Explore Ontario’s Greenbelt

What Is Ontario's Greenbelt?

Photo credit: Friends of the Greenbelt

What is Ontario’s Greenbelt, anyway?

Drive along Highway 401 in Ontario and you may spot signs that say, “Entering the Greenbelt.” You can spot these signs throughout the Greater Golden Horseshoe, all the way from Hamilton towards Cobourg, from Tobermory towards St. Catharines.

At 1.8 million acres, Ontario’s Greenbelt is the largest permanently protected greenbelt in the world. Established in 2005, Ontario’s Greenbelt protects environmentally sensitive areas and farmland from urban sprawl and development.

Ontario’s Greenbelt turns 9 years old today (Feb. 28) and there’s a lot to celebrate!

This month Toronto, Oakville and Mississauga all took steps to grow the Greenbelt along their urban river valleys. Toronto’s Don and Humber Rivers, Mississauga’s Credit River and Etobicoke Creek, and Oakville’s Fourteen Mile Creek are now closer to coming under the Greenbelt’s protection. It’s great to see the Greenbelt growing.

What does the Greenbelt have to do with my family?

Local food

Do you enjoy visiting Ontario farmers’ markets? We do too. And we can thank Ontario’s Greenbelt for many of the carrots, corn, apples, lettuce, cherries and more sold at farmers’ markets. By protecting farmland, the Greenbelt ensures Ontarians have access to sources of fresh, local food. The Greenbelt is home to 5,500 farms. Everything from tomatoes to pumpkins grows in the Greenbelt.

Greenbelt food facts:

  • The Greenbelt produces 88 per cent of Ontario’s peaches, over 85 per cent of Ontario’s grapes, 50 per cent of Ontario’s sour cherries, and about 40 per cent of Ontario’s raspberries.
  • The Greenbelt protects 100,000 acres of the Niagara Peninsula Tender Fruit and Grape Area. Every year this area’s 2.1 million fruit trees produce 800,000 baskets of fruit, including peaches, pears, plums, cherries and grapes.

Clean water

In many ways, the Greenbelt is a water belt. It protects the headwaters, valleys and tributaries of numerous streams and rivers, and contains important groundwater reserves, particularly in the Oak Ridges Moraine. Developments and quarries can deplete or contaminate groundwater supplies. Protecting these water sources is one of the Ontario Greenbelt’s important roles. By protecting our rivers and streams, the Greenbelt helps clean our drinking water.

Greenbelt water facts:

  • The Greenbelt’s natural heritage system protects about 535,000 acres of lakes, wetlands, river valleys and forests.
  • Ontario’s Greenbelt protects the sources of major watersheds that supply the Greater Toronto Area with much of its drinking water.

Access to nature

By protecting green spaces, Ontario’s Greenbelt ensures that nature isn’t a long drive away for people living in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Over 9 million people live within a 30 minute drive of Ontario’s Greenbelt.

The Greenbelt is a great way to experience nature. There’s something fun to do every season in the Greenbelt. In the winter, you can skate, ski, or snowshoe. In the summer, you can hike, swim and go camping.

Wondering how you can support the Greenbelt?

Take the Greenbelt pledge to buy food grown in the Greenbelt. Support local farmers by purchasing Greenbelt-grown fruits, veggies and more from your grocery store or farmers’ market.

Greenbelt child friendly map

Photo credit: Environmental Defence

Explore the Greenbelt. Take your family on a Greenbelt adventure, whether skiing, skating, or snowshoeing. Tweet about your adventure using the hashtag #ONGreenbelt to let other families know how much fun the Greenbelt can be.

Tell your municipal leaders you want the Greenbelt to grow in your area. Last year, Ontario introduced a new urban river valley designation that allows municipalities to request adding public land along their waterways into the Greenbelt while allowing their own environmental protection policies to apply. This adds a further layer of protection for urban river valleys.

Last year, in our report Good Things Are Growing in Ontario: Expanding Ontario’s Greenbelt Through Urban River Valleys, we identified how Ontario communities, like Guelph, Hamilton, Markham and more could add their urban river valleys to the Greenbelt’s protective fold. Oakville, Mississauga and Toronto have taken the first steps.

Be sure to tell your elected officials you’d like to see the Greenbelt grow in your area. By adding urban river valleys to the Greenbelt, these lush green spaces will be protected so our children and future generations can enjoy them.

By Erin Shapero at Environmental Defence


  • Lindsay says:

    This is so cool! I didn’t know there was this big reserve in Canada. Thanks for sharing — isn’t is wonderful what we can do with open space?

    • Sara Vartanian says:

      I love seeing places come together in recognition & love of the environment! It feels very hopeful!

  • Anna@Green Talk says:

    1.8 million. Wow that is impressive. Plus, it is 9 years old. Thanks for sharing this information.