Thu. Dec 7th, 2023
The Bloodvein River of the Canadian Heritage Rivers System: a country dream

This post was written by Kestrel Wraggett, Northwestern Ontario Parks Planning Intern.

We know that Ontario’s parks protect some of the province’s most unique and precious natural systems, but did you know that we help protect a nationally recognized network of important waterways called the Canadian Heritage Rivers System (CHRS)?

One river, two provinces

The Bloodvein River runs through two provinces and two provincial parks: Woodland Caribou Provincial Park in Ontario and Atikaki Provincial Park in Manitboba.

Map of the Bloodvein River with tributaries extending from Lake Winnipeg to northwestern OntarioBloodvein River Waterway Map

Woodland Caribou Provincial Park is located west of Red Lake in northwestern Ontario. This 470,620 ha nature park is part of a larger system of unique sites comprised of Woodland Caribou, Eagle-Snowshoe Conservation Reserve and Pipestone Bay-McIntosh Enhanced Management Area.

The system as a whole includes critical caribou habitat, important earth and life science features, important cultural sites, and backcountry recreation opportunities.

View of the river from one side, about 10 meters to the other side, where there are rock walls about 3 meters high with conifers growing on top.Bloodvein River between lakes Knox and Murdock

Atikaki Provincial Park in Manitoba is located adjacent to Woodland Caribou Provincial Park and is a 398,130 ha wilderness class park. This park also protects critical caribou habitat and important ecological features, and has some of the best whitewater opportunities in Manitoba.

Together, through coordinated efforts of both provincial governments and through a Manitoba Ontario Interprovincial Wilderness Agreement, these parks protect the CHRS-designated Bloodvein River.

Shot of a wide river from the rocky coast with a coniferous bush growing on the rockPart of the Bloodvein River through Woodland Caribou Provincial Park

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The Bloodvein River itself has a total length of 306 km across both provinces, 106 km in Ontario and 200 km in Manitoba. The Manitoba portion was designated in 1987 and the Ontario portion in 1998.

The ecological story

The Bloodvein River flows through the Precambrian Shield and through pristine boreal and central boreal prairie highland landscapes.

The Bloodvein River system provides home to many species, including the wolverine, American white pelican, double-crested cormorant, bald eagle, osprey, great gray owl, trumpeter swan, and woodland caribou.

Left: Osprey along the Bloodvein River in Woodland Caribou Provincial Park. Right: Exposed Canadian Shield cliff along Bloodvein in Woodland Caribou

A recreationist’s dream

Bloodvein is the largest river that runs through Woodland Caribou Provincial Park, making it a destination for backcountry canoeists.

Fisherman in front of a full canoe, holding a 2.5 foot long Northern Pike

The river is known for its whitewater canoeing and camping opportunities. The Bloodvein River provides habitat for healthy populations of walleye, northern pike, and lake trout and offers high-quality sport fishing adventures.

Some tips before starting your trip

Access to the Bloodvein River requires advanced planning by visitors. There are some waterway access areas that lead to the river starting at Red Lake and then paddling north with a series of maintained portages.

An Ontario Parks entrance sign on a lake that reads "Welcome to Woodland Caribou. For permits or park regulations, contact the Ministry of Natural Resources, Red Lake at 807 727 1329

The most direct access to the Bloodvein headwaters is via Lund Lake. A forest access road takes visitors to the Pipestone Bay/McIntosh Enhanced Management Area, where visitors can park their vehicle and transport it directly to Lund Lake. At the other end of the river, there is a road that leads to the Bloodvein First Nation in Manitoba.

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Another access option is to hire a seaplane service and fly to one of the system’s access areas to Woodland Caribou Provincial Park. Limited access adds to the river’s remote wilderness experience.

Image of a lake reflecting the blue sky with white clouds, surrounded by coniferous trees.View from paddling on Bloodvein in Woodland Caribou Provincial Park

The Anishinaabek have walked the Bloodvein River for thousands of years.

The surrounding indigenous communities have strong historical and cultural ties to the river and the area as a whole. There are many important archaeological and cultural features along the canal, including several pictographic sites.

A group of two men and a woman standing around a plaque titled Bloodvein River.  These people are Anishinaabek and were born and have lived on the Bloodvein River.

Ontario Parks works closely with surrounding Indigenous communities on several different projects. The language on the plaque (shown in both Ojibway and English) was developed by the local Anishinaabek, who also chose the location on the river and installed it with park staff. There was a grand ceremony at Red Lake for the opening.

A place to marvel at the beauty of nature.

If you’re a paddler, angler or backcountry wildlife photographer, the Bloodvein River is a bucket list destination. With a little advanced planning and a yearning for adventure, you could paddle out and explore some of the country’s quietest natural areas. The Bloodvein River truly lives up to its designation as a Canadian Heritage River.

Map of Canadian Heritage River System LocationsMap of Canadian Heritage River System Locations. The Bloodvein River is the second of two Canadian heritage rivers located in the parks of northwestern Ontario.

The CHRS was established by the federal government with the support of provincial and municipal governments and in partnership with community groups to ensure the long-term conservation of Ontario’s most precious resource: fresh water. You can learn more about CHRS at

Also read about the Boundary Waters/Voyageur Waterway Canadian Heritage River.