The Lake Superior Watershed

The province of Ontario is divided into three primary watersheds: the Hudson Bay Lowlands, the Nelson River and the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence. The Lake Superior Watershed is a secondary watershed within the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Watershed.

Lake Superior is well known as the largest, by surface area, freshwater lake in the world. In fact, Lake Superior can hold all the water combined from all the other great lakes (plus two more Lake Eries!) The Lake Superior watershed region ranges in size from 257 kilometres (160 miles) inland near Wabakimi Provincial Park in Ontario to only 8 kilometres (5 miles)inland from Pictured Rocks National Seashore in Michigan.

Although the Lake Superior Watershed is quite large, it is still a sensitive ecosystem. Because of the depth of Lake Superior (396 metres (1,300 feet) at the deepest), it takes 400-500 years for a complete water change. A drop of water that enters Lake Superior today will take 191 years to empty into St. Mary's River and on to Lake Huron – this is called lake retention time.

The water in the Lake Superior Watershed flows from the Ogoki and Long Lac Diversions. Lake Superior is fed by over 200 rivers; some of the larger rivers include the Nipigon River, the St. Louis River, the Pigeon River, Pic River, the White River, the Michipicoten River, the Bois Brule River, and the Kaministiquia River.

Ecology of the Lake Superior Watershed

Lake Superior is known as an oligotrophic environment. Because of the consistently cold water temperatures, the Lake can only support a simple food chain, with little to no algae development. This results in a pristine, clear water lake with high underwater visibility. The average underwater visibility is 8 metres (27 feet) with the highest visibility recorded at 30 metres (100 feet).

The Lake Superior Watershed supports a wide variety of wildlife – some of which you will not find again any further north, until you reach the Arctic Circle.

Fish - Lake Superior itself hosts over 80 species of fish! Some of these species include Lake Trout, Lake Whitefish, Northern Pike, Yellow Perch, Cisco, Longnose Sucker and Walleye.

Mammals – the Lake Superior Watershed is home to numerous mammals from the Red Squirrel to the Woodland Caribou and everything in between!

Birds – each Spring and Fall the Lake Superior Watershed hosts a large migration of waterfowl and songbirds to and from the Boreal Forest. The wetlands of the Watershed make great courting, nesting and foraging grounds.

Plants – part of the Lake Superior Watershed hosts both the Boreal Forest and the Great Lake St. Lawrence Forest. The variety of vegetation is outstanding! Parts of the Watershed are even home to Arctic Disjunctions – plants that are found in deep cold canyons, which one would only find again in the Arctic Circle.

History of the Lake Superior Watershed

Historically the Lake Superior Watershed has been known as the 'Gateway to the West.' For thousands of years, Lake Superior and its supporting watershed has been home to the Anishinabe Culture. Before the time of Europeans, the Anishinabe used the Lake Superior Watershed for both food and transportation. The Spring and Fall were spent fishing; fish were then dried or smoked. Summer and Fall were spent gathering berries, and then moving to inland lakes for wild rice.

As time went on, Explorers, Traders and Voyageurs all left a lasting impression in the Lake Superior Watershed. From discovering routes through treacherous landscapes to learning the value of the beaver fur – the Lake Superior Watershed was becoming an entrepreneur's dream.

Eventually fashion changed and the beaver felt top hats were replaced with silk. New industry was moving into the Watershed in the form of logging, mining and eventually commercial fishing. By the mid 1800's tourism began in the Lake Superior Watershed with visitors lured by 'the final frontier'.

Today the Lake Superior Watershed supports numerous industries including shipping, commercial fishing, mining, forestry and of course tourism. Thunder Bay is the middle meeting ground for considerable amounts of cargo. We are also a destination on the Lake Superior Circle Tour.