Fort McMurray Highlights: The Clearwater River

By Dawn Booth | Apr 24, 2019 | Fort McMurray - Downtown

A Canadian Heritage River found in Fort McMurray

The Clearwater River is one of 42 Canadian Heritage Rivers, and it runs from Saskatchewan westward joining to the Athabasca River in Fort McMurray.

Clearwater is one of the 39 rivers designated (three others are nominated) by the Canadian Heritage Rivers System (CHRS).

In 1984, the CHRS was established as a joint program by the federal, provincial and territorial governments with an overall goal to establish a system of Canadian rivers that reflect the diversity of the nation’s rich river environments.

The program recognizes its designated and nominated rivers to celebrate the importance of its history and to the Indigenous people, explorers, voyageurs and setters, as well as to industry and the economy, the landscape and environment.

The Ministry of Saskatchewan Parks, Culture and Sport and the Alberta Ministry of Environment and Parks preserve the Clearwater River and responsible for the CHRS program and the Clearwater River in each province.

Looking at the Clearwater from an aerial view, it has a snake-like shape to it – twisting and turning the closer it gets towards Fort McMurray’s city limits.

According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, the Clearwater is one of the Heritage Rivers for its important role as a trade route during the fur trade era in the 18th century.

The Clearwater is “the only westward-flowing river between Winnipeg and the Rockies, it was an important link to the Fur Trade Route, connected to the Churchill River via Methye Portage (Portage La Loche). The river is “clear” only in relation to others in the area.”

The rich history comes from the days' explorer Peter Pond discovered the Methye Portage as describe by Fort McMurray Tourism stating it was Pond who first “opened the door to the fur trade in Canada and drew such legendary explorers as Sir John Franklin, Sir Alexander Mackenzie and David Thompson.”

Fort McMurray honoured Pond by building the Peter Pond School on Franklin Avenue in 1961, which became Peter Pond Junior High School in 1985. The school was closed in 1995. Pond’s name is still recognized today by the Peter Pond Mall.

As for the Clearwater, residents enjoy it in the spring and summer in boats, and while walking alongside the riverbanks at MacDonald Island and the walkways close to the Snye River. In the winter, snowmobilers sled across onto the other side to explore the backcountry trails.

Each year, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) prepares the region for the river break and works closely with Alberta Environment to monitor the Clearwater and Athabasca River. Numerous checkpoints are placed on the Clearwater River to provide a warning of an ice break.

The River Breakup awareness campaign takes place in the warmer Spring temperatures when the ice begins to melt and ice jam occurs. The 2019 River Break was declared on April 22. To learn more, visit the municipality’s website.

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Dawn Booth is a freelance journalist and owner of Media Booth, a marketing and communications business in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Learn more at