The Humber River is a river in Southern Ontario which is a tributary of Lake Ontario and is one of two major rivers on either side of the city of Toronto, the other being the Don River. TheRiver begins at Humber Springs Ponds on the Niagara Escarpment in Mono, Dufferin County and reaches its mouth at Humber Bay on Lake Ontario in the city of Toronto. The Humber was designated a Canadian Heritage River on September 24, 1999.
The Humber collects from about 750 creeks and tributaries. It encompasses portions of Dufferin County, the Regional Municipality of Peel, Simcoe County, and the Regional Municipality of York. The main branch runs for about 100 kilometres from the Niagara Escarpment in the northwest, while another other major branch, known as the East Humber River, starts at Lake St. George in the Oak Ridges Moraine near Aurora to the northeast. Both rivers join north of Toronto and then flow in a southeasterly direction into Lake Ontario, The river mouth is flanked by Sir Casimir Gzowski Park and Humber Bay Park East.
The Humber has a long history of human settlement along its banks. The first settlers were the Palaeo-Indians who lived in the area from 10,000 to 7000 BC. The second wave, people of the Archaic period, settled the area between 7000 and 1000 BC and began to adopt seasonal migration patterns to take advantage of available plants, fish, and game. The third wave of native settlement was the Woodland period, which saw the introduction of the bow and arrow and the growing of crops which allowed for larger, more permanent villages.
The Anishinaabe refer to the river as Cobechenonk. During the 1600s and 1700s, the river was known by several names before it was given the official name of Humber. Popple's map of 1733 shows a prominent river beside the native settlement Tejajagon assumed to be the Humber. Its name is given as the Tanaovate River. The river was also known as the Toronto River. Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe gave the river the name of Humber, likely after the Humber estuary in England.
After the old one was destroyed during Hurricane Hazel in 1954, a new footbridge was built in 1995 to span the Humber, between Lions and Raymore Park.
Étienne Brûlé was the first European to encounter the Humber while travelling the Toronto Carrying-Place Trail. Brûlé passed through the watershed in 1615 on a mission from Samuel de Champlain to build alliances with native peoples. The Trail became a convenient shortcut to the upper Great Lakes for traders, explorers, and missionaries.
A Fort Toronto, was constructed about 1,000 metres inland from the mouth of the Humber to protect the Trail. During the 1660s this was the site of Teiaiagon, a permanent settlement of the Seneca used for trading with the Europeans.
French missionaries used the area for many years, including Jean de Brébeuf and Joseph Chaumonot in 1641, Louis Hennepin in 1678, and Rene-Robert Cavelier de La Salle in 1680.
Popple's map of 1733 shows a prominent river beside "Tejajagon" which is assumed to be the Humber.
However, no permanent European settlement occurred until the arrival of Jean-Baptiste Rousseau in the late 18th century. Rousseau piloted John Graves Simcoe's ship into Toronto Bay to officially begin the British era of control in 1793. Upon his arrival in York, Simcoe was keenly aware of the need for a lumber mill and grist mill in the area. He had constructed a sawmill on the west bank of the river near present day Bloor Street in 1793, which was operated by John Wilson. In 1797 Simcoe managed to get a grist mill established on the Humber River. Over the years, numerous mills have been operated along the river by such men as William Cooper, W. P. Howland, Thomas Fisher, John Scarlett, William Gamble and Joseph Rowntree. The last grist mill on the Humber, Hayhoe Mills in Woodbridge, closed in 2007.
By 1860 the Humber Valley was extensively deforested. This decreased the stability of the river banks and increased damages done by periodic flooding. In 1878 a disastrous flood destroyed the remaining water powered mills. As the Toronto area grew, the lands around the Humber became important farming areas. In 1954, Hurricane Hazel raised the river to devastating flood levels, destroying buildings and bridges; on Raymore Drive, 60 homes were destroyed and 35 people were killed.
The Metropolitan Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (MTRCA later TRCA) succeeded the Humber Valley authority in 1957 (the word "Metropolitan" was dropped in 1998). More recently, a task force within the Authority was formed to further clear the Humber as a part of the Great Lakes 2000 Cleanup Fund.
Today the majority of the Toronto portion of the Humber is parkland, with paved trails running from the lake shore all the way to the northern border of the city some 30 km away. Trails following the various branches of the river form some 50 km of bicycling trails, much of which are in decent condition.
The most important tributaries to the Humber River:
Albion Creek - The Albion Creek is a tributary of the West Humber. It flows south-west from east of Bolton, meeting the West Humber from the north, between Islington Avenue and Martin Grove Road. It is approximately 9 km long.
Berry Creek - Berry Creek originates at Martin Grove Road just north of Rexdale Boulevard. It flows south-east to meet the main Humber from the west, west of the intersection of Albion Road and Weston Road, where Albion Road crosses the Humber. It is about 3.8 km long.
Black Creek - The Black Creek originates north of Toronto in Vaughan and meanders southerly to meet the lower Humber from the east about 800 m north of Dundas Street, in Lambton Park.
East Humber - The East Humber flows from north of Toronto, meeting the main branch of the Humber in Woodbridge, just north of Highway 7. Its watershed extends east to Yonge Street and north to King City. Its source is Wilcox Lake and its wetlands east of Yonge Street and the village of Oak Ridges.
Emery Creek - Emery Creek flows from its source west of Finch Avenue and Weston Road, south to meet the main Humber 500 metres west of Weston Road, about 1 km south of Finch Avenue. It is about 2.4 km long.
Humber Creek - The Humber Creek runs south-westerly from its source near Kipling Avenue and Dixon Road through residential areas, meeting the lower Humber from the west about 750 metres north of Eglinton Avenue. It is about 3.8 km long.
King Creek - King Creek is a tributary of the East Humber. It flows southerly from near Highway 27 and 16th Side Road to meet the East Humber south of King Road, east of Nobleton. The settlement of King Creek is located to the east of the confluence.
Silver Creek - The Silver Creek runs south-westerly from its source about 300 metres west of Eglinton Avenue and Royal York Road, partly within a golf course, through residential areas to meet the lower Humber from the west about 1.2 km south of Eglinton Avenue. It is about 2 km long.
West Humber - The West Humber meets the main branch of the Humber east of Albion Road and about 800 metres west of Sheppard Avenue and Weston Road. The West Humber itself has several branches flowing from north-west of Toronto.
Humber River. Photo : Megan Jorgensen