connecting with the TTC not only at Islington station, but at Long Branch loop, Sherway Gardens, Humber College, Woodbine Centre and, later, Renforth Loop and Pearson Airport), new connections with other agencies developed, including Brampton Transit via Hurontario Street and the Shoppers World Mall, and Dixie Road. Connections with Oakville Transit followed in the early 1990s.

In 1974, Mississauga Transit carried 4,121,589 passengers. By 1994, that number had increased to ?20,035,803. In 2008, it had reached 31,379,132. On October 4, 2010, the system went through a major rebranding and service shake-up. Mississauga Transit became MiWay, with the buses receiving a new paint scheme that differentiated “MiLocal” routes (orange) from “MiExpress” services (blue). A number of express buses were either re-numbered or introduced, creating a network of enhanced service across the city.

This shake-up would lead up to the launch of the Mississauga Transitway, a bus-only road network strung between stations operating along the Highway 403 corridor, centred on the City Centre Transportation Terminal on Square One. Planned since the 1980s, construction finally began in 2010, with the first section opening for service in October 2014. Extensions to Winston Churchill and Kipling subway station are planned to open by 2017.

As of 2014, Mississauga Transit carries 36.6 million each year. It boasts a fleet of 391 local buses and 79 express buses and a network of 96 routes. It is the third largest transit agency in the Greater Toronto Area (after the TTC, and Metrolinx’s GO Transit). It continues to build for the future, with plans afoot for light rail transit to operate on Hurontario Road and more bus rapid transit. Its growth has been as fast and as remarkable as the city it serves.


Mississauga Transit/MiWay Image Archive

About this Page

This page is an article within the Regional Transit division of Transit Toronto articles.

To see more articles within the Regional Transit division, you may return to the Regional Transit division page.

You can also return to the main page for news and other articles in Transit Toronto.

support-us-on-patreon-button-160.jpg