The Peace River

Peace River at twilight, viewed from Fort Vermillion, Alberta, Canada.
Peace River at twilight, viewed from Fort Vermillion, Alberta, Canada.

5. Description

The Peace River is a Canadian River that arises from the Finlay and Parsnip headstreams in the Canadian Rockies of British Columbia, and then flows in a northeast direction into and through the prairies of Alberta. After covering a distance of 1,923 kilometers, it finally joins the Slave River in the Wood Buffalo National Park, which in turn finally forms a major tributary leading into the Mackenzie River. The Peace River drains an area of around 302,500 square kilometers. The name of the river is derived from the Peace Point locality, located near the confluence of the Peace River with the Slave River, where a peace treaty was signed between the indigenous Cree and Beaver peoples of Canada. The Peace River is associated with rich cultural and heritage values, and is still of immense significance to modern Canada.

4. Historical Role

Archaeological evidence and folklore alike indicate that human settlements had existed in the Peace River Valley as early as 10,500 years ago. The Beaver and Cree indigenous peoples called this river their homes in the years preceding the time of European Contact, and also fought battles with each other for control over the river territory. The conflict between them continued for years until a small pox epidemic, the disease itself having been introduced into the region with the arrival of the Europeans, killed large sections of the Cree population and led to the establishment of a truce between the two tribes. With the arrival of the Europeans, the length and breadth of the Peace River was explored by them, who then used it as an important fur trading route.The first European settlement in the Peace River region was started in 1794, with the establishment of a fur trading post at Fort St. John.

3. Modern Significance

A number of commercially important fish species, including the Arctic grayling, rainbow trout, walleye, and mountain whitefish, are found in abundance in the waters of the Peace River. A large number of visitors travel to the Peace River for sport fishing in the waters of the river, while others also enjoy riding upon it by canoe, kayak, or boat. The favorable climate and fertile soils of the Peace River region also supports the growth of a wide variety of edible and commercially important crops. Namely, farmers here cultivate wheat, canola (rapeseed), barley, sunflower and other oil-seed crops, forage seed crops, and some vegetables. About 4.3 million acres of land in this region is dedicated to commercial agricultural cultivation. Besides fishing and agriculture, the river provides an important route for navigation of people and goods across it. WAC Bennett and Peace Canyon are two important hydroelectric dams built along this river, and these combine to satisfy nearly 31% of British Columbia’s hydroelectric power needs. A large number of tourists flock to this region every year to experience the spectacular landscapes and river activities offered here for themselves.

2. Habitat

The Peace River Valley provides an ideal habitat for a large number of native species, such as the moose, elk, white-tailed deer, and muse deer. The abundant prairie grassland vegetation found in this region is ideal for supporting these mammalian species. Besides these mammals, a diverse variety of rare bird species also flock to this region, and are a delight for birdwatchers here. Such species of notable raptors as bald eagles, ospreys, and golden eagles can be spotted here. Breeding colonies of migratory waterfowl are also found extensively, especially in the marshy areas around the river.

1. Threats and Disputes

The Canadian Government has designated the entire course of the Peace River as an Environmentally Significant Area because of its abundance of clean waters and its rich aquatic and terrestrial life. The construction of dams, including the W.A.C. Bennett Dam in British Columbia, is often held responsible for a reduction in the natural, seasonal variations in water levels in the Mackenzie River system, of which the Peace River is an important part. This variation is crucial in supporting the diverse flora and fauna of the river's ecosystem throughout the year. Recently, there has been increased uproar by environmental organizations, as they chime out against the proposed construction of a new dam. This new endeavor, the Site C Dam on the Peace River, holds the potential to severely damage the ecological balance in the region of its construction.


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