Canadian Heritage Rivers System | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Canadian Heritage Rivers System

Rivers are part of our lives and our heritage. They are the threads that bind the fabric of nature and humanity together.

Canadian Heritage Rivers System

Rivers are part of our lives and our heritage. They are the threads that bind the fabric of nature and humanity together.

Established on 18 January 1984, the Canadian Heritage Rivers System (CHRS) is a co-operative program developed and run by the federal, provincial and territorial governments. The objectives of the program are to give national recognition to Canada's outstanding rivers, and to ensure long-term management and conservation of their natural, cultural and recreational values.

A fundamental principle of the CHRS is that the nomination and management of Canadian heritage rivers remains with the government - the provincial governments in the south, the territorial and federal governments jointly in the North, and the federal government in national parks and other federal lands.

Heritage Rivers

There are currently more than 40 rivers with a total length of some 11 000 km in the CHRS. Of these, 37 are designated (ie, a management plan has been accepted by the Canadian Heritage Rivers Board). These rivers range from wilderness rivers of the Barren Lands to rivers in densely populated areas of southern Canada. There is at least one Canadian heritage river in each province and territory.

The CHRS is administered by the Canadian Heritage Rivers Board, which is composed of 14 members - 2 appointed by the federal government (one from the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and one from Parks Canada) and one appointed by each of the provincial and territorial governments. Québec withdrew from the process in 2006 for participation in the CHRS is voluntary. The board meets at least once each year to review new river nominations, to decide on program and funding priorities and to discuss and approve new policies and guidelines. Becoming a Canadian heritage river is a two-step process: nomination and designation. Public involvement is an integral component to both river nomination and designation.

Nomination Process

Intergovernmental co-operation and public participation are the cornerstones of the CHRS. Nomination of a river to the CHRS must originate with the government with jurisdiction over the river. The role of private citizens and advocacy groups is to lobby for rivers that the public feels have the greatest merit for inclusion.

Each participant in the CHRS has carried out province-wide or territory-wide studies to determine a list of potential Canadian heritage rivers. Public consultation takes place during this step to assist government officials in selecting preferred river candidates.

Once a specific river is chosen based on its natural, cultural and recreational values, further studies and public consultations are carried out to document its outstanding heritage values, as well as to determine whether or not the river meets CHRS criteria; the level of public support for nomination of the river to the CHRS; the number and complexity of conflicting river uses; and the feasibility of effectively managing the river and its watershed in accordance with CHRS guidelines. If the decision is made to nominate a river to the CHRS, the nominating government prepares and submits a nomination document to the board. The nomination document describes how the river's natural, cultural or recreational values, or a combination of these, make the river of outstanding value. It also provides information on the measures that must be put in place to ensure those values will be maintained.

Nominated Rivers

River, Location, Length
Churchill, Sask, 487 km

Coppermine, Nunavut, 450 km

Saint John, NB, 400 km

Ottawa, Ont, 590 km

Designation Process

After a nomination has been accepted by the board, the nominating government has 3 years to prepare a management plan. Development of management plans is based on public consultation and consensus-building. Once a management plan has been tabled before the board, the chairperson advises the minister responsible for Parks Canada and the minister(s) responsible for the nominating government agencies that the requirements for designation have been met. The ministers then formally designate the river by unveiling a plaque at a ceremony held at a key location on the river.

Management plans are the heart of the CHRS. They describe the actions that will be taken to ensure the protection of the outstanding resources for which the river was nominated. They also spell out how these resources will be interpreted, appropriate recreational uses of the river, ecological integrity guidelines and monitoring requirements.

Canadian Heritage Rivers

River, Location, Year Designated, Length
French, Ont, 1986, 110 km

Alsek, YT, 1986, 90 km

South Nahanni, NWT, 1987, 300 km

Clearwater, Sask portion, 1987; Alta portion, 2003; 326 km

Bloodvein, Man portion, 1987, 200 km; Ont portion, 1998, 106 km

Mattawa, Ont, 1988; extensions, 2001, 76 km

Athabasca, Alta, 1989, 168 km

North Saskatchewan, Alta, 1989, 49 km

Kicking Horse, BC, 1990, 67 km

Kazan, Nunavut, 1990, 615 km

Thelon, Nunavut, 1990, 545 km

St Croix, NB, 1991, 185 km

Thirty Mile (Yukon), YT, 1991, 48 km

Seal, Man, 1992, 260 km

Soper, Nunavut, 1992, 248 km

Arctic Red, NWT, 1993, 450 km

Grand, Ont, 1994, 627 km

Boundary Waters, Ont, 1996, 250 km

Hillsborough, PEI, 1997, 45 km

Shelburne, NS, 1997, 53 km

Bonnet Plume, YT, 1998, 350 km

Upper Restigouche, NB, 1998, 55 km

Margaree, NS, 1998, 120 km

Fraser, BC, 1998, 1375 km

Humber, Ont, 1999, 100 km

Rideau Waterway, Ont, 2000, 202 km

Thames, Ont, 2000, 273 km

St Mary's, Ont, 2000, 125 km

Detroit, Ont, 2001, 51 km

Main, NL, 2001, 57 km

Cowichan, BC, 2003, 47 km

Missinaibi, Ont, 2004, 501 km

Tatshenshini, YT, 2004, 45 km

The Three Rivers, PEI, 2004, 73 km

Bay du Nord, NL, 2005, 75 km

Hayes, Man, 2006, 590 km

Red, Man, 2007, 175 km


The goal of the CHRS is to establish a system of Canadian heritage rivers that reflects the diversity of Canada's rich river environments and celebrates the importance of rivers in Canada's history and society. Its vision is to ensure that rivers in Canada flow into the future, pure and unfettered as they have since the melting of the great Pleistocene ice sheets.

Further Reading