The Humber River’s natural heritage, though not a part of its designation, is certainly unique. The river is an important corridor for monarch butterflies and migratory songbirds. It passes through the Oak Ridges Moraine, the Niagara Escarpment, the Humber Marshes, and the City of Toronto before entering Lake Ontario. Approximately 45 percent of the watershed is urban and a large portion of the remaining rural land is under agricultural use.
High Park, in Toronto, shelters one of Ontario’s last remaining Black Oak Savannah habitats as well as a remnant prairie habitat. The Humber watershed is home to the nationally vulnerable red-shouldered hawk and more than 50 species of fish, and provides high-quality wetland habitat for birds.
Extensive archeological evidence indicates the Humber River has experienced human settlement for almost 10,000 years. First Nations peoples developed the Carrying Place Trail, which connects Lake Ontario to the upper Great Lakes. This trade route made the area attractive to European traders and explorers upon their arrival in the 17th century and led to its designation as a national historic site.
Toronto’s first European settlers were French traders and missionaries, who remained in the area until 1793 when British settlement began. However, it wasn’t until after the War of 1812 that major settlement of the watershed began.
The Humber watershed is an oasis for recreation within Canada’s most urban area. Approximately 11 percent of the watershed is public land, and includes many trail systems, such as the Humber Valley Heritage Trail and the Shared Path, which includes interpretive panels that tell the stories of the First Nations, fur trade, settlement and industrial development of the area.
Opportunities for camping, fishing, canoeing, picnicking, hiking, swimming, cross- country skiing, nature appreciation, and environmental education are all easily accessed within the watershed.
Crossing the Humber: the Humber Heritage Bridge Inventory, completed by the Humber Watershed Alliance, provides detailed information on the 33 bridges that cross the Humber River.
The Toronto Region Conservation Authority is responsible for the management of this watershed and Canadian Heritage River, and the Humber Watershed Alliance, a voluntary organization, is responsible for implementing the watershed’s action plan at a community level.
As a result of its outstanding cultural and recreational values, the Humber River was designated to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System in 1999. It flows through a rich mosaic of Carolinean forests, meadows, farms and abandoned mills and finally through the largest urban area in Canada – metropolitan Toronto. A system of greenways along the river’s shores maintains the spirit of the historic Toronto Carrying Place Trail and provides an urban oasis in this city of 5 million people.
The Humber River – Promoting Cultural Heritage
A Determined Alliance
For nearly two decades, the Humber Watershed Alliance has worked to preserve and protect the ecology, history and culture of the Humber River in Toronto’s west end. This remarkable volunteer Alliance includes residents, elected officials, community groups, government agencies and local businesses. It was their work that led to the designation of the Humber River Watershed as a Canadian Heritage River in 1999.
A Remarkable Urban River
The Humber was one of the first “urban” rivers to be designated and it remains the only Canadian Heritage River to feature a subway stop!
In 2011, the Humber River Heritage Bridge Inventory, which identified 33 heritage bridges on the Humber River, was one of two key projects that earned a Heritage Canada Foundation National Award. One of the most comprehensive such inventories ever undertaken in Canada, it provides a clear picture of the state of the Humber’s heritage infrastructure and will help the Alliance protect the river’s cultural resources.
Telling the River’s Stories
The second award-winning project in 2011 was The Shared Path/Le Sentier Partagé: Toronto’s Historical Park. Following the natural contours of the Humber shoreline, the Shared Path has created detailed interpretive signage and a dozen themed story circles that tell the story of the river’s Aboriginal heritage, the fur trade and the ecological impacts of water-powered industry.
These two important projects have led to new partnerships and a greater public awareness of the river’s role in Toronto’s development.
A River Report Card
The Alliance monitors more than two dozen indicators to produce periodic watershed ‘report cards’ which assess how well heritage resources and landforms are being protected. It examines the health of natural vegetation, fish and wildlife, and answers such key questions as: How swimmable are the waters? How involved are people in stewardship of the river?
Recently, the Alliance gave the watershed a “C” or “fair” health rating.
The Humber River was designated a Canadian Heritage River for its historic and recreational values. Located in a transition zone between the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Forest Region in the north and the Carolinian or Deciduous Forest Region in the south, the Humber contains species common to both regions. A total of 473 archaeological sites representing the full range of human occupation within the Humber River watershed have been located and registered with the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation.
The Canadian Heritage River plaques offer a brief glimpse into why a river has been designated to the System. They are often located nearby one of its historically significant locations, and highlight some of the most important natural, cultural and recreational values of the river.
Humber River Plaque Text
The Humber River - The Humber River watershed, the largest river system in the Toronto region, covers 908 square kilometres. From its source on the Oak Ridges Moraine and Niagara Escarpment, the Humber flows through outstanding natural habitats in rural and urban landscapes, to Lake Ontario. At least 12,000 years ago, the watershed was home to Aboriginal Peoples. They established an overland route along the river corridor to the Canadian interior. Later, European explorers and settlers used this route they called the Toronto Carrying-Place trail. Today, the Humber provides recreational and educational opportunities and a spiritual retreat for thousands of people of many different cultures. This plaque commemorates the designation of the Humber River as a Canadian Heritage River and honours those people – past, present and future who work to protect and enhance the Humber’s heritage and recreational resources.