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Rivers

Photo of a riverRivers, which form extensive networks across the country, are natural drainage channels for surface waters. Surface waters are received from two major sources: runoff and base flow. Runoff is that part of precipitation that flows toward the rivers or streams on the ground surface or within the soil (subsurface runoff or interflow). Base flow is the part of stream flow that enters the stream channel from groundwater.

Rivers in Canada flow into five ocean-equivalent drainage basins: the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic oceans, Hudson Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The drainage basin areas are separated by a drainage divide or height of land. The individual river system with the largest drainage area is the Mackenzie River, with 1 805 200 square kilometres.

The discharge of a stream or river is derived from Canadian water level measurements at the furthest-downstream gauging station, and is converted to streamflow discharge in cubic feet per second or cubic metres per second. The river in Canada with the greatest annual discharge is the St. Lawrence River at 9 850 cubic metres per second.

List of River Facts:

Ocean Drainage Basins in Canada

Ocean Drainage Basins in Canada
Drainage Basin Approximate Area (square kilometres)
Atlantic Ocean 1 520 000
Hudson Bay, James Bay and Ungava Bay 3 861 400
Arctic Ocean 3 583 300
Pacific Ocean 1 009 100
Gulf of Mexico 21 600
  • Hudson Bay drainage includes internal drainage areas (areas whose drainage flows into groundwater or evaporates)
  • Atlantic drainage includes areas of diverted drainage that could otherwise flow into James Bay.

Rivers Flowing into the Pacific Ocean

Yukon River
River Length (kilometres) Drainage Area (square kilometres) Mean Discharge (cubic metres per second)
Yukon River (mouth to head of Nisutlin River) 3 185 Can.: 323 800
US: 515 400
Total: 839 200
not available
Yukon River (International Boundary to head of Nisutlin River) 1 149 323 800 2 300
Porcupine River 721 Can.: 61 400
US: 56 500
Total: 117 900
not available
Stewart River 644 51 000 not available
Pelly River 608 51 000 410
Teslin River 393 35 500 330
White River 265 Can.: 38 000
US: 12 500
Total: 50 500
not available

Columbia River
River Length (kilometres) Drainage Area (square kilometres) Mean Discharge (cubic metres per second)
Columbia River (mouth to head of Columbia Lake) 2 000 Can.: 102 800
US: 568 500
Total: 671 300
not available
Columbia River (International Boundary to head of Columbia Lake) 801 102 800 2 790
Kootenay River 780 Can.: 37 700
US: 12 600
Total: 50 300
850
Elk River (to head of Upper Elk Lake) 220 4 450 80
Slocan River (to head of Slocan Lake) 97 3 290 85
Kettle River (to head of Holmes Lake) 336 4 700 not available
Okanagan River (to head of Okanagan Lake) 314 21 600 not available
Similkameen River 251 9 300 85

Fraser River
River Length (kilometres) Drainage Area (square kilometres) Mean Discharge (cubic metres per second)
Fraser River 1 370 Can.: 232 300
US: 800
Total: 233 100
3 540
Thompson River (to head of North Thompson River) 489 55 400 750
North Thompson River 338 20 700 425
South Thompson River (to head of Shuswap River) 332 17 800 not available
Shuswap River 185 5 200 90
Nechako River (to head of Eutsuk Lake) 462 47 100 not available
Stuart River (to head of Driftwood River) 415 16 200 not available
Chilcotin River 235 20 000 not available
Quesnel River (to head of Mitchell Lake) 203 12 000 not available
Harrison River (to head of Lillooet River) 177 8 400 not available
Bridge River 142 4 660 110

Skeena River
River Length (kilometres) Drainage Area (square kilometres) Mean Discharge (cubic metres per second)
Skeena River 579 54 400 not available
Bulkley River (to head of Maxan Creek) 257 12 400 not available

Stikine River
River Length (kilometres) Drainage Area (square kilometres) Mean Discharge (cubic metres per second)
Stikine River 539 Can.: 49 800
US: 1 800
Total: 51 600
not available
Iskut River 195 9 400 not available

Other Rivers Flowing Into the Pacific Ocean
River Length (kilometres) Drainage Area (square kilometres) Mean Discharge (cubic metres per second)
Taku River 250 Can.: 27 500
US: 2 300
Total: 29 800
not available
Nass River 380 21 100 not available
Homathko River 137 5 700 300
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Rivers Flowing Into the Arctic Ocean

