Longest Rivers in Canada: Nature’s Grand Flow

Narayani BhardwajJanhavi Ramesh Kowligi
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The longest rivers in Canada can be determined based on their length. However, the length of the river can be of its main stem.

Meanwhile, the Mackenzie River forms Canada’s longest river system. But it includes the combined length of the mainstream.

1. Rivers of the North: Canada’s Lengthy Water Wonders

There are about 67 of the longest rivers in Canada. These are more than 600 kilometers long. Given below is a brief overview of the five longest rivers in Canada.

1.1. Mackenzie River

Image by thecanadianencyclopedia.ca

The Mackenzie River is the first longest river in Canada. It is located in the Canadian Boreal Forest in the Northwest Territories. It serves as Canada’s longest river system. The main river streams inside the Northwest Territories in Canada. Meanwhile, the five other tributaries flow through the different territories in Canada.

The main stem of the river is 1,738 kilometers long. Along with the length of its tributaries, it has a length of 4,241 kilometers. This is the longest river length in Canada.

It flows from the north-northwest. Further, it blends into the Arctic Ocean. It is the most significant river that blends into the Arctic Ocean from the side of North America.

In addition to its tributaries, it forms the world’s 13th-largest river system. Several basins of the river are vast in natural resources. Lumber, Uranium, Oil, Gas, Zinc, Gold, and Tungsten are all found in the basins. The size of the basin is 1,783,912 square kilometers.

Mackenzie River

Its tributaries include the Bouvier River, Kakisa River, Trout River, Great Slave Lake, Jean Marie River, Redknife River, and Horn River. Moreover, Spence River, Liard River, Trail River, Root River, Martin River, and Harris River are also included.

Rengleng River, Peel River, Arctic Red River, Rabbit Hay River, Tree, and Thunder River are also part of it. The Ochre, Saline, Loon, Johnson, Blackwater, Dahadinni, Little Bear, Tsintu, and Tieda rivers are also tributaries.

The following are the largest tributaries of Mackenzie River:

  • Liard River (1,115 kilometers)
  • Peel River (580 kilometers)
  • Arctic Red River (500 kilometers)
  • Keele River (410 kilometers)
  • Mountain River (370 kilometers)
  • Redstone River (289 kilometers)
  • Root River (220 kilometers)
  • North Nahanni River (200 kilometers)
  • Great Bear River (113 kilometers)

1.2. Yukon River

Image by thecanadianencyclopedia.ca

The Yukon River streams in the Yukon Territory in Canada. Yukon was named after this river. This river is 3,190 kilometers long. It makes the Yukon River the second of the five longest rivers in Canada.

The river is the vital watercourse of North America. It begins from British Columbia and flows via the Yukon Territory. The river’s lower half flows through the U.S. state of Alaska.

It discharges into the Bering Sea. It was a significant means of transportation from the 1890s onwards. Yukon and Alaska’s longest river is the Yukon River. Tributaries of the Yukon River are spread into Yukon Territory and Alaska.

The following are tributaries in the Yukon Territory:

  • Fortymile River
  • Sixtymile River
  • Klondike River
  • Indian River
  • White River

Following is the list of tributaries in the Alaska region:

  • Porcupine River
  • Christian River
  • Chandalar River
  • Seventy mile River
  • Hess Creek
  • Kandik River
  • Tatonduk River
  • Nation River
  • Garnet Creek
  • Dall River
  • Charley River
  • Birch Creek
  • Big Salt River
  • Beaver Creek
  • Tanana River
  • Coal Creek
  • Hodzana River
  • Hadweenzic River
  • Ray River
  • Tozitna River
  • NC Creek

1.3.  Saint Lawrence River

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Image by thecanadianencyclopedia.ca

Saint Lawrence River is the third of the five longest rivers in Canada. It is located in the middle latitudes of North America.

The headwaters of the Saint Lawrence River begin from Lake Ontario. It goes through the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. However, it connects the Great Lakes of North America to the great North Atlantic Ocean.

The river has various names that are popular among Indigenous Nations. It forms a hydrographic system for east-central North America. Moreover, it has economic, geographic, and hydrologic significance to Canada and the USA.

It has different names in different regions. Wepistukujaw Sipo/Wepìstùkwiyaht sīpu, Ken’tarókwen, Kaniatarowanenneh, and Kitcikanii sipi are a few names. Quebec and Ontario are the main provinces of the river in Canada. It is discharged in Lake Ontario, Quebec City, and Montreal.

St Lawrence Seaway and River

The three regions are the Appalachian Mountains, the Sedimentary Rock platform, and the Canadian Shield. Geologically, the river is spread within these three regions. The animal life here includes mammals, fish, and mollusks.

Saint Lawrence flows through many lakes. It is considered to have different sources. Given below are the considered sources of the river.

  • Lake Ontario
  • North River
  • Clair River
  • Lake Erie
  • Lake Huron
  • Saint Louis River
  • Niagara River
  • Lake Superior
  • Detroit River
  • Lake St. Clair
  • Marys River

It is home to many residential whales. Following is the list of resident whales:

  • North Atlantic Gray Whale
  • Blue Whale
  • Humpback Whale
  • Northern Bottlenose Whale
  • Bowhead Whale
  • Fin Whale
  • Beluga Whale
  • Sperm Whale
  • Minke Whale
  • Northern Atlantic Right Whale

1.4. Nelson River

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Nelson River is located in Manitoba. Manitoba is a Canadian province in north-central North America. Lake Winnipeg is its beginning source.

The 644-kilometre-long river ends its flow in Hudson Bay. Along with the Bow River and Saskatchewan River, it has an entire length of 2,575 kilometers. Among the five longest rivers in Canada, Nelson comes in 4th position.

The river is also the second-longest river in Canada, which streams completely within Canada. It is after the Mackenzie River because it also flows within the country.

However, Nelson’s basin stretches into the United States. The complete water discharge per second is 2,300 cubic meters.

1.4.1. Tributaries of the Nelson River

It is among the largest rivers in North America. Winnipeg, Red, and Saskatchewan rivers get empty into Lake Winnipeg. The 550-kilometre majestic river system of Saskatchewan flows into Lake Winnipeg by the Northern and Southern tributaries.

Red River begins from its sources and runs 885 kilometers before emptying into the lake. Its sources are Bois de Sioux and Otter Tail Rivers.

From the source of Lake Woods in Ontario, the Winnipeg River empties into Lake Winnipeg itself. It flows for 235 kilometers before that.

RCMP complete search of Nelson River

Grass Rivers and Burntwood are the other tributaries of the Nelson River. From Lake Winnipeg, the Nelson River streams into Playgreen Lake. From here, it gets divided into several lakes.

Firstly, it streams into the Cross Lake via two channels. The first channel begins from the southeast part of Playgreen Lake via Pipestone Lake into Cross Lake. The second channel begins from the northern part of Playgreen Lake.

Further, Kiskittogisu and Kiskitto Lakes join this channel before ending in the Cross Lake. Secondly, the Nelson River gets divided into Split, Stevens, and Sipiwek from Cross Lake. Lastly, it ends in its mouth, Hudson Bay, near Port Nelson.

1.5. Slave River

Longest Rivers in Canada
Image by thecanadianencyclopedia.ca

Slave River is the 5th longest river in Canada. It begins from its source in north-eastern Alberta. The source is the confluence of Peace River and Rivière des Rochers.

Further, it flows for 415 kilometers across Alberta. It empties into the Great Slave Lake. The Great Slave Lake lies in the Northwest Territories.

It extends within the Lake Athabasca and Great Slave Lake. Slave River supports the vast growth of flora and fauna with its unique and native habitat. This region is home to geese and ducks, like migratory birds.

The water of the rivers supports a massive number of spawning fish. You can also spot mammals like musk-ox, bears, and cougars in the Slave River region.

Slave River 2019

As the northernmost migratory habitat, Slave River also handles American White Pelicans. For the Wood Buffalo National Park, the river forms a natural eastern boundary.

The river is renowned for its 25-kilometer-long extension. This extension is comprised of the four sets of rapids. These rapids are the Rapids of The Mountain, The Pelican, The Cassette, and The Drowned.

So, these rapids support this area’s being among the famous whitewater kayaking destinations worldwide.

The name ‘slave’ is derived from the Slavey people. They were the first aboriginal population of the First Nations. It is considered that they settled in the Great Slave Lake region.

Before the arrival of Europeans, people like Chipewyan, Cree, and Beaver also lived here. These people also contributed to the Slave River’s history.


The rivers in Canada contributed to the tremendous Canadian history. The rivers have played a vital role in earlier times. It connected people to different pathways before the railways and roadways. These rivers have been a great food and water source for thousands of years.

As for the Mackenzie River, the total length also includes the length of its tributaries. It makes this river the longest river in Canada. However, Canada has many rivers, and these rivers contribute a lot to the country.

In addition to tributaries, different rivers form Canada’s large, larger, and largest river systems. Rivers are one of the significant parts of the country’s physical divisions. These have been a great source of electricity, ecological systems, and physical.

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  • This article discusses the longest rivers in Canada. It outlines the five longest rivers, like the Mackenzie River, Yukon River, Saint Lawrence River, Nelson River, and Slave River. It provides details on the length, source, tributaries, and other geographical features of each river. It beautifully describes that some of the rivers flow through multiple Canadian territories and provinces, as well as into the United States in some cases. It highlights the significant role that rivers play in shaping Canada’s landscape and environment. Overall, it is an excellent portrait of the beautiful, longest rivers in Canada.

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