The Hayes River route, which includes 43 km of the Nelson River, the 67 km-long Echimamish River and the entire 480 km of the Hayes, begins its course at the north end of Lake Winnipeg and flows northeast to Hudson Bay. Flowing through pristine boreal forests of the Canadian Shield at its upper reaches, and soggy muskeg lowlands in its lower reaches close to Hudson Bay, the Hayes provides travelers with a unique perspective of both landscapes. Travelling downstream, one sees dense spruce forests gradually replaced by a mosaic of stunted black spruce and tamarack interspersed with bogs, and finally the treeless tundra at the coast.
Remote stretches of white-water, large lake systems, deep valleys, gorges, and the unspoiled wilderness of the northern boreal forest characterize the southern, upper reaches of the river. At its northern reaches, the Hayes flows through a flat terrain of muskeg, lakes, streams and bogs, cutting steep banks up to 30 metres high into the thick marine clay of Hudson Bay. Tidal flats extend seaward for several kilometres at the river’s mouth.
Rivers played an integral role in early trade and the Hayes is no exception. The river was an important link for trade, transportation and communication for Aboriginal peoples in Canada for thousands of years. There are a number of archaeological sites along the riverbank that demonstrate the river’s industriousness long before the arrival of European settlers. The Painted Stone Portage, a sacred place of worship, and the pictograph sites are further testimony to the many years of human culture along the river. The arrival of fur traders and “coureur de bois” in the mid-1600s heralded the beginning of a new way of life for Aboriginal peoples on the Hayes River and throughout western Canada. York Factory, the Hudson Bay Company’s principal fur trade depot at the mouth of the Hayes, was the Company’s centre of operations for over 200 years. Today the Cree, descendants of the original inhabitants of the area, live in this region (the communities of Norway House and Oxford House are located along the route) and still use the area for hunting and fishing.
The Hayes River provides outstanding wilderness opportunities. Nine lakes and the connecting river offer unparalleled wilderness canoeing and kayaking, alternating between white-water and flat-water paddling.
One trip that encompasses the full downstream route begins at Norway House and ends at York Factory on Hudson Bay, approximately 600 km in total, but paddlers can also start their trip at Oxford House, for a 380 km trip. Norway House to Oxford House takes approximately eight to 10 days to paddle, and Oxford House to York Factory takes 14 to 18 days. There are over 90 undesignated campsites along the route, approximately 45 sets of rapids and falls, many of which are runnable by experienced whitewater canoeists, and approximately 27 portages, some of which are pullovers or can be lined. Additional information on river access, accommodation, services and maps is available from Manitoba Sustainable Development.
Who Manages the River?
Robinson Falls is one of the more well-known sites along the river, featuring five sets of waterfalls forcing a violent torrent of water through massive granite formations.