Sixteen Mile Creek: Heart of the Halton Region

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Commanding a majestic creek valley cut straight through the middle of Oakville, Sixteen Mile Creek is a whole world unto itself – a stunning natural escape amid a rapidly expanding urban area. Whether you are driving over the bridges that cross it, hiking its forested trails, boating down it near the Oakville waterfront, or enjoying a picnic beside its mouth at Tannery Park or Lakeside Park, you are sure to be impressed by Sixteen Mile Creek’s charismatic presence on the Oakville landscape. 

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The “watershed” – or total land area from which rain water drains – for Sixteen Mile Creek extends more than 20 miles northwest from Lake Ontario (approximated above), dwarfing Fourteen Mile Creek. Sixteen Mile Creek, Fourteen Mile Creek and Bronte (formerly Twelve Mile) Creek were not named for their size – rather, all three of these creeks were originally named for how far the creek mouths were along the lakeshore from the west corner of Lake Ontario.

At 372 square kilometres in size (~144 square miles, or 91,923 acres), the massive watershed lands covered by the headwaters, tributaries, forests, ravines, farmlands and city lands feeding into Sixteen Mile Creek make it the largest of all Conservation Halton’s watersheds, as well as the largestAt 372 square kilometres in size (~144 square miles, or 91,923 acres), the massive watershed lands covered by the headwaters, tributaries, forests, ravines, farmlands and city lands feeding into Sixteen Mile Creek make it the largest of all Conservation Halton’s watersheds, as well as the largest and most central watershed area in all of Halton Regional Municipality. Its land base extends east and north alongside the edge of Mississauga, north towards the southern edges of Georgetown, Limehouse and Acton, and as far west as Campbellville. Its waters flow together from these rural lands at the very core of the Halton Region, before carving through the centre of Oakville through a massive ravine valley and rushing to join the waters of Lake Ontario in a grand finale at the Oakville waterfront. Sixteen Mile Creek is steeped in the Halton countryside – in many ways, it is like the heart of Halton itself.

HOW TO VISIT:

Sixteen Mile Creek is a widely-accessible creek, with many trails and access points scattered throughout. The best of these are found in and around Lions Valley Park, between Upper Middle Road West and Dundas Street West.

Best Parking areas:

Lions Valley Park Parking Lot – end* of Lions Valley Park Road (south off of Dundas St. W., down the hill from Knox Presbyterian Church 16) 

*Please be advised that the formal parking lot may be closed-off at the top of the hill during parts of winter. Limited street parking may be available nearby, and the park is still freely accessible by foot. Please observe municipal parking signs on roadway

Municipal Parking Lot – 1033 Skyvalley Crescent

Sixteen Hollow Park Parking Lot – 2140 Westoak Trails Boulevard

Neyagawa Park Parking Lot – 540 River Glen Boulevard

Upper Middle Road Park Parking Lot – 310 McCraney St W.

Other parking areas on lower parts of the creek:

Hilmer Park Parking Lot – 150 Water St.

Best bus stop:

Dundas St. W. and Lions Valley Park Rd. bus stop, on the #5 Dundas bus route (proceed from bus stop south down Lions Valley Park Rd.)

Dundas St. W. and Trafalgar Lawn Cemetary bus stop, on the #5 Dundas bus route (cross Dundas St. W., proceed south down Lions Valley Park Rd.)

Westoak Trails Blvd. and Treetop Terrace bus stop, on the #13 Westoak Trails bus route (proceed to trails on the north side of the road)

Westoak Trails Blvd. north of Skyvalley Cr. bus stop, on the #13 Westoak Trails bus route (proceed to trails on the north side of the road)

River Oaks Blvd. W. and Winding Woods Dr., on the #190 River Oaks Express bus route. (proceed to the trails on the southeast side of River Oaks Blvd, just northeast of Winding Woods Dr.)

Take a look at our interactive map, and locate a trail access point near you!

HISTORY
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The Sixteen Mile Creek valley is a natural world unto itself – even as it passes squarely through suburban Oakville, near Upper Middle Road West. In winter, active waters surge below an icy crust, and often the highest water flow zone thins out or melts altogether. The “haze” of brown deciduous tree branches bide their time in anticipation of spring, as scattered dark green Eastern White Pines soak up sun from the hilltops.

