South Saskatchewan and Saskatchewan Rivers

Location: Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba
Region: Outside Ontario
Character: Nominated Heritage River

South Saskatchewan and Saskatchewan Rivers
By The Canadian Heritage Rivers System

The South Saskatchewan and Saskatchewan Rivers have played a significant role in the history and exploration of western Canada. Battle grounds, old exploration routes, historic European settlements, significant historical sites to the First Nations and Metis peoples of the area, and a popular place for recreation and enjoyment today, these two rivers bring numerous values to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System.

To further celebrate and conserve the significant cultural and human heritage of these rivers, they were collectively nominated to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System in 2012.

The South Saskatchewan River rises in the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, flowing eastward across the prairies and meeting with the Saskatchewan River, heading to Lake Winnipeg, before finally emptying into Hudson Bay via the Nelson River.

While the rivers span numerous provinces, the nominated portions of the two rivers lie within Saskatchewan. The nominated portion of the South Saskatchewan River begins at the Alberta border and continues to the confluence with the North Saskatchewan and Saskatchewan Rivers. From there, the nominated portion ends as the river leaves the province at the Manitoba border.

While the Saskatchewan River Basin was once predominately covered with wetlands and grasslands, the land has been profoundly altered by human activity, particularly agricultural production and dams.

Natural Heritage
While not nominated for its natural heritage, the South Saskatchewan and Saskatchewan Rivers provide significant representation of a number of natural values.

The rivers flow through the Prairies physiographic region of Canada, and join the Red River in representing the prairies in the Canadian Heritage River System.

The seasonal flow of the rivers has been greatly altered by man-made dams and diversion products. The flow of the river is now controlled and more consistent than it would be naturally.

The Saskatchewan River Delta is the largest fresh water delta in North America, providing habitat for countless birds, mammals, and fish.

The two rivers provide a home to over 120 species of birds, 43 species of mammals, 48 species of fish, and six species of amphibians and reptiles. The eastern portion of Lake Diefenbaker is significant for supporting the largest population of endangered Piping Plovers in North America.

The valleys of the two rivers sustain a large and diverse collection of native plants. No rare or at risk plant species have been found along the rivers, though some plants are considered regionally rare.

Human Heritage
The South Saskatchewan and Saskatchewan Rivers were nominated predominately for their significant cultural heritage value.

A number of archaeological sites along the river indicate the presence of the Plains Aboriginal peoples as far back as 8000 years ago.

Resource harvesting has occurred along the rivers for many years, in the form of fishing, trapping, and hunting. Bison was the most common animal harvested historically, with the many cliffs along the river valley creating ideal buffalo jumps used over 8000 years ago.

A number of the plant species found along the rivers have been used by early Aboriginal peoples for various purposes, such as medicinal uses, creating weapons or dwellings, and building watercrafts. Maple syrup was also harvested along the river delta by the Red Earth Cree.

The two rivers have been used as transport routes for centuries, starting with Aboriginal peoples and continuing after European contact. The rivers were used extensively for trade, and played a large part in the fur trade.

The rivers were used extensively during European exploration in the 18th century. Explorers such as Joseph LaFrance, Joseph Boucher, Alexander Mackenzie, and David Thompson all travelled the two rivers in attempt to survey the land, find the Northwest Passage, or reach the Pacific Ocean.

A number of Metis wintering sites, which eventually became permanent settlements after the decline of plains bison, are evident along the two rivers.

Prior to the arrival of Europeans in the region of the two rivers, various First Nations groups had relatively well-defined territories. As the fur trade grew and people spread across the country, a number of conflicts arose, particularly between the Cree, the Blackfoot, the Gros Ventre plains people, and the European traders or settlers. Throughout the late 1700s and 1800s, a number of conflicts and battles resulted in deaths on all sides. The battles of the Northwest Resistance in 1885 are among the most recent and most significant Aboriginal/European conflicts in Canadian history.

The South Saskatchewan and Saskatchewan Rivers were not nominated for their recreational values, but still hold a number of uses for communities today.

Canoeing is a popular activity along the rivers. The rivers' lack of dangerous waterfalls or rapids creates an excellent environment for a novice canoeist. Many of the human-created lakes along the rivers allow for sailing and other types of boating.

Pike Lake Provincial Park, located within a 30 minute drive to the city of Saskatoon, is located on the South Saskatchewan flood plain and provides a number of recreational activities such as swimming, camping, picnicking, golfing, hiking, and boating.

The South Saskatchewan River flows through the urban area of Saskatoon, providing a number of urban activities, such as hiking, walking, fishing and cycling along the river.

A number of festivals for families and children take place each year in Saskatoon, many of which celebrate the historical or natural importance of the rivers.

Further Information
City of Saskatoon

Partners FOR the Saskatchewan River Basin

South Saskatchewan River Watershed Stewards

Pike Lake Provincial Park