Importance of Rouge Park

Rouge Park is recognized as the largest urban park in North America and was officially opened on April 5, 1995.

The park’s area contains over 10,000 acres and includes portions of six different municipalities, mostly in the Greater Toronto Area.

The World Wildlife Fund has designated a major portion of the lower Rouge Valley as one of the 36 most important Carolinian life zones in all of Canada. The Carolinian life zone is the most endangered wildlife habitat in Canada.

With an extraordinary blend of Carolinian and Great Lakes forest habitats, Rouge Park is the largest urban vegetated ravine and marsh complex of its size and the last significant wildlife area remaining in the Greater Toronto Area.

The Rouge River valley which encompasses Rouge Park is considered to be exceptional for several reasons including:

The park represents more than 220 species of birds (including provincial rare, threatened or endangered); 28 species of mammals (11 regionally rare); and one quarter of Ontario’s flora, including over 700 plant species and flora… more than in all three of the largest provincial parks in Ontario; the Rouge River corridor is large and averages one mile in width from one side of the valley to the other; the area contains a remarkable diversity of natural and cultural heritage features and is especially important because of its close proximity to and inside Toronto; and
it is the last opportunity for ecological conservation of this size remaining in the Greater Toronto Area.

“We are expecting parks to do much more than sit there and be green. We expect parks to tell us something about our history, to teach us something about ecology, and to give us some kind of meaning in a world that may have less meaning then we’d like it to have.” George Kapelos, Toronto Designer and Curator

In addition to its natural features, the Rouge Valley and surrounding tableland area also contains dozens of native archaeological sites (some of which date back to 3,000 B.C.) and sacred burial grounds.


The Rouge River plus its tributaries of Little Rouge Creek, Berczy Creek, Bruce Creek and Morningside Creek drains 327 of the Rouge Watershed.
It does not exist in isolation but is connected to the slopes, soils, streams and to human uses of the watershed.

The Rouge River watershed covers an area approximately 330 square kilometres. The watershed stretches approximately 28.2 kilometres from Lake Ontario to the Oak Ridges moraine to the north.

The Watershed encompasses parts of the Greater Toronto area (Scarborough and Pickering), and the Towns of Markham, Richmond Hill, Whitchurch-Stouffville.

The Rouge Watershed an ecosystem of much more than water, it contains nutrients upon which all forms of life are dependent. If the forests of the Rouge Valley are the lungs of Rouge Park, then the river is its heart.

The spring-fed headwaters rise in the Oak Ridges Moraine and flow rapidly down the Moraine’s shoulders. Many small streams come together on relatively flat lands in Markham to form slower moving tributaries. By the time the main branches of the Rouge and Little Rouge reach Toronto, they have already formed large well-defined valleys.

“The Rouge River has many tributaries, the principal ones being the Little Rouge and Beaver Creeks… The Rouge River rises about one mile north-west of Gormley C.N.R. Station, at an elevation of 985 above mean sea level and flows in a general south-easterly direction for a distance of 27 miles to Lake Ontario… the total fall is 739.1 feet or an average fall of 27.4 feet to the mile which is a heavy gradient.” Rouge Duffin Highland Petticoat Conservation Report, 1956, Department of Planning and Development

Visible from Twyn Rivers Dr. and Sheppard Ave. are the natural erosion processes have exposed geological features that are provincially significant as well as distinctive bluffs that are as high as 131 feet (40 m).

In the last couple of miles (few kilometres), the Rouge River before it reaches Lake Ontario, widens into the Rouge Marsh – the largest provincially significant area in Toronto housing exceptional wildlife populations.

“The Rouge Watershed lies between that of Highland Creek on the west and Duffin and Petticoat Creeks on the east. It is a fan-shaped area funneling into Lake Ontario at Rosebank Station. The northerly part varies from 8 to 12 miles in width and the southerly part converges from a width of 6 miles at Steeles Avenue to about one mile at the lake. Its overall depth from the lake is about 19 miles and the area is 129.69 square miles…” Rouge Duffin Highland Petticoat Conservation Report, 1956 Department of Planning and Development

How the movement to preserve Rouge Valley began

The movement to preserve the Rouge Valley began almost by accident, not by recognition of its important natural features but because of one of the biggest natural disasters ever recorded in the history of the Toronto area.

