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U of T Scarborough alum works to enhance Scarborough’s waterfront

UTSC alum Katherine Hills (BSc, 2010; MEnvSc, 2011), a current Crew Leader for the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. [Submitted photo]

In 1954, Hurricane Hazel struck Ontario leaving devastation in its path. Out of the destruction, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) was created to protect the environment and educate communities in the areas of ecology, sustainable community development and environmental education.

Protecting and restoring watersheds and waterfront is key to the TRCAs mission and the Scarborough Waterfront Project is working to enhance Scarborough’s waterfront spaces by creating a system of greenspaces along the Lake Ontario shoreline, between Bluffer’s Park and East Point Park.

U of T Scarborough alum, Katherine Hills (BSc, 2010; MEnvSc, 2011), is a Crew Leader for the Environmental Monitoring and Data Management Section of the TRCA, where she conducts monitoring work on Lake Ontario within the coastal marshes; including fish community assessments, water quality and sediment sampling, vegetation surveys, biomonitoring and invasive species management.

To generate awareness of initiatives like the Scarborough Waterfront Project, Hills and TRCA team members guide groups of Scarborough residents through the Scarborough Waterfront Project Shoreline Tour, which includes discussion with expert speakers, and history and highlights of the area and its geological features, which span the Guild Inn shoreline, Doris McCarthy Trail shoreline and Meadowcliffe shoreline. Hills spoke with writer Holly Fraser about her work and time at UTSC.

Why should our community be aware of the Scarborough Waterfront Project?

The goal of the Scarborough Waterfront Project is to create a system of greenspaces along the Lake Ontario shoreline between Bluffer’s Park and East Point Park. The project aims to enhance and protect terrestrial and aquatic habitat, in addition to managing public safety and property risk—such as slope failure, loss of access routes, wave action along the shoreline—and provide an enjoyable waterfront experience, while respecting and protecting the natural and cultural features of the Bluffs.

While formal public access to the shoreline is limited to Bluffer’s Park (Brimley Road) and Doris McCarthy Trail, there are many informal trails down the side of the bluff face, and slope failures frequently occur along this stretch of the shoreline, presenting a serious danger to the public. In fact, emergency responders are called many times every year to rescue people who have been trapped on the slopes or at the base—and the number is growing every year. The Scarborough Waterfront Project is seeking to strike a balance between providing public safety and improved access, while maintaining the natural character of the area.

What do you feel is most important to share with our community during the guided tour?

The Scarborough Bluffs are one of Toronto's most striking physical features, rising as high as 90 meters from Lake Ontario. The tours give the opportunity to bring people down to an area which they may not otherwise be able to see or experience. They provide the opportunity to learn a bit more about the unique history of the area, talk to experts in a range of fields, and learn more about the Scarborough Waterfront Project. The tours also provide a chance for the public to share their ideas about what they would like to see incorporated into the plans for the shoreline. 

What is unique about the Scarborough shoreline?

Something I think is interesting about the shoreline in its current state is the advancement in shoreline enhancement techniques through time as you move east to west during the tour. Over time, more holistic approaches were used to not only protect the shoreline from erosion, but to also incorporate fish habitat. The success of these newer enhancement techniques has been observed during our annual shoreline electrofishing surveys (a non-lethal technique to catch fish and assess changes in fish community composition through time), where fish species richness is noticeably higher in areas containing pronounced shoreline undulations and/or groynes, as opposed to linear armourstone revetments.

How did your program at U of T Scarborough prepare you for your role at TRCA?

My undergraduate degree provided me substantial theoretical knowledge pertaining to ecology, while the M.Env.Sc. program helped me integrate into the environmental field through the internship option. My internship helped me narrow down my career goals so I was able to complete a field skill-oriented post-graduate program at Niagara College that was specific to the field I was most interested in—restoration and aquatic monitoring work.

For more information about the Scarborough Waterfront Project, including plan updates, upcoming public information sessions and more, click here.

Interested in Hills’ work? For updates on some of the aquatic and terrestrial monitoring work TRCA’s Environmental Monitoring and Data Management Section conducts, click here or follow them on Twitter.

Learn more about graduate studies in Physical and Environmental Science at U of T Scarborough.

© University of Toronto Scarborough