EXPLORE THE BAY

Cootes Paradise

History of Cootes

Hamilton Harbour is joined to Cootes Paradise by a narrow channel formerly excavated for the Desjardin's Canal. The original inhabitants, known as Princess Point people, can be traced back to between AD 500 and 1000. Centuries later, in the early 1700s, Europeans arrived and settled here. Officially established in 1927, the area was named after a British naval officer, Captain Thomas Coote, who spent many days hunting the abundant waterfowl in the 1780’s. It is the last remaining marsh in western Lake Ontario and crucial habitat for wildlife, particularly for fish spawning.
 
Located at the west end of the Harbour, Cootes is a significant migratory bird flyover zone and is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. With more than 320 hectares of marshland, 16 creeks and 25 km of shoreline, Cootes Paradise is Royal Botanical Garden's largest and most diverse sanctuary.
 
Before the 20th century, the nutrient-rich, shallow waters of Cootes Paradise thrived as a coastal freshwater marsh habitat. A large majority of Cootes Paradise was covered with emergent aquatic plants, such as wild rice, and submergent plants like wild celery. This vegetation provided sufficient food, shelter and migration stop-overs for a variety of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects. The abundant wetland also provided ideal spawning, nursery and adult habitat. Due to its ecological richness efforts to protect and conserve Cootes began, first as a fish sanctuary in the 1870’s, and then as a wildlife preserve in 1927, and finally through the formation of the Royal Botanical Gardens in the 1930’s.

Environmental Decline

As human pressures increased, the decline in the health and biodiversity of Cootes Paradise became unmistakable. By the 1930s Cootes Paradise experienced a 15% permanent reduction in marsh vegetation, and by 1985 the level of plant loss reached 85% of its original coverage. This permanent loss of aquatic flora led to poor quality and directly impacted fish and wildlife inhabitants and economies of Lake Ontario. Since its dramatic decline began the RBG has been focused on restoring Cootes Paradise.