Boundary Waters

Boundary Waters/Voyageur Waterway


Natural Heritage

The Boundary Waters/ Voyageur Waterway is a chain of lakes and river channels that marks the boundary between Minnesota and Ontario. It drains in two directions, along the divide between the Hudson Bay and Atlantic drainages, through wilderness shaped by glaciation and water. The landscape contains unique, billion-year-old landforms found only within the Thunder Bay region.

The designated area is home to 400 plant species, of which 13 are rare. Plant species found on the cliffs of North and South Fowl Lakes are relics of another era, and are more typically found in sub-arctic, arctic and western mountain regions. Two-billion-year old micro-fossils, the oldest in North America, are found along Gunflint and North Lakes.

Cultural Heritage

A true water highway, the Boundary Waters has witnessed over 10,000 years of human history. This is evident in the 124 known archeological sites along its banks, which include pictographs and Paleo-Indian tool stone quarries, and the portages and campsites travelled by Voyageurs, missionaries, explorers and settlers after the arrival of the Europeans. Many of these portages and campsites are still in use to this day.

Historical sites along this waterway include fur trading posts on the Pigeon River at Lac D’Orignal and Fort Charlotte, and the Grand Portage, the North West Company’s major fur-trade depot and stockade in interior Canada, which was the site of the annual ‘Rendezvous’ where 600 to 800 men from the Northern and Montreal fur brigades met for revelry and to exchange goods. The region is closely linked with many of Canada’s early explorers, such as Allouez (1666), Du Lhut (1678), de la Noue (1722), La Verendrye (1731), Alexander Henry (1775), and North West Company men Frobisher, Fraser, McTavish, Mackenzie and Thompson (1783).

This region is also home to important historical sites, such as where British North American – U.S. disputes occurred following the American War of Independence (1776) and the Treaty of Paris (1783); the Webster-Ashburton Treaty resolving boundary disputes (1842); and the surrender of Ojibwa lands in the Robinson–Superior Treaties (1850).

The mining (1870s-1900s), logging (1820’s- 1930’s) and railway (1882-1938) eras all left their mark on the Boundary Waters area, but it is tourism and wilderness recreation that currently act as a mainstay for the local economy.

Recreational Heritage

The Boundary Waters is internationally renowned as a destination for recreational activities such as boating, hunting, fishing, bird watching, camping and wilderness paddling. More than a million people visit the region each year; however, the shoreline is almost completely undeveloped, providing a true wilderness experience within reach of major population centres.

Perhaps best known as a wilderness canoeing destination, the Boundary Waters is navigable in both directions and links to 1450 km of possible paddling routes in Canada and 2400 km in the US. Further information can be found at the following websites:,

Who Manages the River?

The Boundary Waters Voyageur Waterway is protected and managed by the province of Ontario and the state of Minnesota through a series of parks. These are Quetico and La Verendrye Provincial Parks in Canada. In the US, the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area, Grand Portage National Monument, and Voyageurs National Park encompass the waterway.

Fun Fact:

The Boundary Waters boast three large, step-like waterfalls – the Pigeon River Cascades dropping 200 metres in just over 1/2 km, Partridge Falls with a two-step, 21 metre high vertical face, and High Falls which, at 28 metres, is the highest waterfall in Minnesota.

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