North Saskatchewan River

North Saskatchewan River
North Saskatchewan River
Headwaters of the North Saskatchewan in Banff National Park
Country Canada
Provinces Alberta, Saskatchewan
 - left Brazeau River
 - right Clearwater River, Vermilion River, Battle River
Cities Edmonton, AB, North Battleford, SK, Prince Albert, SK
Source Rocky Mountains
 - location Saskatchewan Glacier, Alberta
 - elevation 2,080 m (6,824 ft)
 - coordinates 52°09′22″N 117°10′54″W / 52.15611°N 117.18167°W / 52.15611; -117.18167
Mouth Saskatchewan River
 - location Saskatchewan River Forks, Saskatchewan
 - elevation 380 m (1,247 ft)
 - coordinates 53°14′07″N 105°04′58″W / 53.23528°N 105.08278°W / 53.23528; -105.08278
Length 1,287 km (800 mi)
Basin 122,800 km2 (47,413 sq mi)
Discharge for Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, 53 km (33 mi) from the mouth
 - average 238 m3/s (8,405 cu ft/s)
 - max 5,660 m3/s (199,881 cu ft/s)
 - min 19 m3/s (671 cu ft/s)
The North Saskatchewan River drainage basin

The North Saskatchewan River is a glacier-fed river that flows east from the Canadian Rockies to central Saskatchewan. It is one of two major rivers that join to make up the Saskatchewan River.

The Saskatchewan River system is the largest shared between the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.[1] It includes most of southern Alberta and southern Saskatchewan, before crossing into central Manitoba.



North Saskatchewan river has a length of 1,287 km (800 mi), and a drainage area of 122,800 km2.[2] At its end point at Saskatchewan River Forks it has a mean discharge of 245 m3/s. The yearly discharge at the Alberta/Saskatchewan border is more than 7 k m3.[3]

The river begins above 1,800 metres 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 before switching to a more direct eastern flow for about 30 km. 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 km 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 it 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 km northwest of Saskatoon, near Langham, the river veers to the northeast where it passes through the City of Prince Albert. About 30 km downstream of Prince Albert, the North Saskatchewan River joins the South Saskatchewan River at Saskatchewan River Forks to become the Saskatchewan River. From here, the river flows east to Tobin Lake and into Manitoba, eventually emptying into Lake Winnipeg.


A view of the river looking south from Edmonton's Glenora neighbourhood

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. Here 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 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.[4]


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


The North Saskatchewan in Edmonton circa 1913. Note steamboats in the foreground, and the construction of the High Level Bridge in the background

The section of the North Saskatchewan river that falls within the Banff National Park boundaries has been designated a Canadian Heritage River in 1989, for its importance in the development of western Canada.[5]

The river bridges the plainsparkland divide for much of its course, acting as a natural boundary between Blackfoot and Cree First Nations people for thousands of years. With the westward expansion of the fur trade under the North West Company, the river became a natural transportation route for fur trade brigades. A number of fur trade posts were constructed on the river, including Fort Edmonton and Rocky Mountain House, the uppermost post reached by canoe navigation. After the amalgamation of the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company, the North Saskatchewan was a main travel route for York boats. Finally, before the arrival of the railway in western Canada, the river was plied by a number of steamboats.


Edmonton's North Saskatchewan River valley parks system is the largest system of urban parks in North America, and covers both sides of the river valley's course through Edmonton.[citation needed]

Fish species

Fish species include: walleye, sauger, yellow perch, northern pike, goldeye, mooneye, lake sturgeon, burbot, longnose sucker, white sucker and shorthead redhorse.[6]


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 both dramatically reduced occurrences of flooding in the North Saskatchewan River.

29 June 1915 cover of the Edmonton Daily Bulletin

List of notable flood years [7] [8]

Year Edmonton Prince Albert
Peak date Peak flow
Peak date Peak flow
1915 29 June 4640 2 July 5300
1923 25 June 2380 30 June 1640
1944 16 June 3450
1952 25 June 3540 29 June 2970
1954 8 June 3030 12 June 2790
1965 29 June 2590 4 July 2460
1972 27 June 2970 2 July 2340
1986 19 July 3990 24 July 3230
1990 4 July 2340 10 July 1890
2005 21 June 2270 27 June 1800

The flood of 1915

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." A frantic phone call from Rocky Mountain House alerted local authorities to the flood's arrival.[9] 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.[10] Thousands of Edmonton residents watched the flood destroy lumber mills along the city's river valley.[10]

Commercial navigation

The North Saskatchewan River has always been a major trade route from Hudson Bay and central Canada across the plains and towards the Rocky Mountains. 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.

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 purchased a number of steamboats from companies operating on the Red River and trading at Winnipeg/Fort Garry. The Company desired to avoid paying the labour costs of fur trade brigades, and felt steamboat shipping provided a suitable alternative. A number of HBC steamboats did navigate the river intermittently over two decades, although fluctuating water levels and natural barriers (rapids and sandbars) hampered efficient operation of the HBC fleet. With the arrival of the railroad in Western Canada, steamboat shipping on the Saskatchewan came to an end.[11]

Dams and hydroelectric development

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.

Planned dams

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.[12]

The La Colle Falls hydroelectric project east of Prince Albert was a half-built failure. Construction began in the 1910s and was later abandoned.[13] The city remained in debt from financing the project until 1960, and the site still attracts tourists today.[14]

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

The planned dam had a maximum height of 212 feet (65 m), with a crest length of 5,760 feet (1.76 km), which would have created a reservoir capable of holding over 4,000,000 acre feet (4.9 km3) 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.[15] The plan was later shelved in light of economic and environmental concerns.

