Bloodvein River

Location: Ontario and Manitoba
Region: Northwestern
Character: Heritage River

Bloodvein River
By The Canadian Heritage Rivers System

Bloodvein River, Woodland Caribou Provincial Park-Ontario and Atikaki Wilderness Park-Manitoba

Deep in the Heart of the Land

Named, perhaps, for the red granite running through the bedrock, the Bloodvein slashes through the Canadian Shield, tumbling over boulder-strewn rapids and surging through narrow gorges on its journey to Lake Winnipeg. Endless forests of jack pine... wild rice marshes...bald eagles... black bear... walleye and northern pike eager to strike...

... all await the intrepid wilderness canoeist. Red ochre pictographs of bison, human figures, hands and power symbols grace overhanging rock faces- ancient murals that speak of earlier river travellers. The Bloodvein - deep in the heart of the land.

The Bloodvein River is a wild and rugged river which sparkles and roams for over 300 kilometres from its headwaters in northwestern Ontario to its mouth on Lake Winnipeg incentral Manitoba. Owing to its location off the old trade and settlement routes to the west, the Bloodvein has remained unspoiled, its plant and animal communities virtually intact since the last glaciers scoured the area more than 11,000 years ago. Visitors from nearby Winnipeg and Thunder Bay, and tourists from all over North America and Europe have found in the Bloodvein a unique opportunity to experience the great Canadian outdoors. Here, one can explore the Canadian Shield - resplendent with a wide range of plants and animals - and take advantage of unique opportunities for high-quality wilderness canoeing, camping, fishing, nature observation, and wildlife photography.

Recognizing these values, the Government of Manitoba nominated its 200 km segment of the Bloodvein River to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System in June, 1984. Ontario followed suit in June 1986, nominating its own 106 km segment. Both sections are now designated as a Canadian Heritage River. Working together, the two governments will ensure that the important heritage of the entire Bloodvein River corridor is protected. The river is in fact a link between two very large, contiguous, provincial wilderness parks - Woodland Caribou in Ontario and Atikaki in Manitoba.

Part of the Nelson River - Hudson Bay - Arctic Ocean drainage area, the Bloodvein River rises 400 metres above sea level (m.a.s.l.) in the vast wilderness of the Canadian Shield, 600 km northwest of Thunder Ray and 500 km northeast of Winnipeg. From its source in the often flat waters of the Berens River Plateau in Woodland Caribou Provincial Park, it flows slowly across the Shield to Artery Lake on the Ontario- Manitoba border. Then faster, narrower channels carry the river on into the rock-rimmed rapids and smaller lakes of the Shield Prairie transitional forest of "Atikaki", a large wilderness park aptly named by Manitoba's Saulteaux-Ojibwa peoples as the "country of the caribou". Finally, the Bloodvein empties into Lake Winnipeg (235 m.a.s.l.), just north of "The Narrows", 200 km northeast of Winnipeg.

The region through which the Bloodvein passes is roadless, accessible only by float plane and canoe. However, roads do go as far as Red Lake, Ear Falls, Bisset, Pine Falls, and Lac du Bonnet, small nearby communities which are economically dependent on local forestry, mining, trapping, wild rice harvesting, commercial tourism, sport fishing and hunting.

Natural Heritage
The Bloodvein flows through the Superior Province of the Precambrian Shield, a massive formation of ancient rock which forms the foundation of much of North America. Along its course, it passes through both physiographic subdivisions of the Nelson River Plain - the Bloodvein River and the Mantario plains, in channels that alternate from constricted, fast-water gorges less than 20 m wide, to open, calm water marshes and small lakes. The present-day landscape of elongated lakes with rivers rushing between them, erratic drainages with sudden changes in elevation, thin soils, bedrock outcrops and massive boulders strewn randomly throughout the corridor - all dramatically illustrate the pattern left by retreating Wisconsin glaciers. Since that retreat, the Bloodvein's vegetation and wildlife have evolved undisturbed, providing a scientific view of evolution within the Canadian Shield, virtually free of non-native species. The area's most important natural features are:

