Thu. Feb 29th, 2024
canoe on shore at sunset

Today’s post was written by Kestrel Wraggett, a planning intern for our Northwest Zone.

Did you know there is a network of nationally recognized major waterways across Canada?

There are 42 Canadian heritage rivers in the country, 12 of which are located in Ontario. Two of these heritage-designated rivers run through northwestern Ontario and both are located within the boundaries of provincial parks.

Where are Canada’s heritage rivers?

The Canadian Heritage River System (CHRS) was created in 1984 to ensure the long-term conservation of Canada’s important river systems. The CHRS grants national recognition to important rivers across the country that contribute to their ecological, cultural and recreational importance. Only the most important rivers in the country hold this prestigious title.

Canadian Heritage River System Map Map of Canadian Heritage River System Locations. Courtesy of

The Canadian Heritage Rivers System is unique in that it operates as a multi-level government program working with community river management groups. These groups voluntarily take care of the rivers.

Ontario is connected by a huge network of lakes, rivers and waterways. With a large number of bodies of water located in northwestern Ontario, it is not surprising that Canadian Heritage River System designations can be found here.

Boundary Waters/Voyageur Waterway

Boundary Waters/Voyageur Waterway (BWVW) is one of two designated heritage rivers located in northwestern Ontario.

The BWVW’s combination of ecologically and culturally significant features led to it being nominated as part of the Canadian Heritage River System in 1986, just two years after the program was established. He was appointed in 1996.


Boundary Waters/Voyageur Waterway is a system of lakes and rivers that run along the international border of Ontario, Canada and Minnesota, USA.

The BWVW is Ontario’s only heritage river to flow through the boundaries of three provincial parks, making it one of the most protected and preserved systems in the area.

mapBoundary Waters/Voyageur Waterway Location Map
Courtesy of

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This waterway traces the international boundary from the mouth of the Pigeon River in the east to Lac La Croix in the west. This waterway is 250 km long, 115 km within Quetico Provincial Park, 130 km in LaVerendrye Provincial Park, and 5 km in Pigeon River Provincial Park.

Although the Canadian Heritage River System designation ends at the international border, the waterway itself does not. The southern portion of these lakes and rivers is shared with Minnesota, where protections also exist along the U.S. border.

aerial view of QueticoQuetico Provincial Park Overpass

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is one of the most visited wilderness areas in the United States, encompassing nearly the entire American section of the waterway adjacent to the Canadian BWVW. The small portion of the waterway that does not flow through the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area is protected by Grand Portage State Park, ensuring that the entire waterway is safeguarded.

The cooperation, agreement and mutual protection between countries regarding this water system is a true testament to the importance and value of the region.

Internationally shared administration

Since then, two international associations have been created that promote cross-border collaboration in the region around BWVW. One of those associations is called the Heart of the Continent Association (HOCP).

The HOCP is a coalition of U.S. and Canadian land managers, communities, and stakeholders working together on international border projects. The HOCP focuses on working together on projects that promote the economic, cultural and natural health of ecosystems and communities along the Ontario-Minnesota border and meets regularly.

Boundary Waters/Voyageur Waterway Canoe ToursBoundary Waters/Voyageur Waterway Canoe Tours

The Sister Sites Agreement is a partnership between protected areas on both sides of the Ontario-Minnesota border. Participants include: Quetico and LaVerendrye Provincial Parks in Ontario, and the Superior National Forest, Grand Portage National Monument, Voyageurs National Park, and the Northeast Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Minnesota.

The Sister Sites Agreement promotes national and international support for the mutual benefit of these protected places and allows the exchange of knowledge, information, training and experiences between signatories.

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A paradise for rowers

BWVW and the surrounding area are an incredible place to visit and are internationally recognized as a recreational destination for all types of activities including backcountry paddling, camping, fishing and bird watching. Some lakes in LaVerendrye Provincial Park are also accessible for boating. The natural and cultural features have a high level of protection and the area offers a variety of recreational opportunities for all.

canoe on the shore at sunset

If you are a backcountry canoeist, there are endless canoe routes through Quetico Provincial Park that provide the ultimate wilderness experience in solitude and pristine nature.

Pigeon River Provincial Park, accessed via Highways 61 and 593 near the Pigeon River International Border Crossing, is less than an hour’s drive from Thunder Bay. This day-use park offers a network of hiking trails, views of waterfalls, and artistic sculpted wood and metal benches depicting the history of the area for the traveler or hiker to enjoy.

The Boundary Waters/Voyageur Canal is extremely rich in cultural and historical features. There is a strong indigenous presence along the entire waterway, on both the Canadian and American sides of the border. The Grand Portage Indian Reservation in Minnesota is located along the eastern part of the waterway, and the Lac La Croix First Nation in Ontario is located at the western end of the waterway.

Ojibwe women of the Lac La Croix First Nation on the Basswood River in 1915Women of the Lac La Croix First Nation on the Basswood River in 1915. Photo: John B. Ridley Library – Quetico

The 10,000 years of human history along the canal are evident through the 124 known cultural sites along the canal on the Canadian side alone. These sites include pictographs and stone tool quarries, as well as historic campsites and transports that would also have been used by modern travellers, explorers and canoeists.

Visit this historic waterway

If you’re looking for a unique experience, whether recreational, cultural or wilderness, Boundary Waters/Voyageur Waterway and its associated Ontario parks have a lot to offer you, your family and your friends.

LaVerendrye Provincial Park, South LakeLaVerendrye Provincial Park, South Lake

More information about CHRS can be found at: