Joshua Creek: A Tapestry of Change

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Skirting the eastern border of Oakville, Joshua Creek is the last Halton watercourse you cross when you head east out of Oakville and into Mississauga. Reaching up into farmland to just barely eclipse the 407 at its northern reaches, Joshua Creek is similar in length to its sister creek Fourteen Mile. Together these two watersheds (plus a few smaller creeks) flank the sides of the enormous lands of Sixteen Mile Creek as it flows in towards the lake. As with many small-scale creeks, Joshua Creek is often overlooked, living in the shadow of its giant watery neighbours. Farming, development and landscape change have all contributed to make Joshua Creek a patchwork of old and new, both naturally and culturally, and there are still big changes on the horizon. But make no mistake – Joshua Creek contains some vibrant natural areas, and will surprise you if given a chance!

HOW TO VISIT:

Best Parking areas:

South of 403/QEW:

  • Maplegrove Arena Parking Lot – 2237 Devon Rd. 
  • Deer Run Park Parking Lot – 2406 Deer Run Ave.
  • Southeast Sports Field Parking Lot – 2463 Lakeshore Road East

North of 403/QEW:

  • Pinery Park Parking Lot – 1433 Pinery Cres.
  • Bayshire Pond Parking Lot – 1511 Bayshire Dr.

Best bus stops:

  • Devon Rd. and Deer Run Park bus stop, on the 25 Aspen Forest and 11 Linbrook bus routes (take trail on north side of road)
  • Devon Rd. and Elmhurst Ave bus stop, on the 25 Aspen Forest and 11 Linbrook bus routes (take the Maple Grove Arena driveway on north side of road, and continue onto trail behind arena)
  • Devon Rd. and Ash Tree Way bus stop on the 25 Aspen Forest bus route (take the Maple Grove Arena driveway on north side of road, and continue onto trail behind arena)
  • Aspen Forest Dr. and Deer Run Park bus stop, on the 25 Aspen Forest bus route (follow the trails that lead into the forest south of park).
  • Brookmill Rd. and Constance Dr. bus stop, on the 25 Aspen Forest bus route. (proceed south down Brookmill Rd. and cross bridge to south side of creek, then head east on trail).

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

HISTORY

Joshua Creek is the largest of all of Halton’s truly “urban” creeks. These are the 14 small creeks scattered throughout Burlington and Oakville whose headwaters do not venture much further north of the lake than Lower Base Line Rd. (if at all), meaning they flow mostly through city space. Many of the streams and waterways snaking behind schools, businesses, and your very homes drain into small urban creeks, and if you are on the east fringe of Oakville, chances are good that water from your property eventually flows into Joshua Creek. However, most people would better know the Joshua Creek area by the streets, athletics facilities, businesses and school named after it than the creek itself. As Oakville’s largest urban creek, how is Joshua so easy to miss? Perhaps the answer lies in what was – and wasn’t – left behind.

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Joshua Creek flows through a full range conditions, from minimally-impacted forested areas (a), to completely engineered channelized sections (b). Loss of natural habitat cover upstream worsens water quality due to things like erosion, which is most evident during rain events when creeks like Joshua run extra-muddy with sediments (a), although some degree of erosion is natural during high-flow events.

Joshua Creek exists as a patchwork of past glories and present changes on a very dynamic and human-controlled landscape. For centuries, the lands around Joshua creek have been extensively farmed, and this is still the case north of Dundas Street East. This large-scale farming was the standard for much of the flat, fertile land in this area of Ontario, cleared during a bygone era when settlers were actually required to clear land for farming to maintain ownership of their full land parcel. Smaller size creeks with moderate ravine slopes experienced deforestation and other land manipulation for farming and pasturing, which occurred well into the 1900’s.

For a creek like Joshua, this meant that many of its lands were cleared and altered beyond recognition, with only certain key areas left mostly to nature. In spite of these influences, Joshua Creek is home to 3 small Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs), although two of these – Joshua Creek Valley and Wildflower Woods – have declined since they were highlighted in the 1970’s, and while still valuable, may no longer qualify as ESAs in the future. In only a handful of decades, development has quickly covered most of the lower two thirds of the creek’s land base, including important parts of its ESAs. In several areas, Joshua’s natural winding “meander” has been artificially straightened in order to efficiently use the land on either side. And in many places, foreign species have invaded the natural areas of the creek, changing the ecosystem in a big way.

But Joshua is a spirited creek – in spite of all it has been through, Joshua Creek is among the top two urban creeks for healthy water quality, and is still inhabited by a variety of aquatic animals like small fish and insects. Joshua Creek is home to forests, wetlands and thickets with around 150 plant species, and provides an important natural habitat corridor for the movement of birds and other animals, including migratory species. Rather than exclusively shrinking, there are also areas of Joshua Creek that are actually in the middle of regrowing their forests, and in spite of everything, Joshua still retains some beautiful gems of natural areas.

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On the scale between large-scale recent disturbance and less-disturbed natural habitat are many regions of regenerating forests and wetlands. Shrubby habitats like the one above have their own value as habitat, but do not offer the same kind of stream temperature protection as treed swamps and forest. In early spring these areas tend to lack the exciting spring colours of woodland flowers, and in the modern day such open areas can be invaded by non-native invasive plant species.

What’s more, Joshua Creek is somewhat unique among Oakville’s creeks in that some of its most beautiful and accessible natural areas are actually found south of the 403/QEW, rather than north of it – a welcome boon to the hikers of “southern Oakville”, especially those in the east end. Give Joshua Creek a chance – you may be surprised with what you get!

Read more about Joshua Creek Challenges

Read more about Discover Your Creek Adventure at Joshua Creek

All photos and text provided by ecologist, David d’Entremont.