Cootes Paradise was originally inhabited by the Princess Point people as far back as 500AD. The current name was derived from a British Naval Officer, Captain Thomas Coote, who spent many days hunting the abundant water fowl in the 1780’s. Cootes Paradise marsh was designated fish sanctuary in 1874 and in 1927, the marsh and surrounding lands were established as a game sanctuary for its significance as a migratory bird stopover. With the formation of the Royal Botanical Gardens in 1941, this sanctuary was included as part of the land holdings.
By the 1990’s almost the entire marsh ecosystem had been lost due to human induced stresses and the damage caused by common carp. As much as 85% of the native plants were gone leaving a shallow, muddy lake. In 1993 Project Paradise was started, an initiative to restore these wetlands. Upgrades were completed to surrounding water treatment facilities and the fishway was built to control the carp entering the wetland.
Before the installation of the fishway the estimated carp population in the wetland was 70,000 and in recent years this number has dropped to less than 1000. This has allowed the native plants to be replanted and become re-established which in turn, provides a habitat for native fish during spawning leading to an increase in the number and diversity of the native fish entering the marsh to spawn.
With the return of the native flora, many of the migratory birds are once again making Cootes Paradise a stopover. In 2013, a pair of bald eagles who had arrived in 2008, successfully hatched young. This is the first time in over 50 years that eagles have hatched on the Canadian shoreline of Lake Ontario.
Currently Cootes Paradise encompasses 600 hectares of land which includes 320 hectares of marshland, 16 creeks and 25km of Lake Ontario shoreline. Its unique location, nestled between the Niagara Escarpment and Lake Ontario, create a microclimate allowing for more diverse vegetation.
Cootes Paradise nature sanctuary is part of the UNESCO Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve. The lands contain one of the highest biodiversity of plants per hectare in Canada, containing more than 750 native plant species, 277 types of migratory birds, 37 mammal species, 14 reptile species, 9 amphibian species and 68 species of Lake Ontario fish. The 35 identified endangered species living in Cootes Paradise is the most in the region.
Today the 3 km long marsh at Cootes Paradise is the largest fish nursery in Western Lake Ontario and one of the most significant migratory bird staging areas on the lower Great Lakes. It has been designated as a National Historic Site, a Nationally Important Bird Area and a Nationally Important Reptile and Amphibian Area. The Ontario Government has designated it a Significant Class 1 Wetland and an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest.