Table of Contents
Tables and figures
Also available in French and Inuktitut.
Cover photo: Coppermine River, NU
Canada’s River Heritage
To celebrate the role and value of rivers to Canadians, the federal, provincial, and territorial governments came together in 1984 to establish a collaborative program, the Canadian Heritage Rivers System, to provide significant Canadian rivers with a special heritage status that recognizes their outstanding natural, cultural and recreational values. The main focus of the program in its early years was to build a comprehensive system of heritage rivers that fully represents the spectrum of Canada’s river heritage.
Interest and momentum grew over time as governments, communities, and citizens began to understand and experience the many benefits made possible through river designation. As of 2019, 39 rivers have been added to the system, totalling just over 10,000 kilometres of waterways. Canadian Heritage Rivers now include a myriad of renowned national waterscapes, magnificent cultural treasures, and deeply entrenched societal symbols of healthy waterways.
The objectives of the Canadian Heritage Rivers System are to give national recognition to Canada’s outstanding rivers as part of a comprehensive and representative system and to encourage long-term management that will conserve their natural, cultural and recreational values for the benefit and enjoyment of Canadians, now and in the future
² World Water Day website. Accessed July 18, 2019. https://www.un.org.en.events/waterday
The Canadian Heritage Rivers System has matured into a valued nationwide program, which is recognized as a model of stewardship, cooperation and participation; one that engages society in valuing the natural, cultural and recreational heritage of rivers and river communities as essential to the identity, health, economic prosperity and quality of life of Canadians.
This role has never been more important. As the effects of climate change and other pressures on freshwater become more visible, Canadians are realizing that the future of our rivers may look very different from their past. Not only does the Canadian Heritage Rivers System provide opportunities to tell compelling stories about the importance of freshwater and advance river stewardship throughout the country, but it also provides a forum for imagining and discussing environmental and social changes on our rivers, and taking action on issues like climate change.
" Our bodies, our cities and our industries, our agriculture and our ecosystems all depend on it. Water is a human right. Nobody should be denied access. ² "- UN Secretary-General
Benefits of Belonging
to the System
The benefits of membership in the Canadian Heritage Rivers System are wide-ranging. River designation and participation in program activities facilitate conversations between jurisdictions, river managers and river stewardship groups that can lead to positive, long-term outcomes for rivers. Here are a few examples:
Designation acted as a catalyst on the Detroit River (Ontario), stimulating more than 500 water quality projects over 15 years to enhance the river’s natural values.
Participation in the development and installation of a trilingual (Ojibwe, English and French) designation plaque for the Bloodvein River (Ontario) created a sense of place and pride among First Nations members who consider the river their home.
Four municipalities and two non-profit organizations decided to join forces to promote regional river tourism as a result of work to designate the St. John River (New Brunswick). The legacy of that decision is the Lower River Passage, an award-winning regional tourism approach far stronger than anything the partners could have achieved individually.
The Canadian Heritage River status of the Bonnet Plume River (Yukon) was acknowledged during the Peel Watershed Land Use Planning process when describing the conservation values of the planning region. The resulting plan recommends establishing a territorial park that will encompass the entire Bonnet Plume River watershed.
The Umbrella Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement for Canadian Heritage Rivers in Nunavut, approved in March 2019, contains provisions for Inuit to conduct water monitoring. The Government of Canada will provide for capacity building initiatives to support this work, including water monitoring program design, data management, data analysis and water sampling training.
Benefits of Canadian Heritage River Designation on the Cowichan (Quw’utsun) River, British Columbia
Nominated for its outstanding natural, cultural and recreational values, and as a leading example of community support and co-operation with respect to river stewardship, the main stem of the Cowichan (Quw’utsun) River was designated a Canadian Heritage River in 2004.
The Cowichan River may be one of the most productive salmon and trout streams on Vancouver Island. It is the homeland of the Cowichan Tribes, which is the largest First Nation in the province of British Columbia. They traditionally depended on the river for food, clothing, travel, shelter and medicine and use it actively today as a very important source of food, medicine and cultural values. The river is also recognized for historical and cultural aspects of European settlement associated with forestry, agriculture and fisheries. The many attributes of the river support a diversity of recreational activities such as paddling, hiking and nature studies.
Since its designation, the Cowichan River has been a model for collaborative stewardship. Cowichan Tribes, countless individuals and more than 30 stewardship non-profit organizations, government agencies and industry partners have come together as part of the Cowichan Stewardship Roundtable (established in 2003), a collaborative group working on the common goal of protecting the Cowichan watershed for future generations.
