Hayes River

Location: Division No. 22, Unorganized, Manitoba
Region: Outside Ontario
Character: Heritage River

Hayes River
By The Canadian Heritage Rivers System

The Road to the Interior

The Hayes River has played a profound role in Canada's history. Ancient campsites and pictographs testify to its importance as a route for Manitoba's First Nations long before Europeans arrived. The Hayes River was the main route from York Factory on Hudson Bay to the interior of western Canada for fur traders, settlers, and explorers from 1670 until 1870, and played a key role in the integration of the Aboriginal way of life with the fur trade.

The Hayes remains much as it was when the fur traders travelled on its waters, unaltered by dams and development. It is still an important transportation route and a source of traditional harvesting for First Nations peoples. For adventurous paddlers, its pristine wilderness, the First Nations communities along the river, and archaeological sites, including the remains of early fur trade posts, provide a link to its legacy as a trade and travel route. The entire 600 km Hayes River route from York Factory on Hudson Bay to Norway House on Lake Winnipeg, including the Echimamish River, remarkable for its two-way flow system, and 43 km of the Nelson River, is designated to the CHRS.

To travel the Hayes is to journey on a river that has had an enormous influence on the exploration and development of Canada. This nationally significant waterway is steeped in the history and allure of the fur trade era. As the only navigable water route from Hudson Bay to the interior of western Canada, this beautiful and unspoiled river has played a profound role in the development of Canada as a nation. It also offers river travelers a unique combination of wilderness adventure, a glimpse into the past, and exceptional natural beauty.

Today, the Hayes River is the longest naturally flowing river in Manitoba and the one of the few major rivers in North America to remain in a wild or unaltered state. It still appears much as it did three centuries ago, when the first European explorers and fur traders paddled its waters, plodded its portages, and challenged its rapids. In fact, it is essentially unchanged from the river that First Nations people knew thousands of years ago. On the Hayes, you will discover one of the most natural, scenic and historic waterways in Canada.

Natural Heritage
The river begins its course at the north end of Lake Winnipeg and flows northeast to Hudson Bay. Flowing through pristine boreal forests of the Canadian Shield at its upper reaches, and soggy muskeg lowlands in its lower reaches close to Hudson Bay, the Hayes provides travelers with a unique perspective of both landscapes. Travelling downstream, one sees dense spruce forests gradually replaced by a mosaic of stunted black spruce and tamarack interspersed with bogs, and finally the treeless tundra at the coast.

Remote stretches of whitewater, large lake systems, deep valleys, gorges, and the unspoiled wilderness of the northern boreal forest characterize the southern, upper reaches of the river. At its northern reaches, the Hayes flows through a flat terrain of muskeg, lakes, streams and bogs, cutting steep banks up to 30 metres high into the thick marine clay of Hudson Bay. Tidal flats extend seaward for several kilometres at the river's mouth. Such extremes in character along the course of the river provide an exceptional wilderness experience.

The Hayes boasts several outstanding and unique features: a two-way flow system on the Echimamish River; a major glacial outwash complex forming the highest point of land in north-eastern Manitoba at Brassey Hill; and a 17 km narrow deep gorge with high granite banks at Hell Gates. Robinson Falls, perhaps the most infamous portage along the route, features five sets of falls forcing a violent torrent of water through massive granite formations. Channel migration, bank collapse, and delta formation can be seen as one travels northward. Evidence of a time when marine waters covered this land, and of glacial rebound - the rising of the land after the melting of the glaciers like a piece of foam expanding when a weight is removed - are found along the ancient shorelines at the river's estuary.

Human Heritage
Rivers provided important routes of trade, transportation and communication for Aboriginal peoples in Canada for thousands of years. A multitude of archaeological sites along the Hayes, containing artifacts and remnants of an earlier way of life, shows that this river was a busy waterway long before the fur traders arrived. The Painted Stone Portage, a sacred place of worship, and pictograph sites are further testimony to the antiquity of human activity along the river.

The arrival of renegade fur trader and "coureur de bois" Pierre Esprit Radisson in the mid-1600s heralded the beginning of a new way of life for Aboriginal peoples on the Hayes River and throughout western Canada. Several key Hudson's Bay Company posts were established along the Hayes as the fur trade became established as Canada's first industry. York Factory, the Hudson's Bay Company's principal fur trade depot at the mouth of the Hayes, was the Company's centre of operations for over 200 years.

York Boats, used to carry settlers, furs and cargo to and from Canada's early settlements, have come to symbolize the Hayes River. Evidence of this historic era can be seen along the route- grave sites, trapper's cabins, the ruins of Hudson Bay Company outposts, rock-log dams and the remnants of a tramway on the Robinson Portage.

The Hayes River route was also key to inland exploration and commerce by Europeans. Many of Canada's great explorers traveled the Hayes, including Henry Kelsey, the first European to see the Canadian prairies; David Thompson, who mapped out huge areas of previously unsurveyed territory in western Canada; and Samuel Hearne, renowned for his legendary journeys through the barren lands.

Other important figures to journey the Hayes include Hudson's Bay Company surveyors Peter Fidler and Philip Turnor, the legendary explorer Sir John Franklin en route to the 'Polar Seas', and famous surveyor J.B. Tyrrell, of the Geological Survey of Canada. National Historic Sites have been designated by the government of Canada at York Factory and Norway House to commemorate their significance in history of Canada.

Today, the Swampy Cree, descendants of the original inhabitants of the area, live in this region of northern Manitoba. Hunting, fishing and fuelwood cutting provide subsistence for area residents. Trapping and, in some areas, tourism are important economic activities. Stops along the route at Norway House and Oxford House can provide a special opportunity to view historic buildings, meet local residents and experience today's way of life in a northern community.

The Hayes River provides an outstanding opportunity to learn about Canada's history and experience its wilderness. Nine lakes and the connecting river offer alternating whitewater and flatwater paddling, the beauty and wildlife of the boreal forest, and outstanding fishing. Sport fish species include northern pike, walleye, perch, goldeye, whitefish, brook trout and lake trout.

In the lowland portion, with the portages and obstacles behind, the paddler can quickly cover long distances in a very different environment, adding a new dimension to the traveling on the Hayes. Watch for foraging harbour seals, beluga whales and polar bears in the lower 10 km of the Hayes. Plan to spend time visiting the York Factory National Historic Site while in the York Factory area between June and September.

The Hayes offers unparalleled wilderness canoeing and kayaking. Its remoteness and difficulty calls out to those experienced in whitewater navigation and familiar with the demands of the northern forests. Travelers should take special care to properly equip themselves and should take precautions to avoid bears, particularly polar bears on the northern reaches of the river. Paddlers should be prepared for challenging rapids, insects, extreme water and weather conditions and remoteness.

Wilderness camping is possible at numerous sites along the river. However, camping is not permitted at York Factory National Historic Site due to the possibility of polar bear encounters. All fly-in/fly-out and provision arrangements need to be made ahead of time. Outfitters and guides are available to assist in trip planning and implementation.

Visitor Information
Access: True to historical travel, the Hayes River can be paddled either downstream or upstream. Access to the upstream end at Norway House is by road to the community of Norway House or to the ferry crossing on the Nelson River at Sea River Falls.

Access to the downstream end of the route at York Factory is by air charter only. Gillam is the nearest road accessible community from which to arrange charter flights to York Factory. Air charter service to other points on the route can be arranged through a number of private air carriers.

There is also scheduled air service to Oxford House, which is approximately mid-way on the route. VIA Rail provides scheduled service to Thompson, Gillam and Churchill from Winnipeg.

Accommodations and Services: Norway House and Oxford House are the only two communities directly on the Hayes River route. Norway House has a full range of services and accommodations while Oxford House has limited services. There are two lodges along the route. Knee Lake Lodge Resort Inc., mid-way on the river, and Silver Goose Lodge at York Factory, provide accommodation, fishing and hunting trips.

There are several outfitters that offer canoe trips on the Hayes River. Addresses for these can be obtained from the Travel Manitoba Information office.

Further Information
Manitoba Recreational Canoeing Association website

Canadian Heritage Rivers System website

Manitoba Parks website

Parks Canada website

Manitoba Government webstore

Travel Maritoba website