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CHRS Newsletter - Fall 2019


Calling All River Managers & Stewardship Groups!

This newsletter is brought to you by the Technical Planning Committee (TPC) of the Canadian Heritage Rivers System (CHRS) and is a forum through which heritage river managers and stewardship groups can share success stories and connect across Canada.

Previous volumes of the CHRS newsletter are available on our website.

Nunavut and Ottawa sign deal to manage four Canadian Heritage Rivers

Signing Ceremony for the Umbrella Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement (IIBA) for Canadian Heritage Rivers in Nunavut. Photo: Kevin Methuen
Signing Ceremony for the Umbrella Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement (IIBA) for Canadian Heritage Rivers in Nunavut. Photo: Kevin Methuen

A new chapter for the Canadian Heritage Rivers System in Nunavut commenced on July 9, 2019. It was on that day that the Government of Canada, the Government of Nunavut and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated announced the signing of the Umbrella Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement for Canadian Heritage Rivers in Nunavut (IIBA). This agreement is the first step toward sustainably managing Nunavut’s heritage rivers from an Indigenous perspective. The agreement formally recognizes the integral relationship that Inuit have with the land and waters of Nunavut. It also identifies key Inuit organizations as co-river managers with the federal and territorial governments.

Inuit have relied on the land, sea and waterways – and have been active stewards of the lands and water in and around Nunavut – for countless generations. For this reason, Nunavut has long been an active member in the Canadian Heritage Rivers program. Today, Nunavut is home to three designated Heritage Rivers; the Thelon and Kazan Rivers near Baker Lake, and the Soper River near Kimmirut. The Coppermine River, located near Kugluktuk, has been nominated to the system and will receive Heritage River status in the coming years.

The Government of Nunavut, through the Department of Environment’s Nunavut Parks and Special Places division, administers the program throughout the territory.

The Government of Nunavut is committed to working closely with our partners: the Government of Canada, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Regional Inuit Associations, the Hamlet Councils, Hunters and Trappers Organizations, and communities adjacent to each Heritage River to uncover the full potential of the Canadian Heritage River systems in Nunavut,” said Government of Nunavut Justice Minister Jeannie Hakongak Ehaloak.

The settlement of the IIBA fulfills obligations set out in the Nunavut Agreement to negotiate an IIBA for any park or conservation area established in the territory. Canada will provide $6.7 million to Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, Kivalliq Inuit Association, Qikiqtani Inuit Association and the Kitikmeot Inuit Association for the implementation of the agreement. Funding will support activities such as Heritage River water quality monitoring, Inuit cultural camps for adjacent communities and the establishment of a business opportunities fund.

The signing of this impact and benefit agreement will further ensure continued Inuit participation and leadership in land and water management within Nunavut. By signing this IIBA and by recognizing Inuit history, use and management of these Heritage Rivers, we are contributing to the implementation of the Nunavut Agreement while promoting and conserving lands and waters and maximizing benefits to Nunavut Inuit,” said Aluki Kotierk, President, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated.

Are you a Canadian Heritage River manager or stewardship group? Do you have an event planned for your river and are looking for some extra promotion? Please contact us at and we will repost on our CHRS Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages. 

Introducing the Athabasca River within Jasper National Park

Athabasca Falls is one of many popular stops along the Athabasca River Photo: Rogier Gruys
Athabasca Falls is one of many popular stops along the Athabasca River Photo: Rogier Gruys

Glaciers, gorges and waterfalls greet the visitor to the upper reaches of the Athabasca River, designated a Canadian Heritage River in 1989 for its outstanding natural, cultural and recreational values. Circumscribed by spectacular mountain scenery, the Athabasca River has played a pivotal role in the economic development of Western Canada. The river’s pristine waters and historic vestiges enjoy a high level of protection afforded by their location within a century-old national park—11,000 km2 Jasper National Park. Scenic roadways, riverside trails and campgrounds, and interpretive panels and programs connect more than two million visitors annually to this river’s rich heritage.

