Preliminary conceptual designs feature an aesthetically and environmentally progressive, universally accessible building with visitor amenities that include indoor and outdoor multi-purpose gathering spaces, a viewing platform, and significant collaborations and co-design with Indigenous partners and key stakeholders.

Project description

Project vision

Parks Canada’s vision for this project is to create a flagship visitor hub with multi-purpose gathering spaces and visitor amenities which functions as an iconic gateway to both Rouge National Urban Park and Parks Canada. It will feature an aesthetically and environmentally progressive, universally accessible building along with an outdoor event space with a learning focus on Indigenous, natural, cultural and agricultural heritage through integrated interpretive installations and design elements. It will welcome visitors and community members and anchor Parks Canada’s presence in Canada’s largest metropolitan area.

In order to understand why Parks Canada is undertaking this work, the following context is required.

Policy framework

Completing this visitor, learning and community space will help Parks Canada achieve key deliverables in the Rouge National Urban Park Management Plan. Completed in 2019, this plan sets the course for the next decade. It includes four key strategies, six management area concepts, and goals for the end of the 10-year implementation period.

The management plan and park as a whole are governed by the Rouge National Urban Park Act (“the Act”). The Act ensures the protection of the park’s natural and cultural resources, and encourages sustainable farming inside the park.

Rouge National Urban Park

In 2011, Parks Canada began collaboration with other governments, Indigenous partners and other stakeholders to establish the Rouge as a national urban park, a new protected area model that is ground-breaking for the Greater Toronto Area, Ontario, and Canada as a whole.

Park vision

Rouge National Urban Park is located in Canada’s most culturally diverse metropolitan area. It aims to be a place for youth, newcomers, and more to explore.

Rouge National Urban Park protects and celebrates, for current and future generations, a diverse landscape in Canada’s largest metropolitan area. Linking Lake Ontario with the Oak Ridges Moraine, the park offers engaging and varied experiences, inspires personal connections to its natural beauty and rich history, promotes a vibrant farming community, and encourages us to discover Canada’s national treasured places.


The overall purpose of the visitor, learning and community space is to welcome, orient and prepare a wide range of visitors to further explore the park.

Below are three schematic designs that the consultants have been working on for the Rouge visitor, learning and community centre.

Project design

Key elements and design principles

Key elements of the project include:

  • Indoor and outdoor gathering spaces
  • Inclusive washrooms
  • Indigenous partner space
  • Event and programming space
  • Storytelling installations
  • Accessible lookout
  • Food services and dining area
  • Parks Canada retail space
  • Office space

Design principles for the project include:

  • Indigenous partnership and co-design
  • Leadership in sustainable design
  • Design excellence
  • Integrated interpretive approach
  • Scalability
  • Accessible and inclusive design

The big idea

Restoration is the big idea that will be embedded in and explored through the design and experience of the site. We view the Rouge as a powerful restorative force - one that continually inspires renewed ways of living with and caring for nature and one another.

Diagram showing the four components of restoration in this project: nature in the Rouge; sense of community; stories of the Rouge; and mind, body, spirit 
To us, ‘restoration’ of the Rouge Gateway means there will be opportunities to:
  • Restore our relationship with nature in the Rouge: the site will present diverse opportunities to connect with the surroundings and learn about nature using all of our senses.
  • Hear and share the diverse stories of the Rouge: the site will offer opportunities to learn about the layered stories of the people and land that make up the park’s natural, cultural and agricultural history and present, including understanding Indigenous perspectives.
  • Renew a sense of community: the site will support opportunities to build connections with others through accessible and inclusive shared experiences.
  • Reconnect with ourselves ― mind, body and spirit: the site will offer opportunities to nourish ourselves by providing choices for activity and for calm, together and in solitude.

Landscape design and outdoor experiences

This new visitor, learning and community centre will function as a gateway to the park and reflect the unique essence of the Rouge ― both inside and out.

The site plan itself has been designed to tell this story. From the rolling farm fields in the north of the park to the rare Carolinian forests in the south, the proposed landscape design alludes to the park’s diverse natural, cultural and agricultural heritage.

