North Saskatchewan River

The North Saskatchewan River is a glacier-fed river that flows from the Canadian Rockies continental divide east to central Saskatchewan, where it joins with the South Saskatchewan River to make up the Saskatchewan River. Its water flows eventually into the Hudson Bay.

North Saskatchewan River
North Saskatchewan River near Abraham Lake
The North Saskatchewan River drainage basin
North Saskatchewan River is located in Saskatchewan
North Saskatchewan River
River's mouth in Saskatchewan
North Saskatchewan River is located in Canada
North Saskatchewan River
North Saskatchewan River (Canada)
  • Plains Cree: 'fast current / swift-flowing river'
  • Blackfoot: 'big river'
Physical characteristics
SourceRocky Mountains
 • locationSaskatchewan Glacier, Alberta
 • coordinates52°09′22″N 117°10′54″W / 52.15611°N 117.18167°W / 52.15611; -117.18167
 • elevation2,080 m (6,820 ft)
MouthSaskatchewan River
 • location
Saskatchewan River Forks, Saskatchewan
 • coordinates
53°14′07″N 105°04′58″W / 53.23528°N 105.08278°W / 53.23528; -105.08278
 • elevation
380 m (1,250 ft)
Length1,287 km (800 mi)
Basin size122,800 km2 (47,400 sq mi)
 • locationPrince Albert, Saskatchewan, 53 km (33 mi) from the mouth
 • average238 m3/s (8,400 cu ft/s)
 • minimum19 m3/s (670 cu ft/s)
 • maximum5,660 m3/s (200,000 cu ft/s)
Basin features
River systemNelson River
 • left
 • right

The Saskatchewan River system is the largest shared between the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.[1] Its watershed includes most of southern and central Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Course edit

The North Saskatchewan River has a length of 1,287 kilometres (800 mi), and a drainage area of 122,800 square kilometres (47,400 sq mi).[2] At its end point at Saskatchewan River Forks it has a mean discharge of 245 cubic metres per second (8,700 cu ft/s). The yearly discharge at the Alberta–Saskatchewan border is more than 7 cubic kilometres (1.7 cu mi).[3]

The river begins above 1,800 metres (5,900 ft) at the toe of the Saskatchewan Glacier in the Columbia Icefield, and flows southeast through Banff National Park alongside the Icefields Parkway. At the junction of the David Thompson Highway (Highway 11), it initially turns northeast for 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) before switching to a more direct eastern flow for about 30 kilometres (19 mi). At this point, it turns north where it eventually arrives at Abraham Lake. Bighorn Dam constricts the north end of Abraham Lake, where the North Saskatchewan emerges to track eastward to Rocky Mountain House. At Rocky Mountain House, the river abruptly turns north again for 100 kilometres (62 mi) where it switches east towards Edmonton, Alberta.

In Edmonton, the river passes through the centre of the city in a northeasterly direction and out towards Smoky Lake at which point it quickly changes to the southeast and then more to the east as it makes its way to the Alberta–Saskatchewan boundary.

From the border, the river flows southeast between North Battleford and Battleford and on in the direction of Saskatoon. About 40 kilometres (25 mi) northwest of Saskatoon, near Langham, the river veers to the northeast where it passes through the City of Prince Albert. About 30 kilometres (19 mi) downstream of Prince Albert, the North Saskatchewan River joins the South Saskatchewan River at Saskatchewan River Forks to become the Saskatchewan River. From there, the river flows east to Tobin Lake and into Manitoba, eventually emptying into Lake Winnipeg.[4]

Geography edit

The river course can be divided into five distinct sections. The first, the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, is the smallest area geographically, although the largest in terms of run-off and contributed water flow. The glaciers and perpetual snows of the mountain peaks feed the river year-round. Mountains, with little vegetation, experience fast-melting snow cover. The second section of the river comprises the foothills region. The terrain is hilly and rough, with a deeper and more defined valley. This area is well covered with forest and muskeg, and run-off into the river is much more constant and stable than in the mountains.

From Edmonton to the mouth of the Vermilion River, the North Saskatchewan flows through the plains-parkland divide, with occasional stretches of prairie. The North Saskatchewan River valley parks system; the largest expanses of urban parkland in Canada.[5] Cutting across Edmonton and the Capital Region.[6] The river runs in a well-defined valley with deep cuts in the landscape. The fourth section, from the Vermilion River to Prince Albert is principally prairie with a few small stretches of timber and secondary forest cover. The valley of the river is much wider, and the river itself spreads out across shallow water and flows over many shifting sand bars. Low-lying, flat areas border the river for much of this section.

The final section of the river, from Prince Albert to the Saskatchewan River Forks, has many rapids. The valley is more shallow than the previous sections of the river, and the channel is much better defined. There is little prairie and much tree cover in this section.[7]

The water flows on then in the Saskatchewan River.

Geology edit

The Bridge River Ash is in the vicinity of the North Saskatchewan River, which erupted from the Mount Meager massif in southwestern British Columbia about 2350 years ago.

History edit

The river is shown on a Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) map from 1760, labelled as the Beaver River.[8]

Its Cree name is kisiskâciwanisîpiy, meaning 'swift current'. From this name is derived the name Saskatchewan, used as well for the South Saskatchewan River and the Saskatchewan River (of which both the North and South Saskatchewan rivers are major tributaries), and the province of that name.[9]

Its Blackfoot name is omaka-ty 'big river'.[10]

The North Saskatchewan in Edmonton circa 1913. Steamboats in the foreground, construction of the High Level Bridge in the background, and mid-river piers for future Walterdale Bridge between.

The 49-kilometre section of the North Saskatchewan River that falls within the boundaries of Banff National Park was designated a Canadian Heritage River in 1989, due to its importance in the development of Western Canada.[11] In 2022 the remaining 718 km within Alberta, flowing through 16 municipalities in the province, was nominated to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System, achieving final designation in March of 2024.[12][13]

The river demarcates the prairie–parkland divide for much of its course and acted as a natural boundary between plains Blackfoot of the south and woodland Cree of the north for thousands of years. Archaeologists have found evidence and indications of nearly 800 permanent or temporary occupation and quarry sites in the Edmonton region alone, dating back hundreds and sometimes thousands of years.[9] With the westward expansion of the fur trade spearheaded by the North West Company (NWC) and followed by the HBC, the river became an important transportation route for fur trade brigades' York boats, to which it was especially well suited as it follows an eastern trend toward Hudson Bay, the entry point for the HBC into the continent. Many fur trade posts were constructed on the river, including Fort Edmonton (1795) and Rocky Mountain House, the uppermost post reached by canoe navigation. The river's importance continued after the amalgamation of the HBC and the NWC. The river was plied by a number of steamboats up to the First World War, although for everyday freight the growing web of railway lines in the western prairies eventually replaced them. The river was used commercially for many years – to carry flatboats of settlers goods and construction materials downstream from Edmonton, to float thousands of logs in the annual log drive downstream to Edmonton prior to the First World War, as a source of ice blocks for home owners' iceboxes.[citation needed]

The first bridge across the river opened in 1900, the Low Level Bridge (Edmonton). The Canadian Northern Railway Bridge (Prince Albert) (1907-9), which also at first carried foot and wheeled traffic, and the Battleford bridge (ca. 1908) followed.[citation needed]

Recreation edit

The North Saskatchewan River flowing past the West River's Edge park in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta

Edmonton's North Saskatchewan River valley parks system is the largest system of urban parks in Canada, and covers both sides of the river valley's course through Edmonton.[14] The River Valley Alliance, a non-profit organization composed of seven municipalities which border the North Saskatchewan River, is currently working to create a continuous trail network from the town of Devon to the city of Fort Saskatchewan – a total of 100 kilometres (62 mi).[15]

Fish species edit

Fish species include: walleye, sauger, yellow perch, northern pike, goldeye, mooneye, lake sturgeon, mountain whitefish, burbot, longnose sucker, white sucker and shorthead redhorse.[16] The upper North Saskatchewan River contains cutthroat trout (although not native),[17] and bull trout[18]

