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2004 Water — Co-winner 1

Town of Markham, Ontario

Official Plan Amendment: Rouge North Management Area

Population: 209,000

An amendment to the Town of Markham's Official Plan aims to protect, enhance and expand the 4,700-hectare Rouge Park, its tributaries and its watershed, as well as increase forest land and vegetation cover to support the town's commitments to clean air and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions. A number of stakeholder meetings resulted in 10 ecological criteria that are applied to all new land use developments to determine the Rouge Park boundaries. Criteria are based on specific characteristics of the watercourse that enhance the link to other watercourses and natural features. By using a scientific approach, the town can protect all Rouge River watershed tributaries, while new urban development guidelines help developers and communities integrate the park as a community design feature.


Over the past several years, the Town of Markham has gained a reputation for sustainable community planning. In 2003, for example, it won an FCM-CH2M HILL Award for its Markham Performance Measures Document, a compendium of environmental, design, transit, and pedestrian supported criteria that helps staff, the community and developers assess development proposals. The document, now a part of Markham's 2003 Official Plan, will help the town build a more sustainable urban community.

The town joined FCM's Partners for Climate Protection in 2003 and has begun work on creating energy use and GHG emission inventories, the first milestone of PCP's Five Milestone Framework.

As far back as 1993, the town identified its commitment to environmental protection with the Natural Features Study, a framework and a series of targets designed to protect natural features and enhance vegetative cover. In 1995, the town joined the Rouge Park Alliance and supported a voluntary partnership to bring the Rouge Park north from its north Toronto boundary through Markham along the Rouge River tributaries. The town believed that this framework would create a higher standard of water protection while still allowing for appropriate growth and development.


  • The Rouge North Management Plan is a major structural element in the town's overall land-use planning and environmental policies. It provides a major "green" corridor throughout the entire Greater Toronto Area, including the Oak Ridges Moraine, and is aligned with the town's environmental goals.
  • The ecological criteria allow the town to base its land use decisions on a series of real conditions and avoid the use of arbitrary buffer zones.
  • An environmental land acquisition fund was set up to purchase certain priority sites within the park boundaries. "When the region's transit was amalgamated into York Region Transit (in January 2001) this freed up $2.4 million in funding as a compensation for our assets," said Mr. Baird. This money was used to create the fund.
  • The town and its partners have all funded projects that address restoration, rehabilitation, and erosion control of watercourses, some of which were undertaken at considerable expenses. The town expects a significant decrease in water resource impacts, which will also reduce costs, as a result of the plan.
  • The plan's policies will help increase the forest and vegetation cover, currently one of the lowest in the Greater Toronto Area, and support Markham's ongoing commitments through its Clean Air Committee.
  • The plan identified a number of programs and recommendations to guide long-term implementation. Examples include a Trails and Public Access Program, a Natural and Cultural Heritage Program, and a monitoring program.
  • The process affected how senior levels of government view land uses in the area. The Province of Ontario, for example, will work with the RPA to study the entire watershed area, building upon the town's work in order to create a corridor between Markham and Pickering. Transport Canada also owns thousands of acres of land that are associated with the Pickering Airport and this work has influenced how the federal government will plan its future land uses.
  • The town has won several awards for this project including a 2003 Federation of Ontario Naturalists award.

Lessons Learned

  • ENGAGE PARTNERS EARLY IN THE PROCESS. The earlier that all stakeholders are involved, the easier it is to pinpoint critical issues and reach consensus on a way forward.
  • BREAK ISSUES INTO SMALLER PARTS. Since a project of this scope is an enormous undertaking it cannot be done effectively unless the various issues are broken down. "You really have to structure your teams and working groups effectively, and then apply an analytical process to deal with each issue," said Mr. Baird. The town also concluded that with each meeting and stakeholder event the learning curve lessened and the community comfort level rose.
  • SCIENCE-BASED APPROACH ENSURED FAIRNESS. Using hard data enabled the RPA to address stakeholder concerns in a fair and balanced manner, while still meeting its objectives to protect, enhance, and restore the Rouge Park's natural features. The ecological criteria provided greater certainty to the process and predictability, and a manual was produced to identify the step-by-step process.
  • PERSEVERE! The success of the Rouge North Management Plan process was due to patience, commitment and integrity, and required a substantial investment in time. Mr. Baird described the process as long and, at times, frustrating. "But we didn't give up. We stuck to it and the public benefits are huge."

Partners and Collaboration


  • Development Services
  • Environmental Planning


  • Rouge Park Alliance
  • Toronto Region Conservation Authority
  • Urban Development Institute
  • Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources
  • Ontario Realty Corporation
  • Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville
  • Region of York
  • Town of Richmond Hill
  • Several community stakeholders groups and individual landowners
Page Updated: 21/12/2015