City Meets Water
Celebrating the Wonders of our Watershed
Every year the water comes to life in Spring and early Summer.
The ice is gone and water is set free. The rain falls, our creeks
and rivers run high. Migratory birds arrive, stopping to rest on
their journey north. Suddenly everything is alive.
Toronto is a city that is truly fortunate with one of the world’s
most vital resources: a wealth of abundant fresh water. Our
city is resting beside one of the largest fresh water lakes in the
world. We have a multitude of rivers, fed by the waters of the
Oak Ridges Moraine north of the city.
With the abundance of water comes an abundance of life.
People are not the only ones that love being near water.
Our watersheds and waterfront parks make wonderful habitat
for wildlife, for migratory birds, and a vast vareity of fish. They
also provide unparalleled opportunities for us to enjoy ourselves:
for boating, beaching, fishing, and most importantly, relaxing.
A glimpse of Lake Ontario’s sparkling waters between the
buildings can help us find calm in our hectic lives. The
waterfront is Toronto’s great escape, a chance for us to relax
and unwind on the water, so close to the city and yet so far
In this issue, we explore our city where it meets the water,
exotic varieties of aquatic life, the history of Fisherman’s Island
and our First Nations’ past.
We are all Connected by Water
Lake Ontario is one massive watershed, home to roughly one in four Canadians, and
providing drinking water for over nine million people in Canada and the U.S.
But first, what exactly is a watershed? Simply, it is an area of land where all of the water
drains down to the same place, be it a creek, river or lake.
We are all connected by water. Lake Ontario is one of the five Great Lakes, along with
Lake Superior, Huron, Michigan and Erie. Together, they make up the world’s largest
freshwater system, containing one-fifth of the world’s freshwater.
As the last Great Lake before the St. Lawrence, the waters of the other lakes pass through
Lake Ontario into the St. Lawrence River. The entire watershed is known as the Great
Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin, which in turn drains into one of Canada’s largest
watersheds, the Atlantic Ocean. Our water in Lake Ontario eventually goes out to sea.
Lake Ontario’s watershed is made up of many
smaller watersheds. Our city is home to seven
river and creek watersheds that drain into the
- In the heart of the city is the Don River.
- To the north and east, you’ll find the
watersheds of Highland and Petticoat
Creeks, and the Rouge River.
- In the west there’s Etobicoke and Mimico
Creeks, and the Humber River.
- The Lake Ontario Waterfront is also
considered a watershed as many smaller
creeks drain directly to the Lake without
joining a larger creek or river.
Where the Watersheds Begin:
Our Magnificent Aquifer
Most of our watersheds have their beginnings
north of the city. The Oak Ridges Moraine
stretches 160 kilometres through the Hills of
the Headwaters, York and Durham regions.
Known as the rain barrel of Southern Ontario,
the moraine is a magnificent aquifer. The
moraine’s underground layers of sand and gravel
sop up water, save it and send it downstream.
The creeks and rivers run down through the
greenbelt, farms and fields, the suburbs, into the
urbanized areas of the Metro Toronto Region,
sustaining our city and our lives.
A Heathy Watershed is Good for All Life
The big challenge we are facing today is to keep our watershed
healthy for drinking and for aquatic life who live in the water.
Process including identify threats to our drinking water before
they happen, and to find solutions to these threats. Organizations
including Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA)
working together with local municipalities foster the health of
Watershed management starts north of the city, with programs
on farms that implement best practices in rural water quality. A
healthy urban forest is crucial to a healthy watershed. Part of being
proactive in keeping our watershed healthy, 1.7 million trees, shrubs
and aquatic plants were planted between 2008 and 2012. It helps
watersheds retain water and reduce run-off, as well as helping with
stormwater control – one of the big issues in Toronto’s watershed.
Not far from our neighbourhood, stream restoration projects
are working to minimize erosion and improve Highland
Creek’s capacity to handle heavy storms. On the Don River,
naturalizing tributaries and developing wetlands in the East
Don Parklands area and many other projects are all designed to
improve the quality of our watersheds, and ultimately keep our
water safe for all.
Toronto is a City of the Lake
Our city’s most inseparable asset is Lake Ontario.
Lake Ontario is the water that sustains our city,
that inspires us and makes Toronto such a great
city to call home. Along 42 km of waterfront,
we live in harmony with the rhythm of Lake
Ontario, feeling the glow when the sun shines
and the fury when storms rage.
The Lake and the rivers are the reason why our
city exists, why settlers chose this place as their
home in the New World, and one of the keys to
our city’s prosperity.
Toronto doesn’t truly end where the shoreline
begins. The Lake is part of our city, and many
of us spend time enjoying it by sailing, boating,
fishing and swimming.
City Meets Water
We may think of ourselves as living in a city on the Lake, but
from a bird’s-eye view, Toronto is small compared to the size of
As the 14th largest lake in the world, Lake Ontario covers
18,960 square kilometres. Compared to that, the City of
Toronto is a mere 641 square kilometres, just three percent of
the size of the Lake. Even the Greater Toronto Area spans 7,125
square kilometres, including the City of Toronto and regions of
Durham, Halton, Peel and York, over a third of the size of the
The Lake is much bigger than we are, and we are but one of
many cities that call Lake Ontario home.
It Takes Six Years for Water to
Pass Through Lake Ontario
Look out at all that water in Lake Ontario. Where does it come from?
Eighty percent of our Lake’s water actually comes from the
other Great Lakes, whose waters all flow through Lake Ontario
on the journey to the sea. Think of all that water plummeting
through Niagara Falls via the Niagara River from Lake Erie.
Once that water enters Lake Ontario, it takes six years to
travel through the Lake and reach the St. Lawrence River. This
underscores how important it is to take care of our watershed.
As for the rest of the water in Lake Ontario, about 14 percent is
fed by our rivers and streams, and the rest from snow and rain.
Looks can be deceiving. While Lake Erie is slightly larger in
surface area, Lake Ontario has nearly four times the water.
The depths of the lake descend 244 metres below the surface,
while Lake Erie’s maximum depth reaches only 64 metres. This
explains why Lake Erie is the warmest of all the Great Lakes.
Our Beautiful Blue Flag Beaches
Lake Ontario is the most threatened of all the Great Lakes. But
the water quality has improved to the point that many of our
beaches have attained Blue Flag status. Woodbine Beach, Kew-
Balmy, Cherry Beach and five others were awarded Blue Flag
status in 2014, which means they meet international standards
for water quality, cleanliness and safety.
Toronto was Carved by Glaciers
The Laurentide Ice Sheet, which once covered all of Canada,
began to melt 14,000 to 10,000 years ago. The glaciers gouged
out basins, which filled with meltwater and became the Great
Lakes. The glaciers also formed the Oak Ridges Moraine over
12,000 years ago. Around 5,000 years ago, Lake Ontario took
its present shape.
Lake Ontario, the lake of ‘Shining Waters’
A good name sticks. The name Lake Ontario hails from the
Iroquoian language, and means “lake of shining waters.”
Even though the Iroquois were not here when the European
settlers arrived, their name for the lake remains. When the
Anishinabe (now the present day Ojibway and Mississauga)
took over the Iroquois territory around 1700 they kept the
name, maybe because of the lake’s luminous shine.