Mackenzie River
River Length (kilometres) Drainage Area (square kilometres) Mean Discharge (cubic metres per second)
Mackenzie River (to head of Finlay River) 4 241 1 805 200 9 700
Peace River (to head of Finlay River) 1 923 302 500 not available
Smoky River 492 51 300 375
Finlay River 402 43 000 600
Parsnip River 231 20 300 370
Athabasca River 1 231 95 300 not available
Pembina River 547 12 900 not available
Liard River 1 115 277 100 not available
South Nahanni River 563 36 300 not available
Fort Nelson River (to head of Sikanni Chief River) 517 55 900 not available
Petitot River 404 23 200 not available
Hay River 702 48 200 not available
Peel River (to head of Ogilvie River) 684 73 600 not available
Arctic Red River 499 23 200 not available
Slave River (from mouth of Peace River to Great Slave Lake 415 616 400 not available
Fond du Lac River (from outlet of Wollaston Lake) 277 66 800 300

Other Rivers
River Length (kilometres) Drainage Area (square kilometres) Mean Discharge (cubic metres per second)
Back River (to outlet of Muskox Lake) 974 106 500 not available
Coppermine River 845 not available not available
Anderson River 692 not available not available
Horton River 618 not available not available
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Rivers Flowing Into Hudson Bay, James Bay or Ungava Bay

Nelson River
River Length (kilometres) Drainage Area (square kilometres) Mean Discharge (cubic metres per second)
Nelson River (to head of Bow River) 2 575 Can.: 802 900
US: 180 000
Total: 982 900
2 370
Nelson River (from outlet of Lake Winnipeg to mouth) 644 not available not available
South Saskatchewan River (to head of Bow River) 1 939 Can.: 334 100
US: 1 800
Total: 335 900
700
Saskatchewan (to head of Bow River) 1 392 Can.: 144 300
US: 1 800
Total: 146 100
280
Red Deer River [AB] 724 45 100 70
Bow River 587 26 200 not available
Oldman River 362 26 700 95
North Saskatchewan River 1 287 122 800 245
Battle River (to head of Pigeon Lake) 570 30 300 10
Red River (to head of Sheyenne River) 877 Can.: 138 600
US: 148 900
Total: 287 500
not available
Assiniboine River 1 070 Can.: 160 600
US: 21 400
Total: 182 000
45
Winnipeg River (to head of Firesteel River) 813 Can.: 106 500
US: 29 300
Total: 135 800
not available
English River 615 52 300 not available
Fairford River (to head of Red Deer River [MB, SK]) 684 80 300 60

Churchill River [Manitoba, Saskatchewan]
River Length (kilometres) Drainage Area (square kilometres) Mean Discharge (cubic metres per second)
Churchill River (to head of Churchill Lake) 1 609 281 300 1 200
Beaver River (to outlet of Beaver Lake) 491 not available not available

Thelon River
River Length (kilometres) Drainage Area (square kilometres) Mean Discharge (cubic metres per second)
Thelon River 904 142 400 840
Dubawnt River 842 57 500 not available
Kazan River (to head of Ennadai Lake) 732 71 500 540

Moose River
River Length (kilometres) Drainage Area (square kilometres) Mean Discharge (cubic metres per second)
Moose River (to head of Mattagami River) 547 108 500 1 370
Abitibi River (to head of Lac Loïs) 547 29 500 not available
Mattagami River (to head of Lake Minissinakwa) 443 37 000 not available
Missinaibi River 426 23 500 not available

Other Rivers Flowing Into the Atlantic Ocean
River Length (kilometres) Drainage Area (square kilometres) Mean Discharge (cubic metres per second)
Albany River (to head of Cat River) 982 135 200 not available
Severn River (to head of Black Birch River) 982 102 800 not available
La Grande Rivière 893 97 600 1 690
Rivière Koksoak (to head of Rivière Caniapiscau) 874 133 400 2 800
Rivière Nottaway (via Rivière Bell to head of Rivière Mégiscane) 776 65 800 1 190
Rivière Rupert (to head of Rivière Témiscamie) 763 43 400 900
Rivière Eastmain 756 46 400 930
Attawapiskat River (to head of Bow Lake) 748 50 500 not available
Grande rivière de la Baleine 724 42 700 680
Rivière George 565 41 700 940
Rivière Harricana 533 29 300 570
Hayes River 483 108 000 590
Rivière aux Feuilles 480 42 500 590
Winisk River 475 67 300 not available
Rivière Broadback 450 20 800 350
Rivière à la Baleine 428 31 900 580
Rivière de Povungnituk 389 28 500 480
Rivière Innuksuac 385 11 400 180
Petite rivière de la Baleine 380 15 900 280
Rivière Arnaud 377 49 500 670
Rivière Nastapoca 360 13 400 170
Rivière Kogaluc 304 11 600 180
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Rivers Flowing Into the Gulf of Mexico

