One of the easily ignorable differences in the future analysis of the Shores of Lake Simcoe is the differences in urban planning and settlement patterns over the course of the histories of these municipalities.

Both municipalities have their historic cores, with a couple of 190X homes densely put together to capitalize on some random enterprise in the middle of nowhere. Both municipalities had their rows of 50-foot lots with old 3-season cottage-country stemming away from Simcoe like a set of lungs in the 1950’s. Both had limited, but sort of meaningful industrial railway exposure.

I think the most notable difference happened as a consequence or externality of the 400’s arrival to Innisfil, in such that growth wanted to move away from the Lake for the sake of infrastructure. Prior to 1952, you were taking HWY11/Yonge to Innisfil, and it was landing you five or ten concessions closer to the shores of Simcoe. On the same token, you were taking Leslie, or Woodbine into Georgina, and getting much closer to Simcoe. Logically, utilities infrastructure followed this pattern:

Map of Cook's Bay showing the differences in municipal roads and highways and the effects these had on real estate development

Looking at it comparatively as a timeline is kind of interesting, too:

Innisfil Georgina
Up to 1952 Yonge St – 5km from Shore Leslie, 500m from Shore
1952-2016 Highway 400 – 10km from shore Highway 48 (non 400-series) – 15-20 km from Shore
Today 400 is 10km from shore 404 is 1km from Shore
Tomorrow Train line in Alcona, <1km from core Train line in Pefferlaw, 25km from Core
  1. Up to 1952: Yonge St. is about 5km West of the Shores of Cook’s Bay, whereas Leslie is about 500m, and Woodbine is about 1.5km.
  2. 1952-2016: Highway 400 is about 10km from the Shores of Cook’s Bay, whereas Highway 48 is about 15km. 
  3. Today: Highway 400 is about 10km from the Shores of Cook’s Bay, whereas Highway 404 is about 1km from the Shores of Cook’s Bay.
  4. Tomorrow: Closest train line will have a station in Alcona, <1km from most most dense area of Municipality, whereas Closest 

The 60’s-90’s bedroom-community buildout of the GTA followed suit, and servicing land followed the most economical direction it could, which was to stay close to the roads demanded by others. This history gave Georgina a few nice historic downtowns, which had earned a little more individual character and identity than the once strip-mall laden arterial roads of Innisfil, although those recovered nicely in the 2010-2017 single-family-detached renaissance in Innisfil.

In Georgina, Uptown Keswick served as a very cottage-country-esque downtown. High Street Sutton served as a mill-town – dense, historic, and mixed use, but honestly a little destroyed by the centuries in between. Similarly, Pefferlaw’s mill-town charm is present, albeit stifled by the challenges of keeping historic business models alive in a modern world. Driving Dalton Road from High Street gives you the beach-town feeling of Wasaga or Sauble, often accompanied by the same regular parades of Harleys.  Jackson’s Point, still proudly boasting its cottage country charm, is dotted with a vacancies, a few high-turnover retail tenancies and even fewer long-term staple businesses. A handful of proposed residential projects in the area are at a standstill, putting a painful pause on some much-needed population density.

Innisfil’s ability to capitalize on infrastructure earlier allowed them to skip the ugly transitional fate that Georgina currently feels. The bent nature of Lake Simcoe’s shoreline in Georgina all but forced buildout to follow the shoreline into what are now known as “Historic Lakeshore Communities”, whereas Innisfil had a lot of development, especially commercial, move away from the shore and towards the stability of Barrie and Highway 400.

This presented two really interesting opportunities, both of which are potentially defining the futures of these municipalities today:

  1. In Innisfil, the vast droves of land have allowed for a massive master-planned development like The Orbit to take shape around a piece of infrastructure
  2. In Georgina, the denser historic downtowns have allowed for creative and impactful secondary planning.

I will summate this chapter of the Tale of Two Shores at the place they currently stand. The fate of Innisfil’s ambitious plan rests in the hand of only a few stakeholders, whereas the fate of Georgina’s rests in the hands of hundreds of owners of secondary-planned property to fulfill its highest and best use. Where Georgina has shoreline proximity to major arterial roads, Innisfil has complete exposure to a 400-series highway. Where Innisfil has an incoming Go-Train station, Georgina has a labour force that doesn’t give a shit. Where Innisfil has serviced land and subdivisions, Georgina has density, assembly and infill. (The most notable example of this one being Friday Harbour vs. Maskinonge Urban Centre) which I will unpack in a subsequent post.

The biggest remaining question for me after presenting this series of information is where we should expect to see the next decade of millennials and boomers prefer to live. Do you think boomers will love The Orbit’s GO-Train station wrapped in a Dr. Suess illustration, or stick to their love for petroleum in Georgina? Will Innisfil still attract the white-collar worker now that Georgina has a 404 interchange? Will Georgina’s tradespeople out-earn Innisfil’s employees so much that cost-push inflation causes their values to accelerate more? Will millennials prefer the futurism of The Orbit over the charm and character of secondary-planned resurrections of historic Keswick, Sutton, and Jackson’s Point? What about their parents? Will the train even matter if we’re all being driven around in Teslas in 15 years? Will my daughter ever drive a car?

Will Georgina ever get a Home Depot?

Find out next time on “I barely know what I’m talking about” by Daniel Foch.


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