What future waits for Rouge River Valley watershed?

Don’t worry, we aren’t talking about a river parts amock here.

The word ‘Rouge’ means ‘red’; the Rouge River gets its name from the reddish surrounding rocks. The presence of iron oxides makes these rocks look red. The river’s sandbanks have a reddish tint.The Rouge River is a tributary of the Ottawa River and a part of the Carolinian life zone.

From an altitude of 550 meters, it flows down 161 kilometers through the Laurentian Mountains to the Ottawa River. It is the main water body in a hilly region characterized by waterfalls and valleys. And if you are living in and around it, you are sure to get some of the freshest water around!

Interestingly, the Rouge River Valley is a very fragile natural phenomenon, even though it extends over eleven thousand acres. Incredibly, all of this exists within the city limits of Toronto.

Watershed

A watershed is that area which holds rainwater, or snow, that drains into a marsh, river or groundwater.

The Rouge River watershed has been used by humans for 10,000 years, from the aboriginals to the final settlers. The watershed of the Rouge River is spread over an area of 336 square kilometers. Of this, 1% consists of water bodies, while around 24% is the forest.

Apart from that, 35% is urban area while the remaining 40% is agricultural land. You would find the watershed starting in around Oak Ridges Moraine and then flowing in as far south as the Lake Ontario.  Rouge River falls into Lake Ontario at Rouge Beach.

Rouge National Urban Park

Apart from the above facts, did you know that a little bit of the watershed also lies right in the Rouge National Urban Park, the largest urban park in North America? The watershed covers some really wide regions, which include everything from York and Durham, Toronto, to even Whitchurch-Stouffville.

Major points

Human interference and arrogance, have started to harm and degrade this natural treasure. The carrying capacities of the natural systems in this watershed have been exceeded far beyond their replenishment rates. Detrimental changes like increased surface runoff water, water pollution, increased erosion, and consequently, sedimentation, and loss of biofdiversity are well on their way to becoming permanent features.

Further, the Rouge Park has no legislated protection. Likewise the Rouge River.  Unlike the Humber River, which has been designated as a ‘heritage river’ and has in-built monitoring controls, the Rouge River has no safeguard or statutory watchdog.

The primary owner of the Rouge Park Lands is the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA). But its track record of protecting watersheds or parklands is not very reassuring.

Approval for the development in the floodplains, altering the course of the Rouge River and narrowing of the Oak Ridges Moraine corridor are a few of the worrying developments.

To make matters worse, the TRCA cannot be held accountable under the Environmental Bill of Rights.

On a final note

While human beings depend on nature for survival, our ever-growing refusal to acknowledge this fact is slowly, but surely, pushing us towards our own eventual ruin. And at the moment, North America is in real danger of losing one of its natural endowments.

Everything you should know about Oak Ridges Moraine’s ecosystem

Unique to southern Ontario, the Oak Ridges Moraine is one of Ontario’s largest moraines. With an average width of around 13 kilometers and a depth of 150 meters, it provides drinking water to as many as 2,50,000 people. However, that is not the only thing that makes it important.

Biodiversity

The following figures will give you some idea of the biodiversity here. According to oakridgesmoraine.org, it has as many as 1,171 plant species and 125 species of moss. Apart from that, there are around 166 breeding bird species, a true testimony to the wide variety of flora and fauna there.

Animals are in plenty too, with over 30 species of reptiles and amphibians and as many as 51 different species of mammals.

If you are talking about life in water, you can expect to see around 73 species of fish.

Habitats

Besides the many kettle lakes, the moraine has 130 wetlands and a forest cover of about 30 percent. The moraine provides a rare green sanctuary to its wildlife in one of Canada’s most populated regions. It bonds the wildlife and the ecosystems in a symbiotic relationship.

Habitats on the Oak Ridges Moraine

The above-mentioned species can be found in the huge variety of habitats found in the moraine. Let’s look at them in brief:

  • Woodlands

The forests in the moraine are critical routes for migration of birds and other animals. This is the longest unbroken forest region around the Greater Toronto Area.

  • Flatlands

The old fields, which are no longer being farmed upon, have transformed into open meadows. Some of these are parts of original prairie or savannah habitats.

  • Wetlands

Wetlands conserve and maintain the natural water levels in the ground. They are an important nesting habitat for numerous species. Wetlands reduce the incidences of flooding as well as droughts because of their ability to store water. Marshes are the most productive type of wetlands. The other types are swamps, bogs and fens.

