Watershed Facts 

The Grand River Watershed

  • The Grand River watershed encompasses all the land drained by the Grand River and is the largest watershed in southern Ontario. It is 6,800 square kilometers (2,625 square miles).
  • The headwaters of the Grand River are near the town of Dundalk (Grey County) with one of the highest elevations in Southern Ontario at (526 m or 1,738 feet above sea level). It flows south 280 km to its mouth on Lake Erie at Port Maitland. The elevation at Lake Erie is about 174 m (571 feet) above sea level). This is an approximation since the lake rises and falls in seasonal cycles.
  • The Grand River is a "dendritic" river, meaning it is shaped like a tree, with the Grand River as the tree trunk and many branches or tributaries that join it along the way. Some of these tributaries are major rivers in their own right. In Brantford, a significant tributary is D’Aubigny Creek, which is a coldwater fishery.
  • The Wisconsin glacier covered the valley 20,000 years ago and shaped the Grand River Valley. It pushed soil and rock ahead of its advance, filling in older river systems. As the glacier melted, two major landscape features emerged in our part of Ontario. The first is the huge deposits of gravel, sand and clay that were left behind. Today these form the basic sub-soils in regions of the watershed, and are why there are glacial drumlin hills near Guelph, gravel pits near Paris, and clay soils in Haldimand County.
  • The second landscape feature is the river itself. It is suspected that an ancient river used to run west to east from Stratford to Dundas and Hamilton. This old river valley was "filled in" by the Wisconsin glacial till, and the meltwaters carved today's Grand River in a north-south direction.
  • The Grand River is one of the few rivers in Canada designated as a “Canadian Heritage River”. This designation is awarded via a voluntary federal-provincial-territorial program, which gives national and international recognition to outstanding Canadian rivers. The Grand River is the predominant feature within Brantford, flowing from the northwest portion of the City in a southeasterly direction. 

Settlements Along the Grand River

  • The diversity of cultures along the Grand River today reflects the patchwork of ethnic groups that together define Canada's identity. Long before the arrival of European immigrants, however, native cultures prospered near the Grand River. Some 820 archaeological sites show evidence of their presence in the area.
  • By the time the French explorers and missionaries arrived, the Iroquois Confederacy and the Mississaugas held sway over the River. The French who penetrated the watershed in the late 1600s renamed the natives' "Tintactuo" the Riviere Rapide or Riviere Ouse. Etienne Brule, Father Daillon and Fathers Brebeuf and Chaumont all visited the lower valley, while Fathers Dollier and Galinee accompanied La Salle to the river's mouth.
  • Following the American Revolution, the Six Nations people from New York State received a land grant along the river in recognition of their loyalty to the Crown. In 1785, the Mohawk Village and its historic Mohawk Chapel were established near Brant's ford, named after the famous leader and statesman Joseph Brant. Brant sold leases to other United Empire Loyalists, who settled primarily in the lower basin below Paris.
  • In the lower valley from Brantford to Lake Erie, old locks and canals serve as reminders of the Grand River Navigation Company system that linked communities with the Welland Canal and the world. 

Population in the Watershed

  • Today, there are 925,000 people living in the Grand River watershed. It spans all or part of 38 upper, lower, and single tier municipalities (cities, townships, counties and regions). The north and south reaches of the watershed are heavily farmed due to the temperate climate and good soils, so agriculture is a major industry.
  • The central region is the most populated, with large cities that include Kitchener, Waterloo, Guelph, Cambridge and Brantford. The population of Brantford is approximately 90,000. Most Grand River communities were founded due to the waterways, which powered mills and other manufacturing industries.
  • A major challenge for the future is coping with significant population growth. Most watershed cities rely on the river or wells for their water supplies. Specifically, Brantford draws 100 percent of its drinking water from the Grand River. All the municipalities discharge their treated sewage into the River.
  • It is expected that up to 300,000 more people will be living in the Grand River watershed by the year 2031. In Brantford, it is projected the population will increase to approximately 126,000 by 2031. Maintaining or even improving the quality of our waterways while conserving the natural infrastructure of wetlands, woodlands and wildlife habitat, will be a major challenge in light of these growth pressures.

The Grand River and Brantford

  • Over the past twenty-six years, numerous studies and plans have been created in regards to the City of Brantford’s waterfront /riverfront and recreational linkages to this feature. Some of these studies include:
    “Brantford River Front Development”, 1982
    “Brantford Riverfront Core Area Study”, 1982
    “Brantford Celebrates the River: Riverfront Core Area Development Opportunities Plan”, 1990
    “Master Development Plan: Proposed Core Area Development”, 1991
    “City of Brantford: Core Area Waterfront Study”, 1995
    “Mohawk Lake Land Use Planning Study”, 1987
    “Mohawk Lake Revitalization Plan”, 1999
  • Due to various occurrences beyond the control of the Municipality, many of the recommendations from these studies and work plans have not been implemented. These occurrences include the discontinuation of funding, changes in land use, and economic realities impacting the City as a whole.