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Wild in the City

Spotting a Trumpeter Swam on the Humber River

Urban rivers provide a quick and easy escape for city dwellers

Locals love to share their knowledge of paddling in the Greater Toronto Area



There’s no better way to discover the hidden gems in a city than by asking a local. I think that’s even more true when it comes to urban paddling.

Although I have lived in Toronto for over nine years, I am always finding out about new places to paddle and meeting new people who love urban canoeing as much as I do. Sharing my favourite paddling locations with others is part of the fun.

The Humber River 

The Humber River is another local waterway frequented by urban canoeists. It remains ice-free for much of the year, allowing paddlers a chance to explore by canoe when most of the northern rivers and lakes are still frozen solid. It’s also a five-minute drive from my house, making it a personal favourite for an afternoon jaunt.

In the spring and summer, it’s teeming with wildlife. I’ve played peekaboo with a mink on the river rocks below the bridge, spied an owl waiting patiently for dusk in the top of a tree, and watched turtles flip off their sunning logs and into the water as I glided past. In autumn, the changing leaves make for a very pretty experience.

Fall colours make for a spendid paddle on the Humber River

The Humber can be accessed directly from Lake Ontario by the Humber Arch Bridge if the wind off the lake isn’t too severe, or from a parking lot off Riverside Drive north of the Queensway behind the Petro-Canada gas station. Paddling upstream from here is easy, as the current is not strong and the river is sheltered from the wind by massive willow trees and reedy marshes. You can paddle about as far north as Old Mill Station on the Bloor-Danforth subway line before the river gets too shallow.

Watching the subway rumble over the Humber River

Easy Half and Full Day Trips             

While enjoying a break under a shady willow tree in the middle of the Humber Marsh, my canoe partner, Andrew, and I met another tandem canoe couple who were happy to tell us about their favourite paddling spots.

Garney and John Chu, 54 and 59, live in Mississauga and had spent the whole weekend paddling local rivers.

 “We were on the Credit River yesterday,” Garney Chu said. “We are older, we’re seniors, so I don’t know about camping,” she laughed. “We like to just do the day trips. We try to get out here often.” John Chu added, “We also like Sixteen Mile Creek. It’s a very short distance, probably best to do it in the fall.”

Meeting local paddlers John and Garney Chu on the Humber River

The Chus enjoy canoe excursions that range from two to eight hours in length, and have paddled their local waterways extensively. “The other one we really like is from Cherry Beach to Centre Island,” Garney Chu said. “It’s a good one. We put in at Cherry Beach and cross the channel over to the island. It’s just beautiful,” she said.

Getting Back to Nature in the City

Last spring, Andrew and I connected with another tandem canoe team through a Facebook group for Credit River Paddlers.

The Credit River is a great place to paddle in all seasons. But when the water in the rivers run high during the spring melt, the Credit River just west of Toronto is a fantastic whitewater paddle. Class I and Class II rapids flow almost continuously from the put-in at Streetsville in Mississauga down to the take-out in Erindale Park. It’s a fast, exciting run and a great place to meet up with other local paddlers.

Lachlan McVie, 31, and Erik Thomsen, 30, have been canoe partners for six years. They both grew up in Mississauga playing on the banks of the Credit. They shared with us their thoughts about urban paddling.

L: Lachlan McVie R: Erik Thomsen

 “For city dwellers like us, our urban rivers provide a quick and accessible escape back to nature,” Thomsen said. “While it is true that many of our urban rivers, such as the Credit, have been almost irreversibly altered by man, they are still important places of refuge for plants and animals. To see herds of deer cross the path of your boat, or beavers fortifying their lodges before winter, or to hear threatened songbirds sing from the riverbank as you paddle by; to experience these things in the middle of the most populous region in the country is something quite special.”

Foreground: The author, Tierney Angus Background: Lachlan McVie and Erik Thomsen

Thomsen places a high value on the benefits that Toronto’s urban waterways have for wildlife and for recreation.

“When paddling through the valleys of these rivers — whether on 16-Mile Creek, Bronte Creek, the Rouge, Eramosa, the Grand… it is easy to forget where you are; it is easy to be consumed by the moment of simply being in nature. This is why these places are special,” Thomsen said.

McVie echoed his canoe partner’s statements about the convenience of paddling close to home.           

“There’s something very appealing about being able to get out paddling and make it home in time for lunch,” McVie said. “Having access to a local river with fairly predictable conditions makes it easier to introduce new paddlers to the sport. It’s close to home so they’re not investing a ton of time, they can use our gear, and we can take them out with full confidence that we know what to expect and can make sure they have fun and learn plenty.”

Whitewater thrills in the Spring on the Credit River

Paddling Challenges and Opportunities for 2017

This spring, water levels on Lake Ontario were at their highest in 24 years. While this did create some challenges for local canoeists, it also created new opportunities for exploration that would not be possible at any other time.

Smaller creeks that wouldn’t normally be navigable have enough water to float through. We managed to get a couple kilometres up the Mimico Creek, usually a mere trickle, and happened upon a den of curious coyote pups right in between towering condo buildings.

Exploring the Mimico Creek
Through the condo buildings, adventure awaits

Connecting with the Canadian Canoe Culture in the City

Whether you’re an experienced canoeist or total beginner, young or old, new to the city or a longtime resident, there are many ways to go paddling and connect with nature in the GTA. Just ask the locals!

There is a vibrant paddling community here. You can connect through Facebook groups, go on a tour, participate in an event or just visit a paddling store.

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