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The Canadian Heritage Rivers System (CHRS) is Canada’s national program for recognizing,  celebrating and conserving the natural, cultural and recreational values of 41 rivers across Canada.

Established in 1984, the CHRS is a model of stewardship, cooperation, and participation. Together, Canada’s federal, provincial, and territorial governments work in conjunction with local communities and stewardship groups to give recognition to over 10,000 km of rivers across the nation. We work towards the long-term management of our rivers for the benefit and enjoyment of Canadians, now and into the future.  

The CHRS tells our rivers’ stories – the stories of Canada. We celebrate the importance of rivers for their natural, cultural, and recreational values. We recognize that these rivers flow through the traditional territories of First Nation, Inuit, and Métis peoples from coast to coast to coast. To learn more about the Indigenous territories in Canada, view the comprehensive map here.


We envision a system of Canadian Heritage Rivers that serves as a model of stewardship—one that engages society in valuing the heritage of rivers and river communities as essential to identity, health and quality of life.

At the heart of this strategic plan are eight principles that speak to the spirit of the Canadian Heritage Rivers System. These principles are integral to all aspects of the Canadian Heritage Rivers System and are central to implementing this plan.


  • Recognition: The Canadian Heritage Rivers System celebrates select rivers as Canadian Heritage Rivers. Designation has no legislative authority; jurisdictions and land owners retain their management authority and responsibilities.
  • Respect: The Canadian Heritage Rivers System respects community, landowner, and individual rights and concerns in the nomination, designation and management of heritage rivers. All Canadians enjoy the privilege to access and celebrate Canada’s river heritage—rivers are for everyone.
  • Reconciliation: The Canadian Heritage Rivers System recognizes the rights and interests of Indigenous peoples, and honours the special relationship between Indigenous peoples and rivers. The program cultivates respectful spaces for dialogue about heritage rivers and offers opportunities for Indigenous and non-Indigenous citizens to work together to advance common goals. 
  • Voluntary Participation: The Canadian Heritage Rivers System is a public trust. Local citizens champion the program and care of their rivers. Actions are grassroots driven. Governments lend support and guidance.
  • Leadership: The federal, provincial, and territorial governments are committed to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System. The partners support the promotion of the Canadian Heritage Rivers System and ongoing monitoring of designated rivers, and the long-term operation and management of heritage rivers within their jurisdiction.
  • Collaboration and Partnership: The Canadian Heritage Rivers System strives to inform, inspire and involve Canadians, encouraging them to connect with Canada’s river heritage and share in its safekeeping. Education, awareness and action are critical to successful river stewardship and wise management.
  • Integrity: Rivers in the system are designated and managed to meet guidelines set out by the Canadian Heritage Rivers Board. The Canadian Heritage Rivers System values a diversity of knowledge systems.
  • Sustainability: The Canadian Heritage Rivers System recognizes that healthy rivers are essential to life on earth. Effective and holistic river management helps to ensure that rivers deliver the full range of ecological and social benefits for present and future generations.

Goals / Priorities 

The initial focus of the program was to build a comprehensive system of heritage rivers that fully represents the spectrum of Canada’s rich river heritage. Over the last decade, significant work has been carried out to advance this priority, and the CHRS has matured into a valued, nation-wide program.  

The four new priorities for 2020-2030 reflect the maturation of the program and the evolving needs and expectations of program participants.

Priority 1: Advancing Indigenous Reconciliation on Canadian Heritage Rivers

The Canadian Heritage Rivers System Board and participating jurisdictions will seek the advice and engagement of Indigenous peoples to ensure that Indigenous perspectives and values are appropriately integrated into all aspects of the Canadian Heritage Rivers System program.

Priority 2: Strengthening the Canadian Heritage Rivers network

The success of the CHRS program relies greatly on our network of passionate river managers, stakeholder groups and local communities. By 2030, river managers and stewardship groups will be empowered to play a leadership role on their Canadian Heritage Rivers in support of effective river stewardship.

Priority 3: Excellence in river management and conservation

Canadian Heritage River designation recognizes the commitment of a community to care for that river. By 2030, local river managers, other stewardship groups and partner organizations will have holistic approaches in place that ensure that rivers are monitored and managed so that the values for which they were nominated are maintained or enhanced.

Priority 4: Engaging Canadians in celebrating and stewarding heritage rivers

The Canadian Heritage Rivers System has a role to play in building a national river constituency. By 2030, the benefits and opportunities associated with Canadian Heritage Rivers System designations will be well understood and there will be broad support for the conservation and celebration of Canadian Heritage Rivers as well as other rivers across Canada.


Tall river grasses and other aquatic flora is visible on the surface of the Rideau Waterway

Who is Responsible for the CHRS?

The Canadian Heritage Rivers System is comprised of several groups, each of whom play an important role in the administration and delivery of the CHRS program: 

CHRS Governance Structure:

Organizational chart illustrating the general relationships of CHRS governance bodies

Roles and Responsibilities 

Canadian Heritage Rivers Board:
  • Fostering relationships with river managers within their jurisdiction;
  • Reviewing river nomination requests to ensure the rivers meet the criteria established by the Board for consideration in the CHRS;
  • Liaising with the jurisdiction’s member of the Technical Planning Committee on matters relating to the delivery of the CHRS program in the jurisdiction;
  • Making a recommendation to the Board with respect to the continued designation of the river, upon submission of the ten-year monitoring report.
The Executive Board:
  • Dealing with business matters and policies at a national level that are deemed to not require the involvement of the full Board;
  • Developing presentations for Board meetings and/or determining and presenting a position to the Board for discussion and final decision;
  • Preparing a budget, with the support of Parks Canada’s Secretariat services and the Parks Canada Board member, for the consideration and decision of the Canadian Heritage Rivers Board at its spring meeting;
  • Monitoring the budget and expenditures and deciding on any re-allocation of funds or variances in budget allocations, as described in Appendix B;
  • Providing guidance on the activities and workplans of Parks Canada’s Secretariat function and the Technical Planning Committee and on the implementation of Board decisions.
Parks Canada Secretariat Function:
  • The preparation of briefing material and minutes for all Board and Executive meetings.
  • Tabling final documents with the Board.
  • Information management/inventory of program files, primarily nomination and designation documents, annual and ten-year monitoring reports, minutes and decision points from Board meetings.
  • Maintaining up-to-date contact information for Board members, Technical Planning Committee members, and river manager and river stewardship groups.
  • Provision of advice to the Board and Executive as necessary on policies, precedents and files that are pertinent to its decisions.
  • The preparation of contracts, contribution agreements and other financial documents and mechanisms.
  • Leadership for the day-to-day management of national program communications projects and products, including the website, social media, exhibits, newsletters, or any other project or product assigned by the Board or required for a designation ceremony.
  • Participating in Technical Planning Committee meetings in an advisory capacity as required.
The Technical Planning Committee:
  • The provision of support and advice to the Board on nominations, designations and the monitoring of Canadian Heritage Rivers. The objective of this responsibility is to maintain the integrity of the System.
  • The development of policies, strategies, tools and other products to support program objectives. The objective of this responsibility is to ensure the efficient and effective management of Canadian Heritage Rivers.
  • The continuing development and implementation of the River Stewardship Groups Engagement Strategy. The objective of this responsibility is to strengthen and support the program’s vision, as described in the Canadian Heritage Rivers Charter.
  • Each member will be responsible for reviewing their jurisdiction’s ten-year monitoring  reports, to ensure that the content is complete and accurate, and for briefing their jurisdictional Board member on whether the respective heritage river still meets the designation criteria and deserves its status.