In 2021, Parks Canada announced a $130 million government investment into the National Urban Parks Program to work with partners and create a network to ensure that all Canadians have access to nature.
Parklands around cities are important and essential for wildlife and the environment, and with more than 70 percent of the Canadian population residing in urban regions, they’re also vital to the public’s wellbeing. The program will also identify opportunities to create and expand parks in near-urban settings.
It’s the next step for Parks Canada, which has provided for and managed a system of national parks, historic sites, and marine conservation areas since 1911. The intent is that these parks will help contribute to biodiversity protection, support climate resilience, and provide opportunities to connect to, and learn about, local nature and culture, including Indigenous peoples’ knowledge and values.
Rouge National Urban Park
Rouge National Urban Park, located in the northeastern part of the Greater Toronto Area, opened in 2015 and is the first park of its kind in Canada. Located adjacent to the Toronto Zoo, it’s one of the largest urban parks in North America and has some of the last remaining working farms in the surrounding area.
Hikes and walks range from 15 minutes to 2.5 hours (some trails have steep grades and steps) and in summer, the dense Carolinian forest offers a canopy over many of the trails, which also run through and alongside meadows, wetlands, and rivers. Guided walks are available. Conditions vary depending on the weather; trails aren’t salted or cleared of ice and snow in the winter. Be aware that coyotes and black bears can be active in the park.
Rouge National Urban Park holds some of Canada’s oldest known Indigenous sites and is a popular place to spot monarch butterflies in the summer, particularly along the sandy spit where Rouge Beach meets Lake Ontario. Here you’ll find marshlands with a pathway and boardwalk for wildlife viewing.
Campgrounds in the area: Located in the park and north of Ontario’s Highway 401 is Glen Rouge Campground, Toronto’s only campground and a low-key spot featuring RV sites, tent-like cabin rentals, fire pits, picnic tables, and trails. While the campground is currently closed for infrastructure and visitor center upgrades, the Mast Trail remains open.
In early 2022, Parks Canada announced the pre-feasibility phase to explore the creation of a national urban park in the Edmonton region, an Alberta city known for its festivals.
Parks Canada will work with the City of Edmonton and Indigenous partners to provide locals and visitors with quality green space while offering opportunities for connections to the land and water, based on Indigenous knowledge and values.
“Having a national urban park in Treaty 6 Territory would not only provide space for connecting to the land but would also provide opportunities for healing and cultural celebration for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. This is a step in the right direction towards Reconciliation,” said Chief Tony Alexis of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation.
As the project in the Edmonton region is at its early stages, a specific site hasn’t yet been identified.
Campgrounds in the area: Kinsmen RV Park features 93 sites and is open from early May to the end of September. Rainbow Valley Campground has 75 sites, including tent camping, and is open from April to the end of September. Rainbow Valley has easy access to a walking trail network that follows Whitemud Creek to the North Saskatchewan River.
Since the Government of Canada’s 2021 announcement, Parks Canada and partners are advancing exploratory work on six other candidate sites: the Greater Victoria Area (British Columbia), the Meewasin Valley Authority in Saskatoon (Saskatchewan), and the cities of Winnipeg (Manitoba), Halifax (Nova Scotia), Windsor (Ontario), and Montreal (Quebec). The unit has made historic investments in the past few years to acquire, create, and protect natural spaces.
Parks Canada continues to identify areas and potential candidates for other national urban parks. “The Agency looks forward to working closely with potential partners and local Indigenous communities to offer unique ways to connect with nature in urban centers,” a spokesperson says.
Updates on the National Urban Park Program will be made to the public when available.