The following article was written by Stephanie Hulse, Sierra Club Ontario's Environmental Outreach Coordinator.
Did you know that in the heart of Ontario’s Greenbelt - a swath of federal protected conservation land that reaches from Niagara to Northumberland (also known as the Greater Golden Horseshoe) - is a national park under threat from a range of sprawl-related issues?
The 79.1km² park is none other than Canada’s first national urban park, Rouge Park and is located between Toronto, Markham and Pickering. It is home to nearly 800 different plant species, 55 fish species, 27 mammal species, and 19 different types of reptiles. Not only is it home to a diverse group of non-human species, but it is the home of the Rouge River, and the watersheds of the Petticoat Creek and Duffin Creek. These rivers, and specifically the Rouge River, flow from the Oak Ridges Moraine down to Lake Ontario.
The health of this park impacts the water resources of the entire GTA and is essential to the ecosystems of hundreds upon hundreds of species. This in turn, provides a healthy green space that benefits our own health. It is long been proven that people are healthier and happier if they have access to and use of green space. Rouge Park offers hiking trails, recreational areas and green space for a range of different outdoor activities. Green spaces in urban landscapes also make our cities more environmentally sustainable.
Yet, despite being under the “protection” of the Greenbelt Act, the Rouge National Park Act and the recently passed Bill C-18 (which makes wildlife the first priority in green space and adds land to Rouge Park), the park is under threat from two major sources.
- The town of Pickering has been vying to develop an airport on lands that are directly adjacent to Rouge Park. While the environmental damage of airports is difficult to measure, planes are deadly for birds and threatens nearby wildlife, while the fumes from planes and pollution from construction would lead to contamination of the soils, waterways and air surrounding the park.
- The route of the Eastern Mainline pipeline travels from the Township of Edwardsburgh/Cardinal to Markham in Ontario. This pipeline project just north of Rouge Park, puts the park at risk of environmental impacts.
The provincial and federal government have both been making amendments to the legislation surrounding Rouge Park this year and have made the park more accessible via public transit. On May 18th, 21 waterways and seven coastal wetlands were added to the Greenbelt and Growth Plan, on June 19th Bill-C 18 was passed, and a free bus route, the Canada 150 Rouge Park Express, has also been implemented that connects downtown Toronto to Rouge Park.
While these changes are very important, if these proposed developments go through, the wellbeing of Rouge Park’s ecosystem – including the large diversity of living species that reside within it and the communities that live around it - will be the ones suffering the consequences.
With that said, we will be keeping a close eye on Rouge Park, so stay tuned for more updates from us on this issue in the future!
Photo of Rouge River taken by Kaeko in the blogTO Flickr pool
Photo of "no airport" badge taken by Rick Madonik, obtained from oronto Star article (2013)
Photo of Rouge park map obtained from Toronto Star Article (2013)