The French River cuts through the Canadian Shield, flowing through rapids, waterfalls, gorges and interconnected lakes on its journey from Lake Nipissing to Georgian Bay. Species such as the eastern Massassauga rattlesnake and yellow pickerel, along with eight rare plant species, live in its boreal forests. Another 450 plant species that represent both the boreal and the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence forest regions can be found along the river.
The French River has been a major transportation route for centuries, as is evidenced by the many rock paintings and archeological sites of the Shield Archaic and Algonkian peoples. They were followed by the Huron and Ojibwa, who gave the river its current name, describing the route French explorers such as Etienne Brulé took as they explored inland. Explorers Jean Nicollet, Pierre Radisson, des Groseillers and La Verendrye travelled the river between 1629 and 1649.
The river was an important part of the fur trade route and was used by the Voyageurs. Other explorers like Alexander Mackenzie, Simon Fraser, and David Thompson paddled the French on their way to discover the rivers further west that now bear their names. Eventually, lumber production, then tourism replaced the fur trade as the economic lynchpin of this waterway.
The French River is a waterway provincial park and is now almost exclusively used for recreation. The reasons for this are apparent – breathtaking natural scenery, great water sports, fantastic tourism accommodations and many camping sites. Paddlers, boaters, hikers, birders, hunters, and anglers will all be pleased with what the French has to offer. River access is possible through many privately-run lodges and marinas; launching fees are required.
The award-winning French River Visitor Centre, which was designed in partnership with local Métis and First Nations, showcases the rich history of aboriginal, French and English cultures that have lived, worked and travelled these waters over the centuries.
The wetlands formed where the French River meets Georgian Bay are home to the largest population of Virginia Chain Fern in Canada.
This heritage river flows through French River Provincial Park and is managed by Ontario Parks.
The 110 km French River was the first river to be designated to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System in 1986 in recognition of its cultural significance as a travel and trade route to Aboriginal peoples as well as during the Voyageur and fur trade eras. The designation also recognizes its outstanding natural and recreational values.
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.
French River Plaque Text
The French River - A travel route of the Ojibwa Indians, and a key link in the fur trade for two centuries, the French River’s historical importance is unmated in this part of Canada. Its ice-moulded landscape, gorges, relict flora, and extensive bedrock delta tell a unique story in the glacial history of the Canadian Shield. The river’s valley is the habitat for several rare plants, as well as the Massasauga Rattlesnake. These features, and its great beauty, are the reasons for the French River’s outstanding significance as a recreational and heritage waterway.