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Grand River



Story Map

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

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Natural Heritage

Farmland accounts for over 70 percent of the 6800 km2 Grand River watershed, which is the largest in southern Ontario. Although the river is not designated for its natural values, it provides habitat to thousands of species of birds, fish, animals and other wildlife including about 80 species at risk.  The Grand River Forest is one of the few remaining Carolinian forests in Canada, containing species such as sycamore, sassafras, pignut hickory, and chinquapin oak.  More than 90 species of fish are found in the river system, about half of all species in Canada.  Close to 250 species of birds have been reported at Luther Marsh Wildlife Management Area.

Cultural Heritage

Over 800 archeological sites tell the story of 11,000 years of human history within the Grand watershed. When Europeans arrived, the Neutral people controlled the territory of the Grand. Following the American Revolution, members of the Iroquois Confederacy were granted land in the watershed as a reward for their loyalty to the British Crown. Loyalist settlers soon followed, along with Mennonites from Pennsylvania as well as Scottish immigrants. The Mohawk Chapel in Brantford and the Pioneer Memorial Tower in Kitchener are two national historic sites that recognize these settlers. Adaptive reuse of historical structures like mills and factories along the river has helped to preserve the Grand’s built heritage in areas such as Elora, Fergus, Cambridge and Brantford and Paris. 

Recreational Heritage

Many opportunities for recreational activities such as camping, boating, fishing, hiking, are found in the Grand River Conservation Authority’s 37 Conservation Areas. The river offers an extensive multi-use trail network including sections of the Trans Canada Trail. Canada’s first dam called the Shand Dam was constructed on the Grand River in Fergus in 1942. A world-class tailwater fisheries is located just downstream of the dam. It is a popular destination for anglers looking to fish for brown trout as well as pike, perch and smallmouth bass.  

The Grand River Conservation Authority is an excellent source of information on recreational activities available within the watershed, and paddling routes.

Fun Fact

At five to six metres wide and more that 13 metres deep, Devil’s Well, found within Rockwood Conservation Area on the Eramosa River, may be the world’s largest glacial pothole.

River Managers

The Grand River Conservation Authority is responsible for the management of this heritage river.

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Because of its cultural history and outstanding recreational opportunities, the 290 km-long Grand River and its major tributaries, the Nith, Conestogo, Speed and Eramosa, were together designated as a Canadian Heritage River in 1994. The Grand meanders past towns where 19th century mills, foundries and factories still stand, and winds through wetlands and forests composed of rare Carolinian species.

The Grand River Conservation Authority won the Thiess International Riverprize in 2000 for its outstanding management of this heritage river.

Success Stories

The Grand River – Winner of the Thiess International Riverprize

A Grand Prize for a Grand Strategy

Grand river prize

In September 2000, the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) in Ontario was awarded the prestigious Thiess International Riverprize.  Presented annually in Brisbane, Australia, the Riverprize recognizes outstanding achievement in river management and innovations in science, technology, planning, policy and stakeholder partnerships. All are embodied on the Grand River – the first Canadian watershed to be awarded the prize. The Grand  Strategy for Managing the Grand as A Canadian Heritage River was a component of the GRCA’s submission for this prestigious award.

Recognizing The River’s Recovery

The prize recognized the river’s journey from years of degradation and industrialization to recovery. – a remarkable evolution and testimony to the Grand River Conservation Authority’s strategic vision and long-term plans for ensuring the future of a healthy river.

Community Engagement Is Key To Watershed Management

The GRCA relies on hundreds of partnerships to identify priorities for action and address issues.  Fostered through monthly newsletters, special events along the river and the Grand Action Registry, these committed partnerships have strengthened a sense of community ownership in the stewardship of the river.

A Lasting Legacy

The GRCA invested the prize money ($100,000 AUD) to create the Thiess Riverprize Endowment Fund, which provides annual support for local watershed projects. A decade later, the legacy of this award continues, with Grand River residents receiving funding support to conserve their river.

River Facts

The Grand River flows 300 km through southwestern Ontario from the highlands of Dufferin County to Port Maitland on Lake Erie and is populated by millions of people. The river and its tributaries were designated to the CHRS in 1994 in recognition of a wide array of outstanding cultural heritage and recreational values.


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Grand River Ten-Year Report 2004 – 2014 Archived / archive en anglais seulement Decadal Monitoring Reports PDF of Grand River Ten-Year Report 2004 – 2014
Grand River Monitoring Report 2004 - 2014 Archived / archive en anglais seulement Decadal Monitoring Reports PDF of Grand River Monitoring Report 2004 - 2014

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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. 

Grand River Plaque Text

The Grand River - The Grand River, flowing 290 km from the Dundalk Highlands to Lake Erie, is aptly named, for its valley is the largest in Southern Ontario. A mosaic of Aboriginal and European cultures combined to shape the valley’s character. Fine examples of 19th century architecture still remain in many rural and urban communities. Winding its way through marshes, woods and Carolinian forests, the river provides the common thread that links a harmonious blend of natural and cultural landscapes. The designation of the Grand as a Canadian Heritage River was built on a local tradition of co-operative watershed management to preserve the valley’s natural beauty, cultural diversity, and recreational opportunities. This plaque is testimony to all those people who are working together to make the Grand River valley an ever better place in which to live, work and play.