Canadian Heritage River System (CHRS) - North Saskatchewan River

The North Saskatchewan River rises 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. 

Looking East 
Photo by
Steve Rickets 
Paddle into the Past, 
Metis Crossing
North Saskatchewan 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.


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.


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 within Banff National Park was designated to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System in 1989 due to its outstanding natural and cultural heritage.
In 2019, Smoky Lake County wrote a Letter of Support of initiating further designation of the River to include the Smoky Lake Region. This process is ongoing. Stay tuned here for updates. 


(located at Saskatchewan Crossing) 
"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."


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.

Visit the Canadian Heritage Rivers System website HERE

View an interactive story of the NSR HERE