The Winnipeg River is a Canadian river which flows from Lake of the Woods in the province of Ontario to Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba. This river is 235 kilometres (146 mi) long from the Norman Dam in Kenora to its mouth at Lake Winnipeg. Its watershed is 106,500 square kilometres (41,100 sq mi) in area, mainly in Canada. About 29,000 square kilometres (11,000 sq mi) of this area is in northern Minnesota.
The watershed stretches to the height of land about 100 kilometres (62 mi) west of Lake Superior. The Winnipeg River watershed was the southeastern-most portion of the land granted to the Hudson's Bay Company in 1670. The river's name means "murky water" in Cree.
This river route was used by natives for thousands of years and became a major fur trade route for hundreds of years. It is the only major water route between what is now southern Manitoba and Ontario that allowed natives to easily canoe back and forth. The Red River route was much farther south and with a longer portage. La Vérendrye was one of the first explorers to establish fur trade forts near the native camps in the area. The Winnipeg River system through Whiteshell Provincial Park has many petroforms near the Whiteshell River forks where the two rivers meet. These petroforms are an ancient reminder of the importance of the area for native travel, trade, ceremonies, harvesting, and settlements.
Major modern communities along the banks of the Winnipeg River include: Lac du Bonnet, Pinawa, Powerview, and Pine Falls, all in Manitoba, and Kenora, Minaki and Whitedog in Ontario. Whitedog is the home of the Wabaseemoong First Nation.
The Winnipeg River became an important transportation route to western Canada for fur traders and explorers. The first Europeans to explore the river are believed to have been the sons of the French explorer La Vérendrye, Jean-Baptiste and Pierre Jr. Extensive travel by canoe and boat continued along the river for hundreds of years until the Canadian Pacific Railway was built across Canada in the late 19th century.
In Manitoba, the Winnipeg River is broken up by six hydroelectric dams: the Pointe du Bois Generating Station at Pointe du Bois, Slave Falls just a few kilometres downstream, Seven Sisters Falls Generating Station at Seven Sisters, MacArthur Falls Generating Station, the Great Falls Generating Station, and the Pine Falls Generating Station at Powerview, Manitoba. In Ontario there are dams at Kenora and Whitedog Falls.
There are also many lakes along the Winnipeg River where the river widens, including Nutimik, Eleanor, Dorothy, Margaret, Natalie, and Lac du Bonnet, all in Manitoba. Nutimik, Dorothy, and Margaret Lakes are all entirely within the Whiteshell Provincial Park. Lakes in the Ontario portion of the river include Gun, Roughrock and Sand.
This map shows an early engineering survey of the river, and indicates potential sites for the establishment of power plants. Construction of the first power station was begun in 1903, on the Pinawa Channel of the Winnipeg river, and finished in 1906. In subsequent years, stations were built at Pointe du Bois, Slave falls, Seven Sisters (Rapids), McArthur Falls, Great (Grand du Bonnet) Falls, and Pine Falls.