Swamps form the major part of the wetlands of this region. Varieties of trees and other plants can be found growing in the water. You also have plenty of deciduous and coniferous trees here, along with Red Maple, Silver Maple, Hemlock, and Tamarack; among others.

  • Kettle Lakes

A kettle lake is formed from the chunks of ice in the summer, left behind by a glacier. Though buried in sand and gravel, you notice them as soon as the ice melts. This depression, or empty space, gets filled with groundwater in due course resulting in formation of a kettle lake.

Such kettle lakes sometimes become bogs, which have large quantities of sphagnum moss. This moss forms a cover of vegetation over the lake. A well developed bog ecosystem provides protection to some ecologically rare and unique species that can grow in even slightly acidic conditions.

  • Streams

Often called the ‘circulatory system’ of nature, streams are one of the most fragile parts of an ecosystem. Removal of natural vegetation around the stream banks destroys many habitats by, among other things, raising the temperature of water. Erosion of the stream banks is another adverse consequence, as tree roots are no longer available to hold the soil in place.

Conservation of natural streams is essential for plants and wildlife, as also human life.

The movement for preservation

In October 1954, Hurricane Hazel hit Canada. The destruction caused was horrifying. More than a hundred houses were brought down to earth. The Rouge River’s course was changed at more than 20 points.

In response, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) was formed, which aimed at looking at helping build the park.

The history and the timeline

An advisory committee, set up in 1990, was given the responsibility of drafting a park management plan. The plan was to ensure protection of the ecology of the Rouge Valley Park. This was the first time plans to create the Rouge Park were announced.

In 1992, the committee wanted the parks’ boundaries to be extended.

In 1999, there were the first major tremors that were felt. The fault line was not inside the Rouge Valley, but around it. This was probably a direct consequence of the construction and development that had been allowed on conservation lands.

There were further plans to cut off the only ecological corridor, south of highway 401, from the Rouge Park.

And more private developers got access to the headwaters of the Rouge River in Richmond Hill now. It was a result of conflict between long-term goals of a (almost permanent) stewardship and the steward’s short-term economic needs.

Progress

Many members of civil society have come forward to right this wrong. Many NGO’s have been formed for the purpose.

In order to start the Park, the Ontario government would have to first transfer lands to the federal government, something that some conservation groups do not think would keep the land safe from development and overuse.

A legal analysis done by Ecojustice brought out the vulnerability faced by critical ecosystems under the federal laws drafted to govern the proposed Rouge National Urban Park.

The Ontario government, to its credit, paid heed to the groups’ appeal to reconsider the plan to transfer the lands. Ontario declined to transfer its lands to the federal government until one drafted stronger legal protections.

Ecojustice vows to continue to support groups fighting for the country’s environment.

Individuals and groups from many parts of Canada continued to provide support to the cause.

And the results are encouraging.

The federal government announced its intention to increase the ecological protection of the Rouge National Urban Park and allow farms in the park leases of upto thirty years.

Late in 2017, Ontario announced plans to further transfer huge tracts of land to Parks Canada. Ontario’s Economic Development Minister, Brad Duguid, expressed gratitude towards individuals and groups who have been fighting for decades to protect the area. He offered special thanks to ‘Mother of the Rouge’, Lois James, 94, and also Jim Robb, who have long been in the forefront of this ecological battle.

New amendments to the park legislation, which were introduced in 2017, in parliament formally expanded the park’s borders by about 17 square kilometers. It also made ecology one of the main issues for the park’s management.

Oak Ridges Moraine – what about the wildlife?

If you are a nature lover and want to experience Mother Nature’s creativity at close quarters, what better place than the Oak Ridges Moraine. The abundance of wildlife witnessed at the moraine is due to the huge number of terrestrial and aquatic habitats found there.

The top animals and birds you can see

You will find kettle lakes and shorelines, wetlands, forests, prairies and savannahs, to name a few.

Obviously, such a variety of habitats house an equally varied animal life.

In the moraine, you might be fascinated by the Jefferson Salamander, Brook Trout, Gray Tree Frog to name a few. The region has much more to offer that will hold your attention for a very long time. Read on.

1. Red-tailed Hawk

The Red-tailed Hawk, so named because of the reddish feathers in its tail, is one of Canada’s most common hawks. It can be found in almost all of North America. It makes a typical rasping 2-part descending screeching sound.

