Coppermine River

The historic Coppermine River flows north for 845 km (525 miles), from the barrenlands of the central Canadian Arctic to the Arctic coast at Coronation Gulf, in Nunavut. Today named for the native copper deposits traditionally used by the Copper Inuit and First Nations peoples, the river's original local name was "Kogloktok" or "Qurluqtuq" meaning "the place of moving water."

Rising in the center of the barrens at Lac de Gras, the Coppermine flows northwest through Point Lake, winds through forested areas, and then flows north through tundra and impressive rock outcroppings and clay banks to the coast. The river's average annual rate of flow is 262 m3 s-1 at Copper Creek. The watershed of the Coppermine River has an area of about 50,800 km2 (19,600 square miles).

In late glacial time much of the Coppermine River valley was occupied by a major lake, known as Glacial Lake Coppermine, formed when a glacial lobe prevented the northward flow of meltwaters. At that time the outlet was probably westward through to Great Bear Lake.

Archaeological sites provide evidence of the use of the river by Inuit and Dene people for thousands of years. The Copper Inuit have travelled up the river to Bloody Falls, just 5 km from the mouth, to harvest Arctic char for hundreds of years.

The first European to see and use the river was Samuel Hearne, who traveled overland in 1771 from Fort Prince of Wales on Hudson Bay to the Coppermine. He followed the river to the Arctic coast in search of the local deposits of copper. The infamous Bloody Falls near the mouth of the Coppermine was named by Hearne following a bloody massacre of a group of Inuit by Hearne's Chipewyan companions on July 17,1771. The "copper mines" observed by Hearne were located about 50 km SSE of the river mouth.

Other well-known early explorers who travelled on the river include Sir John Franklin, George Back and John Richardson. The lower river was part of a traditional travel route from Great Bear Lake to the Arctic coast and from Great Slave Lake via the Snare or Yellowknife rivers.

The first scientific exploration of the river was in 1915 and 1916 when members of the Canadian Arctic Expedition traveled up the river by dogsled in winter, carrying out biological, geological, and archaeological studies on the lower third of the river.

The village of Kugluktuk (formerly Coppermine) developed at the mouth of the river around 1928, following the establishment of a trading post in 1916 at a traditional Copper Inuit fishing and sealing camp.

In connection with local economic developments, various studies of the river have been made, including hydrology and water quality. An assessment of the potential for hydroelectric development at Bloody Falls concluded that such a project might be marginally viable. However, it is recognized that such development would adversely affect the existing fisheries and recreational use of the Coppermine River.

Today the Coppermine is a favored canoe route for northern adventurers and attracts many anglers. The people of Kugluktuk have built hunting and fishing cabins along the river from the mouth to near Bloody Falls and the river remains an important part of community

Historic site of Bloody Falls on the Coppermine River (photographed in September 2002).

Copyright David R. Gray

Historic site of Bloody Falls on the Coppermine River (photographed in September 2002).

Copyright David R. Gray life. Rafting and canoe expeditions are presently an established part of summer on the Coppermine. With a fascinating history and ecological significance, the Coppermine was nominated for Heritage River status under Parks Canada's Heritage River system in 2002.

David R. Gray

See also Back, Sir George; Hearne, Samuel Further Reading

Brand, Michael J., "Samuel Hearne and the massacre at Bloody

Falls." Polar Record,, 28(166) (1992): 229-232 Government of Nunavut, Coppermine River, Nunavut, Nomination Document, Iqaluit: Government of Nunavut, Department of Sustainable Development, 2002 Raffan, James, "Coppermine." Nature Canada, 8(4) (1979): 12-19

St-Onge, Denis A., "Glacial Lake Coppermine, north-central district of Mackenzie, Northwest Territories." Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, 17(9) (1980): 1310-1315

-, "The Coppermine River: art and reality." Canadian

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