Flooding edit

Like all rivers, the North Saskatchewan is subject to periodic flooding, beginning with rapid snowmelt in the mountains or prolonged periods of rain in the river basin. With the establishment of permanent communities along the river's course, and the rise of an administrative/government structure, records exist recording floods in the North Saskatchewan for the past century. The Bighorn Dam, constructed in the early 1970s near Nordegg, Alberta, and the Brazeau Dam, constructed in the mid-1960s, have not reduced flooding potential on the North Saskatchewan River (Alberta Environment 1981) [19]

29 June 1915 cover of the Edmonton Daily Bulletin

List of notable flood years edit

[20] [21]

Year Edmonton Prince Albert
Peak date mean daily flow
Peak date Peak flow
1899 18 August 4570 August 3960
1912 10 July 2100 14 July 1980
19 August 1990 25 August 1550
1914 9 June 1750 14 June 1790
1915 29 June 4640 2 July 5300
16 July 2550 21 July 2320
1917 18 May 1860 23 May 1540
1923 25 June 2380 30 June 1640
1925 18 August 2150 23 August 1620
1932 4 June 1870 10 June 2160
1944 16 June 3450 20 June 2940
1948 25 May 1850 31 May 2090
1952 25 June 3540 29 June 2970
1954 8 June 3030 12 June 2790
27 August 2820 1 Sept 2570
1965 29 June 2590 4 July 2460
1969 7 July 1740 13 July 1570
1972 27 June 2970 2 July 2340
1974 23 April 3880
1980 7 June 1740 13 June 1680
1982 6 July 1920 13 July 1580
1986 19 July 3990 24 July 3230
1990 4 July 2340 10 July 1890
2005 21 June 2270 27 June 1800
2011 19 June 1800 26 June 2100
2013 23 June 2710 29 June 2200

Flood of 1899 edit

The river peaked at a stage of 12.61 metres (41.4 ft) with an estimated peak instantaneous discharge of 5,100 cubic metres per second (180,000 cu ft/s).[citation needed]

Flood of 1915 edit

The 1915 flood of the North Saskatchewan River was one of the most dramatic in the history of Edmonton. On 28 June, the Edmonton Bulletin reported the river had risen "10 feet in as many hours" and ultimately hitting a height of 42 feet over the low water level.[22] A frantic phone call from Rocky Mountain House alerted local authorities to the flood's arrival.[23] The Canadian Northern Railway had parked a number of train cars on the city's Low Level Bridge to protect against the "tons upon tons of debris" that had been pushed up against its piers, including a house swept away by the current.[24] Thousands of Edmonton residents watched the flood destroy lumber mills, other industries and dozens of houses along the city's river valley.[24][22]

The river peaked at a stage of 13.73 metres (45.0 ft), a rise of 11.5 metres (38 ft) above low flow, with an estimated peak instantaneous discharge of 5,800 cubic metres per second (200,000 cu ft/s). However, based on high water marks and 1D modelling, the actual value may have been closer to 6,300 cubic metres per second (220,000 cu ft/s).[citation needed]

Flood of 1986 edit

The river peaked at a stage of 11.5 metres (38 ft) with a peak instantaneous discharge of 4,520 cubic metres per second (160,000 cu ft/s).[citation needed]

2013 Alberta flooding edit

Along with many other rivers in central and southern Alberta during late June, the North Saskatchewan saw significantly higher water levels and flow rates. The river peaked at a stage of 9.03 m (29.6 ft) with a peak instantaneous discharge of 2,710 cubic metres per second (96,000 cu ft/s) on June 23 in Edmonton.[25] This is significantly higher than the Bow River's peak height at 4.1 metres (13 ft) and peak discharge of 1,750 cubic metres per second (62,000 cu ft/s) on June 21, that caused widespread flooding in Calgary.[26] However, due to the expansive North Saskatchewan River Valley and natural sanctuary/parkland that surrounds it, the City of Edmonton had only minor, isolated flooding, with virtually no major property damage as a result.[citation needed]

Commercial navigation edit

The North Saskatchewan River has always been a major trade route from Hudson Bay and central Canada across the Canadian Prairies to the Canadian Rockies. During the fur trade era, birch bark canoes and York boats travelled up and down the Saskatchewan delivering trade goods and amassing furs for transportation to Europe.[citation needed]

