Protect What Is Left of the Scarborough Bluffs
The Bluffs are a major habitat for many species, including a number that are endangered or threatened
By Tracy Horvath
I fell in love with the Bluffs after moving here just over seven years ago. As I hiked the trails and spent time in the many parks, I wanted to know more about the area. I found that many people who had lived here for years didn't actually know much about the history of the area—only that many of the cliffs had been lost or altered over the years. As I saw more and more development occur in the area, I started to do some research to find out for myself what was going on here. Inspired by the historical plaque down at Bluffer's Park, I was led on a journey of fact finding. Here is what I've learned so far about the area.
The Scarborough Bluffs are sand and clay deposits left over from Earth's last ice age 70,000 years ago. They are the last remaining deposits from this era left in North America. The cliffs contain animal and plant fossils, as well as important geological information.
There has never been any special designation or status given to the Scarborough Bluffs, which has resulted in a lack of protection and conservation. In 1903, A.P. Coleman, head of the Department of Geology at the University of Toronto surveyed the Bluffs. He determined the geological importance of the Bluffs, and also correctly estimated the rate of erosion to be approximately two to three feet per year. He recommended that the area remain undeveloped due to the unstable nature of the cliffs.
In the 1960s, developers promised erosion control and persuaded builders to take advantage of the stunning views. The warnings of A.P. Coleman were forgotten, and large-scale development of the Bluffs was undertaken. Within a few decades, houses and backyards started to fall over the edge as the natural erosion processes continued.
The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) was given the task of creating erosion control projects to save the properties that were built too close to the cliffs. The erosion control projects destroyed the natural shoreline of the area, and caused greening of the cliffs, effectively destroying much of the geology, fossil record, and natural ecology of the Bluffs.
The original Scarborough Bluffs were measured to be 15 kilometres long. Today, as a result of the erosion control projects, and the development of a major park and marina, less than 500 metres of the original geology and structure of the Bluffs remain. Two major ravines have been landfilled to provide an access road (Brimley Road South) and a trail (Bellamy ravine).
The Bluffs are a major habitat for many species, including several that are considered endangered or threatened, such as bobolinks, bank swallows, and butternut trees. Visitors to Bluffer's Park regularly encounter white-tailed deer, foxes, bald eagles, trumpeter swans, herons, minks, and more.
Currently, the last remaining natural section of the Bluffs in under threat of development. The TRCA is currently planning the Scarborough Waterfront Project (SWP) which is tied in with the Waterfront Trail Project. It is unclear at this time what the extent of the development will be, but it is clear that the TRCA has not historically made preservation and conservation of the Bluffs a priority. The Waterfront Trail Project would see a continuous trail along the shoreline, which would involve major development of the beach area, and potentially threaten the last remaining natural geology. This would also encourage a large influx of people to the area, which always equals further loss of habitat for wildlife.
The area around Bluffer's Park is currently one of the only remaining natural habitats within the GTA where people can enjoy a taste of the wild and reconnect with nature in a mostly non-developed area.
Tracy Horvath is a nature lover, blogger, and grassroots conservationist. She is co-founder of The Wild Bluffs, a group dedicated to preserving and protecting the local wild spaces.