Canadian Geographic
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Rivers of Canada

Red River (Central Plains)

Source: Lake Traverse, on the Minnesota-South Dakota border
Mouth: Lake Winnipeg
Direction of flow: north
Length: 877 kilometres
Origin of name: translation of the Cree, Miscousipi, meaning “red water river”

Known as the “Mississippi of the North,” the Red River is very much like its southern cousin. Both rivers start near each other in the north-central United States. They are languid, meandering rivers with muddy bottoms. But they are also prone to devastating spring flooding, turning into vast “prairie seas.”

At the end of the last ice age, the Red River flowed south, like the Mississippi. But it changed directions when the glaciers receded. Now it flows north through flat farmland in southern Manitoba (the bed of the former glacial Lake Agassiz), then snakes through Winnipeg before it eventually flows into Lake Winnipeg.

River life
A powerful, fork-tailed fish with whisker-like barbels is the most prized catch from the Red River, as it is from the Mississippi. The Red is home to the largest average size of channel catfish in the world; the city of Selkirk, 44 kilometres north of Winnipeg, brands itself as the “Catfish Capital of the World.”

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Back in 1880, catfish was listed as “Red River salmon” on the menu of the Pacific Hotel in Winnipeg. Anglers came from as far away as the southern United States and returned home with loads of catfish on ice. Today, fishermen mainly catch and release the bottom feeders that can weigh more than 12 kilograms. Biologists study channel catfish, one of more than 50 fish species in the Red River, to track the overall health of the river.

Cultural legacy
First Nations travelled the Red River and its tributaries for thousands of years. With European settlement, the Red became the theatre of the struggles for control of the Canadian West. The confluence of the Red and Assiniboine, in what is now downtown Winnipeg, became the centre of trade between native hunters and European fur traders and the core of the Red River Colony, founded in 1812.

The Métis developed farms in narrow strips along the river. Subsequent waves of immigrants, in particular the Mennonites, farmed the fertile soil in the river valley, turning it into one of the most productive agricultural areas in Canada. The city of Winnipeg burgeoned on the banks of the Red in the late 19th century, earning the title of “Little Chicago,” after the fastest-growing city in the American Midwest. Today, about 750,000 people — much of Manitoba’s population — live in Winnipeg and the Red River Valley.

Current state
In recent years, the Red River has been at the centre of a transboundary dispute between Canada and the United States. It involves the diversion of water from Devils Lake, North Dakota, to the Sheyenne River, which flows into the Red. In the 1990s, Devils Lake rose more than seven metres due to a series of wet summers, flooding thousands of hectares of surrounding farmland and forcing hundreds of households to move. To deal with high water levels, the state of North Dakota proceeded to build an outlet to divert water from the lake, which was completed in 2005.

The governments of Canada, Manitoba, Minnesota and a number of environmental groups opposed the project, concerned that water from Devils Lake would pollute the Red and that foreign aquatic species and diseases would enter its basin. In August 2005, the Canadian and American governments announced a number of environmental safeguards — including an advanced filtration and disinfection system for the Devils Lake outlet and ongoing monitoring of biota in the lake, the Red River and Lake Winnipeg — to protect the Red River basin while offering flood relief in North Dakota.


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St. Lawrence

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Quiz :

The Fraser River basin covers what percentage of British Columbia?