Detroit River

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Detroit River
Rivière du Détroit
WindsorPoliceboat.jpg
Windsor police passing by the Renaissance Center
CountriesUnited States, Canada
StateMichigan
ProvinceOntario
Tributaries
 - leftEcorse River, River Rouge
 - rightLittle River, River Canard
CitiesUnited States: Detroit, Grosse Pointe Park, River Rouge, Ecorse, Wyandotte, Riverview, Trenton, Grosse Ile, Gibraltar, Canada: Tecumseh, Windsor, La Salle, Amherstburg
SourceLake St. Clair
 - elevation574 ft (175 m)
 - coordinates42°21′07″N 82°55′03″W / 42.35194°N 82.91750°W / 42.35194; -82.91750
MouthLake Erie
 - elevation571 ft (174 m)
 - coordinates42°03′06″N 83°09′05″W / 42.05167°N 83.15139°W / 42.05167; -83.15139
Length28 mi (45 km)
Basin700 sq mi (1,813 km2)
Discharge
 - average188,000 cu ft/s (5,324 m3/s)
Location of the Detroit River in the United States
Landsat satellite photo showing the St. Clair River (top), Lake St. Clair (center), and the Detroit River connecting it to Lake Erie (bottom)
 
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Coordinates: 42°03′06″N 83°09′05″W / 42.05167°N 83.15139°W / 42.05167; -83.15139
Detroit River
Rivière du Détroit
WindsorPoliceboat.jpg
Windsor police passing by the Renaissance Center
CountriesUnited States, Canada
StateMichigan
ProvinceOntario
Tributaries
 - leftEcorse River, River Rouge
 - rightLittle River, River Canard
CitiesUnited States: Detroit, Grosse Pointe Park, River Rouge, Ecorse, Wyandotte, Riverview, Trenton, Grosse Ile, Gibraltar, Canada: Tecumseh, Windsor, La Salle, Amherstburg
SourceLake St. Clair
 - elevation574 ft (175 m)
 - coordinates42°21′07″N 82°55′03″W / 42.35194°N 82.91750°W / 42.35194; -82.91750
MouthLake Erie
 - elevation571 ft (174 m)
 - coordinates42°03′06″N 83°09′05″W / 42.05167°N 83.15139°W / 42.05167; -83.15139
Length28 mi (45 km)
Basin700 sq mi (1,813 km2)
Discharge
 - average188,000 cu ft/s (5,324 m3/s)
Location of the Detroit River in the United States
Landsat satellite photo showing the St. Clair River (top), Lake St. Clair (center), and the Detroit River connecting it to Lake Erie (bottom)

The Detroit River is a 24-nautical-mile-long (44 km; 28 mi)[1] river in the Great Lakes system.[2] The name comes from the French Rivière du Détroit, which translates literally as River of the Strait. The Detroit River has served an important role in the history of Detroit and is one of the busiest waterways in the world.[3] The river travels south from Lake St. Clair to Lake Erie, and the whole river carries the international border between Canada and the United States. The river divides the major metropolitan areas of Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario — an area referred to as Detroit–Windsor. The two are connected by the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit–Windsor Tunnel.

The river serves as an important transportation route connecting Lake Michigan, Huron, and Superior to the St. Lawrence Seaway and Erie Canal. When Detroit underwent rapid industrialization at the turn of the 20th century, the Detroit River became notoriously polluted and toxic. In recent years, however, the ecological importance of the river has warranted a vast restoration effort, and the river today has a wide variety of economical and recreational uses. There are numerous islands in the Detroit River, and much of the lower portion of the river is incorporated into the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. The portion of the river in the city of Detroit has been organized into the Detroit International Riverfront and the William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor. The Detroit River is designated an American Heritage River and a Canadian Heritage River — the only river to have this dual designation.[4][5]

Geography[edit]

The Detroit River flows for 24 nautical miles (44 km; 28 mi) from Lake St. Clair to Lake Erie.[1] By definition, this classifies it as both a river and a strait — a strait being a narrow passageway connecting two large bodies of water.[6] That is why the river was originally called the River of the Strait by early French settlers.[7] However, today, the Detroit River is rarely referred to as a strait, because bodies of water referred to as straits are typically much wider. The Detroit River is only 0.5 to 2.5 miles (0.80 to 4.02 km) wide. The Detroit River starts on an east to west flow but then bends and runs north to south. The deepest portion of the Detroit River is 53 feet (16 m) deep in the northern portion of the river. At its source, the river is at an elevation of 574 feet (175 m) above sea level. The river drops only three feet before entering into Lake Erie at 571 feet (174 m). The river contains no dams and is easily navigable by even the smallest of vessels. The watershed basin for the Detroit River is approximately 700 square miles (1,800 km2).[2] Since the river is fairly short, it has few tributaries. Its largest tributary is the River Rouge in Michigan, which is actually four times longer than the Detroit River and contains most of the basin. The only other major American tributary to the Detroit River is the much smaller Ecorse River. Tributaries on the Canadian side include Little Creek and the River Canard. The discharge for the Detroit River is relatively high for a river of its size. The river's average discharge is approximately 188,000 cubic feet per second (5,324 m³/s), and the river's flow is always constant.[8]

Location of the Detroit River in the Great Lakes system

The Detroit River forms a major element of the international border between the United States and Canada. The river on the American side is all under the jurisdiction of Wayne County, Michigan, and the Canadian side is under the administration of Essex County, Ontario. The largest city along the Detroit River is Detroit, and most of the population along the river lives in Michigan. The Detroit River has only two automobile traffic crossings connecting the United States and Canada: the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit–Windsor Tunnel. Both of these are heavily protected by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Canada Border Services Agency.

The upper portion of the river is one of the few places where a Canadian city lies directly south of an American city. In this case, the city of Detroit is directly north of the city of Windsor, Ontario. The only other location where this occurs is Fort Erie, Ontario, lying south of several cities in Niagara County, New York. The cities and communities southwest of Detroit along the American side of the river are popularly referred to as the Downriver area, because those areas are said to be "down the river" from Detroit. Several of these communities do not actually border the Detroit River; the term "Downriver" is used to refer to a cluster of 18 suburban communities that lie to the southwest of the city of Detroit and to the west of the Detroit River.

Islands[edit]

The Detroit River contains numerous islands. Ownership and control of the islands varies by their geographic location along the river. The majority of islands are on the American side of the river. There are no islands in the Detroit River that are divided by the international border. Many of the islands are very small and uninhabited. Most of the islands in the Detroit River are in the southern portion of the waterway near Grosse Ile and close to where the river empties into Lake Erie. Belle Isle, in the northern section of the river, is entirely used as a Detroit city park, and is open to the public via a bridge connection with the city.

History[edit]

The Detroit River was first navigated by non-natives in the 17th century. The Iroquois Native Americans traded furs with the Dutch colonists at New Amsterdam by traveling through the Detroit River.[3] The French later claimed the area for New France. The famed sailing ship Le Griffon reached the mouth of the Detroit River in mid-August 1679 on its maiden voyage through the Great Lakes.[9] Later, when the French began settling in the area, they navigated the river using canoes made of birch or elm bark. Handcrafted vessels were a common mode of travel across the river, and the pirogue and bateaux were also used. As the North American fur trade intensified, European settlers began expanding their trade westward into the uncharted territories. French explorer Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac sailed up the Detroit River on July 23, 1701. The next day, he settled Fort Ponchartrain du Détroit (now known as Detroit).[10] The river itself became known as the Rivière du Détroit, in which détroit is French for "strait". The river was known literally as the "River of the Strait".

The Detroit River — and the larger area surrounding it — was taken from the French by the British Empire during the French and Indian War and eventually claimed by the newly formed United States during the American Revolution. During the War of 1812, the Detroit River served as a major barrier between the American Michigan Territory and British Upper Canada, especially during the Battle of Fort Detroit in August 1812, when Detroit briefly fell to the British.[11] Following the completion of the Erie Canal in 1817, which opened up easier travel to Lake Erie from the East Coast of the United States, the Detroit River became a heavily traversed route for settlers traveling to northern Michigan, and Detroit, as well, experienced a sudden increase in population. During the American Civil War (1861–1865), the Union feared that the seceded Confederate States of America (CSA) would plan a northerly attack from Canada, which was still owned by the British Empire and remained neutral in the war. The Union feared that the CSA would cross the Detroit River to launch this attack. For that reason, the Detroit River was heavily patrolled, even though it was far removed from any real combat. Such an attack by the CSA never happened.[3] At the beginning of the 20th century, Detroit's industrialization took off on an unprecedented scale. The Detroit River became the busiest commercial river in the world and was dubbed "the Greatest Commercial Artery on Earth" by The Detroit News in 1908. In 1907, the Detroit River carried 67,292,504 tons (61 billion kg) of shipping commerce through Detroit to locations all over the world. For comparison, London shipped 18,727,230 tons (16 billion kg), and New York shipped 20,390,953 tons (18 billion kg).[3]

As one of the most important waterways in the world, large freighters are a common sight on the Detroit River.

Prohibition[edit]

On January 16, 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment was ratified, ushering in Prohibition in the United States, which lasted from 1920 to 1933. To go into effect one year after its ratification, the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol for consumption were nationally banned. Detroit was (and still is) the largest city bordering Canada, where alcohol remained legal during Prohibition. Detroit became the center of a new industry known as rum-running, which was the illegal smuggling or transporting of alcoholic beverages or any other illegal drinks during Prohibition. There were no bridges connecting Canada and the United States until the Ambassador Bridge was finished in 1929 and the Detroit–Windsor Tunnel in 1930. Since ferry services were inoperable during the winter months, "rum-runners" traveled across the frozen Detroit River by car to Canada and back with trunk loads of alcohol. Rum-running in Windsor became a very common practice. This led to the rise of mobsters such as the Purple Gang, who regularly traveled across the frozen river and used violence as a means to control the route known as the "Detroit-Windsor Funnel" — parodying the newly built tunnel.[12] The river typically freezes over during much of the winter. Detroit became the leader in the illegal importation of alcohol, which found its way all over the country. The Detroit River, Lake St. Clair, and the St. Clair River carried 75% of all liquor smuggled into the United States during Prohibition. During warmer months, specialized boats were used to haul alcohol across the river. There was no limit on the methods used by rum-runners to import alcohol across the river. Government officials were unable or unwilling to deter the flow of alcohol coming across the Detroit River. In some cases, overloaded cars fell through the ice, and today, car parts from this illegal era can still be seen on the bottom of the river. When Prohibition was repealed in 1933 by the Twenty-first Amendment, the rum-running industry ended.[3][13][14]

Conservation efforts[edit]

Much of the land surrounding the Detroit River is urbanized and, in some places, heavily industrialized. This has resulted in excessive water pollution from the unregulated dumping of chemicals and industrial waste for many decades. Much of the garbage and sewage from Detroit's rapid industrialization found its way into the river. Much of the Detroit River and its shoreline were heavily polluted and unsafe for recreational use. Large quantities of this pollution collected around the mouth of the Detroit River at Lake Erie. The pollutants were so high after the spring thaw that thousands of migrating birds were killed by oil slicks and contaminated water every year. Oxygen levels in the river were depleted to the point where fish were unable to inhabit its waters. Because much of this pollution drained into and affected Lake Erie, the lake itself was considered "dead" and unable to support aquatic life.[15][16]

Much of the lower portion of the river (Mud Island pictured) is now part of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.

