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Canadian Heritage Rivers

Canada's network of rivers is vast and diverse. Canadian Heritage Rivers are its gems, beacons of our natural and cultural heritage. The Canadian Heritage Rivers System (CHRS) is Canada's national river conservation program. It promotes, protects, and enhances Canada's river heritage, and ensures that Canada's leading rivers are managed in a sustainable manner. 

It's not easy to become a Canadian Heritage River, as the process is rigorous and lengthy. Guidelines exist to ensure that candidate rivers meet the selection and integrity criteria that define Canada's leading rivers. A river must be proven to possess the requisite natural values, historical importance, and recreational potential. Strong public support for its nomination must be demonstrated, and it must be shown that sufficient measures will be put in place to ensure that those values will be maintained. 

Establishing Canadian Heritage Rivers is a two-step process of nomination and designation. In Nunavut, Nunavut Parks works closely with communities in nominating rivers that both meet the requirements of the program, and are in keeping with community goals. River nominations are presented to the Canadian Heritage Rivers Board, and this board makes recommendations to the responsible federal minister, who approves the designation only if it meets the CHRS criteria. 

A nominated river becomes designated once a management plan or heritage strategy is lodged with the Board by the government that made the nomination. The development of the management plan or heritage strategy is based on public consultation and consensus. All protective actions on Canadian Heritage Rivers depend on existing laws and regulations, and respect the rights of aboriginal peoples, communities, private landowners, and other stakeholders. 

All four of Nunavut's nominated and designated heritage rivers offer major recreational opportunities in unparalleled wilderness settings. They are paddled by groups from around the world and offer not only the excitement of good whitewater, but also solace and peace in wild and beautiful surroundings. River adventures are a major part of the varied experiences offered in this territory. 

The watersheds of Nunavut’s rivers remain, for the most part, unaltered by man, and they drain some of the most isolated wilderness on the planet. Their shores are home to huge herds of caribou and the prehistoric muskox, relicts of the Pleistocene. Peregrine falcons, gyrfalcons, roughlegged hawks and golden eagles nest on cliffs where the rivers cut through rocky outcrops, and loons, geese, swans, and ducks feed in areas where the current slows, and nest in nearby lakes or ponds. Predators- foxes, wolves, wolverines and polar and grizzly bears – hunt the slopes along the rivers, and some seek fish in the rivers themselves. 

These rivers were occupied by Inuit who followed the river valleys inland to hunt the teeming herds of caribou, hunting from kayaks at the traditional crossing places for the great herds. Signs of this occupation still remain, as the people used the stones of the land to assist in their hunting or to create structures that enabled them to live more comfortably. These included storage caches for dried meat or fish, rows of lonely stone cairns along the ridges, used to guide the timid caribou into places where they could be killed by hunters crouched in crescent-shaped hunting blinds (taluit) and using bow and arrows. 

Some Inuit still travel the inland rivers in summer to hunt caribou or pick berries, using traditional campsites for precious time away from the bustling communities, to experience the peace of living on the land, and to listen to the land as their ancestors did. 

Throughout history, the rivers were also roads into the heart of Nunavut, providing travel routes over unmapped lands by winter and easier travel by canoe and boat in summer for those who sought to explore the north. Travellers like Samuel Hearne, Franklin, and the Tyrrell brothers used the rivers as highways, exploring for minerals, routes to the Arctic coast and the Northwest Passage, and the wealth of the fur industry. Today, others come to experience the land as well, people from around the world who appreciate the value of wildness, and seek the beauty of an unspoiled land.

In honour of their rich cultural and natural heritage, three Nunavut rivers have been designated as “Canadian Heritage Rivers” – the Thelon, the Kazan, and the Soper. A fourth, the Coppermine River, has been nominated as a Canadian Heritage River. Nunavut’s three designated and nominated Canadian Heritage Rivers are premier rivers, each of which has played a major role in the development of Inuit culture through the centuries.


For more information on the individual Canadian Heritage Rivers located in Nunavut, click on the links for detailed editorials: 

Kazan Heritage River

Soper Heritage River

Thelon Heritage River and Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary

Coppermine Heritage River (proposed)


Click on the link to further explore Nunavut's Parks and Special Places

Explore Nunavut's Parks and Special Places


Click on the link for more information on Canadian Heritage Rivers

The Canadian Heritage Rivers System