-habitat for several animal species which are either uncommon, rare, threatened, or endangered elsewhere in Canada; notably, wolverine, white pelican, double-crested cormorant, bald eagle, osprey, great gray owl, and woodland caribou;

-many uncommon and surprisingly diverse plant species which exhibit a strong prairie-boreal influence including prairie crocus, rush and spike moss, and floating marsh marigold;

-outstanding representation of one of Canada's best known national symbols, the Canadian Shield, with formations such as Kenoran Rock, which, at 2,600 million years, is thought to be the oldest in Canada;

-one of the most significant, undisturbed and almost complete representations of the Central Boreal Upland Forest in Canada with forests of poplar, white birch, black spruce and jack pine, and scattered stands of elm, bur oak and maple, and wildlife which includes moose, deer, timber wolf, coyote, fox, river otter, fisher, marten, black bear, lynx, turkey vulture, barred owl, loon and Canada geese; and,

-a high-quality river and lake system, habitat for the rare chestnut lamprey, found only in Manitoba, and for sports fish in abundance, ranging from northern pike, 'walleye' pickerel and lake trout to lake sturgeon, whitefish, and channel catfish.

Human Heritage
The Bloodvein River is steeped in native history. The name itself may have originated from Indian accounts of a fierce, riverside battle between the Saulteaux along with their allies, the Cree, and another tribe. Many Indians were killed and the name "Miskwi Isipi" or "Blood River" was applied. The name "Bloodvein" appears to have been first used in an 1818-19 Hudsonís Bay Company journal from the Berens River Post, but may have referred to the red granite veins of the river bed.

During the 18th century, the Bloodvein was used by Ojibwa peoples as a trapping area to supply the fur trade, and, from 1790-1821, it served as a secondary fur transportation route. The Indian community of Bloodvein at the river's mouth is still inhabited by descendants of the Saulteaux-Ojibwa people, continuing the traditional native life of hunting, trapping, fishing and wild rice harvesting. The river's most notable historic features are:

-undisturbed archaeological sites which provide strong evidence of high density occupation by prehistoric, hunter-gatherer peoples 6,000 years ago;

-pictographs (native rock paintings of red ochre) dating from between 900 and 1,200

-A.D.; the Artery Lake site is considered nationally significant owing to its size, integrity,

-diverse images, and connection with other sites throughout central Canada;

-records of the Bloodvein River fur trade indicating the presence of Hudson's Bay, North West Company and independent traders' posts; and,

-a historic river environment which captures the mystique of native peoples present here over thousands of years, and presents the challenge of the Canadian frontier met by explorers and fur traders two centuries ago.

The high natural values and remote, unspoiled nature of the Bloodvein River corridor combine to offer an outstanding wilderness experience, a prized rarity in today's world. Its hundreds of small rapids and waterfalls, quiet lakes, wild rice marshes, and abundant fish and wildlife provide an appealing range of experiences for river travellers and sportsmen alike. The warm, dry summer climate and low precipitation markedly enhance the comfort and appeal of canoeing in this area. Recreational activities for which the Bloodvein is best known are:

-white-water canoeing, kayaking, and rafting which rates among the finest in Canada; in Manitoba alone there are 112 sets of rapids and falls;

-excellent fishing for northern pike, 'walleye' pickerel, lake trout, and sturgeon;

-unique opportunities for viewing and photographing some of the most magnificent of Canadian Shield wildlife and plants, and for studying many rare bird and animal species in their natural setting;

-wilderness camping and hiking within provincial wilderness parks; and,

-exceptional chances to visit, by canoe, archaeological sites which bustled with activity thousands of years ago, and to see steep-canyoned walls of pink-grained granite with pictographs of early native images in red ochre.