A view from any of the lookouts onto Sixteen Mile Creek is sure to inspire and amaze, at any time of year! The picturesque landscape’s deep gorges are the stars of the show, capturing our hearts and imaginations. These deep ravine valleys of Sixteen Mile Creek and its tributaries are all a testament to the powerful influence of flowing water. The chasms were carved by erosion starting more than ten thousand years ago, where glacial meltwater began to cut through the surface soils and underlying rock formations. In the thousands of years since then, water has continued to further refine and ultimately define these grand chasms through gradual erosion. You can see this process in action to this day, in the crumbling ravine walls overhung by the root mats of trees and shubs, each clinging desperately to the clifftops and slopes. In many areas, where the creek has crowded and aggressively eroded one side of the valley, the massive drop in height is emphasized by exposed, steep, striped banks and cliffs of rich red Queenston shale.

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A Queenston Formation shale cliff face in Lions Valley Park (above) cradles a small frozen waterfall above Sixteen Mile Creek. The waterfall and its stream have already begun to form their own “baby” ravine through erosion of soil and shale, although it is unclear how much this will be swallowed up by the main creek channel. As the creek flow undercuts the shale cliffs (right), eventually the overhanging interwoven root masses lose soil and stability, and the trees and shrubs tumble down the cliff.

Queenston Formation shale – one of the major underlying rock types for this area – is made of layers of a brittle, erosion-prone reddish and greyish shale rock, sometimes interbedded with bands of sandstone and silty limestone. Queenston shale is a sedimentary rock type weak enough to snap and break with your fingers, barely more of a rock than hardened clay. Yet it is very old, laid down layer upon layer hundreds of millions of years ago in the Ordovician age as clay and silt sediments deposited at the edge of an ancient sea. Queenston shale is prime base material for ravine formation, allowing water to chip and weather away a passage more easily than with harder rock varieties like granite.

The striking, striped, reddish rock faces compose the backdrop over which the creek’s valley and significant natural areas are overlaid. The Sixteen Mile Creek Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA), which covers the major creek lands from Lakeshore Rd. E. north to around Britannia Rd. W., is a regional powerhouse of biodiversity. The ESA alone has nearly 400 plant species represented and the area is considered to be one of Halton’s top botanical sites.

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There is a rich diversity of wetland, valley slope and upland ecosystems, from riverside marshes and Willow swamps to Sugar Maple-mixed hardwood upland forests. These diverse habitats are home to some 14 mammal species, 33 fish species, 10 reptiles and amphibians, and 77 resident, breeding and/or migratory bird species. And all this, without considering the vast watershed lands outside of the ESA, which stretch north to encompass magnificent natural lands such as parts of the Niagara Escarpment, Hilton Falls and Kelso conservation areas, Scotch Block Reservoir, Speyside Resource Management Area, and parts of Halton Regional Forest, in addition to a plethora of farmlands, urban and suburban regions. Sixteen Mile Creek is so significant in its own right that in the 1950’s it was set aside with its own “Sixteen Mile Creek Conservation Authority,” before ultimately being brought into the fold of Conservation Halton.

Although the valley and its nature sanctuaries were historically partly protected from human disturbance and habitat destruction by its steep un-farmable hills, crumbling cliffs and unpredictable floodplain, the sheer size of Sixteen Mile Creek’s valley and the power of its flowing water meant that human presence was inevitable. The creation of water-powered mills in the valley lands below the current bridge at Dundas Street West led to the formation of an entire valley village during the 1800’s, until economic circumstances changed and it was ultimately abandoned. Several other mills were built on the creek further downstream. Sites like the Glen Abbey and Oakville Golf Clubs, various Oakville boating clubs, and the creek mouth itself at the Oakville waterfront are still occupied heavily to this day, with varying degrees of truly natural habitat remaining. Still, this valley corridor system has managed to preserve many valuable natural habitat and ecosystem remnants, even amid a landscape of rapid urbanization. Going forward, it is important to consider maintaining adequate space for nature, to ensure that Sixteen Mile Creek and its lands not only survive, but flourish alongside our growing communities!

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The valley lands below Dundas Street West (above left) were once home to the village of Proudfoot’s Hollow, with around 500 residents. While the sun has long set on this village, these same lands are now the home of Lions Valley Park. It is an ironic twist, to think what was once a densely-populated valley hub surrounded by a sparse rural landscape has now become one of nature’s few footholds amid a landscape of aggressive urbanization. The creek valley further north (above right) retains a much more natural image – a gateway looking upstream over the start of some of Sixteen Mile Creek’s most significant natural areas.

Read more about CHALLENGES ON A GROWING LANDSCAPE

Read more about ADVENTURE AT SIXTEEN MILE CREEK

All photos and text provided by David d’Entremont.