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Saint Lawrence River

Saint Lawrence River Map of the St. Lawrence/Great Lakes Watershed OriginLake OntarioMouth Gulf of Saint Lawrence/Atlantic OceanBasincountries Canada(Ontario, Quebec)
United States(Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Wisconsin) Length 1,197 km (744 mi) Sourceelevation 250 m (820 ft) Avg. discharge10,400 m³/s (367,328 cu ft/s) Basin area 1,030,000 km² (397,683 sq mi)

The Saint Lawrence River (In French: fleuve Saint-Laurent; Kahnawáˀkye[1] in Tuscarora, Kaniatarowanenneh ("big waterway") in Mohawk) is a large river flowing approximately from southwest to northeast in the middle latitudes of North America, connecting the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean. It is the primary drainage of the Great Lakes Basin. It traverses the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario and forms part of the international boundary between Ontario, Canada, and the U.S. state of New York.



The Saint Lawrence River originates at the outflow of Lake Ontario between Kingston, Ontario on the north bank, Wolfe Island in mid-stream, and Cape Vincent, New York on the south bank.

From there, it passes Gananoque, Brockville, Ogdensburg, Massena, Cornwall, Montreal, Trois-Rivières, and Quebec City before draining into the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, the largest estuary in the world. It runs 3,058 kilometres (1,900 mi) from the furthest headwater to the mouth (1,197 kilometres or 744 mi from the outflow of Lake Ontario). The furthest headwater is the North River in the Mesabi Range at Hibbing, Minnesota. Its drainage area, which includes the Great Lakes and hence the world's largest system of fresh water lakes, has a size of 1.03 million km² (390,000 sq mi). The average discharge at the mouth is 10,400 /s (367,000 cu ft/s).

The river includes Lake Saint-Louis south of Montreal, Lac Saint-François at Salaberry-de-Valleyfield and Lac Saint-Pierre east of Montreal. It encompasses three archipelagoes: the Thousand Islands chain near Kingston, Ontario; the Hochelaga Archipelago, including the Island of Montreal and Île Jésus (Laval); and the smaller Mingan Archipelago. Other islands include Île d'Orléans near Québec City, and Anticosti Island north of the Gaspé.

Lake Champlain and the Ottawa, Richelieu, and Saguenay rivers drain into the St. Lawrence.

The Saint Lawrence River is in a seismically active zone where fault reactivation is believed to occur along late Proterozoic to early Paleozoic normal faults related to the opening of Iapetus Ocean. The faults in the area are rift related, which is called the Saint Lawrence rift system.

The Saint Lawrence Valley is a physiographic province of the larger Appalachian division, containing the Champlain and Northern physiographic section.[2]

Saint Lawrence River between Quebec City (seen at left) and Lévis (seen at right). The Île d'Orléans appears further in the centre.


The St. Lawrence estuary was visited by many navigators (such as John Cabot and Miguel Corte-Real) and Basque fishermen soon after the discovery of America (or perhaps even before, see Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact#Late contact claims). But the first known European explorer to sail the inland part of the St. Lawrence was Jacques Cartier, during his second trip to Canada in 1535, with the help of Iroquoian chief Donnacona's two sons. As he arrived in the estuary on St. Lawrence' feast day, Cartier accordingly named it the Gulf of St. Lawrence.[3] The land along the river was inhabited at the time by the St. Lawrence Iroquoians.

Map of 1543 showing Cartier's discoveries.

Until the early 1600s, the French used the name Rivière du Canada to designate the Saint Lawrence upstream to Montreal and the Ottawa River after Montreal. The Saint Lawrence River served as the main route for European exploration of the North American interior, first pioneered by French explorer Samuel de Champlain.

The St. Lawrence was formerly continuously navigable only as far as Montreal because of the virtually impassible Lachine Rapids. The Lachine Canal was the first to allow ships to pass the rapids; the Saint Lawrence Seaway, an extensive system of canals and locks, now permits ocean-going vessels to pass all the way to Lake Superior. The Seaway was officially opened on 26 June 1959 by Queen Elizabeth II (representing Canada) and President Dwight D. Eisenhower (representing the United States of America).

In the late 1970s, the river was the subject of a successful ecological campaign (called "Save the River"), originally responding to planned development by the United States Army Corps of Engineers. The campaign was organized, among others, by Abbie Hoffman, then on the run under the pseudonym of Barry Freed.


Saint Lawrence River along the New York-Ontario border

Occasionally, the French name fleuve Saint-Laurent is wrongly translated as Saint Lawrence seaway since it uses the word fleuve and not rivière. However, the word fleuve means a large river, which runs to the ocean or sea. There is no word in English that distinguishes this type of a river from others, and thus is appropriately translated by river. The seaway is a system of artificial canals and is called in French la voie maritime du Saint-Laurent.

The source of the North River in the Mesabi Range in Minnesota is considered to be the source of the Saint Lawrence River. Because it crosses so many lakes, the water system frequently changes its name. From source to mouth, the names are:


The St. Lawrence River is at the heart of many Quebec novels (Anne Hébert's Kamouraska, Réjean Ducharme's L'avalée des avalés), poems (in works of Pierre Morency, Bernard Pozier), and songs (Leonard Cohen's Suzanne, Michel Rivard's L'oubli). The river has also been portrayed in paintings, notably by the Group of Seven. In addition, the river is the namesake of Saint-Laurent Herald at the Canadian Heraldic Authority.


  1. ^ Rudes, B. Tuscarora English Dictionary Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999
  2. ^ Physiographic divisions of the conterminous U. S.. U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved on 2007-12-06.
  3. ^ William Henry Johnson, French Pathfinders in North America (Project Gutenberg)
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Coordinates: 48°25′25.1″N, 69°0′57″W

Categories: Saint Lawrence River | Basins of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence | Physiographic provincesHidden category: Articles lacking reliable references from December 2007