This cooperative environment, coupled with the heritage river designation, has enabled organizations to consolidate resources and attract funders for major initiatives, such as the remediation of Stoltz Bluff, an area that was eroding up to nine dump truck loads of clay per day, suffocating river life. The Canadian Heritage Rivers System National River Conservation Award of Merit was awarded to members of the project team in 2009 in recognition of this remarkable, multi-agency undertaking.
The Canadian Heritage River designation and these strong community partnerships have been key in securing resources and support from senior levels of governments for other projects, such as:
$2.7 million from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Coastal Restoration Fund for estuarine and riparian habitat rehabilitation (lead agency: Cowichan Tribes).
$4.3 million from the British Columbia Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund for water storage plan activities (surveys, engineering and feasibility studies) to address increasing drought/climate change impacts (lead agencies: Cowichan Tribes, Cowichan Valley Regional District, Cowichan Watershed Board, Catalyst Paper).
Provincial government assistance to scope British Columbia’s first Water Sustainability Plan for the Koksilah sub-basin (lead agencies: Cowichan Tribes, Cowichan Watershed Board).
The Cowichan people celebrated the river at the Quw’utsun Cowichan Heritage River Celebration, co-hosted by the Cowichan Tribes and the Cowichan Stewardship Roundtable in 2017 and 2019. With traditional dancers, cultural activities, nature interpretive activities, conservation group booths, and a traditional meal, this public event provided hands-on learning about the Cowichan watershed and celebrated the role the river has played in the peoples’ lives since time immemorial.
The Canadian Heritage Rivers System is a cooperative program supported by nine provinces, three territories, and the federal government. The Canadian Heritage Rivers System Charter, signed in 2011 by the ministers of the participating jurisdictions, reaffirmed the long-term commitment of their governments to the program and its vision.
The Canadian Heritage Rivers Board is responsible for overall program administration; however, many other organizations assist with the implementation of program initiatives. As the lead federal agency in the program, Parks Canada provides support to the Board in carrying out its responsibilities and coordinates certain program elements. River managers, be they conservation authorities or not-for-profit societies, are responsible for the dayto-day management of many Canadian Heritage Rivers. River stewardship groups help to realize strategic outcomes, through activities such as public education, river promotion, community events, and citizen science. More detailed information about the Canadian Heritage Rivers System and its 39 participating rivers can be found at the program website: www.chrs.ca.
The Canadian Heritage Rivers System Principles, Procedures and Operational Guidelines (2017) describes the program’s organizational structure, mandate and policies, and how it will be implemented and managed. It also outlines the process for designating new rivers and expanding existing designations.
In addition to its role in identifying and celebrating river heritage, the program promotes river stewardship and conservation. Annual and decadal reporting on a river’s outstanding values are program requirements. This reporting, based on monitoring and professional evaluation, allows river managers and jurisdictions to determine whether a Canadian Heritage River has retained the values for which it was designated.
Kazan River, NU
We envision a system of Canadian Heritage Rivers that serves as a model of stewardship—one that engages society in valuing the heritage of rivers and river communities as essential to identity, health and quality of life.
At the heart of this strategic plan are eight principles that speak to the spirit of the Canadian Heritage Rivers System. These principles are integral to all aspects of the Canadian Heritage Rivers System and are central to implementing this plan.
The Canadian Heritage Rivers System celebrates select rivers as Canadian Heritage Rivers. Designation has no legislative authority; jurisdictions and land owners retain their management authority and responsibilities.
Rivers in the system are designated and managed to meet guidelines set out by the Canadian Heritage Rivers Board. The Canadian Heritage Rivers System values a diversity of knowledge systems.
The Canadian Heritage Rivers System recognizes that healthy rivers are essential to life on earth. Effective and holistic river management helps to ensure that rivers deliver the full range of ecological and social benefits for present and future generations.
The Canadian Heritage Rivers System is a public trust. Local citizens champion the program and care of their rivers. Actions are grassroots driven. Governments lend support and guidance.
The federal, provincial, and territorial governments are committed to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System. The partners support the promotion of the Canadian Heritage Rivers System and ongoing monitoring of designated rivers, and the long-term operation and management of heritage rivers within their jurisdiction.
COLLABORATION & PARTNERSHIP
The Canadian Heritage Rivers System strives to inform, inspire and involve Canadians, encouraging them to connect with Canada’s river heritage and share in its safekeeping. Education, awareness and action are critical to successful river stewardship and wise management.
The Canadian Heritage Rivers System respects community, landowner, and individual rights and concerns in the nomination, designation and management of heritage rivers. All Canadians enjoy the privilege to access and celebrate Canada’s river heritage—rivers are for everyone.
The Canadian Heritage Rivers System recognizes the rights and interests of Indigenous peoples, and honours the special relationship between Indigenous peoples and rivers. The program cultivates respectful spaces for dialogue about heritage rivers and offers opportunities for Indigenous and non-Indigenous citizens to work together to advance common goals.
for the Canadian
Significant work has been carried out over the last decade to advance the priorities of the previous strategic plan and lay the groundwork for a shift to a more inclusive, participatory program. The priorities of this new plan reflect the maturation of the program and the needs and expectations of program participants. While the program originally focused on building the system, more recently attention has turned to maintaining and promoting it, and adding value to the program for all participants, in order to sustain river heritage into the future.
Key Accomplishments from the 2008-2018 Strategic Plan
The program increased its focus on building a network of river managers and stewardship groups and engaging them in program activities. The Canadian Heritage Rivers System website was renewed, communication and engagement strategies were completed, and a newsletter now communicates river stories quarterly.
Foundational documents, such as the Canadian Heritage Rivers System Principles, Procedures and Operational Guidelines and the Canadian Heritage Rivers System Charter, were reviewed and updated. The governance structure of the program was also reviewed.
The program continued to provide support for the River Heritage Conference and held periodic river managers forums.
System-wide participation in the Heritage Rivers Canada 150 project facilitated community-based events, held on Canadian Heritage Rivers during Canada’s sesquicentennial in 2017.
A national photo contest in 2012 raised the profile of Canadian Heritage Rivers.
A story maps project is underway to create a webbased map of each river’s outstanding natural, cultural and recreational values.
Many river managers are working with Indigenous partners to update existing designation plaques to better reflect Indigenous perspectives and include Indigenous languages.
Two new rivers have been designated since 2008: the St. John River (2013) and the Ottawa River (2016).
Early discussions with the Canadian Heritage Rivers Board and river managers regarding this strategic plan identified a major gap—Indigenous perspectives are largely missing from the policies and frameworks of the Canadian Heritage Rivers System—and an important opportunity to advance reconciliation on Canadian Heritage Rivers. System participants recognized the need to more comprehensively incorporate Indigenous knowledge and collaboration into all aspects of the network’s activities, in order to create a truly representative and inclusive national system.
Many Indigenous communities have been involved in the Canadian Heritage Rivers System in a variety of ways over the years, from the nomination and designation of rivers to the delivery of projects to celebrate and steward designated rivers. There are many areas where the interests of Indigenous peoples and the priorities of the Canadian Heritage Rivers program may intersect:
Nominating and designating rivers with particular significance to Indigenous peoples.
Adjusting existing Canadian Heritage Rivers System values frameworks to better incorporate Indigenous values and reflect Indigenous histories and cultures.
Working in partnership for the governance of the rivers system.
Promoting the use of Indigenous knowledge in the management of Canadian Heritage Rivers.
Creating opportunities to share river-based Indigenous stories, histories and cultures.
Supporting Indigenous peoples in playing traditional stewardship roles on their rivers.
The Canadian Heritage Rivers Board wishes to foster a renewed relationship that respects the rights, responsibilities and priorities of Indigenous peoples. Each jurisdiction will approach relationship-building in a different way. Beginning a dialogue is the first step to identifying common interests and desired program results. It will take time to build relationships and create ethical spaces for listening and learning. Additional resources may be required to provide for meaningful engagement.
¹Assembly of First Nations website. Accessed October 22, 2019. http://www.afn.ca/honoring-water/
Because the Board does not want to identify goals and outcomes for this priority without the advice and engagement of Indigenous peoples, this section of the plan contains a statement of commitment by the Board and potential actions to carry the Canadian Heritage Rivers program forward while the mechanisms for future dialogue are established..
STATEMENT OF COMMITMENT
The Canadian Heritage Rivers System Board and participating jurisdictions will seek the advice and engagement of Indigenous peoples to ensure that Indigenous perspectives and values are appropriately integrated into all aspects of the Canadian Heritage Rivers System program.
Seek advice through various mechanisms on program policies, participation and structure.
Initiate conversations with Indigenous organizations and work towards developing goals and outcomes for advancing reconciliation on Canadian Heritage Rivers.
Take stock of Indigenous involvement to date on Canadian Heritage Rivers.
Take steps to promote jurisdictional engagement with local Indigenous peoples with ties to Canadian Heritage Rivers.
Identify further actions for addition to the Canadian Heritage Rivers Implementation Plan (see page 13) through work with Indigenous peoples.
" Water is the most life sustaining gift on Mother Earth and is the interconnection among all living beings. Water sustains us, flows between us, within us and replenishes us .¹ "
9— Assembly of First Nations
HERITAGE RIVERS NETWORK
With more than 40 years of experience, the Canadian Heritage Rivers System is recognized and highly valued for its role in advocating for heritage recognition and fostering a Canadian Heritage Rivers community—those organizations and individuals who are working to conserve and manage designated rivers or rivers with applications for designation in progress.
We have heard that more needs to be done to recognize the importance of these groups and individuals and support their commitment to the program. Engaging river managers and stewardship groups in a sustained two-way dialogue will ensure that their ideas and experiences are harnessed to maximize program delivery. A strong network of program participants and supporters is critical to successfully conserve river values and integrity across the whole system. Greater support and tools will enable river managers and stewardship groups to play a significant role in advancing Canadian Heritage Rivers System priorities.
St. Croix River, NB
By 2030, river managers and stewardship groups are empowered to play a leadership role on their Canadian Heritage Rivers in support of effective river stewardship.
The needs and contributions of river managers and stewardship groups are well understood and increasingly supported. Canadian Heritage Rivers System policies and activities reflect those needs, and system participants receive the information, guidance and tools they need to actively participate in program implementation.
The Canadian Heritage Rivers System is characterized by an inclusive and accessible communications network that allows the Canadian Heritage Rivers community to share knowledge, innovative tools, and best practices to support river stewardship and to foster increased collaboration and cross-promotion among heritage river organizations.
Regular dialogue between the government organizations responsible for overall program implementation and the Canadian Heritage Rivers community has resulted in increased cohesion, responsiveness and crosspromotion of local and national river heritage initiatives.
River managers champion the Canadian Heritage Rivers System and their river and testify to the local benefits of Canadian Heritage River status and participation in the national program.
MANAGEMENT & CONSERVATION
While the rivers that make up the Canadian Heritage Rivers System celebrate the best of Canada’s river heritage, they also showcase excellence in river management and conservation. Canadian Heritage River designation recognizes a set of outstanding heritage values and the commitment of a heritage river community to care for that river.
This recognition requires us to make thoughtful, well-considered choices that factor in the impact of decisions made today on future generations’ ability to use and enjoy Canadian Heritage Rivers. Sound decision-making should be supported by up-to-date and high-quality research, incorporate Indigenous and local knowledge, and take into account river values and integrity. Regular monitoring identifies new threats to rivers, such as the impacts of climate change, in a timely manner. Effective conservation actions are guided by adaptable and practical plans or strategies. A profound ethic of caring, fostered through participation in the Canadian Heritage Rivers System, will help to ensure that Canada’s rivers continue to thrive for generations.
Detroit River, ON
By 2030, local river managers, other stewardship groups and partner organizations have holistic approaches in place that ensure that rivers are monitored and managed so that the values for which they were nominated are maintained or enhanced.
All designated rivers have up-to-date, effective designation documents, management plans or heritage strategies that outline how river values will be managed, and produce 10-year monitoring reports.
Common trends and issues affecting Canadian Heritage Rivers are identified through monitoring and reporting.
High quality research, monitoring and knowledge are applied to river management and decision-making. Indigenous knowledge systems play a greater role in shaping monitoring programs and management plans or strategies.
People who live along Canadian Heritage Rivers are involved in monitoring and management activities.
AND STEWARDING HERITAGE RIVERS
In addition to facilitating a strong Canadian Heritage Rivers network, the Canadian Heritage Rivers System has a role to play in building a national river constituency. Demonstrated leadership by participants in the Canadian Heritage Rivers System can inspire others to take action to steward rivers.
Engaging Canadians to build awareness of Canadian Heritage Rivers requires strong and sustained communication about the benefits and relevance of the program with a variety of audiences: government leaders, Indigenous organizations, the broader river heritage community, and the general public. The Canadian Heritage Rivers program will focus on these core audiences and capitalize on the momentum built by national and local events and activities.
