Detroit River

Location: Windsor Ontario
Region: Southwestern
Character: Heritage River
Length/Size: 51 km

Loading photo... Detroit River
By The Canadian Heritage Rivers System

A Unique International Heritage

The Detroit River is unique in Canada, the United States and indeed, the world. It is a waterway between two sovereign countries with its shores embracing the largest metropolitan area on any international border - but rather than separating communities along its banks, the river connects them culturally and economically. More than 14,000,000 vehicles and 8,000 commercial ships cross the Detroit River annually, making it the busiest international border crossing point in North America and a key transportation route in the Great Lakes system linking Lake St. Clair with Lake Erie.

The Windsor-Detroit area has a fascinating history of settlement, trade, culture and industrialization centred around the Detroit River. Archaeological finds date North American Indians at river front sites as early as 400 A.D. Europeans reached the area around 1650 and reaped the benefits of the river's rich natural resources. The river has a fascinating 300-year history as a strategic location for defense and was an integral part of the Underground Railway. Numerous pleasure craft, tug boats, lake freighters and ocean vessels now ply the waters past parks, farm lands, historic sites and the major urban centres of Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan.

Loading photo.../>The Detroit River received American Heritage River designation in 1998. With its designation to the CHRS in 2001. it is the first River with dual designations.

Check out these web sites:; 98rivers/detroit.html

"This river is scattered over, from one lake to another both on the mainland and the islands with large clusters of trees surrounded by charming meadows. Game is very common, as are geese, and all kinds of wild ducks. There are swans everywhere, there are quails, woodcocks, pheasants and rabbits, turkeys, partridges, hazelhens and a stupendous amount of turtledoves. This country is so temperate, so fertile and so beautiful that it may justly be called "The Earthly Paradise of North America." Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, French explorer and founder of Detroit, of the Detroit River in 1702.

The Detroit River is unique in Canada, the United States and indeed, the world. Its shores embrace the largest metropolitan area on any international border but rather than separating communities, the river connects them culturally and economically.

Archaeological finds date First Nations communities at the river as early as 400 A.D. while French settlers reached the area by the mid-1600's. The river and its watersheds represent the history of North America in a way that is not duplicated anywhere else. Local communities, major industries, and both Canada and the United States owe their development, in part, to the Detroit River and the people who took advantage of its potential. The river was the site of major battles, was the first permanent agricultural community in Ontario, and a terminus of the Underground Railway.

Honoured as an American Heritage River in 1998, the Detroit is the first river with dual designations. Designation of the Detroit as a Canadian Heritage River encourages binational cooperation in its wise management and environmental restoration and is a testament to its significance as a national treasure.

The Detroit River lies in the heart of the Great Lakes Basin linking Lake St. Clair with Lake Erie. It flows approximately 51 kilometres from the City of Windsor to the Towns of LaSalle and Amherstburg on the Ontario side, and from the City of Detroit to Brownstone Township on the Michigan side. The Canada-U.S. boundary divides the river virtually down the middle. The Detroit River watershed drains more than 2,000 square kilometres and its tributaries include Marsh Creek, the Rouge and Loading photo...Ecorse Rivers on the American side, and Turkey Creek, Little River and Canard River in Canada. Commercial navigation is one of the most fascinating aspects of the river, not only because it is one of the busiest international crossings in North America and therefore of extreme economic importance, but also because of the striking visual images that numerous tug boats and thousands of lake freighters and ocean going vessels create.

Natural Heritage
Since the glaciers retreated 10,000 years ago, the Detroit River has played a vital role in shaping the Great Lakes ecosytem and is the major link that connects the upper and lower Great Lakes. In fact, 90% of the water in the Great Lakes System flows through the Detroit River.

The Detroit River is the only Canadian Heritage River that lies solely within the Carolinian zone. The most southerly Canadian Heritage River, it contains a greater number of plant and animal species than any other place in Canada. You will find remnant tracts of tall grass prairie, oak savannah and globally/provincially significant wetlands characteristic of the Carolinian life zone. The Detroit River watersheds serve as a migration route for songbirds, raptors, butterflies and dragonflies and are home to hundreds of rare and endangered species.

The coastal wetlands along the Detroit River provide habitats for rare species of reptiles including the Eastern fox snake, Eastern massasauga rattlesnake, queen snake and the Eastern spiny soft-shell turtle. The Detroit River links the largest wetland complex in the Great Lakes, the St. Clair Flats, with Lake Erie, which is the most biologically productive Great Lake.

The Detroit River lies in an urbanized and industrialized area, and as such its Natural Heritage features were not considered for designation. However, bi-national efforts aimed at the cleanup and restoration of this great river are ongoing, and it is expected that Canadian Heritage River designation will stimulate further enhancements to the significant natural heritage features of the Detroit Canadian Heritage River.

Human Heritage
The shoreline of the Detroit River is a history buff's dream. For more than 6,000 years, First Nations peoples have used the Detroit River and the Great Lakes as a principle means of travel, resource gathering and trade. The Detroit River was the site of the first permanent agricultural community in Ontario, whose French origins and culture remain today. The Detroit River offered freedom in Canada to slaves from the United States who crossed via the Underground Railway. Our ancestors recount vivid stories of smuggling operations across the Detroit River during the 'rum running' days of Prohibition.

From Amherstburg's Fort Malden, the Wyandot Indian Cemetery, the olde Town of Sandwich, the French settlement of LaSalle and River Canard, there is a wealth of human history to be explored. A monument on Windsor's waterfront built by American veterans and dedicated to Canadian soldiers killed in the Vietnam War underscores more recent historical ties. On the American side, Old Fort Wayne and the Great Lakes Museum on Belle Isle are just two of the many historical highlights.

Most of the region's heaviest populated centers and some of Canada's most vital industries such as Hiram Walker and Sons, Ford of Canada and others have developed due to the vision of the residents who used the Detroit River.

The Detroit River is the premier boating area in North America, with more than 12,000 marina slips for recreational boaters. In fact, the economic impact of boating in the Detroit River is estimated at more than one billion dollars annually. An extensive park system along the Detroit River and its watershed offers visitors and tourists outstanding opportunities to appreciate bird watching, sight-seeing, canoeing, kayaking, historical sites and many river-based festivals and events.

The Detroit River and its watersheds offer one of the finest urban fisheries in North America due to an excellent diversity of species, quantity of fish and a long fishing season.

Visitor Information
Convention Bureau of Windsor, Essex County and Pelee Island
333 Riverside Drive West Suite 103
Windsor, ON N9A 5K4
1-800-265-3633 Fax: (519) 255-6192

Essex Region Conservation Authority
360 Fairview Ave. West
Essex, Ontario N8M 1Y6
Tel: (519) 776-5209
Fax: (519) 776-8688

Further Information
American Heritage Rivers

Detroit River Canadian Cleanup Committee

Great Lakes Institute for Environment Research

Detroit River Remedial Action Plan connectin/detroit/intro.html

Detroit River Remedial Action Team

The Friends of the Detroit River: