Summary of the Strategic Environmental Assessment for the Establishment of Rouge National Urban Park

The Government of Canada announced in the 2011 Speech from the Throne its commitment to work towards the creation of a national urban park in the Rouge Valley, managed by Parks Canada. In the subsequent Budget 2012 announcement, the Government of Canada committed to preserving Canada’s natural beauty and taking action on the creation of Canada’s first national urban park in the Rouge Valley in Ontario. Accordingly, $143.7 million was provided over 10 years for park development and interim operations, and $7.6 million per year thereafter for its continuing operations.

Rouge National Urban Park, Parks Canada’s first national urban park and one of North America’s largest urban parks, was made possible by the foresight, dedication and engagement of a diversity of local visionaries and stewards over more than twenty years. At the heart of Parks Canada’s vision for a national urban park, is the concept of a “people’s park”; a gathering place for the diverse communities of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) to experience the outdoors on a grand scale. The park includes publicly owned lands which span approximately 47 square kilometers in the eastern sector of the Greater Toronto Area (bordering the cities of Toronto, Markham and Pickering). The overall area builds on the previous Rouge Park and includes natural, cultural, agricultural and recreational lands, and municipal and provincial infrastructure corridors, increasing the size of the original park lands by 20% to more than 13 times the size of Stanley Park in Vancouver.

Rouge National Urban Park’s diverse environments (coastal freshwater marsh, rivers, forest, wetlands, rolling hills and valleys, farm land, etc),.as well as the stories associated with its wide range of past and present human uses ( recreational, agricultural, residential, transport corridor for Aboriginal peoples and fur trade) are conducive to a wide array of unique opportunities for visitors and residents alike to experience. The park will offer the opportunity for meaningful, accessible, learning experiences, without entry fees, and these will reflect the national standards of services and products provided by Parks Canada and its partners. The opportunity to establish Rouge Park comes at a pivotal juncture in the relationship that Canadians have with their natural world and their cultural heritage, and a lack in Parks Canada’s ability to meaningfully reach Canada’s increasingly diverse urban population. In this respect, the establishment of Rouge National Urban Park represents an unparalleled opportunity to reach 20% of the Canadian population located in the Greater Toronto Area.  

A strategic environmental assessment (SEA) was conducted for the establishment of Rouge National Urban Park pursuant to the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals (2010), wherein all policy plan and program proposals of federal departments and agencies will consider, when appropriate, the potential environmental effects associated with their implementation.  This SEA has also taken into consideration the goals and targets of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy, specifically Theme 3 – Protecting Nature; Goal 6: Ecosystem/Habitat Conservation and Protection.  The purpose of an SEA is to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies, plans and program proposals to support environmentally sound decision-making.

With the federal government proudly becoming the stewards of Rouge National Urban Park, Parks Canada is committed to providing better, real conservation results for this treasured place. The Agency has embraced the important role of involving and listening to Canadians, and consulted extensively on the park concept to encourage Canadians to help shape Canada’s first national urban park. The Rouge National Urban Park concept was developed following a robust and inclusive planning process led by Parks Canada, involving more than 100 provincial, municipal, Aboriginal and community stakeholders. This process included many long-time stewards of the park to ensure the concept built upon their extensive past work. As a broad, visionary document, Parks Canada presented the concept through a widespread public engagement program during the summer and fall of 2012, with thousands of comments received and respondents expressing overall support. Public feedback will be used to inform the development of a strategic management plan for Rouge National Urban Park.

Parks Canada is proud of the innovative approach of establishing a park as a place where nature, sustainable agriculture and a rich cultural heritage can be experienced by Canadians and visitors alike. A national urban park will be an entirely new and different offer to Canadians. There are currently no comparable places in Canada.  

The greatest environmental benefit of the park establishment will be achieved through Parks Canada’s commitment to maintain and improve the ecological health of the park. Accepted, scientific ecological criteria (e.g., naturally reproducing, self-sustaining populations of native species, natural restoration, elimination of invasive species) will be used to assess and prioritize ecosystem restoration. Habitat links between terrestrial and aquatic habitat in the Rouge Valley will be maintained to foster connection between Lake Ontario and the Oak Ridges Moraine. The national urban park will be managed in accordance with the principle that native ecosystems will be conserved and wildlife diversity maintained. In addition, establishment will result in on-going requirements for management interventions to maintain and improve ecological health and scientific integrity (for e.g. monitoring and protection of populations of species at risk). Ensuring the ecological health of the Rouge National Urban Park is protected into the future is Parks Canada’s priority.

Additional benefits will include improved visitor access and facilities, over the long-term, as well as improved ability to showcase the unique natural and cultural character of the place. Access to opportunities such as wildlife viewing is likely to improve, as programs and communications materials are developed to highlight the natural and cultural heritage of the area. In turn, this will help achieve Parks Canada’s goals of increasing awareness and relevance of our protected areas and their natural and cultural heritage amongst urban audiences. Although visitation may increase, and could result in conflicts, it is anticipated that increased and more directed visitation will be beneficial. An increased number of visitors will lead to increased opportunities for educational experiences, a sense of stewardship and awareness. Future development proposals will be reviewed and permitted subject to the application of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012, Species at Risk Act and Parks Canada Cultural Resource Management Policy.

The establishment of Rouge National Urban Park will lead to important positive environmental effects. No important negative environmental effects are anticipated.