Habitat Creation and Restoration

Marshland outside the cityRestoring aquatic and terrestrial habitat is an important part of waterfront revitalization. Improving the health and diversity of the ecosystem makes for a more sustainable environment and a richer waterfront experience.

Aquatic Habitat Toronto

As a founding member of Aquatic Habitat Toronto, Waterfront Toronto is committed to incorporating aquatic habitat improvements into all projects undertaken at the water's edge. Aquatic Habitat Toronto is a consensus-based partnership between agencies with a vested interest in improving aquatic habitat on Toronto's waterfront. This includes Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Ministry of Natural Resources, Toronto and Region Conservation, Waterfront Toronto, the City of Toronto, and Environment Canada. Aquatic Habitat Toronto helps to design suitable aquatic habitat in appropriate locations to offset the potential impacts of waterfront projects. 

The Wavedecks in the Central Waterfront

The series of Wavedecks in the Central Waterfront were built to create more public space along one of the most heavily used parts of Toronto's shoreline and have become iconic urban docks. When planning the Wavedecks, we recognized that underwater structures and shading could cause a potential loss of fish habitat. With the help of Aquatic Habitat Toronto, Waterfront Toronto installed a variety of habitat structures under the Spadina, Rees and Simcoe Wavedecks such as river-stone shoals, boulders, smaller aggregate, root balls, and tree logs. Together, these structures provide space for plants to take root, increase shelter and improve foraging opportunities. Altogether, 1,780 square metres of aquatic habitat has been created as part of these projects.

The Wavedecks were completed between 2008 and 2009.  According to aquatic habitat monitoring conducted by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), an increase in the diversity and number of fish found in the Spadina, Rees, and Simcoe slips was observed. 

aquatic habitat by numbers and diversity over time 

The TRCA also observed an increase in the native species post-construction, while the average non-native species showed an overall decline. Examples of fish species observed include:

fish species observed, native and non-native

Don River

As part of the work associated with the West Don Lands Flood Protection Landform, approximately 1,100 square metres of fish habitat was also created in the Don River. This was achieved by planting shrubby and herbaceous vegetation, as well as installing rocky vanes that provide cover and reduce sediment deposits under a new bridge section.

Mimico Waterfront Park

Mimico Waterfront Park, located on the shore of Lake Ontario in Etobicoke, is part of the wider waterfront. Constructed in partnership with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, the park was completed in two phases in 2008 and 2012. The park features a 1.1 kilometre multi-use linear trail connecting people to the lake in an area that historically lacked public access to the water. An important feature of the park included the creation of 19,300 square metres of aquatic habitat and 500 metres of linear aquatic habitat. 

Portland Slip

The Portland Slip is a part of the Central Waterfront water's edge promenade. In June 2013, mandatory restoration was undertaken to repair a dock wall at the slip. When evaluating the potential disturbance to aquatic habitat as a result of this work, it was determined that creating habitat at a different location would provide more benefit and would have a greater chance of ecological success than if efforts were made at the site of impact. As a result, a contribution was made to the Toronto Island Habitat Bank Project to create aquatic habitat. 

Port Union Waterfront Park

Port Union Waterfront Park, located on the shore of Lake Ontario in Scarborough, is also part of the wider waterfront. The park was constructed in partnership with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and was completed in two phases in 2006 and 2012.

It features a 3.8 kilometre waterfront trail system, numerous beaches, pedestrian lookouts, as well as important terrestrial and aquatic habitat. A principle feature of this project was to rehabilitate the water's edge by creating a cobble beach, providing structural habitat diversity and shoreline protection. In total, this project provided 86,740 square metres of aquatic habitat and 2,633 metres of linear aquatic habitat.

examples of aquatic habitat

In total, Waterfront Toronto projects have created or improved 108,920 square metres of aquatic habitat and 3,133 metres of linear aquatic habitat. 

infographic showing size of habitat created

Corktown Common

Opened in 2013, Corktown Common is a 7.3 hectare park in the West Don Lands. Built on a former industrial and brownfield site, the park is positioned atop a massive flood protection landform that protects the surrounding lands from flooding. The park features a playground, splash pad, athletic field, open lawns, a pavilion, and an extensive landscape of marshes, prairies and woodlands to promote biodiversity.

The landscape was designed with the following key principles in mind:

  • creating a place immersed in nature;
  • introducing ecological diversity to shelter and feed wildlife and migratory birds;
  • building a resilient urban landscape;
  • making a showcase for native southern Ontario plant communities;
  • minimizing inputs to the municipal stormwater system;
  • maximizing the reuse of potable water; and
  • making the park a model for organic maintenance.

Native and Toronto-adapted species were used for 95% of the plant palette and over 700 trees, thousands of shrubs, groundcover, and aquatic plants were planted. This ecological richness has encouraged plant and animal biodiversity and supports a healthy forested area within the park. The wetlands are already home to birds, insects, frogs, and ducks.

In addition, an Organic Landscape Maintenance Guidelines document was created to ensure that the park is organically managed and that the landscape remains a functional, healthy, and diverse ecological system. Some of the maintenance principles include: feeding the soil to benefit plant health, rather than artificially stimulating plant growth; leaving grass clippings on the lawn to release nutrients back into the soil; and, using native plants for replacements or additions to the landscape.

Don Mouth Naturalization

The Port Lands is a 356 hectare brownfield site that was once part of the largest wetland on the Great Lakes. Beginning in the 1880s, the area was lake-filled to support industry and port-related activity. Today the land is underutilized and sits in the Don River's flood plain, creating a regulatory obstacle to revitalization.

Waterfront Toronto's flood protection plan will re-route and rehabilitate the mouth of the Don River, creating a healthier and more naturalized outlet to Lake Ontario. Currently, the Don River makes a hard 90 degree turn into the Keating Channel prior to being released into Toronto's Inner Harbour. During a 100 year storm event (one the size of 1954's Hurricane Hazel), the river's current state would not be able to contain the heavy flows, resulting in the flooding of a 290 hectare site east and south of the Don River. Naturalizing the mouth of the Don River will protect against this flood risk and unlock the development potential of the area, while also providing opportunities for expanded green-space, biodiversity, and natural habitat.

The Environmental Assessment for the Don Mouth Naturalization and Port Lands Flood Protection Project states that the naturalization of the Don Mouth will:  

  • Improve aquatic and naturalization habitat;
  • Improve linkages between habitats;
  • Enhance biodiversity of aquatic and terrestrial species;
  • Accommodate future changes in the environment;
  • Enhance, to the extent possible, the low flow habitat conditions within the Don Narrows; and
  • Address the public's risk of exposure to West Nile Virus.

Outer Harbour Recreational Node

The Outer Harbour Recreational Node, which opened in the spring of 2015, is an outcropping at the water's edge in Lake Ontario Park that offers an accessible space for recreational fishing, birdwatching, and natural appreciation.  Located in the eastern basin of the Outer Harbour, the trails leading to the recreational node connect with the Martin Goodman Trail that extends across Toronto's waterfront.

This space not only reconnects people with the waterfront and creates access for recreational activities, it also provides important ecosystem enhancements.  Wood debris was incorporated into the shoreline to provide shading and refuge for a variety of fish and amphibian species. The node also includes submerged shoals that provide increased shoreline irregularity and structural habitat, as well as native plant species.