The following outdoor features are meant to instill curiosity and encourage visitors to explore the many experiences the Rouge has to offer!

Farm zone
Photo credit: Ian Gray

The portion of site known as the “Farm Zone” welcomes people arriving at the north end of the site. A meeting circle is located near the north-west corner and provides a recognizable entrance to the site for pedestrians and cyclists, including those arriving by public transit.

An orchard of semi-dwarf apple trees, grown from heritage plant grafts, frames the view of historic Pearse House from this point. The adjacent path leads visitors towards the visitor centre building. This path and the orchard are bordered by pollinator and butterfly gardens. At the east end of the path is a trailhead which serves as a meeting place for hikers.

Just past the trailhead is a demonstration garden. It is planted primarily with annual vegetables, herbs and medicinals, providing learning opportunities related to farming practices and complimentary planting. It provides a venue to learn about the agricultural heritage of the park in a way that engages all the senses.


  • Apple orchard
  • Pollinator and butterfly gardens
  • Demonstration gardens
  • Orientation trailhead
Centre zone

This central zone includes an inviting open green space, a broad path, a visually compelling mound and a parking area.

The green space functions in the same way as the traditional public square in the centre of many towns and villages. A nearby outdoor communal kitchen will provide opportunities for visitors to connect and share through food. A variety of events will take place here, including formal or casual celebrations that will create lasting memories for visitors of all ages.

Adjacent to the green space is a broad path, which can serve multiple purposes. In addition to facilitating movement, it will accommodate impromptu pop-up events of various types and scale. A mound separates the parking area from the pedestrian area and screens the view of the nearby ZooShare facility. Nestled at the far edge of the event green will be a dedicated sharing circle where visitors will be invited to learn about Indigenous connections to the park. Immersive storytelling installations will be layered throughout the landscape for visitors to enjoy and explore.


  • Events green
  • Pedestrian path + plaza
  • Mounds
  • Outdoor communal kitchen
  • Indigenous sharing circle
  • Outdoor storytelling installations

Images of paved pedestrian path with green landscaping and public seating with water feature

Images of paved pedestrian path with green landscaping and public seating with water feature


Forest zone
Photo credit: Ian Gray

The southern portion of the site is an extension of the forested slopes that frame the valley to the east.

A trail made of native mineral soil runs from north to south, connecting the open green field with an edible forest garden. You can walk barefoot on this trail and feel the connection with the living earth beneath your feet. Midway through this forested zone is a small clearing, suitable for quiet contemplation or intimate group storytelling.

An edible forest garden of multi-layered perennial plant species is located at the south limit of the zone. Fruit and nut trees, with an understory of berry bushes, perennial vegetables and a healthy living soil, create a balanced food ecosystem.


  • New forest trail
  • Forest garden
  • Contemplative space


Concept #1 - Solstice courtyard
Concept 1 

The movement of the sun and the cycle of the seasons are unifying forces that resonate with peoples across time and space. It is in accordance with these cosmic rotations that we mark time and find our direction.

This design concept is shaped by the solstice itself and by the natural elements the set the pace for how we live.


Concept #2 - Rooftop deck
Concept 2 

Mother earth and the human habitation on her leave traces from which we can learn much about our natural and cultural history.

This design concept is inspired by these traces and their discovery, signifying a growing appreciation for our lands and our cultures. These traces teach us many lessons about how to continually improve our relationships with each other, and with the earth itself.


Concept #3 - Forest passage
Concept 3

The Carrying Place Trail was an overland route connecting Lake Ontario to Lake Simcoe, and the upper Great Lakes beyond, connecting people and goods for trade. The Trail represents a cultural trace across the landscape that endured for millennia.

This design concept attempts to restore this connection on the site, re-building this north-south connection. This gesture is meant to explore and restore the severed connections in our collective natural and cultural history, as embodied by the Carrying Place Trail.


Have your say!

Parks Canada invites you to participate in the public engagement phase for the design and construction of Rouge National Urban Park’s flagship visitor, learning and community centre. Your ideas will help shape the design of the physical space and the themes explored here.

How do I participate?