Manitoba History: Hayes River Designated a Canadian Heritage River

by Parks Canada

Number 53, October 2006

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

Please direct all inquiries to

Help us keep
history alive!

On Sunday, 11 June 2006, at a ceremony held at the Fort Whyte Centre in Winnipeg, a plaque was unveiled designating the historic Hayes River as a Canadian Heritage River.

Hayes River

Unveiling the plaque commemorating the heritage designation of the Hayes River.
Source: Parks Canada

Attending the ceremony were representatives from the federal government including Steven Fletcher, the MP for Charleswood - St. James-Assiniboia, and Rod Bruinooge, the MP for Winnipeg South. Provincial representatives included Stan Struthers, the Minister of Conservation, along with Gord Jones, the Director of the Manitoba Parks Branch. Special guests included Councillor Dennis Day from the Norway House Cree Nation, Chief Jeffery Napoakesik from the Shamattawa First Nation, and Chief Ted Bland of the York Factory First Nation. Each of these communities has had a long association with the Hayes River, especially during its heyday as the major fur trade route inland from Hudson Bay. Parks Canada was represented by Don Gibson and Dawn Bronson, the Superintendent of the Manitoba Field Unit.

As a designated heritage river, the historic Hayes River system, stretching from York Factory on Hudson Bay to Norway House near Lake Winnipeg, has been added to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System (CHRS).

This 600-kilometre route encompasses the Hayes River, the Echimamish River, and the East Channel of the Nelson River from Norway House to the mouth of the Echimamish. This route is an outstanding example of river heritage in Canada. These rivers flow through what are still some of the most pristine natural areas of Manitoba featuring the flora and fauna of the boreal forest and the Hudson Bay coast. It was the main travel artery for the Hudson’s Bay Company’s fur trade industry for almost 250 years. The route also presents a unique opportunity for wilderness river travel and sport fishing in an area rich in fur trade history.

Hayes River

The Hayes River.

York Factory National Historic Site of Canada marks the northern end of the route. York Factory was established by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1684 and, until 1957, it was an important trading post, transshipment depot and administrative centre for the fur trade. In addition, from 1812 to the late 1850s, it was the main entry point for European immigrants to Western Canada. Norway House National Historic Site of Canada marks the other end of the route. It was another important Hudson’s Bay Company post, and is now the site of the vibrant First Nation community of Norway House.

The Hayes River system is home to polar bear, wolverine, woodland caribou, the ivory gull, sturgeon, brook trout, beluga whales, bald eagles, and moose, as well as a wide range of other wildlife. Traveling from south to north, its banks are lined with dense spruce forests, which change to a mosaic of stunted black spruce, tamarack, and bogs. The river’s physical characteristics include whitewater rapids, large lake systems, waterfalls, deep valleys and gorges, as well as tidal flats.

Today the Hayes River offers visitors and local people recreational and heritage experience opportunities including canoeing and boating, hunting, fishing, and learning about Canada’s fur trade.

The Hayes River flows through the traditional areas of Norway House, Bunibonibee (Oxford House), Shamattawa, and York Factory First Nations. These communities continue their long established traditions of hunting, fishing and trapping. The river continues to be an important travel route for those living along it. It is inextricably linked to the culture of these First Nations. The river is linked to the future of the First Nations as they seek to conserve the land and gain economic development.

The Hayes River has been host to some economic drivers in the region through tourism associated with the sport fishing lodges that lie along the river and the outfitted canoe trippers that travel the river. There is also significant economic activity in the mineral exploration that occurs in several locations along the river.

As part of the CHRS process, a management plan has been developed for the Hayes. The goal of the plan is to “complement and apply existing processes for cooperation and integrated resource management that will recognize, promote and sustain the natural heritage, cultural heritage and recreational values for which the Hayes River was nominated to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System.”

The plan will be implemented through the cooperation and participation of federal and provincial management agencies, First Nations, the private sector, and public stakeholders. It outlines management intentions and planned actions for the river in several key areas, including: water flow and water quality; public understanding, awareness and interpretation; integrity of natural heritage features and processes; integrity of cultural heritage features; and public enjoyment and recreational use.

York Boats

York boats on the Hayes River near Norway House, no date.
Source: Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, York Factory 4.2-50.

CHRS was established in 1984 by the federal, provincial and territorial governments to conserve and protect the best examples of Canada’s river heritage, give them national recognition, and encourage the public to enjoy and appreciate them. A fifteen-member national board, made up of citizens and senior officials from government departments responsible for the protection of the Canadian environment, administers the program.

The goals of the program are to promote, conserve and enhance Canada’s river heritage, foster responsible river stewardship, and ensure that Canada’s leading rivers are managed in a sustainable manner. Local citizens often champion the program, and may be responsible for the management of Canadian Heritage Rivers. Federal, provincial and territorial governments work with citizens to achieve these common goals.

Canadian Heritage Rivers are the gems of Canada’s vast array of rivers, beacons of our natural and cultural heritage. To be designated as a Canadian Heritage River, a river must meet strict guidelines and standards, and be shown to possess the requisite natural values, historical importance and recreational potential. There must also be strong public support for its designation.

The plaque text reads:


Historic Fur Trade Route The Hayes River has a prominent role in the history and development of Canada. This 600 km route along the Hayes, Echimamish and Nelson rivers was the central transportation artery for the fur trade in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. In arduous expeditions by canoe and York boat, the “tripmen” of the Hayes transported furs and supplies between York Factory, on the Hudson Bay coast, and the Canadian interior. This brought a new way of life to the First Nation peoples of western Canada. Today, the river remains an important transportation route and provider of food, water and spiritual renewal. As a Canadian Heritage River, the Hayes’ rich history and pristine natural beauty will be honoured for generations to come.

Page revised: 13 September 2013