In 1961, the Wyandotte National Wildlife Refuge was founded by congressional order. That paved the way for tighter restrictions on industries and allocated substantial amounts of government funding to clean up the river. However, there was little support toward cleaning up the river, because it would negatively affect Detroit's industrialism and economy. In 1970, the entire fishing industry in the St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair, the Detroit River, and Lake Erie had to be closed due to toxic levels of mercury found in the water. This, in turn, spurred a massive conservation effort aimed at cleaning up the Detroit River.[15] For years before, conservation efforts were halted by the enormous multi-million dollar cost of removing pollutants from the river. In addition to that, industries, which had significant political influence, detested the regulations necessary to lessen the amount of pollutants in the river.[16] In 2001, the Wyandotte National Wildlife Refuge was absorbed into the much larger Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, which is a cooperative effort between the United States and Canada to preserve the area as an ecological refuge. Millions of dollars so far have been used to dredge pollutants out of the river, and the recent cleaning up and restoration of the Detroit River is remarkable, although other problems are still at hand.[15] Today, many species of native animals are returning to the area after being driven out by human development. The Detroit River is home to a growing number of bird species, such as eagles (including reintroduced bald eagles), ospreys, and peregrine falcons. Fish species in abundance in the area include lake whitefish, sturgeon, silver bass, green bass, salmon, perch, and walleye.[16] The Detroit River was designated as an American Heritage River in 1998[4] and a Canadian Heritage River in 2001[5] — the only river to have dual designations.

Economy[edit]

According to a 2004 study, 150,000 jobs and $13 billion in annual production depend on the river crossings connecting Detroit to Windsor. In 2004, the total American trade with Ontario alone was $407 billion, in which 28% ($113.3 billion) crossed the Detroit River. Because this puts a large strain on the flow for the only two traffic crossings over the Detroit River, proposals have been made to create a third crossing to connect Detroit and Windsor. The exact location for this crossing is the most debated element, as it could negatively affect a large number of environmental features and communities along the river.[17]

The Detroit River is used for shipping and trading. The earliest use of the river for such economic activities was the shipping of furs for trade as early as the 17th century.[3] When the fur trade decreased, Michigan had already began to exploit the lumber-rich areas of the Upper Peninsula. Detroit turned into a major industrial region, largely in part because of the Detroit River. The only way a ship could travel out of the Great Lakes system was to travel down the Detroit River. From there, ships could travel anywhere in the world out of the St. Lawrence Seaway or the Erie Canal to New York City. At the beginning of the 20th century, the automotive industry boomed, and the many manufacturers shipped in abundant supplies of iron ore.

The Renaissance Center, located in downtown Detroit, is one of the most recognizable features along the shores of the Detroit River.

First hand, the Detroit River provides a substantial amount of revenue for the local economies. A study in 1991 showed that $20.1 million came from sales related to waterfowl hunting along the Detroit River. During the same year, bird watching, photography, and other non-consumptive uses of waterfowl contributed an additional $192.8 million to Michigan’s economy. Local economies benefit through boating registrations and fishing licenses. There are over 800,000 recreation boats in the state of Michigan, and more than half of those are regularly used on or near the Detroit River. It is estimated that walleye fishing alone brings in $1 million to the economy of communities along the lower Detroit River each spring.[18] A percentage of the tourist revenue depends on the Detroit River, which is the most noticeable environmental feature in Detroit. Popular river destinations in the city of Detroit include the Detroit International Riverfront and Belle Isle Park — both of which host a number of events throughout the year. Cruise ships support tourism on the Great Lakes and dock at the Port Detroit passenger terminal downtown. The iconic Renaissance Center is located on the banks of the Detroit River.[19]

Bridges and crossings[edit]

This is a list of bridges and other crossings of the Detroit River from Lake Erie upstream to Lake St. Clair. The only two automobile traffic routes that completely cross the river are the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, both of which connect Detroit, Michigan to Windsor, Ontario. A railway tunnel and a commercial truck ferry service also travel between Detroit and Windsor. In Michigan, there are two bridges connecting the mainland to Grosse Ile and the MacArthur Bridge, popularly known as the "Belle Isle Bridge," that connects the City of Detroit to Belle Isle Park. All crossings (ports of entry) on the American side are secured by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Office of Field Operations and on the Canadian side by the Canada Border Services Agency; all areas between the American ports of entry and on the American side of the river are secured by the United States Border Patrol.

The Detroit River International Crossing is a new bridge project expected to begin construction in 2015; it will directly connect Highway 401 in Canada to Interstate 75 in the U.S.

