The only major river on the Canadian prairies that flows in a northerly direction, this flood-prone prairie river originates in the northern United States and travels northward to Lake Winnipeg. There are two distinct ecozones that characterize the region: the boreal plains ecozone and the prairie ecozone. The river’s notable features include its adjacent wetlands and marshes, such as the Netley Marsh; its severe periodic flooding; and its rich soils, which support one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world.
For centuries, various peoples and cultures have relied on the river as a mode of passage and a source of water and food. Many significant events, place names and historical and archaeological sites are associated with the Red River. These include sites providing evidence of thousands of years of First Nations settlement and land use, several significant fur trade forts and posts, and the Red River colony – the first European agricultural settlement in Western Canada.
Key to the cultural history of the region, the Red River has been a primary resource and transportation corridor for thousands of years – first for First Nations peoples, and over the past three centuries, for European exploration, fur trade, and settlement. Today, the Red River Valley is the most densely populated region of Manitoba. Approximately 750,000 people inhabit Winnipeg and the many towns, villages, and rural landscapes adjacent to the river.
The Red River’s easy accessibility at numerous locations along the corridor, and rich cultural and natural heritage values combine to create a wide range of recreational opportunities. Many tourists from within and outside the province visit the Red River each year to experience its provincial and federal heritage sites and to take part in various recreational activities. The river provides excellent opportunities for boating and canoeing, and there are numerous paths along the banks with trails for walking, hiking, and cycling. The river is also a favourite location during the winter months for cross-country skiing, skating, snowmobiling, ice fishing, and sport fishing.
The Red River and the Red River Valley floodplain are remnants of the glacial Lake Agassiz, located in southern Manitoba approximately 8,000 years ago.
The Red River played a pivotal role in shaping the history, culture, and economic development of Western Canada. For thousands of years, Indigenous Peoples traveled the Red River and its tributaries, and subsequently so did voyageurs, explorers, fur traders, settlers, and tourists. At the Forks, where the muddy waters of the Red are joined by those of the Assiniboine River, Indigenous Peoples made their camps, voyageurs traded furs, pioneers tilled the soil, and a capital city and regional metropolis arose from the surrounding productive prairie farmlands.
The entire 175 km length of the Red River in Manitoba was designated to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System in 2007, based on its outstanding cultural values.
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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.
Red River Plaque Text
The Red River - The Red River played a pivotal role in the historical, cultural and economic development of Western Canada. This flood-prone prairie river originates in the northern United States and meanders north across rich, flat agricultural land to lake Winnipeg at Netley Marsh. As the ‘highway’ of its day for First Nations peoples, fur traders and immigrants, it was traveled by canoe, York boat and steamboat. The Red River Resistance led by Louis Riel, the beginning of the North West Mounted Police, and the making of Treaty No.1, which opened the West to homesteaders, all occurred along the river. The Red River settlement established in 1812 at the forks of the Red and Assiniboine rivers became Winnipeg, the “Gateway to the West”. As a Canadian Heritage River, the Red is managed for the benefit of all Canadians.