Watershed Features – Humber River

The Humber River watershed encompasses 911 square kilometres and is home to more than 850,000 residents. It is the largest in Toronto and Region Conservation Authority’s (TRCA’s) jurisdiction.

Its waters, originating on the Niagara Escarpment and the Oak Ridges Moraine, flow down the Humber River into Lake Ontario through a variety of landscapes, including kettle lakes, rich farm lands, and the ancient shoreline of now-vanished Lake Iroquois.

View of the Humber River

The main branch of the river flows 126 kilometres from its source on the Niagara Escarpment to Lake Ontario. The East Humber is 63 kilometres and originates in the kettle lakes region of Richmond Hill and King Township. The West Humber begins in Caledon, in the rolling hills of the South Slope, and flows 45 kilometres over the Peel Plain in Brampton before joining the Main Humber in Toronto.

All told, the area includes 1,800 kilometers of waterway and 600 bodies of water, and is home to 755 species of plants, 42 species of fish, and over 185 animal species.

Humber River Watershed by Municipality

Pie chart: Humber River Watershed area by Municipality

Land Use in the Humber Watershed
Land Use  %
Rural 54
Urban 33
Urbanizing 13
Total 100
Natural Cover 32

A Canadian Heritage River

Due to its rich history, the Humber River was designated as a Canadian Heritage River on September 25, 1999, the only river to receive this designation in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and one of 40 designated heritage rivers in the country as a whole.

Archaeological research reveals a long history of human settlement along the banks of The Humber River. First Nations, followed by the French and then the English, have made their homes along the Humber River. The Humber River is also referred to as the Carrying Place Trail, a route running from Lake Ontario up the Humber River to Lake Simcoe, and eventually to Georgian Bay. The overland portion of the Carrying Place Trail was approximately 50 km from the mouth of the Humber to the Holland Marsh, with an additional 18 to 20 km paddle along the Schomberg River to Cook’s Bay on Lake Simcoe and from there by water links to Georgian Bay. The Carrying Place Trail was used to travel inland and transport goods, and is one of the oldest established transportation routes in Canada, making it the hallmark of the Humber’s heritage designation. As a result, the Historical Sites and Monuments Board of Canada designated the Carrying Place Trail as nationally significant.

The Humber's Canadian Heritage River designation: 10th anniversary celebration with first nations drummers
The Humber’s Canadian Heritage River designation: 10th anniversary celebration

Notable explorers and missionaries associated with the Humber River include Fathers Jean de Brebeuf and Joseph Chaumonot (1641), Father Louis Hennepin (1678), Rene-Robert Cavelier de La Salle (1680). Famous residents have included the Eaton family, founders of the department store empire, the Weston family and Canadian writer and historian Pierre Berton.

The Humber is also the only Canadian Heritage River in Ontario accessible by subway! Many of the conservation areas operated by Toronto and Region Conservation provide access to the river for canoeing and water sports, as well as hiking and nature appreciation.

The Humber has a variety of places of interest and recreational opportunities to explore including; three education centres, five conservation areas, three urban farms, kilometres of walking, hiking and biking trails, historical and heritage features and much more. To learn more about what the Humber has to offer, check out the Humber Interactive Map.

Humber River flowing through Claireville Conservation Area