The Detroit River – A Canadian Heritage River
Situated in the heart of the Great Lakes Basin, the Detroit River connects Lake St. Clair and the City of Windsor with Lake Erie and the Town of Amherstburg. This 51 kilometre waterway is the busiest international border crossing point between Canada and the United States and is a key transportation route in the Great Lakes system. The river is truly a shared resource bringing the people of two nations together. The Detroit River is also the only major Canadian river and watershed that lies completely within the Carolinian vegetation zone, featuring diverse ecosystems and rare species found nowhere else in this country. In addition, over 6,000 years of First Nation use and 300 years of European settlement have endowed the Detroit River with many exceptional and unique cultural heritage values.
A community based application team was formed by the Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA) in the spring of 1997 to seek Canadian Heritage River status for the Detroit River. The Canadian Heritage Rivers System was established in 1984 by the federal, provincial and territorial governments as a means of conserving, celebrating and showcasing Canada’s rich river heritage. Persons from any province or territory may suggest rivers of outstanding natural, cultural and/or recreational value for nomination, in order to enhance their significant heritage values for the long-term benefit and enjoyment of all Canadians. The Detroit River was designated as part of the Canadian Heritage Rivers System on July 19, 2001. Interestingly, the Detroit River is the first river on the continent to receive both Canadian and American heritage river status, providing a unique opportunity to showcase international cooperation in managing, protecting and marketing the river’s heritage values.
It is envisioned that designation will act as a catalyst for increasing interest in and the image of the Detroit River and its watershed. A number of actions to conserve, interpret, enhance and appreciate the cultural and natural heritage, and the recreational values of the Detroit River have been implemented since designation.
As identified in the Management Strategy for the Detroit River as a Canadian Heritage River (2001), education and public involvement is a key component of maintaining Heritage River designation. As well, the greater the level of awareness that people have about the outstanding human heritage, natural heritage and recreational values of the Detroit Canadian Heritage River, the more involved they will become in its protection and restoration.