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  • Driftwood at the edge of a pond shoreline. A few Canada geese swim by. The trees are in fall colours.

The Humber Pond and Wetland

The Humber Pond and connected Humber Wetland play a key role in managing runoff water from Humber College's north campus before it reaches the Humber River. The Humber Pond Revitalization Project is a collaborative initiative to improve water quality in the pond while increasing natural habitat for wildlife, providing new social gathering spaces for our community, and creating an outdoor classroom and living laboratory space for students.


The Humber Pond and connected Humber Wetland sit just west of Highway 27 along the West Humber Trail. Coming from Humber College North Campus, the pond and wetland are found on either side of the trail that heads down from the corner of Parking Lot 4, with the wetland directly behind the parking garage. The pond has two outflow points where it connects to the West Humber River, which in turn connects to the main Humber River and flows south to Lake Ontario.

Built with Purpose

Both the Humber Pond and the Humber Wetland are constructed landscape features. The Humber Pond, which is about 8700 m2, was built sometime in the mid-80s. The wetland was built in 2019 as part of the Humber Pond Revitalization Project. Both were built to help manage runoff water from the campus. On a rainy day or when snow is melting in the spring, runoff water in urban areas can pick up pollutants and sediment from construction, roads, and winter sanding; fertilizers and landscaping waste; and oil and grease from vehicles. By channeling excess water into the pond, some of that sediment and pollution has a place to settle before clearer, calmer water moves into the West Humber River. 


Trees in fall colours line the edges of a pond with driftwood dotting the shorelines. Canada geese swim by under a bright blue sky.

The Humber Pond Revitalization Project

A map shows planned project construction drawn in.

Discovering a Problem

The Humber Arboretum provides school education programs for thousands of children a year, and as part of those programs, the schoolchildren will sometimes do water quality testing on site. In 2015, water quality tests conducted by visiting school groups showed that the Humber Pond’s water quality was poor. Water quality experts from the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) did a formal assessment and confirmed the children's findings. This was a concern not only for the health of the pond itself, but also for the health of the community. The pond also had steep, eroded shorelines and a failing inflow pipe which created additional hazards and limited opportunities for native plants to live there and for wildlife and people alike to access the pond.

Drawing on the Strength of Partnership

One of the unique strengths of the Humber Arboretum is that it exists as a tri-partnership between three public sector organizations—Humber College, TRCA, and City of Toronto—who pool their expertise, knowledge, and skills. All three partners and the Humber Arboretum saw an opportunity to turn a challenge into a sustainability showcase by re-imagining the Humber Pond as an outdoor classroom, living laboratory, and social gathering space, while simultaneously cleaning up the pond’s water quality and restoring native plants and habitat for wildlife.

Overall, the Humber Pond Revitalization Project was designed to:

  • improve water quality in the pond and, by association, the Humber River
  • reduce the adverse impacts of storms on the natural environment
  • provide wildlife habitat in and around the pond
  • remove existing invasive species and replace with native plants and wildflowers
  • create social gathering spaces for exploration, learning, and enjoyment 
  • provide new educational and applied research opportunities for Humber College students and Toronto-area schoolchildren

How Do You Revitalize a Pond?

The Humber Pond Revitalization Project was broken into three phases:

  • Phase 1: Re-construction of the pond to improve water quality and wildlife habitat. This included the construction of the step pool conveyance channel, sediment forebay, shoreline restoration, and porous treatment berms. This phase began in the spring of 2019 and was completed mid-September 2019.
  • Phase 2: Construction of a treatment wetland, installation of trails and benches, final grading of the site, and planting of native trees and shrubs. The construction work is complete with plantings ongoing.
  • Phase 3 (pending funding): Future plans include the creation of an outdoor classroom and social gathering space on the pond's island.

Read on for details on how each of these actions contributed to revitalizing the pond.

A group of people look over diagrams inside a building with large windows looking out at trees.
Partners meet to discuss plans for the project in the Centre for Urban Ecology


Replace the Outgoing Culverts

In the spring of 2018 the City of Toronto replaced the culverts where the water flows from the pond out to the West Humber River and repaired the trail over the culvert. Although it was finished first, this area represents the last stop for pond water before it joins the river's flow. These spots may be used as a location for water testing to check for impacts of the project on water quality. 

A new metal culvert under a trail
In 2018, sod was still being laid around the newly installed west culvert and repaired trail


Tall plants grow tightly around the mouth of a metal pipe, mostly obscuring the view of the water flowing into the pipe.
In 2020, the view of the pond looking in from the east outflow culvert is nearly obscured by the thick growth of plants.


Create a Step Pool Conveyance

In the original pond design, runoff water from Humber College North Campus would flow into a metal culvert and be dumped into the pond. Not only did this design do nothing to slow or treat the water, but the metal pipe had eventually worn through in some places, and rushing water was eroding the ground beneath and around the culvert itself.