2. Red-shouldered Hawk

As the name suggests, its shoulders are marked by reddish feathers while its tail features a dark band. Apart from these, it looks like the Red-tailed Hawk in shape and size. The Happy Valley Forest of the moraine records the most sightings of the Red-shouldered Hawk. The bird requires a habitat with a dense forest and, hence, has been restricted to a very small part of Southern Ontario.

3. Brook Trout

Brook Trouts are believed to be one of the best indicators of water quality in Southern Ontario. A sound Brook Trout has beautiful bright gold and red marks, while its copper-coloured scales radiate a shine.

Brook Trout prefer a clean habitat which is naturally cooled and cleared water that seeps upwards from the moraine’s aquifer.

4. Eastern Bluebird

Bird watchers love the bright blue feathers of the male Bluebird. The birds prefer to nest in cavities and in open habitats. They are losing their nesting space not only to other bird species, but also due to use of pesticides and loss of habitat. This has decreased their population considerably. Though, due to the efforts of the populace, the numbers are slowly rising again.

5. Meadowlark

“Spring is here”, said the Meadowlark. Well, not exactly. But that’s what locals say its cry sounds like, which is a whistling sound.  Meadowlarks are easily identified by the black ‘V’ mark on their yellow breasts. They are often found perched on fence posts. Once a very common bird of spring, its population is under threat now due to decreasing farmlands, which are its natural habitats.

6. White-tailed deer

The only species of small deer at the Oak Ridges Moraine, the White-tailed deer is the most common of Ontario’s large mammals. As the percentage of forest cover fluctuates at the moraine, the population of this mammal also changes. This is because white-tailed deers prefer a forested habitat. They can make their home in a range of one to three hundred acres.

Adrenaline rush in the Rouge River Valley you won’t forget

Looking to drive at 200 miles per hour? You want to jump off a cliff? And then live to battle with the sharks? Hate to bring the bad news to you then, but Rouge River Valley isn’t for you.

That being said though, we are sure that while you won’t be able to do all these at the valley, you won’t miss them either. The Rouge Valley throws down its own gauntlet. The question is, are you valiant enough to take up the challenge? Are you game?

Where is it?

The Rouge River flows through Mont Tremblant and then, right into the Ottawa River, and is what you would probably see on your way out from Montreal.

White water rafting on the Rouge River

The Rouge River is a popular white water rafting destination. Both, Spring and Fall seasons, are suitable for this sport here. It is included in the list of North America’s top ten rafting runs.

You can spend hours rafting in the rapids here, whether you are a beginner or an expert. Many tour and extreme sports companies organize rafting tours for tourists here. Enthusiasts can raft in class 3 to class 4 rapids on the Rouge River. You can enjoy waves for about 5 miles. The Canyon and The Seven Sisters are the two main rafting sections here.

You can also body surf in the comparatively calmer parts of the river.

At the Rouge National Urban Park

The Rouge National Urban Park is the largest urban park in North America and includes a considerable part of the Rouge River. It is spread over the cities of Toronto, Markham, Pickering, and the Township of Uxbridge. You can easily reach there by foot, car, train, bus, bike or subway. Canoeing is another option. It is open 365 days and entry is free.

  • CYCLING

The park’s first-rate road network is a brilliant way to explore the area. You will be tricked into believing that you have come far, far away from the maddening chaos of the cities. The fantastic rural atmosphere is courtesy of the forests and farmlands spread over the park.

The Waterfront Trail at the Rouge Beach offers a relaxed ride and is perfect for families with kids.

  • FISHING

Ontario has several fishing zones. Each has its own open season and catch limit. The mouth of the Rouge River is a popular fishing spot. You can catch a variety of fish here at different times of the year.  However, you will need a valid Ontario fishing license to fish in the park.

  • WATER SPORTS

Water sports here are of the more leisurely type rather than the extreme. You can canoe, kayak or paddleboard while observing the flora and fauna. Or you can simply go for a swim in Lake Ontario. The water is tested on a daily basis by Toronto Public Health during the summer, so it is safe for swimming. A life guard is also stationed during official hours.

  • HIKING

Currently, the Toronto and Markham areas of the park have over 12 kilometers of rural hiking trails. There are plans to expand the trails significantly and provide a link from Lake Ontario to the Oak Ridges Moraine. Plans are also being developed to link park trails with trails outside the park located in the nearby cities.

Safety first and always

Whether the extreme type or the more leisurely type, the Rouge River has something to offer to everyone. But remember, you need to live to tell the tale. You need to be fit to conquer the waves the next day. You need to be safe.