River, c.600 mi (970 km) long, issuing as the Ashuanipi River from Ashuanipi Lake, SW Labrador, N.L., Canada, and flowing in an arc north, then southeast through a series of lakes to Churchill Falls and McLean Canyon. It then runs NE past Goose Bay and through Melville Lake and Hamilton Inlet to the Atlantic Ocean near Rigolet. The river has probably the greatest hydroelectric power potential of any river in North America, and Churchill Falls is the site of one of the world's largest hydroelectric power plants. Formerly known as the Hamilton River, it was renamed (1965) in honor of Sir Winston Churchill.
2 River, c.1,000 mi (1,610 km) long, issuing from Methy Lake, NW Sask., Canada, and flowing southeast, east, and northeast across the lowlands of N Saskatchewan and N Manitoba to Hudson Bay at Churchill. It meets the Beaver River, its chief tributary, at Lac Île-à-la-Crosse. Once a fur-trade route, it was explored (1619) by Jens Munck, a Scandinavian sent by Christian IV, king of Denmark and Norway, to search for the Northwest Passage. In 1717 the Hudson's Bay Company established a trading post, later the British stronghold Fort Prince of Wales. Captured (1782) by the French under Jean La Pérouse, the fort was regained by the British and renamed Fort Churchill; its ruins are preserved in Fort Prince of Wales National Historic Park. Exploration of the upper reaches of the river was carried on by the Frobishers, Peter Pond, and Alexander Henry, all of the North West Company. A hydroelectric station on the upper river supplies power for Manitoba mining operations.
The port of Churchill (2011 pop. 813), at the river's mouth, is the northern terminus of the Hudson Bay Railway; in the summer navigation season, it ships grain from the Prairie Provinces. It also draws visitors as the
polar bear capital of the world ; nearby Wapusk National Park is one of the world's largest polar bear maternity denning sites. The area formerly was the site of an airbase and rocket range.
See J. Knight's journal, The Founding of Churchill, ed. by J. F. Kenney (1932); S. F. Olson, The Lonely Land (1961).
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