The Bloodvein River is one of few Canadian Heritage Rivers designated in two provinces. It flows through the Precambrian Shield, a massive formation of ancient rock that forms the foundation of much of North America. Scoured by the last ice age, this area is now one of the most significant examples of the Central Boreal Upland Forest in Canada and part of the largest stretch of boreal forest on earth. Forests are dominated by black spruce, jack pine, poplar, and many understory plant species, which exhibit a strong prairie-boreal influence.
The river itself varies from fast-water gorges less than 20 metres wide to open, calm-water marshes, and small lakes. The river corridor is home to significant species such as the wolverine, white pelican, double-crested cormorant, bald eagle, osprey, great gray owl, woodland caribou, and lake sturgeon.
The Bloodvein River forms part of the Pimachiowin Aki UNESCO World Heritage Site – an area acknowledged for its outstanding natural and cultural values.
The Bloodvein River is an important cultural waterway that has been used and cared for by Anishinaabe people for thousands of years. The river corridor forms an integral part of the Pimachiowin Aki UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site is celebrated as a living cultural landscape where Anishinaabe communities have carried out the cultural tradition of Ji-ganawendamang Gidakiiminaan, or “keeping the land” for thousands of years.
Today, the Bloodvein River is the traditional territory of Bloodvein River First Nation, Little Grand Rapids First Nation, Pikangikum First Nation and Lac Seul First Nation (west to east). It features numerous pictographs that are likely several hundred to thousands of years old, and burial sites giving testament to a long continued use of the area. Archeological sites along the corridor provide strong evidence of occupation by pre-historic hunter-gatherer peoples as much as 6,000 – 7,000 years ago on the Manitoba side and as early as 9,000 on the Ontario side. Local elders carry stories of the many human, non-human, and spiritual beings who have occupied this place. Pictographs are ancient and sacred sites. The Anishinaabe families whose traditional areas are along the Bloodvein River hold different beliefs about whether or not pictographs should be photographed. However, it is agreed by Anishinaabe people that leaving an offering (traditionally tobacco), out of respect to the place and people who live there, is a culturally appropriate way to view the pictographs.
During the 18th century, the Bloodvein supported trapping by Anishinaabeg to supply the fur trade. From 1790 to 1821, it served as a secondary fur transportation route. The name “Bloodvein” appears to have been first used in this period – appearing in an 1818-19 Hudson’s Bay Company journal from the Berens River Post. It may have referred to the red granite veins of the riverbed.
It is important to be aware that although it is unlawful to damage archaeological sites, natural processes often expose artifacts in the ground. If you find an artifact, please leave it in place but note where you found it and let Lakehead University (Dept. of Anthropology), Woodland Caribou Provincial Park, Atikaki Provincial Park, or one of the local First Nation communities know about it.
The significant natural values, Indigenous history, and remote nature of the Bloodvein River corridor combine to offer an outstanding wilderness experience. Its hundreds of small rapids and waterfalls, quiet lakes, wild rice marshes and abundant fish and wildlife provide an appealing range of experiences for outdoor enthusiasts.
The Bloodvein is very well known for white-water canoeing, with wilderness camping and hiking opportunities available within two provincial parks along its route (Woodland Caribou in Ontario and Atikaki in Manitoba). The river offers exceptional chances to visit archaeological sites, which bustled with activity thousands of years ago, and view Anishinaabe pictographs along steep-canyon walls of pink-grained granite.
To preserve cultural sites along the river, visitors are encouraged to leave all sites undisturbed and to avoid touching or splashing pictographs.
The river corridor provides representation of one of Canada’s best known national symbols, the Canadian Shield. Formations such as Kenoran Rock, at 2,600 million years old, are thought to be the oldest in Canada.
The Manitoba portion of the Bloodvein River was designated as a Canadian Heritage River in 1987 and the Ontario portion, in 1998, in recognition of its natural, cultural and recreational values. The total length of the river, and designation, is 306 km.
Incorporating Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge in the Management of the Bloodvein River
The Ontario portion of the Bloodvein River flows through Woodland Caribou Provincial Park and in 1998, it was designated to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System. Four years later, with the commemorative plaque ready to be installed, Woodland Caribou Park’s Superintendent Doug Gilmore began an important dialogue to ensure that the plaque text reflected the local First Nation’s perspective of the river and its cultural and historical importance. The consultation process lasted from 2002 until the plaque unveiling ceremony in 2008 and Superintendent Gilmore describes it as a journey of listening, learning, and connecting to the river, the land, and First Nations culture.
Building Connections and Fostering Relationships
Ontario Parks staff approached the local First Nations, whose traditional homeland touches the river in both Ontario and Manitoba, and asked them to help write the text for the plaque. A working group with members from the Lac Seul and Little Grand Rapids First Nations was created and together they crafted a unique trilingual plaque. Featuring Ojibwe syllabics and speaking of the river’s long history of fur trading, the plaque’s message concludes with: “Most importantly, the Bloodvein River area was home to many Anishinaabek families, who had a deep relationship with the land. Their descendants are working to rebuild and nurture this relationship to this day.”
Sharing Traditional Knowledge Leads to Improved River Management
According to Superintendent Doug Gilmore, the greatest success of this shared project has been the new sense of trust developed through dialogue between Ontario Parks and the First Nations communities. Ontario Parks staff toured the river with First Nations members who shared their knowledge of flora and fauna and explained traditional aboriginal ways – information that has improved park management practices.
During one of these journeys, on a trip into Knox Lake, an elder pointed out a beautiful rock along the shore. Sheltered from the winds and highly visible, it made a perfect location for the plaque. Today, two plaques sit on the shores of the Bloodvein River – one on that sheltered rock in Knox Lake and the other at the Red Lake Heritage Centre.
Creating a Sense of Community
Sharing in the writing and installation of those important plaques gave many First Nations families on the Bloodvein River a pride of place, and a solid sense of ownership in the heritage river designation. The Bloodvein is their home and the very core of who they are.
The shared plaque-writing project has given birth to a community of Parks staff and elders committed to continuing their dialogue. Together they will choose land management practices that respect both scientific and First Nations knowledge and perspectives.
The Bloodvein River flows 306 km from Ontario to Manitoba’s Lake Winnipeg. The Manitoba portion of the river was designated to the CHRS in 1987 with the Ontario portion following in 1998. The designation is based on the river’s outstanding natural values, along with its rich First Nations history.
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The Canadian Heritage River plaques offer a brief glimpse into why a river has been designated to the System. They are often located nearby one of its historically significant locations, and highlight some of the most important natural, cultural and recreational values of the river.
Bloodvein River Plaque Text
Bloodvein River - This Canadian Heritage River begins 40 kilometres west of the town of Red Lake near Paishk Lake, Ontario (ON) and flows over 300 km toward the shores of Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba (MB). The Bloodvein has been traveled for thousands of years by the Anishinaabek. The history of this river includes a brief period when it was used to move goods to and from isolated trading posts. This travel route was called the “little north” by the fur traders. Most importantly, the Bloodvein River area was home to many Anishinaabek families, who had a deep relationship with the land. Their descendants are working to rebuild and nurture this relationship to this day. The Bloodvein River is designated as a Canadian Heritage River for its outstanding natural and cultural values and is now protected within Woodland Caribou Provincial Park (ON) and Atikaki Provincial Park (MB). This designation honours the importance of the area for all people.