Rouge Park hopes to go national

The National Park Now Committee is hoping to have Rouge Park officially named Rouge National Park by the end of this year.

The committee, comprised of local Toronto councillors, the councillor of Markham, a councillor of Pickering, a former Minister of State for the Environment and several leaders of environmental organizations of Scarborough, asked the federal government to turn Rouge Park into Canada’s 42nd national park.

“The local government and the provincial government have made their contributions, so now it’s time the federal government stepped up to the plate to add additional lands within Rouge Park,” Ward 38 councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker said. “Rouge Park is a national wildlife treasure. That’s what we were saying 20 years ago — that’s what we are saying today.”

In the committee’s proposal, the national park would add 28,000 acres to its already 12,000-acre park. The park would begin in Toronto and stretch across to Pickering, Markham and Whitchurch-Stouffville.

The national park would help preserve the ecosystems and habitats of animals currently living in the park, according to De Baeremaeker.

“Rouge Park is like a Noah’s Ark on the edge of Toronto,” De Baeremaeker said. “There’s a large enough land mass that everything like trout, salmon, white tail deer, hawks and bald eagles could survive in this very large wilderness area.… Everything else in Toronto has been destroyed. This last little piece of Toronto just got spared the bulldozer.”

The original proposal was pitched over 20 years ago, when the municipal government first requested the motion for a national park. It was only last summer that the National Park Now Committee was formed and re-proposed for national park status after the municipal government got tired of waiting.

It’s not clear why an action plan has taken more than two decades, but De Baeremaeker said the re-proposal will be successful because preservation of the environment is at an all-time high.

“The environment is held in higher regard than it was 20 years ago,” De Baeremaeker said. “People today are more aware of the environment now because of concerns of global warming which wasn’t really around 20 years ago.”

Jim Robb, fellow member of the committee and general manager of Friends of the Rouge agrees.

“I don’t think people understood how important it would be if the park served as a national park,” Robb said. “I think back then the government saw it as a challenge rather than an opportunity. Since then, the urban areas have grown and they’ve diversified and now the federal government must realize it’s their turn to reach out.”

The proposal is under review by the provincial and the federal government, but it looks promising, De Baeremaeker said. By the end of April, the committee expects to have more progress on the proposal.

If all goes well, construction of the national park could begin in the fall.