Historic Places Day
On July 6 2019, we recognize Canada Historic Places Day. Historic Places Day creates a place to connect with Canada’s heritage. Time travel by visiting our Canadian Heritage Rivers and find out what they have meant and continue to mean to the people around them and to you.
The rivers in Canada have seen millions of years go by, and some have kept the evidence of all of that history. The rivers below have their stories written along their banks in astounding archaeological finds!
Boundary Waters Voyageur Waterway
The 124 known archaeological sites along the bank of Ontario’s Boundary Waters/Voyageur Waterway attest to its history that dates back over 10,000 years. The sites include pictographs and Paleo-Indian tool stone quarries. The history here is written on the walls.
This Ontario river was part of the formation of the landscape that exists today. Over 10,000 years ago, after the melting of the ice sheets that used to cover Ontario, the Great Lakes emptied into the Ottawa River via the Mattawa River instead of via Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.
There are a large number of prehistoric artefacts and archaeological sites along the Seal River, with finds dating from 7,000 years ago, that tell the story of what happened along the banks of this Manitoba River.
The Bloodvein River’s most notable historic features include undisturbed archaeological sites which provide strong evidence of high density occupation by prehistoric, hunter-gatherer peoples. There are pictographs dating from between 900 and 1,200 A.D. telling their stories.
Traditional Indigenous Culture (pre-European)
Long before the written history of Canada began, Indigenous peoples lived on the land where rivers were an integral part of their traditional culture, and still remain today.
The Tatshenshini River’s designation as an outstanding representation of Canada’s cultural heritage is based on its significance to the history, culture and relationship of the river to the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations
Though the Alsek Valley is still sparsely inhabited today, Indigenous peoples have inhabited this region of Yukon for an estimated 10,000 years.
South Nahanni River
According to Dene oral history, the Dene people have been travelling, harvesting, and hunting in the ancient mountains nearby the South Nahanni River for thousands of years, following the natural corridors and the movements of animals.
Tsiigehnjik (Arctic Red River)
The Gwichya Gwich’in of Tsiigehtchic (the community at the mouth, or outlet, of the river) have used and travelled up Tsiigehnjik through the Northwest Territories for thousands of years. The river was an important part of the Gwichya Gwich’in seasonal round: heading up the river in the fall, and coming back down after break-up in the spring.
Found along the Thelon River in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, Inuksuk offer a glimpse of past and present Inuit culture; the rock formations stand as markers on the landscape. Inuksuk highlight almost every vital aspect of Inuit life.
The Cowichan River Valley in BC is the homeland of the Cowichan First Nation, a Coast Salish people. The Cowichan people continue their traditional use of the river and its associated ecosystems for food, clothing, shelter and medicine.
This Newfoundland river has seen a lot of people come and go. Evidence of early Inuit habitation dates to about 2,100 years ago. Along the north side of the river, just west of Sop’s Arm, remains of nomadic Beothuk culture have been found. In more recent centuries, the French and the English had fishing enterprises in the area.
Early Explorers and Fur Trade
The first explorers and settlers must have been in awe of the natural beauty of Canada’s nature and landscapes. The rivers were a significant part of the natural world, and played a key role in the expansion of European influence.
This New Brunswick river’s remarkable history includes the site of the first European settlement in North America north of Florida, established in 1604 on Île de St. Croix (at the mouth of the river) by Samuel de Champlain.
The Three Rivers (Cardigan, Brudenell, and Montague/Valleyfield) was the site of Prince Edwards Island’s first French Settlement established in 1732.
The last naval battle between France and Great Britain for possession of North America occurred at the Upper Restigouche River in New Brunswick in 1760. Known as the Battle of the Restigouche, the English destroyed the French fleet.
The St. John River played an important role in European settlement of the region by the French and later by the British. Because of its role as a key communication route between Upper and Lower Canada and the Atlantic in what is now New Brunswick, it was referred to by an historian as the “the Road to Canada”.
The Humber River is one of two alternate passages developed by First Nations peoples and known as the Carrying Place Trail, which connects Lake Ontario to the upper Great Lakes. This trade route made the area attractive to European traders and explorers upon their arrival in the 17th century.
Located at the mouth of the Hayes River in Manitoba, York Factory was the Hudson’s Bay Company’s principal fur trade depot and centre of operations for over 200 years.
For the first time, a practical overland route to the rich Athabasca region was opened to facilitate direct trade, when in 1778, European explorer Peter Pond crossed the 19-kilometre Methye Portage between Lac la Loche and the Clearwater River between Saskatchewan and Alberta with guidance from the Dene First Nations.
The river was an important part of the fur trade route in Ontario and was used by the Voyageurs. It also saw other explorers like Alexander Mackenzie, Simon Fraser, and David Thompson that paddled the French on their way to discover the rivers further west that now bear their names.