The North Saskatchewan also witnessed a lively, although short-lived, era of steamboat shipping during the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s. The Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) purchased a number of steamboats from companies operating on the Red River and trading at Winnipeg/Fort Garry. The HBC desired to avoid paying the labour costs of fur trade brigades, and hoped steamboat shipping would provide a suitable alternative. Several HBC steamboats navigated the river intermittently for many years, although fluctuating water levels and natural barriers (rapids and sandbars) hampered efficient operation.[27]

With the arrival of the railroad in Western Canada, steamboat shipping on the North Saskatchewan tapered off, but steamboats operated in the Edmonton area until the economic crash of 1912-14.[28]

Dams and hydroelectric development edit

A number of dams have been planned and constructed on the North Saskatchewan River and its tributaries. No singular purpose has dominated dam planning in the basin, indeed, hydroelectric development, flood control, and water diversion schemes have all underpinned proposals to construct dams on the river.[citation needed]

Planned dams edit

The first hydroelectric development on the North Saskatchewan was planned in 1910 near the Town of Drayton Valley. Funding for the plan came from a British syndicate; design and construction were to be carried out by the Edmonton Hydro-Electric Power Scheme. The development was shelved after the outbreak of World War I.[29]

The La Colle Falls hydroelectric project east of Prince Albert was a half-built failure. Construction began in the 1910s and was later abandoned.[30] The city remained in debt from financing the project until 1960, and the site still attracts tourists today.[31]

During the 1960s and 1970s, a major dam was planned on the North Saskatchewan near the Hamlet of Hairy Hill, Alberta, about 160 kilometres (100 mi) downstream from Edmonton. This dam was part of a larger interbasin water diversion conceived by the Alberta Government to transfer water from the Peace, Smoky, and Athabasca rivers to the Saskatchewan River Basin.[32]

The planned dam had a maximum height of 65 metres (212 ft), with a crest length of 1.76 kilometres (5,760 ft), which would have created a reservoir capable of holding over 4.9 cubic kilometres (4,000,000 acre⋅ft) of water. The reservoir would have affected municipal water works in the City of Fort Saskatchewan, was likely to inundate part of the Saddle Lake Indian reserve, and would have flooded a number of oil and natural gas fields in the area.[33] The plan was later shelved in light of economic and environmental concerns.[citation needed]

Constructed dams edit

The Bighorn Dam was constructed near Nordegg and created Abraham Lake, one of the largest reservoirs in Alberta. The dam was constructed in 1972 by Calgary Power.[34] The Bighorn Plant has a generating capacity of 120 megawatts (MW), and has an available water supply that allows it to be the largest producer of hydroelectric electricity in Alberta, with an average of 408,000 megawatt hours (MW⋅h) each year.[34]

One of the North Saskatchewan's major tributaries, the Brazeau River, houses the Brazeau Hydroelectric Plant. At 355 MW, the Brazeau Dam is Alberta's largest hydroelectric facility, and was built in 1965 by Calgary Power.[35] Though having a higher peak generating capacity than the Bighorn Dam, the hydrology of the Brazeau means that its average annual electricity production is a slightly smaller 397,000 MW⋅h.[35]

Tributaries edit

Tributaries of the North Saskatchewan River:[36]

Photo gallery edit

See also edit

Further reading edit

  • Kostash, Myrna (2005). Reading the River: A Traveller's Companion to the North Saskatchewan River. Coteau Books. ISBN 978-1-5505-0317-3. Retrieved April 30, 2016.

