Toggle search bar

WxT Language switcher

Boundary Waters-Voyageur Waterway


Quetico and Pigeon River Provincial Parks, ON

Story Map

Each Heritage River Story Map displays various visual representations of geospatial data in combination with text, photos, videos and external links.

View Map

Natural Heritage

The Boundary Waters - Voyageur Waterway is a chain of lakes and river channels that marks the boundary between Minnesota and Ontario. It drains in two directions, along the divide between the Hudson Bay and Atlantic drainages, through wilderness shaped by glaciation and water. The landscape contains unique, billion-year-old landforms found only within the Thunder Bay region.

The designated area is home to 400 plant species, of which 13 are rare. Plant species found on the cliffs of North and South Fowl Lakes are relics of another era, and are more typically found in sub-arctic, arctic and western mountain regions. Two-billion-year old micro-fossils, the oldest in North America, are found along Gunflint and North Lakes.

Cultural Heritage

A true water highway, the Boundary Waters has witnessed over 10,000 years of human history. This is evident in the 124 known archeological sites along its banks, which include pictographs and Paleo-Indian tool stone quarries, and the portages and campsites travelled for centuries by Voyageurs, Indigenous Peoples, missionaries, explorers and settlers. Many of these portages and campsites are still in use to this day.

There is a significant and strong Anishnaabek (Anishinabeg) presence along the waterway. The waterway spans parts of two treaty areas in Ontario; Treaty 3, and the Robinson-Superior 1850 Treaty; and abuts part of one treaty area in Minnesota: the 1854 Treaty. The Lac La Croix First Nation is located in Ontario on Lac La Croix at the west end of the waterway and the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe is located to the south and west of the waterway in Minnesota, while the Grand Portage Indian Reservation is located in Minnesota on the eastern end of the waterway. The waterway runs through the traditional territories of these and other nearby Indigenous communities. The waterway contains pictograph sites, locations that were used as meeting places, such as Table Rock, and other places that are of spiritual and cultural significance to these communities.

Historical sites along this waterway include fur trading posts on the Pigeon River at Lac D’Orignal and Fort Charlotte, and the Grand Portage, the North West Company’s major fur-trade depot and stockade in interior Canada, which was the site of the annual ‘Rendezvous’ where 600 to 800 men from the Northern and Montreal fur brigades met for revelry and to exchange goods. The region is closely linked with many of Canada’s early explorers, such as Allouez (1666), Du Lhut (1678), de la Noue (1722), La Verendrye (1731), Alexander Henry (1775), and North West Company men Frobisher, Fraser, McTavish, Mackenzie and Thompson (1783).

This region is also home to other important historical sites, such as where British North American – U.S. disputes occurred following the American War of Independence (1776) and the Treaty of Paris (1783); the Webster-Ashburton Treaty resolving boundary disputes (1842); and signing of the Robinson–Superior Treaties (1850).

The mining (1870s-1900s), logging (1820’s- 1930’s) and railway (1882-1938) eras all left their mark on the Boundary Waters area, but it is tourism and wilderness recreation that currently act as a mainstay for the local economy.

Recreational Heritage

The Boundary Waters is internationally renowned as a destination for recreational activities such as boating, hunting, fishing, bird watching, camping and wilderness paddling. More than a million people visit the region each year; however, the shoreline is almost completely undeveloped, providing a true wilderness experience within reach of major population centres.

Perhaps best known as a wilderness canoeing destination, the Boundary Waters is navigable in both directions and links to 1450 km of possible paddling routes in Canada and 2400 km in the US. Further information can be found at the following websites:

Fun Fact

The Boundary Waters boast three large, step-like waterfalls – the Pigeon River Cascades dropping 200 metres in just over 1/2 km, Partridge Falls with a two-step, 21 metre high vertical face, and High Falls which, at 28 metres, is the highest waterfall in Minnesota.

River Managers

The Boundary Waters Voyageur Waterway is protected through a series of parks in the province of Ontario and the state of Minnesota. These are Quetico, La Verendrye and Pigeon River provical Park in Canada, and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Grand Portage National Monument, and Voyageurs National Park in the US. The Boundary Waters Voyageur Waterway is managed by Ontario Parks, a branch of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

Discover More


In the 18th and 19th centuries, the main travel route between Montreal and Lake Winnipeg was the ‘Voyageur Waterway’. This historic route was forged by the fur trade and made European exploration and commerce in western Canada possible. The Boundary Waters Voyageur Waterway segment served as the most reliable route between Lake Superior and the prairies from the first arrival of French traders in the 1730’s until the demise of the fur-trade in the late 1820’s.

Although heavily used by wilderness-seeking recreationists since the turn of the century, the Boundary Waters have maintained their rugged, wild character. Today, the combined attraction of Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park and its counterpart, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of the Superior National Forest in neighbouring Minnesota, have earned the waterway its reputation as North America’s premiere, near-urban, wilderness canoe area. To commemorate the outstanding natural and cultural heritage and unparalleled recreational offerings, a, 250 km segment of the waterway was designated to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System in June, 1986.


title type file
Boundary Waters Voyageur Waterway Monitoring Report 1996 – 2016 Archived / archive en anglais seulement Decadal Monitoring Reports PDF of Boundary Waters Voyageur Waterway Monitoring Report 1996 – 2016

This page has been archived on the Web

Information identified as archived is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please contact us to request a format other than those available.

Plaque Text

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. 

Boundary Waters/Voyageur Waterway Plaque Text

The Boundary Waters – Voyageur Waterway - The Boundary Waters – Voyageur Waterway forms the international boundary between Canada and the United States from the mouth of the Pigeon River at Lake Superior to Lac La Croix in Quetico Provincial Park. This 250 kilometre waterway was once the main trade route linking the vast St. Lawrence River Watershed to the west. Today’s travellers of the Boundary Waters – Voyageur Waterway retrace the footsteps and paddlestrokes of First Nations people, fur traders, and explorers through three provincial parks – Pigeon River, La Verendrye, and Quetico – in one of the most popular wilderness canoeing areas in North America. Designation of the Boundary Waters – Voyageur Waterway as a Canadian Heritage River will give national recognition and protection to this important waterway, and ensure that the spirit of the Voyageurs will live on.