The disastrous flooding which occurred as a result of Hurricane Hazel (October, 1954) destroyed or caused the removal of more than 125 houses and buildings along the Rouge, ruined two miles of roads, and caused over 20 realignments of sections of the river.

Shortly after, The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority was formed in part to implement the recommendations of one of the biggest conservation studies ever published toward preserving the Rouge Valley and preventing loss of life and property damage. It was called the R.D.H.P. (Rouge Duffins Highland Petticoat) Conservation Report and published in 1956 by the Toronto Department of Planning.

The formation of Rouge Park began in 1967 with the creation of the 157-acre Lower Rouge Conservation Area. It was the first of the 13 conservation areas owned by The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) to provide beach frontage on Lake Ontario.

In 1972, the federal government began acquisition of 30 square miles (7800 hectares) of north Pickering countryside for a new airport. Two years later, the provincial goverment followed suit with the acquisition of another 30 square miles (7800 hectares), including a major section of the Little Rouge River.

Plans to create Rouge Park were first announced in March, 1990 when an advisory committee responsible for drafting a park management plan was set up to ensure protection of the ecological integrity of the Rouge Valley Park, originally between Lake Ontario and Steeles Ave.

In 1992, the Committee recommended a Strategy extending its northern boundary from Steeles Ave. to include publicly owned lands in the Rouge and Petticoat Creek watersheds and tablelands along the top of the valleys.

In May, 1994, the Province approved a Management Plan for the area which set out objectives, strategies and established protected areas.

In geology, a fault is a dislocation, fracture, crack or break
in the crust of the earth as a result of unequal stresses.

Rouge Park felt its first major tremors in 1999.

The tremors were NOT caused by the geological fault line through the middle of Rouge Valley; but by the FAULT LINE around it.

As Ontario’s economic boom and tidal waves of economic development crash against its boundaries, the biggest “urban” park in North America is slowly but surely being transformed into an isolated island, amdist the consuming sea of urbanity.

In miniature, an Island of development on conservation lands has already been carved in sinewy detail near the mouth of the Rouge River by The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) directly responsible for creating the “fault line”.

With TRCA’s default on longstanding Plans resulting in the loss of important conservation lands, Rouge Park is in the process of having its foot cut off – the only ecological corridor south of Hwy. 401 as shown in the Aerial Photograph of the South Rouge Park Area.

An important lesson was served here for the Park to show how the long-term stewardship of conservation lands can and does collide with the short-term economic needs of the Conservation Authority, especially on adjacent Rouge Park area tablelands.

Soon, Rouge Park is about to have another even more important body part in its headwaters (Oak Ridges Moraine) chopped off – THE HEAD!

The entire headwaters of Rouge River in Richmond Hill which empties into Lake Ontario, (Oak Ridges Moraine) now lies in developers’ hands. Along with the Developers and Ontario Municipal Board, TRCA will help hold the axe here too.

As a living breathing ecosystem, the Rouge Park is being dismembered at both ends. Increased anthropogenic degradation cannot possibly sustain it.

“Do we as humans have to have a future where we destroy everything?…
I think we as a species can do better than that.” Dr. Jay Malcolm, Ecologist, University of Toronto, Faculty of Forestry, The Globe and Mail, August 31, 2000

The North Rouge Park area has a potential worth of BILLIONS of dollars to Developers. At the same time, it will probably become a huge land grab for TRCA as a direct result of its numerous development approvals, based on its “deals” with Developers.

With the park boundary and buffer “skin” used as the bargaining ploy, Rouge Park most likely will become the biggest “park pawn” in Canadian History.