Constructed dams

The Bighorn Dam was constructed near Nordegg and created Lake Abraham, one of the largest reservoirs in Alberta. The dam was constructed in 1971 by Transalta.[16]

One of the North Saskatchewan's major tributaries, the Brazeau River, houses the Brazeau Hydroelectric Dam. The Brazeau Dam is Alberta's largest hydroelectric facility, and was built in 1965 by Transalta.[17]



Saskatchewan Glacier to Lake Abraham
  • Nigel Creek
  • Alexandra River
  • Norman Creek
  • Rampart Creek
  • Arctomy's Creek
  • Castleguard River
  • Howse River
    • Glacier River
  • Mistaya River
    • Peyto Lake
  • Owen Creek
  • Thompson Creek
  • Corona Creek
  • Spreading Creek
  • Wildhorse Creek
  • Loudon Creek
  • Siffleur River
    • Escarpment River
  • Two O'Clock Creek
  • Bridge Creek
  • Whiterabbit Creek
Lake Abraham to Rocky Mountain House
  • Canyon Creek
  • Cline River
    • Pinto Lake
  • Whitegoat Creek
  • BATUS Creek
  • Hoodoo Creek
  • Allstones Creek
  • Mud Creek
  • Tershishner Creek
  • Crooked Creek
  • Kidd Creek
  • Bighorn River
  • Black Canyon Creek
  • South Creek
  • Dutch Creek
  • Jock Creek
  • Gap Creek
  • Deep Creek
  • Shunda Creek
  • Jack Fish Creek
  • Camp Creek
  • Lundine Creek
  • Lewis Creek
  • Rough Creek
  • Ram River
    • North Ram River
  • Cow Creek
    • Cow Lake
  • Clearwater River
Rocky Mountain House to Edmonton
  • Chicken Creek
  • Little Beaver Creek
  • Big Beaver Creek
  • No Name Creek
  • Baptiste River
  • Brazeau River
  • Sand Creek
  • Wolf Creek
  • Washout Creek
  • Mishow Creek
  • Poplar Modeste Creek
  • Tomahawk Creek
  • Shoal Lakes Creek
  • Wabamum Creek
    • Wabamum Lake
  • Strawberry Creek
  • Weed Creek
  • Willow Creek
  • Cutbank Creek
  • Conjuring Creek
    • Wizard Lake
  • Whitemud Creek
  • Blackmud Creek
  • Mill Creek Ravine
Edmonton to Alberta-Saskatchewan Border
  • Rat Creek
  • Oldman Creek
  • Horsehills Creek
  • Ross Creek
  • Sturgeon River
    • Big Lake
  • Redwater River
  • Beaverhill Creek
  • Waskatenau Creek
  • Egg Creek
  • Smoky Creek
  • White Earth Creek
  • Redclay Creek
  • Cucumber Creek
  • Saddlelake Creek
  • Lake Eliza Creek
  • Siler Creek
  • Gideon Lake
  • Death River
  • Antimose Creek
  • Telegraph Creek
  • Moosehills Creek
    • Mooswa Creek
  • Middle Creek
    • Borden Lake, Laurier Lake, Ross Lake, Whitney Lake
  • Frog Creek
    • Alma Creek
  • Vermilion River
  • Chester Creek
  • Two Hills Creek
  • Cabin Lake
  • Mosquito Creek
  • Pipestone Creek
  • Oldman Creek
  • Monnery River
  • Muskeg Creek
  • Whitesand Creek
  • Englishman River
  • Big Gulley Creek
  • Birling Creek
  • Turtle Lake River
  • Jackfish River
  • Battle River
  • Cooper Creek
  • Baljennie Creek
  • Eagle Creek
  • Pakrowka Creek
  • Sheperds Creek
    • Turtle Creek
  • Cee Pee Creek
  • Radouga Creek
  • Steep Creek
  • Miners Creek
  • Sturgeon River
  • Little Red River
  • Spruce River
  • Garden River

Photo gallery

See also


  1. ^ Saskatchewan River (2006). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved September 22, 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service
  2. ^ Atlas of Canada. "Major Rivers in Canada". Retrieved 2007-05-01. 
  3. ^ Alberta Environment - Alberta river basins
  4. ^ Surveys of the North Saskatchewan River: 1910-1915. Edmonton: Government of the Province of Alberta, Department of Water Resources, 1917. Pages 50-53.
  5. ^ Canadian Heritage River System - North Saskatchewan River
  6. ^ Government of Saskatchewan. Fish Species of Saskatchewan
  7. ^ Research Council of Alberta, Highways Division. Hyrdologic Data on Floods in the North Saskatchewan River. (Edmonton: Research Council of Alberta, 1965).
  8. ^ [1] Environment Canada, Water Survey of Canada, retrieved 11 January 2009.
  9. ^ The Edmonton Bulletin, 28 June 1915.
  10. ^ a b The Edmonton Bulletin, 29 June 1915.
  11. ^ Bruce Peel, Steamboats on the Saskatchewan, (Saskatoon: Prairie Books, 1972).
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration, Engineering Services, Alberta Regional Division. Hariy Hill Dam—North Saskatchewan River, Engineering Report. Calgary: Saskatchewan-Nelson Basin Board, 1970.
  16. ^ Bighorn Dam Transalta, (2008)
  17. ^ Brazeau Dam Transalta (2008)
  18. ^ Milholland, Billie. North Saskatchewan River Guide: Mountain to Prairie a Living Landscape. Edmonton: North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance, 2002.

External links

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