Students play the role of tour guides who recruit others for a canoe trip down one of the Canadian Heritage Rivers located in Canada's North. The recruitment effort involves preparing a poster, a speech or a brochure.
Internet access, art supplies
Canada's northward-flowing rivers are diverse and numerous. Many begin far to the south and travel through several terrestrial ecozones before spilling into the ocean. For example:
- In the west, mountain glaciers feed the Athabasca and Peace rivers that wind through the rolling, forested boreal plains to Lake Athabasca. From there, the waters flow to Great Slave Lake and the Mackenzie River system, passing through wide valleys they've carved into the taiga plains on their way to the coast.
- In Central Canada, the South Saskatchewan River passes through relatively flat prairies and forested boreal plains where it joins the North Saskatchewan River. The waters eventually flow from Lake Winnipeg as the Nelson River, crossing the hills of the boreal shield and the low-lying Hudson plains before reaching Hudson Bay.
- Dozens of river systems in Ontario and Quebec cascade northward through the rocky, heavily-treed boreal shield to traverse the flat, open Hudson plains to Hudson or James Bay or to tumble across the taiga shield to Ungava Bay.
These freshwater systems have several features in common:
- They begin as springs, glaciers, wetlands, lakes and streams, gradually growing in size as they collect waters that drain from the surrounding lands.
- They create relatively fertile valleys where life can be generally more abundant and diverse. They carry dissolved nutrients from the surrounding lands, which give life to food webs in rivers and oceans.
- They attract human settlement and development, even in remote locations. Some communities are home to people who live traditional lifestyles. Most have limited resources for sewage treatment and waste disposal.
- Northern rivers are also altered by hydroelectric developments. Dams and canals change the direction and flow of large watersheds to supply hydroelectricity to the south.
Canada's northern rivers have played an important role throughout history:
- Aboriginal people used canoes, kayaks and skin boats to travel with their family groups between seasonal fishing and hunting areas, to move to new lands and to trade among neighbouring communities.
- When Europeans came, they adopted many aboriginal ways, often enlisting the help of native Canadians as guides as they explored this vast country by canoeing its rivers. Eventually, rivers became highways for the fur trade and, later, for lumber extraction.
The natural and historical values of Canada's rivers are being recognized and protected. The Canadian Heritage Rivers System (CHRS), for example, has already nominated about 40 rivers for protection, including 12 that are located in Canada's North.
- In small groups, have students role-play tour guides to recruit people for a canoe trip on one of the following heritage rivers in Canada's North: the Tatshenshini, Alsek, Athabasca, Arctic Red, Bonnet Plume, Clearwater, Coppermine, Hayes, Kazan, Missinaibi, Seal, Soper, South Nahanni orThelon Rivers. The Bloodvien, Churchill and North Saskatchewan rivers, which flow northward, may be included.
- Students research their river by reading fact sheets and river stories at www.chrs.ca. Have them create a poster or brochure. It should communicate:
- the objective of the trip (such as a hunting, exploration, recreational or historical trip).
- a description of their river.
- the route and what travellers might see in terms of wildlife and scenery.
- the length of the trip and types of challenges the travellers can expect.
- other convincing arguments for joining the expedition.
The Sublime Thelon River
The Thelon River flows through the spruce-lined valleys that reach into the northern barrens and the Thelon Game Sanctuary to Baker Lake, where it joins the Kazan River for the final journey to Hudson Bay. You may see muskox, white wolves, snow geese and some of the Beverly caribou herd that call it home. You can fish for lake trout, Arctic char and grayling while you contemplate the adventures of Samuel Hearne or camp at the final resting place of ill-fated explorer John Hornby. This heritage river is part of the largest remaining unaltered watershed that flows into Hudson Bay. Hopefully, its protected status will spare it the dams and diversions that have befallen so many other once-wild northern rivers.
The Majestic Mackenzie
Canada's longest river at over 4,200 km, the Mackenzie drains almost one-fifth of Canada's lands (over 1.8 million km2). The river provides rich soil and moderates the regional climate so well that it helps the treeline extend all the way north to the Beaufort Sea. This is the traditional home of the Dene and Inuvialuit people, many of whom still rely heavily on hunting and fishing for food. The sprawling Mackenzie delta is uncommonly rich in ecological diversity, hosting about 54 mammal species, 137 kinds of birds and 55 types of fish, including the renowned Arctic char.
The Wild South Nahanni
The South Nahanni River, located in the Northwest Territories, is part of the Nahanni National Park Reserve and was designated a Canadian Heritage River in 1987. This spectacularly wild river features canyons up to 1.2 km deep, cave systems, hot springs and waterfalls (including Virginia Flats, which is twice the height of Niagara Falls). Rare orchids, endangered trumpeter swans, Dali sheep and Dolly Varden char live here. This is also a traditional home of the Dene people, who still use northern rivers as highways in summer and winter. Their name for this river means "flowing from Mother Earth." You can travel this protected river by raft or canoe, but make sure your whitewater paddling skills are up to speed!
- Students describe features of the northern marine ecozone into which their river eventually drains.
- Students describe features of northern Wetlands of International Importance, such as at Old Crow Flats, Whooping Crane Summer Range, Queen Maud Gulf Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Polar Bear Pass, Rasmussen Lowlands, Dewey Soper Migratory Bird Sanctuary, McConnell River Bird Sanctuary and Polar Bear Provincial Park, which are linked to their river.
- Students create an account of a "first voyage" down a river from the perspective of an Aboriginal person or a northern explorer such as Samuel Hearne, Sir John Franklin, Dewy Soper, J.B. Tyrrell, John Hornby or George Douglas.
- Students research and describe the potential impacts of climate change on the ecology and recreational aspects of their river.
Identify and describe three Canadian Heritage Rivers in Canada's North.
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