References edit

  1. ^ "Saskatchewan River". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2006. Retrieved September 22, 2006.
  2. ^ Atlas of Canada. "Major Rivers in Canada". Archived from the original on April 4, 2007. Retrieved May 1, 2007.
  3. ^ Alberta Environment - Alberta river basins [dead link]
  4. ^ Oegema, Bart. "North Saskatchewan River". ESask. University of Regina. Retrieved May 6, 2024.
  5. ^ "River Valley Parks". City of Edmonton. Retrieved March 31, 2016.
  6. ^ "Ribbon of Green Concept Plan: Basic Principles". City of Edmonton. Archived from the original on March 26, 2016. Retrieved March 31, 2016.
  7. ^ Surveys of the North Saskatchewan River: 1910-1915. Edmonton: Government of the Province of Alberta, Department of Water Resources, 1917. Pages 50-53.
  8. ^ MacDonald, 3[citation needed]
  9. ^ a b Chalifoux, Jenna (June 7, 2016). "Kisiskāciwani-sīpiy – Swift Flowing River". Edmonton City as Museum Projec. Edmonton Heritage Council. Retrieved March 26, 2024.
  10. ^ Geographic Board of Canada. Place Names of Alberta (1928)
  11. ^ "North Saskatchewan River". Canadian Heritage River System. 2011. Retrieved July 9, 2015.
  12. ^ "Governments of Canada and Alberta officially accept nomination of the Alberta section of the North Saskatchewan River as a Canadian Heritage River". August 3, 2022. Retrieved August 25, 2023.
  13. ^ Chowdhury, Nishat (March 24, 2024). "Alberta's North Saskatchewan earns heritage river status". CBC News. Retrieved March 26, 2024.
  14. ^ Edmonton, City of (July 18, 2020). "River Valley Parks". Retrieved July 18, 2020.
  15. ^ "River Valley Alliance". River Valley Alliance. Retrieved July 18, 2020.
  16. ^ "Fish Species of Saskatchewan". Government of Saskatchewan. Archived from the original on November 3, 2015.
  17. ^ "Cutthroat trout". Retrieved August 30, 2019.
  18. ^ "Upper North Saskatchewan River and Abraham Lake Bull Trout Study" (PDF). Alberta Conservation. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 28, 2019.
  19. ^ Mustapha, A. M. (1981). History of Floods in the North Saskatchewan River Basin (Report). Alberta Environment, Environmental Engineering Support Services, Technical Services Division.
  20. ^ Research Council of Alberta, Highways Division. Hydrologic Data on Floods in the North Saskatchewan River. (Edmonton: Research Council of Alberta, 1965).
  21. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on December 31, 2007. Retrieved January 2, 2008.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) Environment Canada, Water Survey of Canada, retrieved 11 January 2009.
  22. ^ a b Scott, Sally (June 29, 2015). "June 29, 1915 — Edmonton's River Valley Floods". Edmonton City as Museum Project. Edmonton Heritage Council. Retrieved March 26, 2024.
  23. ^ The Edmonton Bulletin, 28 June 1915.
  24. ^ a b The Edmonton Bulletin, 29 June 1915.
  25. ^ "Disclaimer for Hydrometric Information - Water Level and Flow - Environment Canada".
  26. ^ "Disclaimer for Hydrometric Information - Water Level and Flow - Environment Canada".
  27. ^ Bruce Peel, Steamboats on the Saskatchewan, (Saskatoon: Prairie Books, 1972)
  28. ^ Tom Monto, Old Strathcona - Edmonton's Southside Roots (Alhambra Books/Crang Publishing (2011).
  29. ^ Loosmore, W. S. B. To Trail's End: Early Settlement in Drayton Valley. Drayton Valley: Drayton Valley and District Historical Society, 1994. Pages 10-14.
  30. ^ Saskatchewan Settlement Experience Archived 2011-07-16 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 2013-07-12.
  31. ^ Saskatchewan Settlement Experience Archived 2011-07-16 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 2013-07-12.
  32. ^ Athabasca River Historical Report. Retrieved on 2018-03-01.
  33. ^ Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration, Engineering Services, Alberta Regional Division. Hariy Hill Dam—North Saskatchewan River, Engineering Report. Calgary: Saskatchewan-Nelson Basin Board, 1970.
  34. ^ a b "Bighorn". Retrieved December 26, 2017.
  35. ^ a b "Brazeau". Retrieved December 26, 2017.
  36. ^ Milholland, Billie. North Saskatchewan River Guide: Mountain to Prairie a Living Landscape. Edmonton: North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance, 2002.

External links edit

  Media related to North Saskatchewan River at Wikimedia Commons