The celebration of rivers is not limited, however, to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System. Some of the best examples of river stewardship occur on regionally important rivers that may not be considered for the Canadian Heritage Rivers System. With its interest in advancing river conservation more broadly, the Canadian Heritage Rivers program will also facilitate initiatives to recognize these rivers and exemplary river stewardship organizations.
By 2030, the benefits and opportunities associated with Canadian Heritage Rivers System designations are well understood and there is broad support for the conservation and celebration of Canadian Heritage Rivers, as well as other rivers across Canada.
Decision-makers understand the benefits of the Canadian Heritage Rivers System and the linkages to current economic, cultural and environmental priorities of governments and Canadians.
There is increased public awareness of the Canadian Heritage Rivers System and the value of river stewardship in general. National reach and engagement is enabled through collaboration with partners.
River-related events organized by the Canadian Heritage Rivers community connect greater numbers of interested citizens with their river heritage, building strong positive associations with Canadian Heritage Rivers and river heritage conservation.
The broader river heritage community and other agencies and organizations with mandates to care for freshwater and heritage resources, or promote health, fitness, tourism and quality of life, are familiar with the Canadian Heritage Rivers System. Opportunities for collaborative work on complementary initiatives are identified and acted upon.
Additional initiatives recognize and share success stories in river management, focusing on rivers with outstanding provincial, watershed, or regional heritage values, as well as river communities that demonstrate exceptional conservation stewardship.
the Strategic Plan
Jurisdictions and river managers, communities and stewardship groups make significant contributions to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System through programs and activities that are aligned with the priorities described in this plan. To complement these initiatives and support the network of organizations involved in stewarding Canadian Heritage Rivers, the Canadian Heritage Rivers Board will develop a five-year implementation plan that outlines actions to be implemented by the Board and other program participants that will advance the strategic direction in this plan. At the end of the five-year period, the Board will evaluate and report on the extent to which the actions have been accomplished, and then produce a new five-year implementation plan.
Table of Participating Jurisdictions
and Canadian Heritage Rivers
|Responsible Jurisdiction||Designated Rivers||Year Designated||Length (km)|
|New Brunswick||St. Croix||1991||185|
|Newfoundland and Labrado||Main||2001||57|
|Bay du Nord||2005||75|
|Northwest Territories||Tsiigehnjik (Arctic Red||1993||450|
|Boundary Waters-Voyageur Waterway||1996||250|
|Parks Canada Agency||Alsek||1986||90|
|Prince Edward Island||Hillsborough||1997||45|
|The Three Rivers||2004||73|
|Yukon||Thirty Mile (Yukon River)||1992||48|
|Total Length of 39 Designated Rivers||10 022|
|Responsible Jurisdiction||Nominated Rivers||Year Nominated||Length (km)|
|Total Length of Designated and Nominated Rivers||10 472|
Canadian Heritage Rivers System
CHRS Strategic Plan 2020-2030 Photo Index
|Page #||Name of River||Photographer||Description|
|1||Coppermine River, NU||Mathieu Dumond||Rocks with dark lichen and patches of green copper.|
|2||South Nahanni River, NT||Fritz Mueller||Canoes near Gahnįhthah Mįe portage trail in Nahanni National Park Reserve.|
|3||Soper River, NU||David Kilabuk||Bleached caribou antlers buried in the moss.|
|4||St. Marys River, ON||Scott Munn||View of the Sault Ste. Marie Canal from the International Bridge.|
|5||Cowichan River, BC||Edmond Duggan||View of the successful Stoltz Bluff Remediation Project.|
|6||South Nahanni River, NT||Eric Laflamme||View of Mount Nááts’ihch’oh and the Moose Ponds.|
|7||Kazan River, NU||CHRS||Trilingual Kazan River CHRS designation plaque|
|8||Thelon River, NT/NU||Unknown||Strips of char are dried out to make pipsi.|
|10||St. Croix River, NB||Bruce Richardson||Canoeing the Little Falls Rapids.|
|11||Detroit River, ON||Essex and Region Conservation Authority||View of one of the Detroit River’s completed Shoreline Restoration Projects.|
|12||Athabasca River, AB||Ryan Bray||Visitor looking out across Jasper Lake.|
|13||Rideau Waterway, ON||Louis Barnes||Inside the lock chamber of Chaffeys Lockstation on the Rideau Canal.|
|16||Boundary Waters –Voyageur Waterway, ON||Unknown||Summer camping on Crooked Lake.|