Early fall on the Rouge River Trail, Ontario. ©Julia Pelish Photography

Rouge Park: Canada’s new urban national park

The vibrant colours of Rouge Park are one of the beautiful features of Canada’s first urban national park. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

Story by Waheeda Harris
Vacay.ca Writer

TORONTO — For big cities, cultural festivals and distinct architecture are main attractions for visitors. But for the largest city in Canada there will be a new place to boast about — the first urban national park.

Thanks to the continued efforts of the Rouge Park Alliance as well as several politicians and environmentalists, Rouge Park will become the newest addition to Parks Canada in 2012.

Established in 1995 by the Province of Ontario as a park, this unique area lies between the cities of Toronto, Pickering, Markham and Stouffville, encompassing 47 square kilometres. So how big is that? Try 13 times larger than New York’s Central Park or 33 times larger than London’s Hyde Park, and accessible to a population of seven million residents in the Greater Toronto Area.

Farmed and regularly inhabited since the 19th century, the Rouge area was populated with small inns and summer cottages until the mid-1950s. During that decade, the Rouge Duffins Highlands Petticoat Conservation Authority started the process to protect the land for future generations.

In the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century, government actions and local persistence kept Rouge Park’s slow path to becoming a national park a reality. In 2004, the Ontario provincial government donated 1,400 hectares of land to expand the park. But what makes Rouge Park even more unique is the wide variety of uses that allow this region to be beneficial to scientists, historians, wildlife and artists.

There are several factors that make Rouge Park an asset:

BiodiversityRouge Park offers an eco-bounty of life. It has 762 plant species, 225 bird species, 55 fish species, 19 reptile and amphibian species and 22 mammal species as well as one of the largest examples of a Carolinian forest in the country. Geologists have access to outcrops of rock formed during the last glacial period in this park, and can study seismic activity affecting the region.

History – Home to humans for the past 10,000 years, such as Palaeolithic hunters, Iroquois farmers, European explorers, and the current diverse multicultural community, the park is also home to two National Historic sites: the Toronto Carrying Place Trail, an original portage route of First Nations Peoples, and Seneca Village, an archaeological site dating to the 16th century.

Parks – Rouge Park includes city and provincial parks within its boundaries: Toogood Pond, Milne Park, Phyllis Rawlinson Park, Glen Rouge Park, Rouge Beach Park, Bob Hunter Memorial Park (currently in development), and the Bruce Mills Conservation Area. Unique features of the park include an amphitheatre, picnic areas, the Glen Rouge campground, three golf courses, Celebration Park and six waterways including the Rouge River.

Art – Group of Seven member Frederick Varley, well known for his landscape paintings was inspired by the Rouge area in his later years. In the 1950s, Varley became friends with Kathleen Gormley McKay, and spent the last 10 years of his life living with McKay at Salem Eckhardt House in Unionville, where from his basement studio he finished several works based on the park surroundings.

Whether its hiking, swimming, canoeing, fishing or cycling, Rouge Park offers many ways to explore this newly minted urban wilderness. For city dwellers, it’s a rare treat to be able to access a national park and a new-found pride to be able to share it with visitors to the Greater Toronto area.


By car – from downtown Toronto, take Highway 401 to Port Union Road southbound, turn left at Lawrence Avenue East until you see park signs.
By transit – take the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) subway to Sheppard station, and transfer to Sheppard Avenue Bus #85A to Sheppard Avenue East and Kingston Road ($3 one way), or arrive via GO Transit on the Oshawa/Highway 2 route to Kingston Road and Port Union Road ($16.50 round-trip).
Admission: Complimentary to Rouge Park, the only fees apply for the Glen Rouge campground. The park is open year-round, although there is no winter maintenance on trails.
Website: http://trca.on.ca/enjoy/locations/rouge-park-site.dot
Contact: Click here, or call 905-713-6038.

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A Toronto-based freelance journalist since the beginning of the millennium, Waheeda has been lucky enough to visit every continent. She's always happy to travel, especially when she can swim in the sea, taste locally-made cuisine and spend an afternoon in an art gallery.

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