During Phase One the old culvert was taken out and replaced with a step pool conveyance, a series of descending pools.  This slows the water and captures some of the sediment in the runoff before it even reaches the pond. Unlike the old culvert the pools are open to the air and sun, which creates additional habitat while offering a visually engaging feature - sort of like a natural water filtration waterfall. 

Water rushes out of a large metal pipe which has split in two.
Before: Dug up and exposed during construction, it's easy to see how the old inflow culvert did nothing to slow the rush of water. Leaks added to erosion of the hill leading down to the pond.


Add a Sediment Forebay and Treatment Berms

Once water does enter the pond at the bottom of the step pool conveyance, it will enter a deep settling basin. The basin is part of a sediment forebay which is designed to capture more of the small particles swept along by the runoff water. Caught in the forebay, this sediment sinks to the bottom of the basin leaving clearer water to join the pond's ecosystem.

At the other end of the pond, porous treatment berms once again slow the water and help capture more sediment before the flow reaches the culverts heading out to the West Humber River.

A  thick line of rocks runs from one side of a pond channel to the other
A porous treatment berm near the pond's outflow to the West Humber River


Regrade the Shoreline

More gently sloping shorelines around the pond will allow a variety of vegetation to take hold and create habitat for fish, mollusks, crayfish, and insects.

Diagram of a graded shoreline shows four different zones for plants of different types to grow.
A TRCA diagram showing the layers of a graded shoreline.

Build a Brand New Wetland

For many years, part of the meadow just south-west of the Humber Pond was known as “The Paddock” due to its history as part of Humber College’s old equine program. But that name doesn't fit anymore, as part of Phase Two of the Humber Pond Revitalization Project was constructing the brand new Humber Wetland.

The area was dug out and connected to the pond through a new culvert. The new wetland will further improve water quality by increasing the area's ability to capture and filter runoff. This increased capacity will also help decrease the impact of large storm events. The shallower water and connection to the pond also expands and diversifies the available wildlife habitat.

A large meadow stretches out with an under construction building in the background

Before: A view from the west of "The Paddock" with Humber College's under-construction parking garage in the background.


Plants line shallow water with a completed building in the background.
After: A view from the east shows the new Humber Wetland and the now-complete Humber parking garage with solar panels.


Plant Native Species

Staff from the City of Toronto, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, and the Humber Arboretum have all been involved in the restoration plantings. There have also been several volunteer planting events, such as the large tree planting event which took place on National Tree Day 2019. Humber College students from programs such as Landscape Technician and Sustainable Energy and Building Technology have participated in planting and seeding with their classes.

While much of this work was completed as part of Phase Two, additional rounds of planting will continue for several years.

Role and Species

Plants are a key part of pond and wetland ecosystems. They will help:

  • stabilize the new shorelines and prevent erosion with their root systems
  • improve water quality by slowing the flow and capturing toxins
  • capture the energy of sun while storing carbon and creating oxygen
  • provide food and shelter for wildlife 

The focus is on species that are part of the natural ecosystem of the Carolinian bioregion and so have relationships with local wildlife. This includes trees, shrubs, grasses, and other flowering plants. Aquatic plants and plants that thrive in wet soil are especially important in pond and wetland ecosystems. This includes submergent plants, which grow entirely under water, and emergent plants which grow in shallow water or at the water's edge with their roots and part of their stems underwater and their leaves and flowers above. 

Here are some of the species which have been planted so far:

A newly planted tree in the foreground, an out-of-focus volunteer with a shovel in the background
A volunteer plants a tree by the Humber Pond Shoreline on National Tree Day 2019



  • Bebbs willow (salix bebbiana)
  • Shining willow (salix lucida)
  • Speckled alder (alnus rugosa)
  • Downy serviceberry (amelenchier arborea)
  • Smooth serviceberry (amelenchier laevis)
  • Black chokeberry (aronia melanocarpa)
  • Buttonbush (cephalanthus occidentalis)
  • Alternate-leaved dogwood (cornus alternfolia)
  • Grey dogwood (cornus racemosa)
  • Red-osier dogwood (cornus sericea)
  • Silky dogwood (cornus amomum)
  • Bush honeysuckle (diervilla lonicera)
  • Ninebark (physocarpus opulifolius)
  • Choke cherry (prunus virginiana)
  • Fragrant sumac (rhus aromatica)
  • Staghorn sumac (rhus typhina)
  • Black raspberry (rubus occidentalis)
  • Purple flowering raspberry (rubus odoratus)
  • Common elderberry (sambucus canadensis)
  • Meadowsweet (spirea alba)
  • Nannyberry (viburnum lentago)


  • Tamarack (larix laricina)
  • White spruce (picea glauca)
  • Silver maple (acer saccharinum)
  • Sugar maple (acer saccharum)
  • White birch (batula papyrifera)
  • Hackberry (celtis occidentalis)
  • Black walnut (juglans nigra)
  • Balsam popular (populus balsamifera)
  • Trembling aspen (populus tremuloides)
  • White oak (quercus alba)
  • Bur oak (quercus macrocarpa)
  • White cedar (thuja occidentalis)

Grasses and Sedges

  • Big bluestem (andropogon gerardii)
  • Little bluestem (schizachyrium scoparium)
  • Sideoats grama (bouteloua curtipendula)
  • Switchgrass (panicum virgatum)
  • Indiangrass (sorghastrum nutans)
  • Virginia wildrye (elymus virginicus)
  • Riverbank wild rye (elymus riparius)
  • Fringed brome (bromus ciliatus)
  • Bebb's sedge (carex bebbii)
  • Fox sedge (carex vulpinoldea)
  • Hop sedge (carex lupulina)
  • Retrorse sedge (carex retrorsa)
  • Woolgrass (scirpus cyperinus)

Cattails, Bulrushes and Bur-reeds

  • Cattail (typha x glauco)
  • Giant bur reed (sparganium eurycaroum)
  • Hardstem bulrush (scirpus acutus)
  • Dark green bulrush (scirpus atrovirens)
  • Softstem bulrush (scirpus validus)
  • Dark fruited bulrush (scirpus atrovirens)

Water-plantain and Arrowheads

  • Common arrowhead (sagittaria latifolia)
  • Water plantain (alisma plantago-aquatica)

 Other Flowering Plants

  • Blue flag iris (iris versicolor)
  • New England aster (symphyotrichum novae-angliae)
  • Upland white aster (solidago ptarmicoides)
  • Showy trefoil (desmodium canadense)
  • Bergamot (mondara fistulosa)
  • Brown eyed susan (rudbekia hirta)
  • Virginia mountain mint (pycnanthemum virginianum)
  • Foxglove beardtongue (penstemon digitalis)
  • Pale coneflower (echinacea pallida)
  • Common milkweed (asclepias syriaca)
  • Swamp milkweed (ascepias incarnata)
  • Boneset (eupatorium perfoliatum)
  • Joe pye weed (eupatorium maculatum)
  • Blue vervain (verbena hastata)
  • Hoary vervain (verbena stricta)
  • Evening primrose (oenothera biennis)

Add More Habitat Features

Along with the habitat created and enhanced by the plantings, other features were added to create a better space for wildlife. Carefully placed rocks and logs are used as basking platforms by turtles. Partially submerged driftwood provides both hiding places for fish, crayfish, and insects under the water, and perches for flying insects and birds above the water. Branches, brush piles, and vertical logs provide even more perches, and all of that dead wood is perfect for insects to burrow into.

Construction of the new shorelines even included a sandy bank specifically added as an ideal spot for the pond's snapping turtles or painted turtles to lay their eggs.

A dragonfly with a red body and orange wings perches on a branch over water.
A dragonfly perches on a branch placed on the shore of the Humber Pond.


A Place for Learning and Community

Students assist in a wetland planting

Outdoor classroom and living laboratory space

The Humber Pond Revitalization Project has created opportunities for student involvement from departments across Humber College. Examples include:

  • Landscape Technician program: Students have already participated in plantings and will continue to be involved in maintaining the area as part of their curriculum. In the future, classes will create landscape designs for a social gathering space and outdoor classroom on an island on the pond. 
  • Early Childhood Education students will use the site as an outdoor classroom area
  • Sustainable Energy and Building Technology students visit the pond as part of their studies, learning about the functions of the pond's features and the energy impact of treating stormwater.
  • Civil Engineering Technology students were the first involved as they began testing the water quality before the project work even began. This is part of the program's long-term study of the impacts the revitalization has on water quality. They will also use the site as an outdoor classroom and living laboratory.

The space will also be used as part of the Humber Arboretum’s school programs, which incorporate education about the natural world connected with school curriculum.

Community Spaces and Involvement

The revitalized Humber Pond already features benches, seating stones, and lookouts for community members. It provides a place for those from Humber College and the local community to relax, explore, and enjoy. Future plans include the construction of a new outdoor classroom, which will also serve as an additional gathering place.

Students, staff, and the local community participated in the project through terrestrial planting events held through the City of Toronto’s Forestry division, and aquatic planting events held through TRCA’s Education and Outreach Team.

Get Involved

Plantings will continue over the next few years. Check the Humber Arboretum's event calendar and social media for future opportunities to take part in a spring or fall planting event.

If you don't want to wait for the next event, you can also help us monitor biodiversity at the pond by using iNaturalist or eBird when you visit. Your sightings will be automatically added to the Humber Arboretum iNaturalist Atlas Project. Learn about citizen science and using iNaturalist at the Arboretum.

If you are a student at Humber College or University of Guelph-Humber, there may be opportunities for you to learn more about and connect with the pond and wetland along with other ecosystem restoration projects at the Arboretum by joining a Learning by LeadingTM service learning experience.

Finally, faculty members are welcome to contact the Humber Arboretum if you’d like to talk about being involved with your classes or with an applied research project.