Nelson River

Course of the Nelson River

Catchment areas of the Nelson River (red) and the derived upper reaches of the Churchill River (shaded)

The Nelson River is one of the most water-rich streams of North America. It represents the outflow of Lake Winnipeg and empties into Hudson Bay.


The Nelson River measures in its course "only" 664 km and thus is not much longer than, for example, the Main and the Moselle in Germany. Its origin is only arbitrary, ie, defined for historical reasons, at the north end of Lake Winnipeg. In fact, the Nelson River is the lower part of a much larger river system with a huge catchment area of 1,093,442 km ², in which the Saskatchewan River is of central importance. All tributaries of Lake Winnipeg feed the Nelson. The total length of the Nelson River system from its longest river source to the mouth is thus 2671 km, which corresponds approximately to the length of the Danube.

Due to its numerous tributaries, the Nelson a very high level of water management; earlier, the average river discharge at the mouth about 2370 cubic meters per second. Since 1977, an additional 60 % of the water from the Churchill River is diverted to Nelson, about 760 cubic meters per second. The average discharge at the mouth is now at about 3486 cubic meters per second.


Was named the Nelson River by the English explorer Thomas Button, who wintered in 1612 at its mouth. He named the river after Robert Nelson, a sailor who had come to death there. The Nelson was in early Canadian history at times contested, since it represented an important route for the fur trade in the region (however acquired the adjacent Hayes River on even greater importance as a transport route).

In the second half of the 20th century, several hydropower stations were built along the river course, which has partly led to conflicts with Cree and Métis in the region.

Hydropower plants

There are several hydroelectric plants along the Winnipeg River, which are operated by Manitoba Hydro. In the downstream direction, these are:

Drainage level

  • NELSON RIVER ABOVE BLADDER RAPIDS - Level measurement 1958-1994
  • NELSON RIVER AT KELSEY GENERATING STATION - level measurement 1960-2000
  • NELSON RIVER AT KETTLE GENERATING STATION - level measurement 1987-2000
  • NELSON RIVER AT LONG SPRUCE GENERATING STATION - level measurement 1987-2000
  • NELSON RIVER BELOW SIPIWESK LAKE - level measurement 1951-1958
  • NELSON RIVER ( EAST CHANNEL) BELOW SEA RIVER FALLS - level measurements from 1967 to 1997
  • NELSON RIVER ( WEST CHANNEL) AT Jenpeg - Level measurement 1967-2000