Visitor Information
Access: The Bloodvein may be reached by air via a one hour float plane trip from Winnipeg or Kenora. Landing sites along the river are numerous, the favourite starting points being Peisk, Sabourin, Artery, and Sasaginnigak lakes, quiet stretches of the Bloodvein, its tributaries, and the Gammon River system to the south. Road access to the Bloodvein River itself is not possible. However, it is possible to follow Ontario Highway 105 to Red Lake, within a few kilometres of the river's headwaters, or Manitoba P.R. 304 to "the end of the road" at Wallace Lake on the southeast edge of the Atikaki wilderness. Both routes put a traveller within a few days' paddle of the Bloodvein along a variety of routes. The winter road to the river near its confluence with the Leyond is not passable in summer.

Accommodation and Services: No services or facilities are currently provided by the provincial governments for the river-touring public along the Bloodvein in either Woodland Caribou or Atikaki. Accommodation, outfitting services, short and extended canoe trips and rafting excursions can be arranged through local commercial outfitting services in Red Lake, at fishing lodges and out- camps on Aikens, Artery, and Sasaginnigak lakes in Manitoba, on Sabourin and Douglas lakes in Ontario, along the Gammon River, and through services available in Kenora, Winnipeg, and Thunder Bay. Supplies can be obtained at Red Lake and Bisset.

Canoeing: The river usually provides excellent canoeing from June to freeze-up, and may be travelled in late May if one is prepared for the high water volumes during spring run-off. In addition to its own 306 kilometres of challenging white-water canoe routes, hundreds of kilometres of high quality, interconnecting routes also join the corridor, the best being the Gammon, Leyond and Sasaginnigak rivers. Along the Bloodvein, there are more than 70 portages at high water, 51 in Manitoba alone. Most are well marked, and nearly all are easy to traverse, averaging only 200 to 300 metres.

Topographic Maps: National Topographic Series Maps of the Bloodvein at the 1:250,000 scale - Carroll Lake (52 M) and Hecla (62 P) - are available from the Canada Map Office, 615 Booth Street, Ottawa, K1A 0E9, Tel: (613) 952-7000 (

Maps at the 1:50,000 scale are also available from: The Canada Map Office; the Map Distribution Office, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Queen's Park, Toronto, M7A 1W3; and from the Manitoba Department of Natural Resources, Surveys and Mapping Branch, 1007 Century Street, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3H 0W4.

These include: Ontario - 52M/1,2,3,6,7,8, and Manitoba - 52M/5,12; 62P/8,9,10.

Further Information
"Bloodvein River Monitoring Report, 1987-2000, available from the Manitoba Board member (see "Contact Us")

Park Services, Permits and Regulations: Assistant Deputy Minister, Manitoba Department of Natural Resources, Room 800, 1495 St. James Street, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3H 0W9, ( and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Red Lake District Office, P.O. Box 5003, Red Lake, Ontario, POV 2M0 (

Tourist Information: Travel Manitoba, 7th Floor, 155 Carleton St., Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3C 3H8; or at

Canadian Heritage Rivers System: National Manager, Canadian Heritage Rivers System, c/o Parks Canada, Ottawa, Canada K1A 0M5. Tel: (819) 994-2913, Fax (819) 997-0835. E-mail address:

Canadian Heritage Rivers Board member for Ontario: c/o Ontario Parks, Ministry of Natural Resources, P.O. Box 7000, 300 Water St., Peterborough, ON, K9J 8M5 (see "Contact Us").

Canadian Heritage Rivers Board member for Manitoba: c/o Parks and Natural Areas, Dept. of Natural Resources, P.O. Box 50, 200 Saulteaux Cres., Winnipeg, MB, R3J 3W3 (see "Contact Us").

Visit for more information on Woodland Caribou Provincial Park, and for information on Atikaki Provincial Park in Manitoba, the two large provincial parks that this heritage river flows through.

Also check out for information on paddling in Manitoba.