The Margaree is Cape Breton’s largest watershed, flowing from the Highlands to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This cold, clear river is home to Atlantic salmon, gaspereau and sea trout. Its shores and steep glacial valleys are home to rare birds and mammals, including bald eagles, osprey, and the Gaspé shrew.
Plant life within the watershed is diverse and unique compared to the rest of Nova Scotia. Stands of maple-elm forest remain here, along with an alkaline bog and old growth forests that shelter several rare plants. Much of the land within the watershed is privately owned.
The complex and spectacular geology of Cape Breton is visible along this river system, with Karst sinkholes that are remnants of the supercontinent Pangaea, faults that provide evidence of the continental collisions that formed the Appalachian mountain chain, and v- and u-shaped valleys, moraines and braided channels that showcase the effects of glaciation.
Though not nominated for its cultural values, the charm of rural Cape Breton and its rich history are captured in the Margaree. To the Mi’kmaq, “Weekuch” was both a source of food and a trade route. Later, Scottish, Irish, and English immigrants came to Cape Breton and the Margaree River in the late 18th century, replacing the Acadian and French settlers who had been displaced in the battle for ownership of Atlantic Canada’s riches. Today, the descendants of these people continue the traditional occupations of fishing, logging and farming.
One of the many opportunities to experience the people and culture of Cape Breton, is attending the Celtic Colours International Festival. The festival takes place all-over the island for nine days in October with the back-drop of the changing colours of the autumn leaves. The festival is one of Canada’s premier festivals, where local artists share the stage with some of the world’s biggest names in Celtic music.
From June to October, fly fishers flock to the Margaree in hopes of landing the large adult salmon for which the river is famous. Because most of the land is privately owned, it’s important to inquire locally regarding fishing pools, customs and courtesy. Several hiking trails allow visitors to experience the river valley from the safety of the shore.
Both the Northeast and Southwest Margaree are navigable by canoe for intermediate and advanced paddlers looking for challenging rapids and chutes. Below the confluence, paddlers are advised to be aware of tides and wind. Lake Ainslie is suitable for novice to intermediate paddlers.
The Summer months bring warmer weather and new opportunities to celebrate the river. The Northwest section of the river meanders through an estuary on its way to the harbor. These calm waters provide ample opportunity for visitors the opportunity to experience serenity on the river, through available activities, such as a paddle boarding in the harbour or floating down the meandering river in an inflatable tube.
Who Manages the River?
The watershed is managed by the Margaree-Lake Ainslie Canadian Heritage River Society, in cooperation with Nova Scotia’s Department of Environment.
The river’s name originated with the 18th-century French settlers who called the river the St. Marguerite.