In an effort to expand the fur trade and the movement of people and goods across the Canadian West in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Wilcox and Collie were the first Europeans to ascend the north fork of the North Saskatchewan River.
Exploration associated with the fur trade provided the first European influence within the watershed. Simon Fraser’s explorations in 1808 on behalf of the North West Company brought attention to the vast and rich territory beyond the Rocky Mountains. By 1827, the first fur trading post was established on the river at Fort Langley.
The Ottawa River was used as an important transportation and trading hub by First Nations and later by Europeans, and was intrinsic in the development of the nation’s early logging industry in Ontario.
The Thames River was one of the major theatres of the War of 1812 where the legendary Shawnee Chief Tecumseh died at the Battle of Moraviantown. A peace treaty later defined the Canadian-American border in what is now southwestern Ontario.
The Coppermine figured prominently in the exploration of the arctic, and featured in the voyages of Samuel Hearne in 1771, in the first Franklin expedition, in 1820, and the second Franklin expedition, in 1825.
Scottish and American whalers would visit the Hudson Strait via the Soper River in pursuit of bowhead whales. During the early decades of the l900’s, a fur trade post was established in Kimmirut (then known as Lake Harbour) and a number of mining efforts replaced the failing whaling industry.
Key to the cultural history of the region, the Red River has been a primary resource and transportation corridor for thousands of years – first for First Nations peoples, and over the past three centuries, for European exploration, fur trade, and settlement. Today, the Red River Valley is the most densely populated region of Manitoba.
As technological advances ran full steam across the country, the rivers continued to play a changing and ever-important role in Canada’s history.
As the fur trade declined, the railway brought settlers and non-Indigenous hunters and trappers, as well as prospectors and miners. Lumbering was closely linked with the installation of the railway and forestry is still one of the main employers for people in the region today. In many ways, the history of the Missinaibi is a smaller-scale reflection of the history of Canada.
Charlottetown rests at the confluence of the North, Hillsborough, and West Rivers and the Northumberland Strait. It was there that the Fathers of Confederation first met in 1864, paving the way for the creation of Canada as a nation.
The Shelburne was a log driving river in the 19th century. Logs harvested from upstream sources were driven downstream to sawmills, and temporary dams were constructed at points along the stream to store water for the drive.
Located along the Kicking Horse River, Kicking Horse Pass was the route chosen for Canada’s first transcontinental railway, the Canadian Pacific, to pass through the Rockies and over the Great Divide. It later became the route for the Trans-Canada Highway as well.
Two transcontinental railways, the Grand Trunk Pacific and the Canadian Northern, were constructed through the Athabasca valley.
Bonnet Plume River
The Bonnet Plume River is named in honour of Andrew ‘Nee-sheh’ Bonnetplume, a Tetlit Gwich’in leader who worked periodically for the Hudson’s Bay Company and searched for gold in the Peel River watershed.
At its peak in 1898, the Klondike gold rush saw nearly 30,000 gold seekers in 7,000 boats travel the Thirty Mile en route from Bennett, B.C. to the goldfields near Dawson City. Simply marked gravesites are found along the Thirty Mile, and some locations are named after the boats that were wrecked there, such as Domville Creek, Casca Reef, La France Creek, and Tanana Reef.
A national historic site and UNESCO World Heritage Site in Ontario, the Rideau Canal is manmade, and was one of the reasons that Ottawa was chosen as Canada’s capital city.
Recent history and current culture still rely on the rivers in a number of different ways, and the rivers keep collecting their stories. Can you imagine how much they’ve lived?
This river has seen people write down history for future generations: paddlers and canoeists traversing the Kazan River have been leaving notes for future groups at a cairn by Kazan Falls since the 1970’s. In 1992, the notes were removed for conservation, and a waterproof and bound copy of the notes was returned to the cairn.
As one of North America’s international crossings, the Detroit River not only offered freedom in Canada to slaves from the United States who crossed via the Underground Railroad, but also enabled rum runners to smuggle their illicit cargo across the border during the Prohibition era.
For many years, the combined American and Canadian ‘Soo Locks’ found in Ontario were the busiest such systems in the world. In 1985, the operation of the Sault Ste. Marie Canal was transferred to Parks Canada whose responsibility it is to preserve and interpret the Canal’s natural and cultural resources.
Bay du Nord
This Newfoundland River offers the chance to step out of time entirely. Nominated for its natural heritage above all else, the river remains a pristine example of Canada’s natural beauty, untouched by the changing world around it.
This Nova Scotia river has seen a lot of change, but is also a keeper of traditions. Today, peoples of different backgrounds continue traditional occupations of fishing, logging and farming along the Margaree.
Ontario’s Grand River was the site of modern innovations. Canada’s first dam called the Shand Dam was constructed on the Grand River in Fergus in 1942. A world-class tail water fishery is located just downstream of the dam.