Advocates of sustainable development are calling for recreating front porches on city homes to encourage a sense of community. Toronto and Region are recreating lakefront gathering places for both people and wildlife. An essential precursor step in this effort to create a new lakefront porch has been the cleanup of Toronto Harbour.

As Toronto & Region grew into Canada’s largest city, environment protection was not at the forefront of planning and development. This manifested in poor water quality, contaminated sediments and fish, loss of wildlife habitat and populations, and beaches that were often closed due to high levels of bacteria. As a result, in 1985 the International Joint Commission’s Great Lakes Water Quality Board identified Toronto & Region as one of 42 Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOC) or pollution hot spots requiring cleanup.

Federal, provincial, and local stakeholders came together in the late 1980s to develop a remedial action plan to clean up the Harbour and restore uses. Early efforts focused on preventing pollution through regulations and voluntary initiatives. Since 2003, the City of Toronto has spent $485 million to control stormwater pollution and reduce basement flooding risks, and projects to spend $2.8 billion in 2016-2025 on additional stormwater projects. The Don River and Central Waterfront Project is particularly noteworthy and will capture and treat stormwater discharges and address discharges from the combined storm and sanitary sewer outfalls to the Lower Don River, Taylor-Massey Creek, and Toronto’s Inner Harbour – a $2 billion investment over the next 25 years.


More than $80 million has been spent on habitat rehabilitation since 1987. In the last 10 years alone, over 823 ha of habitat and 57 km of shoreline were created or restored in the AOC. The federal government and Toronto are now creating Canada’s first national urban park – Rouge National Urban Park. Rouge Park is rich in natural, cultural, and agricultural features, including 1,700 species of plants and animals, and some of the rarest and best remaining wetlands, forests, and agricultural lands in the region. Once fully established, it will be 101 km2 in size – nearly 30 times the size of Central Park in New York. Federal investment in Rouge Park will be $100 million. In 2017, federal, provincial, and municipal governments announced $1.25 billion to construct a new naturalized Don River mouth through the Port Lands.

This created a new urban island neighborhood called Villiers Island. Continuous and vigorous oversight is needed to maintain these ecosystem gains and ensure longterm sustainability.

Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation (now called Waterfront Toronto) was established in 2001 by the federal and provincial governments and the City of Toronto to redefine its waterfront as a public asset for everyone. Working with public and private partners, Waterfront Toronto creates complete neighborhoods anchored by parks and public spaces, and diverse, sustainable, mixed-use communities that offer a high quality-of-life for residents and visitors alike.

Waterfront Toronto has worked synergistically with the remedial action plan team to restore and sustain a vibrant ecosystem that provides environmental, social, and economic benefits to local communities and visitors. For example, the remedial action plan developed a habitat strategy to support waterfront revitalization that resulted in restoring over 26 ha of wetland and aquatic habitats and 6.4 km of shoreline habitat in prominent locations like Tommy Thompson Park, Toronto Island, Port Union, Mimico Waterfront Park, and others.

As part of an effort to measure economic effectiveness, Waterfront Toronto commissioned studies of the economic benefits stimulated by its waterfront investments. Between 2001 and March of 2017 a total of $1.6 billion was invested in waterfront redevelopment to establish unique gathering places that foster a sense of authentic human attachment.

Economists have estimated that this $1.6 billion investment, adjusted for inflation, will: generate approximately 14,100 full-time years of employment, of which approximately 88.5% were in the City of Toronto; stimulate $4.1 billion in total economic output to the Canadian economy (the majority in Toronto); and generate total government revenues of approximately $848 million. Although Toronto Waterfront’s expenditures are significant, they are relatively small compared to the recurring benefits, like permanent jobs, property taxes, income taxes, and tourism spending that occur with continued development of new office, residential, retail/service, cultural, and entertainment uses along the waterfront which would not occur without the initial Waterfront Toronto investments.

While these impacts relate to Waterfront Toronto’s direct spending on planning and infrastructure, economists have also quantified benefits accruing to private- and publicsector real estate projects both on lands controlled by Waterfront Toronto and other privately-owned land on the waterfront. For example, the combined development on East Bayfront and West Don lands, and the adjoining neighborhoods, will generate nearly 207,900 years of employment, add $13.8 billion to the Canadian economy, and provide $7.5 billion in tax revenues to the three levels of government.

Clearly, Toronto has become a North American leader in harbour cleanup, revitalizing its waterfront and reaping economic benefits, and creating waterfront destination of choice that is accessible and welcoming to all. For more information visit: