By Kathryn Stocks

On a frigid but sunny day in January, Alan, Rebecca and their two sons, Ethan, 8, and Nische, 6, were skating on the small pond in the swamp nestled in the valley between Holmcrest Ave., the railway tracks and Waterbridge Way.

The family lives nearby on Centennial Road and they said they hike down to the ravine all the time. There’s a creek where they enter and that makes it difficult to cross in the warmer months. “When it’s not frozen, there are lots of planks and DIY bridges so we use them to cross over,” Alan said. But in the winter, it’s much easier to get around.

This was the first time they tried skating on the pond there. “Every year we talk about it,” he said, but they usually do indoor skating at Heron Park because it’s warmer.

The ice is quite smooth because the pond is in a low, sheltered area where you don’t get much wind. The family enjoyed having the whole park to themselves.

The pond they were skating on is in Stephenson’s Swamp, an Environmentally Significant Area and one of the city’s few Provincially Significant Wetlands. Here’s some  information about it from the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) website:

Stephenson’s Swamp is what remains of a once large coastal marsh located at the mouth of Highland Creek. Today it’s part of a wetland complex composed of four individual wetlands totaling an area of 7.6 hectares.

Forest swamps such as Stephenson’s Swamp were once the most common type of wetland prior to European settlement, but today coastal wetlands such as these are rare on Lake Ontario. That’s why having a wetland complex of this size is such an important ecological feature.

Not only is the wetland complex itself rare, but it’s also a breeding area for several uncommon species such as the blue-gray gnatcatcher and yellow-spotted salamander, as well as being home to rare flora like dotted wolffia and radiate sedge.

In the past, the area around the wetland complex has been altered by land filling, railway construction and increasing urbanization. Problems include an inconsistent water flow from Centennial Creek and the presence of invasive species.

Wetland conservation is a key component of maintaining local biodiversity. Not only are many amphibian species particularly susceptible to changes in wetland health, but they also require a close relationship between aquatic and terrestrial habitats for breeding. Although these conditions are difficult to maintain within such a fragmented environment, they do occur within this wetland complex, making it an important site for many sensitive species.

If you want to see the swamp, winter is a good time to go there. The easiest entry is off Waterbridge Way but you can also enter at the end of Centennial Rd.