The historic Coppermine River flows from the barrenlands of the central Canadian Arctic, 845 km north to the Arctic coast at Kugluktuk on Coronation Gulf, Nunavut. Named for the native copper deposits traditionally used by the Copper Inuit, the river's original local name was "Kogloktok."
Rising in the centre of the barrens, the Coppermine flows north to the coast, first through forested areas, then impressive rock outcroppings and clay banks. In late glacial time much of the Coppermine River valley was occupied by a major lake, known as Glacial Lake Coppermine, formed when a lobe of glacial ice prevented the northward flow of meltwaters.
Archaeological sites show that the river has been used by Inuit and Dene peoples for thousands of years. The Copper Inuit have travelled up the river to Bloody Fall, just 5 km from the mouth, to harvest Arctic char for hundreds of years.
The first European to see and use the river was Samuel Hearne who travelled overland in 1771 from Fort Prince of Wales on Hudson Bay to the Coppermine, which he followed to the Arctic coast, in search of the local deposits of copper. The infamous Bloody Fall near the mouth of the Coppermine was named by Hearne following a bloody massacre of Inuit camped there by Hearne's Chipewyan companions.
In 1915 and 1916 members of the Canadian Arctic Expedition travelled up the river by dogsled in winter, carrying out biological, geological and archaeological studies on the lower third of the river.
The village of Kugluktuk (formerly Coppermine) developed at the mouth of the river, following the establishment of a trading post by Christian Klengenberg at a traditional fishing and sealing camp in 1916, just after the CAE left.
Today the Coppermine is a favoured canoe route for northern
adventurers and attracts anglers. Local people have built hunting and fishing
cabins along the river from the mouth to near Bloody Fall. Rafting and canoe
expeditions are now an established part of summer on the Coppermine. With a fascinating
history and great ecological significance, the Coppermine was nominated for Heritage
River status under Parks Canada's Heritage River system in 2002.