Deep within the rugged southwestern corner of the Yukon Territory, the Tatshenshini River cuts through the Coast Mountains on its way to Alaska and the Pacific Ocean. The Yukon portion of the Tatshenshini River contains a significant component of the river’s headwaters, even though the actual length of the main stem river within the Yukon is only approximately 45 km.
The river originates in British Columbia, flows northward into the Yukon and then loops back into British Columbia again on its way through the Alaska Panhandle to the Pacific Ocean. The area designated to the CHRS is the entire watershed of the river within the Yukon, which encompasses Klukshu Lake on the north, Howard Lake, the Takhanne River and Pass Creek on the east, and Onion Lake and the Bridge River on the west.
The river’s scenic setting includes dramatic mountain ranges, canyons, rapids, and waterfalls. It is a perfect representation of the Yukon-Stikine Highlands Mountains eco-region. The plant life in the area is incredibly diverse because of the merging of the coastal interior boreal and alpine regions. The region’s undisturbed alpine and sub-alpine environments provide highly significant wildlife habitat to grizzly bears, Dall sheep, and mountain goats. The river also supports a critically important fishery, including sockeye, chinook, and coho salmon, as well as steelhead trout.
The Tatshenshini River’s designation as an outstanding representation of Canada’s cultural heritage is based on its significance to the history, culture and relationship of the river to the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations.
Traditionally, the Tutchone and the Tlingit gathered and lived together at Shäwshe (Dalton Post) which, during pre-contact times, was probably the Yukon’s largest aboriginal settlement. The Tatshenshini’s salmon were a major attraction; it is estimated that 300-400 Tutchone from around the territory would gather here for the local fish runs. Trade also figured prominently in building strong links between the Tutchone and Tlingit.
Just after the middle of the 19th century, a smallpox epidemic hit the area and decimated the First Nations populations. Most of the Tlingit population died in the epidemic and the survivors rejoined their relatives on the coast, ending the expansion of Tlingit culture into the Yukon.
Near the end of the 19th century, Edward Glave and Jack Dalton arrived in the area. Seeing the trade opportunities, they developed a horse pack trail and trading post that served the prospectors and expanded dramatically into a major gold rush freight route. After the opening of the White Pass and Yukon Railway route in 1900, the prominence of Dalton’s freight route declined, which marked the turning point of activity in the area.
For the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, this area remains a critical part of their cultural identity and continued cultural survival.
The Tatshenshini is an international adventure tourism destination for rafting and wilderness travel. Two types of river-focused recreational opportunities dominate the watershed. The first is day trip rafting along the upper Tatshenshini from the Blanchard highway maintenance camp downstream to Shäwshe (Dalton Post) – a four to six hour experience. Extended river trips, which are also typically by raft, from Shäwshe [Dalton Post] to the Pacific Ocean, can last for 11 days or more. These extended trips are led by a number of different rafting companies and numbers are controlled by the park administration agencies through which the river flows. Salmon fishing is also popular in the area.
The river flows through a UNESCO World Heritage Site that consists of several protected areas in Yukon, Alaska, and British Columbia (Kluane National Park of Canada, Wrangell-St. Elias and Glacier Bay National Park Preserves [U.S.], and Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park [BC]).
Yukon Parks, in the Department of Environment, is responsible for the CHRS program in Yukon Territory. The management plan for the river is available online.
A 45 km stretch of the Tatshenshini within the Yukon Territory was designated to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System in May 2004 for its outstanding representation of a coastal river system possessing high quality natural heritage values, for representing a central place in the history of the people of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, and for providing an internationally significant river recreation opportunity in a wilderness environment.
While the Yukon River and its tributaries drain a major portion of the territory into the Bering Sea, other portions of the Yukon drain into either the Arctic Ocean or the Pacific Ocean. This representation of the territory’s watershed divide was a contributing factor for the inclusion of the Tatshenshini in the CHRS, as the river is the primary contributor to the relatively small portion of the territory that drains to the Pacific Ocean.
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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.
The Tatshenshini River - The Tatshenshini River, known as Shäwshe Chú in the Southern Tutchone language, begins in northwestern British Columbia and flows nearly 200 kilometers through the traditional territory of the champagne and Aishihik First Nations into the Gulf of Alaska. The Tatshenshini is a traditional travel route with great cultural and spiritual significance to southern Tutchone and Tlingit First Nations. Flowing down rugged canyons carved through coastal mountains, past glacier-filled valleys, iceberg dotted lakes and alpine tundra, the Tatshenshini is considered to be one of Canada’s most scenic wilderness trips. The Tatshensini is also one of Canada’s most significant ecological areas, providing vital habitat for more than 50 species of mammals, including Yukon’s densest population of grizzly bears. It is an important waterfowl migration route providing rich habitat for more than 40 species of birds, and provides critical spawning areas for salmon. Designation of the Tatshenshini River to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System for its outstanding natural, cultural and recreational values honors the importance of the area for all people.