The Rouge River


The Rouge River Valley, eleven thousand acres of urban wilderness, is a unique, yet very fragile and transient natural phenomenon existing within the confines of a major North American city, Toronto. Fed by the Oak Ridges Moraine, the Rouge river system has, over generations of time, cut its identity into the land, shaping the habitat for a multitude of lifeforms, many of which are now either threatened or gone. -  James E. Garratt

The Rouge River is a two river system. Little Rouge and Rouge River are in the east and the northeast parts of Toronto and begin in the Oak Ridges Moraine in Richmond Hill and Whitchurch-Stouffville. These rivers flow past:

  • Markham, Ontario, northwest, central, to south, including a couple of conservation areas.
  • Eastern edge of Scarborough
  • Rouge Valley Park

At the southern end, the Rouge River system is the boundary between Toronto and southwestern Pickering. Rouge River empties into Lake Ontario. Its original name in Iroquois was Katabokokonk.

The Rouge River is part of Rouge Park, the largest urban park in North America. It is one of a few wilderness areas left in South-Central Ontario, and has been virtually untouched by development since the arrival of Europeans. While many exclusive homes and conclaves border this area on the southern tip, it is currently surrounded largely by agricultural land. It is even devoid of recreational development but sports a considerable network of walking or bicycle paths. Unlike other rivers in the Toronto area, is allowed to fill its entire flood plain on a regular basis rather than being forced through an artificial channel. However, parts of its watershed include the Toronto Zoo and the Beare Road Landfill.

Rouge Park is a “Heritage Park” created in 1994 by the partnership of the Federal and Provincial governments, and the municipalities: City of Toronto, four towns (Markham, Pickering, Richmond Hill, Whitchurch-Stoufville, and two regions (Durham and York.) It is overseen by the Rouge Park Alliance, representing these governments, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and other Rouge Park non-governmental associations. It is the largest park ever created within an urban region in North America. The Rouge Park represents a new approach to park management for Ontario, coordinating efforts of many agencies. Valley corridors upstream to the Rouge headwaters are to be protected, with private lands in those corridors gradually added to the park or managed by agreement where possible. Restoration of damaged ecosystems is a priority, with human uses limited to those that do not harm the natural setting.

Size: 13,607 acres (5445 hectares or 51 square kilometres) This is the figure for 2003: more land is added from time to time. The Rouge is the largest wilderness park within an urban anywhere in North America.

The Rouge consists of woodlands and valleys, meadows and marshes, as well as farmland. It embraces 110 mini-ecosystems with incredible biodiversity. The Park play a role in global ecology, e.g., milkweed meadows for Monarch butterflies migrating from (Mexico).

In the former city of Scarborough, the Rouge was the “third rail” issue of municipal politics, and many minor candidates for mayor often ran on a platform to preserve it. However, since Scarborough was annexed into the city of Toronto, Toronto City Council has voted on occasion to allow development around the river. For much of the course of the system in Toronto is still parkland or farmland.

As for the York Region sections, the southern watershed runs through residential development and lined with a few small parks. The source of the system is either natural or farmland.

Currently, there is a degree of abandonment in the area, of former farm lands, and historic houses. There also remains many historic houses which are still lived in, some even farmed. Research on Toronto’s website listing its holdings of historic properties reveals over 20 historic buildings in the area, including Hillside PS, Scarborough’s first schoolhouse, which sits across the street from a house built by the Pearse family in 1855.


Map ascribed to Louis Jolliet (after 1673) showing Ganatchakiagon and the Rouge trail


Various tributary creeks meets up with both the Rouge and Little Rouge River in Markham and Toronto:

  • Little Rouge Creek – runs northeast via Cedar Grove, Locust Hill, Dickson Hill, Ringwood, Lemonville, and Bloomington (Kennedy Road-Bethesda Road to Kingston Road and Altona Road) and flows into Rouge River.
  • Katabokokonk Creek – a short creek runs in northeast Markham (west of Ressor Road and Don Cousens Parkway to Major Mackenzie Drive and west of Reesor Road) and bears the original name of the Rouge – creek flows into Little Rouge River.
  • Bruce Creek – starts in several ponds in the southeast corner of Aurora, flows briefly through the northeast corner of Richmond Hill, then southeast in the southwest corner of Whitchurch-Stouffville, through Bruce’s Mills Conservation Area and into Markham. It flows through Angus Glen Golf Cluband into Toogood Pond in Unionville, just before which the tributary Berczy Creek joins. The creek runs several hundred metre more to its mouth just east of Kennedy Road(Kennedy-Highway 7 to Woodbine Avenue north of Bloomington Road) – flows into Rouge River.
  • Beaver Creek flows from Richmond Hill to the future Downtown Markham development (Major Mackenzie Drive-Bayview Avenue to Warden-Highway 407) – flows into Rouge River.
  • Morningside Creek – flows from an area near Dension Avenue and Markham Road to southwest of the Toronto Zoo and east of Morningside Road – flows into Rouge River.
  • Apple Creek – a small creek branching off Beaver Creek near Highway 7 and Rodick Road and runs between residential developments in a northwest direction to 16th Avenue and Buttonfield Road (just south of Cachet Centre shopping mall).
  • Carleton Creek – runs from Woodbine Avenue and Major Mackenzie Drive to Toogood Pond at 16th Avenue and Kennedy Road.
  • Robinson Creek – runs from north of Elgin Mills between McCowan Road and Kennedy Road to the east end of Milne Park at 48 and Highway 7.
  • Berczy Creek – runs from north of Stouffville Road and Woodbine Avenue into the Bruce at Highway 7 and Woodbine Avenue.
  • Exhibition Creek – runs from north of 16th Avenue and Highway 48 to Markham and Highway 7.


The headwaters or sources of the Rouge River and its tributaries are found in the Oak Ridges Moraine. Water flows down from the elevated moraine towards Lake Ontario. The source stretches from Bathurst Street and Stouffville Road in the west in a northeast direction to Woodbine Avenue and Bloomington Road and then eastwards to east of Ninth Line and Bloomington Road in Whitchurch-Stouffville.

  • Rouge River – a wooded area between farmland
  • Bruce Creek – unnamed and small pond near Preston Lake in a wooded area off Ontario Highway 404
  • Katabokokonk Creek – wooded area north of Major Mackenzie Drive and west of Reesor Road
  • Little Rouge Creek – begins under farmland
  • Beaver Creek – ponds between a mall and residential homes


The Rouge River is part of the Carolinian life zone that is found in Southern Ontario. In the early 19th century, pioneer settlers could spear large salmon spawning as far north as the upper tributaries of the Rouge in what is today Whitchurch-Stouffville.