28% of all merchandise trade between the United States and Ontario crosses the Detroit River at the Ambassador Bridge.
CrossingCarriesLocations connectingCoordinates
Wayne County BridgeGrosse Ile ParkwayTrentonGrosse Ile42°07′39.2″N 83°10′31.2″W / 42.127556°N 83.175333°W / 42.127556; -83.175333
Grosse Ile Toll BridgeBridge RoadRiverviewGrosse Ile42°10′20.9″N 83°09′34.3″W / 42.172472°N 83.159528°W / 42.172472; -83.159528
Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry(Ferry services)DetroitWindsor42°16′40.9″N 83°06′03.2″W / 42.278028°N 83.100889°W / 42.278028; -83.100889
Ambassador BridgeAmbassador Bridge Street
I-96.svg I-96 / I-75.svg I-75 / Ontario 3.png H-3
42°18′43.0″N 83°04′26.8″W / 42.311944°N 83.074111°W / 42.311944; -83.074111
Michigan Central Railway TunnelCanadian Pacific Railway42°19′06.6″N 83°03′37.8″W / 42.318500°N 83.060500°W / 42.318500; -83.060500
Detroit-Windsor TunnelI-375.svg I-375 / M-10.svg M-10 / Ontario 3B.png H-3B42°19′28.2″N 83°02′24.2″W / 42.324500°N 83.040056°W / 42.324500; -83.040056
MacArthur BridgeE. Grand Boulevard / Casino WayDetroitBelle Isle Park42°20′30.1″N 82°59′52.3″W / 42.341694°N 82.997861°W / 42.341694; -82.997861

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b U.S. Geological Survey. National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline data. The National Map, accessed November 7, 2011
  2. ^ a b Environmental Protection Agency (29 April 2009). "Detroit River Area of Concern". Retrieved June 16, 2009. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Nolan, Jenny (11 February 1997). "How the Detroit River shaped lives and history". The Detroit News (Detroit, Michigan). Retrieved June 15, 2009. 
  4. ^ a b American Heritage Rivers (19 October 2006). "Detroit River (MI): An American Heritage Designated River". Retrieved June 16, 2009. 
  5. ^ a b Canadian Heritage Rivers System. "Detroit River, Ontario: A Unique International Heritage". Retrieved June 16, 2009. 
  6. ^ Merriam–Webster (2009). "Definition of strait (noun)". Retrieved June 16, 2009. 
  7. ^ Windsor Public Library (2004). "Who are the Detroit River French?". Retrieved June 16, 2009. 
  8. ^ Environmental Protection Agency (9 March 2006). "Spawning by Lake Sturgeon in the Detroit River". Retrieved June 16, 2009. 
  9. ^ VanEseltine, Ken (26 August 2008). "''Le Griffon is a Meaningful Name". Retrieved June 16, 2009. 
  10. ^ Granzo, T. (2008). "History of Detroit: Antoine de la Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac". Retrieved June 16, 2009. 
  11. ^ Rickard, J. (21 November 2007). "Battle of Detroit, 16 August 1812". Retrieved June 16, 2009. 
  12. ^ Gribben, Mark (2008). "The Purple Gang: Bootlegger's Paradise". Retrieved June 16, 2009. 
  13. ^ LaFaive, Fleenor, and Nesbit (3 December 2008). "The Appendix B: Prohibition in Michigan and the Avenue de Booze". Retrieved June 16, 2009. 
  14. ^ Mason, Philip (Sep–Oct 1994). "Anyone Who Couldn’t Get a Drink Wasn’t Tryin’". Retrieved June 16, 2009. 
  15. ^ a b c Hartig, John (17 July 2007). "The Detroit River's amazing comeback". Retrieved June 16, 2009. 
  16. ^ a b c Swan, James (19 March 2009). "Return of the Detroit River’s Charismatic Megafauna". Retrieved June 16, 2009. 
  17. ^ Detroiter Contributor (1 November 2005). "Detroit/Windsor Border Update: Part I-Detroit River International Crossing Study". Retrieved June 16, 2009. 
  18. ^ International Association for Great Lakes Research (2009). "Conserving Detroit River Habitats". Retrieved June 16, 2009. 
  19. ^ Detroit Princess Riverboat (2009). "Detroit Princess Riverboat". Retrieved June 16, 2009. 

Specialized further reading[edit]

External links[edit]