Duffins Creek

Duffins Creek drains into the north shore of Lake Ontario and connects communities across Durham Region and York Region, including Pickering, Ajax, Markham, Whitchurch-Stouffville, and Uxbridge. It is one of the healthiest streams in the Greater Toronto Area.

Duffins Creek Watershed Features

While Duffins Creek watershed has experienced urban growth in recent years, less than a third of its lands are urban or in the process of urbanizing. 71% of the watershed remains a predominantly rural landscape.



Rural areas dominate the north of the watershed, while the southern portions are urban or urbanizing.

Farming activity includes livestock, crops, and orchards.

Parts of the northwest area of the watershed are protected in Rouge National Urban Park; there is no public access to these lands at this time. Many estate subdivisions and rural non-farm residences are also found in the rural area.

aerial view of East Duffins Headwaters


Duffins Creek watershed has three physiographic units:

Oak Ridges Moraine
The Oak Ridges Moraine is an upland area, the source of many streams, like Duffins Creek, that drain into Lake Ontario to the south. The Moraine’s hilly terrain is composed mainly of sand and gravel, with scattered small ponds.

South Slope
The South Slope of the Oak Ridges Moraine has many drumlins, which are long and narrow mounds pointing upslope, formed from glacial debris. Fast-flowing streams in this area carved sharp valleys through the glacial till, an accumulation of unsorted, unstratified mixtures of clay, silt, sand, gravel and boulders. Many types of soil are found along the South slope, some of which are good for agriculture.

Lake Iroquois Plain
Along the shoreline of ancient Lake Iroquois, coarse soil particles like sand and gravel settled during glacial retreat, leaving a band of sandy soils. To the south, the Lake Iroquois plain is composed mainly of clay, and gently slopes towards the shore of Lake Ontario.


Historically, Duffins Creek watershed was dominated by vast forests. With European settlement came deforestation and a variety of agricultural practices, which negatively impacted the local ecosystem. Urbanization followed — but because the area of urban development remains limited, impacts to habitat and species have not been substantial.

The high proportion of rural land in Duffins Creek watershed means that 40% of the watershed has natural cover, of which 25% is forest, 11% is meadow, 3% is successional, and 2% is wetland.

Duffins Creek’s 81 kilometres of streams are in relatively good condition and are dominated by cold water aquatic communities such as sculpin, trout, and numerous other fish species.

Duffins Creek

Over the past 50 years, conditions in some parts of the watershed have improved. For example, in some headwater areas, as well as in the provincial Seaton and federal airport lands, there has been significant ecological restoration and natural regeneration of table land and riparian forests.

This increased forest cover has reduced surface flows and stabilised the overall flow regime, helping to improve aquatic habitat and the condition of some fish communities.

In the 1950s, the first extensive fish survey of the Duffins Creek watershed found that sensitive species such as brook trout and sculpin were largely restricted to the headwater areas. As conditions have improved, these species have extended their range to other areas of the creek system.


  • Claremont Nature Centre, on the banks of Duffins Creek in Pickering, hosts school classes, community groups, nature camps, and more.
  • East Duffins Headwaters is a protected area comprising approximately 1,500 hectares of conservation lands in Durham Region.
  • The Trans Canada Trail traverses Duffins Creek watershed with various access points.
  • The Seaton Trail traverses the western part of Duffins Creek watershed in Pickering, with limited access points.
  • Part of Duffins Creek watershed is in Rouge National Urban Park, please check authorized public access areas.

Issues & Challenges

There are significant pressures on the Duffins Creek watershed due to changing land uses and an expanding urban boundary. These include:

  • Keeping the watershed healthy while accommodating urban growth.
  • Promoting recreation and tourism in the watershed while protecting the resources these uses depend upon.
  • Improving water quality in the watershed and in Lake Ontario.
  • Mitigating the impacts of more frequent and severe weather events resulting from climate change. Development must be carefully planned in consideration of these impacts, to avoid increased risk of flooding and erosion.
  • Improve the sustainability of urbanized areas.
  • Protecting and restoring the remaining natural systems linking the Oak Ridges Moraine with Lake Ontario.

hiker on East Duffins Headwaters trail


Duffins Carruthers Watershed Plan (2003)

Watershed Report Cards

Watershed report cards provide an evaluation of watershed health and an ongoing call to action.