Mississippi River
River Length (kilometres) Drainage Area (square kilometres) Mean Discharge (cubic metres per second)
Milk River 1 005 Can.:21 600
US: 39 600
Total: 61 200
not available
Frenchman River (in Canada) 341 5 500 not available
Battle Creek (in Canada) 203 2 600 not available
Lodge Creek (in Canada) 126 2 100 not available
Mississippi River (entirety in the US) 3 778 Can.:27 800
US: 3 220 000
Total: 3 247 800
not available
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Rivers Flowing into the Atlantic Ocean

St. Lawrence River
River Length (kilometres) Drainage Area (square kilometres) Mean Discharge (cubic metres per second)
St. Lawrence River (to head of St. Louis River, Minnesota) 3 058 Can.: 839 200
US: 505 000
Total: 1 344 200
9 850
Lake Superior 563 Can.: 112 700
US: 97 100
Total: 209 800
not available
Nipigon River (to head of Ombabika River) 209 25 400 not available
Nipigon River (to head of Merekeme Lake) 114 1 930 26
Lake Huron (drainage figure does not include upstream drainage via St. Marys River) 332 Can.: 128 200
US: 65 500
Total: 193 700
not available
Spanish River 338 14 000 150
French River (to head of Sturgeon River) 290 not available not available
Mississagi River 266 9 250 11
Saugeen River 161 4 120 55
Lake St. Clair (drainage figure does not include upstream drainage via St. Clair River) 42 Can.: 10 480
US: 3 060
Total: 13 540
not available
Thames River 262 5 650 50
Lake Erie (drainage figure does not include upstream drainage via Detroit River) 388 Can.: 36 500
US: 67 300
Total: 103 800
not available
Grand River 266 6 200 not available
Lake Ontario (drainage figure does not include upstream drainage via Niagara River) 311 Can.: 41 200
US: 45 200
Total: 86 400
not available
Trent River (to head of Irondale River) 302 12 400 not available
Moira River 124 2 750 30
Ottawa River 1 271 146 300 1 950
Rivière Gatineau 386 23 700 not available
Rivière du Lièvre 330 10 400 not available
Madawaska River (to head of Madawaska Lake) 230 8 470 85
Rivière Coulonge 217 5 060 not available
Petawawa River (to head of Butt Lake) 187 4 200 45
Rivière Rouge 185 not available not available
Mississippi River (to head of Upper Mazinaw Lake) 169 3 750 40
South Nation River 161 3 830 35
Rideau River 146 3 800 35
Rivière Dumoine 129 5 380 not available
Rivière du Nord 113 not available not available
Rivière de la Petite Nation 97 not available not available
Saguenay River (to head of Rivière Péribonka) 698 88 000 1 750
Rivière Péribonka 451 28 200 not available
Rivière Mistassini 298 21 900 not available
Rivière Ashuapmushuan 266 15 700 not available
Rivière Saint-Maurice 563 43 300 730
Rivière Matawin 161 5 560 not available
Rivière Manicouagan (to head of Rivière Mouchalagane) 560 45 800 1 020
Rivières aux Outardes 499 19 000 400
Rivière Betsiamites (to head of Rivière Manouanis) 444 18 700 340
Rivière Moisie 410 19 200 490
Rivière Saint-François 280 10 230 190
Rivière Chaudière 193 not available not available
Rivière Richelieu (to outlet of Lake Champlain) 171 Can.: 3 800
US: 19 600
Total: 23 400
330

Saint John River
River Length (kilometres) Drainage Area (square kilometres) Mean Discharge (cubic metres per second)
Saint John River 673 Can.: 35 500
US: 19 700
Total: 55 200
1 130
Tobique River (to outlet of Nictau Lake) 148 4 330 80

Other Rivers
River Length (kilometres) Drainage Area (square kilometres) Mean Discharge (cubic metres per second)
Churchill River [NL] (to head of Ashuanipi River) 856 79 800 1 580
Rivière du Petit Mécatina / Little Mecatina River 547 19 600 510
Rivière Romaine 496 14 350 340
Rivière Natashquan / Natashquan River 410 16 100 410
Exploits River 246 1 100 270
Eagle River 233 10 300 not available
Rivière Saint-Augustin / St. Augustin River 233 9 900 280
Naskaupi River 220 18 100 not available
Miramichi River 217 12 390 not available
Gander River (to head of Northwest Gander River) 175 5 000 130
Nepisiguit River (to outlet of Nepisiguit Lakes) 121 2 320 40

Sources:

Canada. Energy, Mines and Resources Canada. Surveys and Mapping Branch. 1985. Canada - Drainage Basins, The National Atlas of Canada, 5th ed. Map Scale 1:7 500 000. Ottawa.

US Army Corps of Engineers. Coordinating Committee on Great Lakes. 1977. Coordinated Great Lakes Physical Data: Basic Hydraulic and Hydrologic Data.

 
Date modified: 2004-10-26 Top of Page Important Notices