Urban ethnic enclaves are nothing new. But Peace Village, just north of Toronto, is: it's Canada's first all-Muslim subdivision, where houses feature separate rooms for men and women, and the streets are filled with pedestrians.
"Welcome to Peace Village, Canada's first Islamic subdivision, where all 260 homes belong to members the Ahmadiyya sect, who flooded to Canada in the 1980s after persecution in Pakistan. It looks ordinary, with basketball nets and minivans in the driveways, until you notice the street signs: Mahmood Crescent, Ahmadiyya Avenue and Noor-Ud-Din Court.
'There is nothing like this in North America,' boasts Naseer Ahmad, a real estate agent from Pakistan who dreamed up this community of Islamic dream homes (including oak stairs and central air conditioning) on the edge of Toronto. 'You have a mosque, and people are walking to enjoy their faith.'
The houses, with some modifications, such as increased ventilation (for spicy food) and separate living rooms for women and men, are so successful that, six years after Peace Village opened, Mr. Ahmad plans to double the mosque's size and is now selling 55 townhomes, 1,700 square feet each, for around $350,000 with a garage and a yard, as "Peace Village Phase II."
Peace Village has had one dramatic impact on this area --bringing pedestrian traffic to a place known as a driver's domain. People walk to mosque, and to school. When the final bell rang at Teston Road Public School, a stream, mainly of women, arrived on foot, pushing strollers, and walked their children across the new city park, recently namedAhmadiyya Park, toward the mosque, and home. Some youngsters as young as nine walked with friends, no parents in sight.
The appeal of faith-based suburbs is simple: People feel more comfortable among their own kind. Maqbool Bajwa immigrated to Toronto from Pakistan in 1987 with his four brothers, his mother and father. Immigration Canada let in his father under the business investor category. The family's first home was in Toronto's troubled Jane-Finch area. In 1997, Maqbool Bajwa bought a house in Brampton in Toronto's western suburbs. A year later he sold it and bought in Peace Village. Family bought adjoining houses.
'The mosque was nearby, the street names were all from our community,' he says, sitting in an office at MB Computer Depot, a new store his brothers started in an Ahmadiyyaowned plaza near Peace Village. 'I love it. When I see Ahmadiyya Avenue, it makes me proud, no question about it. Plus we've got the Vaughan Mills [a new mall], we've got the Wonderland and hopefully the subway coming. I can wear my shalwar camise and walk from home to the mosque without someone looking at me funny for what I'm wearing. It just gives me the absolute comfort of being home.'"