The 51 km-long Detroit River links the upper and lower Great Lakes from Lake St. Clair to Lake Erie. It is the most southerly Canadian Heritage River and lies within the Carolinian zone. It is home to rare species found nowhere else in Canada. Though heavily urbanized and not designated for its natural values, it is a major migration route for birds and butterflies and provides shelter for rare species such as the Eastern fox snake and queen snake. Many islands on the river are part of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.
First Nations peoples have used the Detroit River and the Great Lakes as a principle means of travel, resource gathering and trade for more than 6,000 years. The site of Ontario’s first permanent agricultural community, the Detroit River not only offered freedom in Canada to slaves from the United States who crossed via the Underground Railway, but also enabled rum runners to smuggle their illicit cargo across during the Prohibition era. The river also has a strong industrial history, with Ford Canada and Hiram Walker and Sons headquartered along its shores.
Commercial navigation is one of the most fascinating aspects of the river, principally because it is one of the busiest international crossings in North America and therefore of extreme economic importance. This traffic includes tug boats and thousands of lake freighters and ocean going vessels.
Recreational boating is very popular along the Detroit River, which has over 12,000 marina slips and one of the best urban fisheries in North America. Numerous parks along the river are fantastic for bird watching. Festivals, events, historical sites, and museums, as well as canoeing and kayaking, ensure there is something to do, no matter the weather.
Who Manages the River?
The Essex Region Conservation Authority is responsible for managing the Detroit as a Canadian Heritage River.
The Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge is the only International Wildlife Refuge in North America. It includes islands, coastal wetlands, marshes, shoals, and waterfront lands along the Detroit River and Western Lake Erie shorelines.