The water quality of the Rouge is dependent on the headwater area of the watershed located on the edge of the Oak Ridges Moraine where sand, silt and gravel acts as a sponge from the environment in which it is found. Over the years groundwater finds its way to the Rouge River and then drains to Lake Ontario where it will provide water for millions of users.

Insufficient research has been done on groundwater contamination. Many major contributors to water pollution are unregulated. Runoff and waste from residential developments enters the underground water supplies or flows directly into the Rouge River. Development changes water quality and quantity and accelerates the amount of water, salt and other pollutants to the river.

“The quantity and quality of groundwater resources in the Rouge basin is increasingly being impacted by urban development and related activities. Of particular concern is the degradation of groundwater quality and the disruption of recharge areas in the hydrogeologically significant Oak Ridges moraine. The quality of moraine recharge waters is threatened by numerous contaminant sources including urban runoff…” Earth Science Survey of the Rouge Valley Park, N. Eyles & J.I. Boyce, Dept. of Geology, University of Toronto, December 1991

As the headwater lands are developed, it is not difficult to predict the long term outlook on the health of the Rouge River and Lake Ontario into which it pours. Both are already polluted.

During a storm from the river’s mouth, the river’s brown flow is clearly visible far out into Lake Ontario.

“The eastward transport of sediments at the mouth of the Rouge is the result of drift divergence node… the process is evident on some aerial photos which show an eastward plume of sediment debauching from the river mouth”. Earth Science Survey of the Rouge Valley Park, N. Eyles & J.I. Boyce, Dept. of Geology, University of Toronto, December 1991

The Toronto waterfront is one of the “hot spots” around the Great Lakes, identified by the International Joint Commission as needing remedial action because of water quality problems. Bottom sediments are contaminated, organisms living in them show bioaccumulation of toxic substances, some fish have such high levels of contaminants they cannot be eaten by humans, aquatic life is already stressed from pollution. Public beaches are regularly closed during the summer.

The trend should not be to incrementally and increasingly subjugate the watershed environment but to treat the water within the Rouge River as an economic good.

Instead of enforcing Rouge Park values with adequate predetermined buffer zones, wildlife corridors and protected hot spots; the park’s boundary and biological heritage will become governed by tradeoffs and special concessions between the bureaucrats and developers.

These development agreements may save some valley and tableland, but will inevitably result in the irrevocable loss of even more land. The current policy will be irreparable in the long run, environmentally and economically, without a predetermined park boundary and clearly defined park buffer areas.


The legislation which would have protected Rouge Park into perpetuity has NEVER passed, even though Rouge Park was “set aside” for a park in 1995. Rouge Park is not a federal park, it is not a provincial park, nor is it even a city park! It is a “partnership” park without legislated protection.
The lifeblood of Rouge Park, namely the Rouge River, is also not protected from the development onslaught encroaching on the ecological integrity of the valley. Increasing flooding and pollution problems for the Rouge River has very serious implications on its future health. Unlike the Humber River which has been protected and designated as a “heritage river” with built-in monitoring checks, Rouge River has no protection.
The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) is the primary owner of Rouge Park lands, but it is a owner with a tarnished track record as primary landowner, key land use planning agency and watershed authority.
TRCA sold important conservation lands in the only corridor of South Rouge Park. It has negotiated special trade-offs with developers incl. artificially moving top of bank lines to faciitate increased development; its has approved development in flood plains, it has approved the altering of Rouge River, it has voted for the minimal buffer setbacks for the park of only 10 m.(instead of the 30m recommended in the Rouge Park Management Plan); and it has recommended by way of a “secret deal” the narrowing of the Oak Ridges Moraine corridor to only 100 metres at the same time the Province was recommending six times the width.
As the key delivery mechanism of environmental protection in Rouge Park, TRCA is NOT accountable for its actions under the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR).

The surrounding Municipalities of Rouge Park are also not accountable under the EBR for their actions.

The implications on the future of Rouge Park are clear.