Alberta North Saskatchewan River Canadian Heritage River System (CHRS) Nomination

The CHRS serves to commemorate and celebrate the values that make exceptional Canadian Rivers unique and special. The North Saskatchewan River (NSR) has previously been identified as representing outstanding and exceptional value. In the Smoky Lake Region, this includes the Victoria District National Historic Site of Canada, Victoria Settlement Provincial Historic Site, Metis Crossing, and many other sites of significance near the river corridor. 

Beginning in 2019, Smoky Lake County Council and the Smoky Lake County Regional Heritage Board (SLCRHB) launched an initiative to complete the designation of the North Saskatchewan River under the Canadian Heritage Rivers System (CHRS), which is Canada's nationally recognized program conserving and celebrating the Natural, Cultural, and Recreational Values of exceptional Canadian Rivers. 

We have so far received numerous letters of support from river communities and community groups. As a result, Alberta Minister of Environment Jason Nixon has agreed to support the project! 

As support continues to grow, our next step will be to complete a revised Nomination Document (describing the exceptional values for which the NSR deserves to be recognized) during the spring/summer of 2021. If the Nomination Document is accepted by the CHRS Board, a Designation Document (or Management Plan*) will then be prepared. Both of these next phases will be informed by continued public participation, and if successful, will be endorsed finally by both the Canadian and Albertan Ministers for Environment. 

For more information, contact Planning & Development Services at 780-656-3730, or by cell at 780-650-2059. 

*NOTE: Designation is commemorative only. The Management Plan (aka Designation Document) is not an additional layer of regulation or red tape. It does not have any affect on municipal land use planning, and does not add any restrictions, referrals, or considerations to development applications. Instead, the Designation Document is intended to promote public engagement and participation in making smart river-management decisions at the land-owner level.  

Questions? Please see the FAQ below, contact Smoky Lake County Planning & Development at 780-656-3730, and stay tuned to this space for updates! 

In January 2021, Parks Canada provided a funding contribution of $5,000 towards the completion of the Nomination Document for the North Saskatchewan River to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System. To learn more, contact Smoky Lake County. 

Parcs Canada a fourni une contribution financière de 5 000 $ pour l'achèvement du document de candidature pour la rivière Saskatchewan Nord au réseau des rivières du patrimoine canadien. Pour en savoir plus, contactez Smoky Lake County.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Image Courtesy of Victoria Settlement Provincial Historic Site, Government of Alberta 

North Saskatchewan River 

Rising in the Rocky Mountains, in the Columbia Icefield, and flows generally northeast, reaching Smoky Lake County, before continuing on its 1,200 kilometre journey to join with the South Saskatchewan at about Prince Albert, and beyond to Lake Winnipeg, reaching the Arctic Ocean of Hudson's Bay via the Nelson River. 

The charter of the Hudson’s Bay Company, granted by King Charles II of England in 1670, specified that the company could claim all lands in the watershed of the Hudson’s Bay. Named Rupert’s Land after the king’s cousin Prince Rupert of Bavaria, the first Governor of the HBC, the extent of the grant was originally unknown. It was the Saskatchewan River system which defined Company’s huge western hinterland and, subsequently, title to vast tracts of land across the Canadian prairies.

Explorers noted that the Blackfoot people called this river Omaka-ty, or “Big River”. French Canadian maps dating from the 1790s label it Rivière Bourbon in honour of the French king. But it was the Cree name, Kisiskatchewani Sipi meaning “swift current river” that endured. Alexander Mackenzie wrote the name “Saskatchiwine” in 1793. The modern spelling came to the fore in 1882, when the Alberta and Saskatchewan Districts of the North-West Territories were created.

Looking East, Smoky Lake County, Kyle Schole photo
Hwy 831, Smoky Lake County, Steve Rickets
Paddle into the Past, 
Metis Crossing
NSR Bridge, Smoky Lake County, Kyle Schole Photo


Canada’s +40 Heritage Rivers are recognized nationally for their outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational heritage. These rivers are an important part of Canada’s rich heritage, and shape who we are as a nation.

Once rivers are designated to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System, they become part of a network of waterways that are cared for by passionate river stewards. Governments, local communities, conservation authorities and local citizens come together with the overarching goal of celebrating, conserving and protecting designated rivers.

Read the CHRS Charter HERE. 


Being a part of the Canadian Heritage Rivers System means an opportunity to: 

  • foster cooperative river management that unites communities;
  • celebrate and support the cultural connections of Indigenous Peoples with rivers;
  • tell the stories of our nation, building sense of identity and pride;
  • stimulate adventure travel and sustainable tourism;
  • help Canadians connect to history, nature and cultural traditions;
  • promote stewardship and citizen engagement;
  • engage new Canadians and youth in river education, conservation, and recreation;
  • encourage the protection of water resources to improve public health, well-being, and quality of life.

The Canadian Heritage Rivers System informs, inspires and encourages Canadians to connect with the country’s river heritage and share in its safe-keeping. Our heritage rivers are integral to the health, well-being, and identity of Canada’s current and future generations.


No. The designation is commemorative and non-regulatory, meaning no new regulations or rules are brought-about or implemented as a result. Existing legislation already in-force continues, and the designation may serve as vehicle for collaboration and conversation among governments, residents, and landowners. 


A 48.5 kilometre-long section of the headwaters of the North Saskatchewan River (NSR) within federal lands of Banff National Park was designated to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System in 1989, due to its outstanding natural and cultural heritage.


After a river is designated to the System, an annual report is prepared each year describing changes, improvements and threats to the values for which the river was designated. River-based events and stewardship actions are also listed in annual reports. Every ten years, an in-depth review of the river’s values is undertaken and a monitoring report on the decade is prepared and tabled with the Board.


(located at Saskatchewan Crossing, Banff National Park) 
"The North Saskatchewan River - The North Saskatchewan River rises in the Saskatchewan Glacier, an arm of the massive Columbia Icefield. The section of the river in Banff National Park flows swiftly past spectacular views of Rocky Mountain peaks. Native people hunted and camped along its shores for thousands of years before David Thompson, Joseph Howse, and later the Palliser Expedition explored the area. With its tributary, the Howse River, it was briefly a major route for nineteenth century fur traders. Today, it provides a scenic recreational experience for skilled canoeists. For these outstanding features, the North Saskatchewan River in Banff National Park has been proclaimed a Canadian Heritage River."
left/below: 2006 CHRS Ceremony at Rocky Mountain House  celebrating the NSR Heritage River Study, officiated by the Honorable Helen Hunley, former Lieutenant Governor of Alberta. Courtesy, Billie Milholland. 


Council Recordings:


 Alberta CHRS Studies