6 Facts about the Athabasca River that will make you say ‘Huh, Interesting!’

  1. Every fall, tens of thousands of mountain whitefish migrate long distances into the park to spawn, with each female laying 1,500 to 7,000 eggs before returning down river. The eggs over-winter in the river bottom and hatch in the spring. One tagged fish caught in Jasper National Park had traveled an astonishing 850 km!
  2. Visitors can walk to the headwaters of the river at the Athabasca Glacier, one of the most accessible glaciers in North America, and learn about the effects of a warming climate on park ecosystems.
  3. Wildlife viewing is one of the main reasons for a visit to Jasper National Park, where bears, elk and other large mammals frequent the river’s edge.
  4. Athabasca Island Campground offers paddlers a unique opportunity to overnight at a small wilderness campground in the middle of the river.
  5. Several national historic sites tell the story of fur traders, who followed the river and low mountain passes to reach Oregon County and open up trade in what is now the province of British Columbia.
  6. Indigenous connections to the river come alive at the Ewan Moberly Homestead, historic buildings off the Snaring Road that were home to a Metis family at the turn of the last century.

Athabasca Watershed Council: Coming Together for Watershed Management

Headwaters of the Athabasca River  Photo: R.G. Holmberg, via Athabasca River Basin Image Bank
Headwaters of the Athabasca River Photo: R.G. Holmberg, via Athabasca River Basin Image Bank

The Athabasca Watershed Council (AWC) is one of 11 provincial Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils (WPAC) representing the major watersheds in Alberta. We are a Canadian charitable organization, with a multi-stakeholder Board of Directors that, through consensus decision making, informs the overall management of the watershed. We create “State of the Watershed” reports and are currently finalizing the first draft of our Integrated Watershed Management Plan (IWMP). This IWMP will provide direction to watershed stakeholders and Indigenous partners on best management practices to ensure the following “Water for Life” goals: safe, secure drinking water; healthy aquatic ecosystems; and reliable quality and quantity of water for a sustainable economy.

The Athabasca watershed covers 24% of the landmass of Alberta, approximately 159,000 square km. The headwaters of the mainstem, the Athabasca River, are located in Jasper National Park, flowing off the north-west face of the Columbia Icefield. This is the portion of the Athabasca that is designated as a Heritage River. The river ends at Lake Athabasca and is part of the greater Mackenzie River Basin. Not all of the major watersheds are lucky enough to have their headwaters located in a protected area. Ensuring that this major water system, which directly supplies over 100,000 citizens with their drinking water, continues to have protected headwaters is crucial in a time where cumulative negative effects are building downstream.

Members of the AWC Executive and Technical Advisory Committee Meeting Photo: Lisa Allan, AWC
Members of the AWC Executive and Technical Advisory Committee Meeting Photo: Lisa Allan, AWC

One of the roles of WPAC’s is increasing the water literacy of stakeholders, Indigenous partners and the public through education and outreach. An exciting new project we are working on to meet our educational goals is a documentary on the watershed. We will, of course, highlight the fact that the Athabasca starts off as a Heritage River, and we should be proud of that!

Please visit our website if you would like more information about our work or the watershed in general.  We would like to encourage any interested individual or organization to become a Member of the AWC, which is free and can be done online. Our Members add to the strength to our voice and our ability to protect our rivers, lakes and groundwater through collaborative management, engaged stakeholders and Indigenous partner relationships.

Meet the CHRS River Managers: Amber Stewart Living and Working around the Athabasca River

Skipping stones into the Athabasca River Photo: Grant Peregoodoff
Skipping stones into the Athabasca River Photo: Grant Peregoodoff

One of my favourite riverside trails is the Flower Loop. Spring is a lovely time of the year to walk this 2.2 km trail. Yellow lady slippers abound in the moist soils along the river and delicate, pink mealy primroses brighten mud flats. My kids love skipping stones into the river at the gravel bars that are so characteristic of this wide, braided river, while I look for ospreys flying overhead, on the hunt for mountain whitefish.

You can find a map of the Flower Loop (Trails 10 and 10a) in Jasper National Park’s Day Hiking Guide.

Yellow lady slippers abound along the Flower Loop Photo: Rogier Gruys
Yellow lady slippers abound along the Flower Loop Photo: Rogier Gruys

I have been involved with the CHRS since 2015 as a member of the Technical Planning Committee. The Committee provides support for the many programs and activities the CHRS undertakes to commemorate and celebrate Canada’s amazing river heritage. We also connect river managers to the CHRS—I have a direct relationship with a river manager as a park planner for Parks Canada, the federal government agency responsible for the day-to-day management of the Athabasca River within Jasper National Park. During my time with the Technical Planning Committee, I have enjoyed working with river aficionados from other territories and provinces and learning about their Canadian Heritage Rivers.

Tales of a River Visitor: The Hartwell family on finding CHRS plaques

Boundary Waters-Voyageur Waterway Photo: CHRS
Boundary Waters-Voyageur Waterway Photo: CHRS

The Canadian Heritage Rivers System is undertaking a project to renew some of the CHRS plaques along Canada’s Heritage Rivers.  CHRS has been working with River Managers to update the text on the plaques and add Indigenous languages. In some places, new plaques are being created, in other places a duplicate plaque is being added to another location along the river. 

The plaques are an important part of commemorating Canada’s Heritage Rivers. They can provide a starting point for appreciating the natural, cultural and recreational values that a particular river holds. For the Hartwell family from Ontario, these plaques are a destination. Over 20 years ago, the Hartwells decided they wanted to experience more of Canada:

‘How do we begin?’ we asked ourselves. We decided to pick a theme to focus on for each adventure. One very terrific theme is Canada's designated Heritage Rivers. Canada's Heritage Rivers overflow with people, places, histories, and nature. It's quite impossible to describe the feelings we felt when finding Canadian Heritage Rivers plaques and contemplating the centuries, even thousands of years of history the plaques represent and display homage to.

What we do is pick a Canadian Heritage River and physically go find the plaque to read, learn more about Canada, take a picture of the plaque, and 'discover' as well all there is to experience, having a grand adventure along the way and back home. For the even more adventurous you can paddle the Canadian Heritage Rivers. We like to think we are adventurous, but we are not that adventurous. Fortunately most of the plaques are accessible to the less adventurous like us. 

Plaque for Boundary Waters-Voyageur Waterway Photo: CHRS
Plaque for Boundary Waters-Voyageur Waterway Photo: CHRS

Finding the Boundary Waters/Voyageur Waterway plaque by accident in Pigeon River Provincial Park southwest of Thunder Bay, Ontario in July 2011 was one such adventure. And I say by accident because we didn’t even know there was a Heritage Rivers plaque. We had gone to the area looking for an Ontario Heritage plaque for the “Grand Portage” of Middle Falls. We stopped in at the nearby Ontario Travel Information Centre, and asked where we could find the Middle Falls Grand Portage plaque. The woman we talked to told us she had grown up in the area, had been working at the centre for over 30 years, had over the decades hiked all over the park, but didn't know anything about any plaques. A young woman also working there piped up to say she thought there was a plaque at the top of High Falls. She pointed out a trail on the other side of the highway and off we went.

When we got to the bottom of High Falls, already soaked through with sweat (the temperature the day we went to find this plaque topped at least 40 Celsius), we found out that yes indeed, High Falls is very high. Over twenty-eight metres high. We tried to contemplate how the First Nations and Voyageurs hauled their canoes and contents up and down past those falls, but we could not comprehend how they did it. There are two trails up and down, so we picked the easier one, which was still more or less straight up. Reaching the top we thought we were going to die from heat stroke. But it was spectacular and very worth the climb. You can stand on the very edge of the rocks at the very precipice of the falls, and peer down to the crashing bottom, which I did. I strongly recommend you don't.

Except, no plaque to be found. Greatly disappointed, after a rest we descended back down the same trail. When we got to the bottom, we were both mad. I said maybe, just maybe the plaque is somewhere on the other harder trail. So, while Tracy trudged back to the visitor centre and air conditioning, up I went again on the harder trail. Again, no plaque.

When I got back to the bottom again, I spotted an overgrown trail leading off towards the shore of the Pigeon River, and crashing through the growth I followed it. After about 50-60 meters I came out of the bush onto the gravel bed shore of the river. I walked closer to the river, around some tall brush, and, BINGO, there was a plaque. But, it wasn’t the Ontario Heritage Grand Portage plaque we were looking for. It was the Pigeon River Boundary Waters Canadian Heritage Rivers plaque that we didn’t even know existed! Turned out to be standing on the very spot where the First Nations and Voyageurs would put ashore to begin portaging up, and of course setting off from after coming down. WOW.

We hope this little story of some of our less/more adventurous experiences inspires many other Canadians who haven't done it yet to experience as many Canadian Heritage Rivers as you can. Discover their indescribable-ness for yourselves. Take lots of pictures. You will be very glad you did.