The late February day was a sunny 4°C and my soul craved Nature. Knowing that I needed to hear, see and smell water, I headed to one of my favorite places, Port Credit, where the Credit River empties into Lake Ontario. The charming village of Port Credit is also custodian to several parks along the lake. One of them is Rattray Marsh, where I’d never been before.
Rattray Marsh is a Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) park of pristine 94-acre protected cobble beach, wetland and associated field and woodland; it is one of the last natural ‘shingle-bar’ (baymouth bar coastal) marshes along Lake Ontario and also the last remaining lakefront marsh between Toronto and Burlington. The marsh connects to The Great Lakes Waterfront Trail, which extends 325 km along Lake Ontario’s shoreline from Trenton to Hamilton. The trail—which provides walking and cycling routes through natural parks and scenic streetscapes—will eventually span 650 km from Gananoque to Niagara-on-the-Lake. Wetlands like Rattray Marsh are ecologically important and environmentally sensitive areas that offer a unique and satisfying experience for bird watchers, photographers and nature lovers. Wetlands are conserved in their natural state by those who recognize their critical role in maintaining ecological integrity, as well as providing an important heritage and symbol for our connection with nature.
Eager for adventure, I drove south along Hurontario to Lakeshore and headed west in search of marsh.
Most people access Rattray from the east via Jack Darling Park, which has a large parking lot. I didn’t want to enter through this spacious open park of picnic fields, playgrounds and such; I wanted something less people-centric. Something more natural. So, I drove on, into the surrounding neighbourhood, in search of hidden gateways. I intuitively found one off Silver Birch Trail and parked on the street. Other minor entrances with street parking include off Stonehaven Drive, Bexhill Road, Meadow Wood Road, Old Poplar Row and Green Glade School.
I entered the northwestern side of the natural park and walked along several dirt paths and boardwalks. The walk took me through mature forest inhabited by old Carolinian trees and shrubs such as the Tulip tree, the Sassafras and Flowering Dogwood. A mix of sugar maple, beech and oak trees dominated the forest, along with pine and hemlock. They left a soft russet carpet of pine needles and deciduous leaves on the ground. After crossing Sheridan Creek, I continued through a swampy area, dominated by ash, maple, poplar and willow trees. The path led me to a long boardwalk heading east into more open marsh, where I spotted five young deer foraging in the adjacent forest. The boardwalk lead me downstream toward the meandering Sheridan Creek and I crossed it a second time into more open floodplain.
After crossing the creek, I took the 0.3 km boardwalk loop called “the Knoll Trail” that led me toward the open marsh and the lake. The Knoll is home to some of the most sensitive and unique plant species in the conservation area, according to the CVC. Some of the largest trees are located in this area as well. As I rounded the corner of the knoll, with an ever-increasing view of the open marsh, I spotted a pair of swans languidly cruising along one of the open channels.
According to the CVC, “Rattray Marsh was first recognized internationally in 1969 in the Important Biological Program and since designated as an Environmentally Significant Area, a Provincially Significant Wetland, and an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest including a number of protected Species At Risk.” The conservation authority states that the integrity of Rattry Marsh is severely threatened by ecological degradation from urbanization and build-up of sediment in Sheridan Creek. This is exacerbated by the presence of exotic carp that disturb the sediments to feed. Site plans to rehabilitate the Marsh by the CVC include a phased removal of mineral soil that is burying the native organic Marsh soils. The marsh provides a protected environment for 428 species of plants, 227 bird species, 26 mammals, 18 reptiles and amphibians, and 11 fish species.
As I stood on the bridge overlooking Sheridan Creek, my friend John Stewart (columnist and reporter for the Mississauga News), who was tailing an elusive eagle, spotted me instead and stopped by for a chat. I admitted that this was my first time there and he offered that Rattray Marsh almost wasn’t there for me to experience. John revealed the story of the precarious preservation of the marsh, starting with the creation of an elite “boatel” by dredging the entire marsh and creating a resort accessible by a privileged few yachters. Instead, I was witnessing a steady stream of nature lovers—young and old—who were enjoying this natural environment and the lovely fresh air.
John shared with me the story of how the last vestiges (94 acres) of what used to be a much larger marsh and associated upland (148 acres) was saved by citizen activism, led by the tireless actions and inspiration of UofT professor Ruth Hussey. The marsh was originally part of a larger estate of 148 acres belonging to Major James Rattray. Soon after he died in 1959, the land was purchased by a developer and a section of it was developed for houses. In a 2015 article in The Brampton Guardian, John Stewart wrote: “Credit Valley Conservation bought 24 acres of the marsh in 1971 and the City and CVC expropriated the remaining 57 acres in 1973, at the urging of Dr. Ruth Hussein, the environmentalist who lived on the edge of the marsh and became its guardian angel.” Somewhere inside the park lies a stone memorial to Ruth Hussey, who died in 1984. The plague reads: “Ruth Hussey. Because of her, Rattray Marsh is ours”—to preserve.
The Rattray Marsh Protection Association (RMPA) was formed in 1979 and continues to wield a key role in the area’s long-term protection and appreciation. Made up of local residents and community members, RMPA is dedicated to ensuring that the community and its visitors benefit from quality educational, interpretive and stewardship opportunities at Rattray Marsh Conservation Area. In 2009, the RMPA joined the Credit Valley Conservation Foundation as a volunteer fundraising committee.
I talk about wetlands in my recent book “Water Is…”:
Wetlands include marshes, swamps, fens, and bogs, all irreplaceable habitat for a huge diversity of nesting, feeding and staging waterfowl, reptiles, amphibians and mammals—many at risk. Wetlands provide a major filtration system, removing contaminants, improving water quality and renewing water’s vitality; wetlands serve as reservoirs, controlling and reducing fooding toward a more balanced hydrological cycle. Wetlands are a source of oxygen and water vapour, serving a vital role in our global atmospheric and climatic cycles. As ecotones—transitional areas—wetlands protect coasts from erosion and provide exceptional opportunity for boundary interaction and the emergence of vitality. Like a good metaphor, wetlands “recognize” and encompass similarities between dissimilarities.
Wetlands powerfully connect. Canada’s wetlands, which cover more than 1.2 million square kilometres, make Canada the largest wetland area in the world. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Canada is steward of the world’s largest wetlands. Canada’s strong multi-cultural policies and its open tolerance in embracing and celebrating diversity makes it the “wetland” of the world.
“Water Is…” (Pixl Press) now available in ebook and print version on Amazon and quality bookstores near you.